Portland is my favorite city in the US. While Vanesa and I were working at a hostel in Seattle, we had a chance to spend 48 hours in Portland, visiting my favorite attractions, eating the best food, and staying at the nicest hostel I’ve seen in the US.
- Best Backpacking Accommodations in Portland
- My Favorite Restaurants in Portland
- Free Things to Do in Portland
- How Expensive is Portland
- Tips for Spending 48 Hours in Portland
- Click to Pin It
- Further Reading
Best Backpacking Accommodations in Portland
Hostels in the US are definitely not like what you’ll find in Europe or Asia. When I left the US seven years ago, the few hostels available were overpriced, and often were relics from the hippie days or, worse, brothels. To this day, major cities like Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle have just a handful of hostels (four in Portland and two in Seattle), unlike European cities, which can have dozens (Edinburgh, a city with only half a million people, has nearly two dozen hostels).
Fortunately, new hostels have opened in recent years by travelers who have seen what luxury hostels (aka poshtels) around the world are like, and are bringing the concept back to the US. But they’re hard to find. Other than the one I had the joy of staying at in Portland, I hear you’ll have to go to cities like Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York to find these types of hostels.
Lolo Pass Hostel
Lolo Pass Hostel in East Portland is the perfect example of a poshtel. Even by European hostel standards, it’s luxurious. It’s honestly one of the best hostels I’ve been to around the world. Just the floor plan of the building is perfect, and a model for other hostels.
Most of the hostel’s ground floor is an open floor plan, divided into a nice cafe, a bar, and a large seating area complete with plenty of couches and cushions, tables, and electrical sockets for the digital nomad. There are also seats outside if you prefer that, or if you’re a smoker.
The dorms have large beds custom-built into the rooms, complete with curtains (no rickety stand-alone beds in this hostel). However, Vanesa and I had a wonderful, ensuite, private room on the corner of the building with a beautiful view of the mountains and downtown Portland in the distance.
The fifth floor is the best. That’s where the large guest kitchen is located, alongside a rooftop terrace that covers half the building. There are fire pits, another small bar, and plenty of seats and cushions to relax on. I really wish we had stayed for more than just three nights!
My Favorite Restaurants in Portland
Portland just might be the world leader when it comes to unique and innovative dishes. I wasn’t surprised when Gordon Ramsay commented that some crazy hot sauce he tried must have come from Portland. Portland is also huge when it comes to farm-to-table restaurants, and was also recently ranked by Forbes as the most vegetarian and vegan-friendly city in the US.
Hawthorne Asylum Food Court
Many years ago, a friend brought me to a food court somewhere in SE Portland. In my attempt to find it this trip, I stumbled upon first Cartopia, and then the Hawthrone Asylum Food Court. The former had about a dozen food trucks around a central dining area. The latter had at least twice as many trucks with cuisines from all over the world.
It was a struggle to choose what to eat at Hawthorne Asylum. Vanesa and I finally went with the special platter at the Lebanese food truck. She had a beer on the side, and I went for a boba tea. It was super lively, which was refreshing after months of pandemic lockdown.
If you’re not staying near Hawthorne Asylum, there are plenty of other food trucks and food courts around Portland. In fact, Portland just might have more food trucks than any other city in the USA, although there’s no official number of how many. Whatever the number, they’re some of the best places to eat at in town.
It’s certainly no secret that sushi is my favorite food, but one of my favorite sushi restaurants in the world happens to be in Portland. Located in the cute neighborhood of Sellwood, Saburo’s serves some of the biggest pieces of sushi I’ve ever seen, and at a very reasonable price. Each piece was four bites for Vanesa!
I was first introduced to Saburo’s by my late sister just before I started traveling the world. I managed to get back there a couple times in 2016 when I went back to the States, and I’ve been dreaming of their sushi ever since.
