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When it comes to showing off Portland, we’ve got a few landmark tourist attractions that are worth battling the crowds. The Portland Japanese Garden is a great activity for visiting in-laws. Browsing the staff’s recommendations at Powell’s is a regular weekend activity. Waiting in line for a stellar brunch is always worth it.
And then there are the attractions associated with out-of-town visitors that locals may not be super familiar with or simply have not gotten around to.
We’re here to suggest you take off your “born-and-raised-in-Portland” goggles and switch them out for your “explore-like-a-tourist” sunglasses. We’ve built a full-day itinerary of our favorite tourist attractions that are totally worth it.
We think you’ll like what you see. And frankly, you can’t really claim true local status until you’ve checked these off your list.
Our first suggested stop: the Portland International Rose Garden. We know, we know, this fragrant gem is at the top of many lists found on Portland tourism websites, but rightfully so. It’s an immediate mood lifter, and a worthy repeat activity in my book. Flowers are in full bloom right now. (Also TriMet expanded bus access to the Garden last summer from Downtown, making it easy to get to.)
It’s cruise time baby. We can’t think of a better way to fall back in love with your city than to travel the historic waterways and get an up-close view of Bridge City.
We’re guessing even locals would be surprised to know that the Portland Spirit, Portland’s iconic white-and-green vessel, runs two-hour lunchtime cruises up and down the Willamette River year-round, in addition to their daily sunset dinner cruises. Each lunch cruise includes a freshly prepared Northwest lunch with a choice of an entrée, live piano music, and historical narration.
Being local to Portland doesn’t always equate to knowing Portland, and the Portland Spirit’s variety of cruise options (including the all-year-long sightseeing opportunities) are a truly fun and unique way to rediscover your city.
Also worth noting: Portland Spirit offers a happy-hour time-frame Heart of Portland cruise. This is a sightseeing-specific cruise that runs from July to August and features the same historical narration as the meal cruises, with a full-service bar and bistro menu available.
Don’t get too hung up on which cruise to take. All Portland Spirit rides take passengers on a trip through the history, nature and culture of Portland, Oregon, and the Willamette River. You’ll see landmarks that make the city what is it, including OMSI, White Stag Portland, Oregon sign, Palatine Pump Station and Ross Island, to name only a few of the more notable markers.
If you’re looking for a friskier experience, Portland Spirit also offers Explorer Jetboat cruises from July through September. Choose from the Big Foot Adventure cruise or the 7 Wonders of the Gorge for a true expedition experience that will spark glee in even the most tourist-hating locals.
Carrying the “tourist for a day” theme right until the end, we’re going to recommend the one-and-a-half-mile stroll down the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade getting a great view of the city, now from land. Stroll yourself all the way to an iconic desert spot. Our favorite is Salt & Straw, followed closely by The Cookie Dough Cafe (because who isn’t constantly craving edible cookie dough?).