Back then, you had to arrive hours early to get your name on a list, as they didn’t take reservations. When we went during the pandemic, they only offered takeout (“takeaway” for you Brits), but they’ve since resumed limited dine-ins on weekdays. The food will probably take a long time, but it’s worth the wait. You’ll only need one or two items on the menu unless you want to have a lot leftover. But it’s not just the quantity that’s fantastic at Saburo’s – the quality is also some of the best I’ve had anywhere.
After your sushi dinner, head across the street to Nectar FroYo for dessert. As much as I love ice cream, I still prefer getting healthier frozen yogurt when I have the chance. Sadly, it’s almost impossible to find frozen yogurt in Scotland, my home base.
Nectar FroYo is some fantastic quality frozen yogurt. They have up to ten flavors of yogurt available every day, but over a hundred favors in the recipe book. Everything is self-serve. After overcoming the challenge of choosing your flavor(s), there are dozens of toppings to pick from – candy bars, different types of chocolate, fruit, syrups, cereals, you name it! Everything is by weight, and a huge bowl of semi-healthy decadence is only a few dollars.
Speaking of sweet stuff, if you’re in Portland, you have to stop in Voodoo Donuts. Truthfully, they might not actually be the best donuts in the world, but they’re pretty damn good, and the choices are fantastic. There are two locations, one near the center of Downtown Portland, and the other just a block away from Lolo Pass Hostel. Go to the latter if you want to skip the ridiculously long line.
The first time I went there several years ago, I got the mafia madness – a banana and cinnamon fritter topped with peanut butter and chocolate drizzle, peanuts, and chocolate chips. This last trip, I picked the horchata cream-filled donut and the regular apple fritter. Each one was delicious and noticeably better than other donuts. It’s no wonder that they’ve since opened a shop on the Universal CityWalk in Orlando.
Now for drinks. As the city with the most number of breweries in the US, it’s nearly impossible to say which pub is best. So many have stages for bands or comedy skits, some serve fantastic food, and others follow the Portland tradition of avant-garde dining experiences and dishes.
I’ve always been a fan of the McMenamins bars, especially as a budget traveler. The Blue Moon Tavern and Grill is ranked as one of the best pubs in Portland on Tripadvisor, and I still think they serve the best cajun tater tots in the world. I’m also a fan of their raspberry beer. As an aside, if you Google “tater tots”, you’ll get a knock-off McMenamins recipe.
There are around sixty McMenamins locations around Oregon and Washington. You can even get a passport for treasure hunts in each pub, prizes, and discounts.
Tea Chai Té
Last but not least, there’s Tea Chai Té. This fantastic tea cafe handmakes over 200 flavors of organic tea. What’s awesome is there are little jars where you can smell every flavor before purchasing one, whether a large mug to enjoy in the cafe, or a package to take home with you. They also have boba tea for sale.
Years ago, I went to the original Tea Chai Té location in Sellwood, the front of which is an old train car! They’ve since opened two more locations in Portland, one in the fancy Nob Hill neighborhood, and a third in North Portland. Best of all, it’s really cheap for a mug of tea there.
Free Things to Do in Portland
Traveling on a budget in the US definitely isn’t easy, and many cities don’t have a lot of free attractions. Portland seems to be a rare exception to the rule. Granted, most of the free activities are simply enjoying nature – mountains, forests, rivers, and the beaches on the coast. You’ll need to pay for transportation, but even that is reasonable.
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Your first stop in Portland should be the center of downtown, specifically Pioneer Courthouse Square. This brick square often has shows, concerts, yoga classes, demonstrations, vigils, and a giant Christmas tree for the holidays.
Even if there aren’t any events going on when you’re there, I personally think the square is a beautiful spot in the center of the city with several historic buildings surrounding it. On the east side of the square is Pioneer Courthouse, dating back to 1869. It’s the second-oldest federal building west of the Mississippi. I usually also like visiting the Pioneer Place shopping mall on the other side of the courthouse, but it was all but closed due to the recent riots when we went.
Powells City of Books
This next attraction might not be for everyone, but it’s personally my favorite spot in the city. As far as I know, Powells’s City of Books holds the title of the largest bookstore in the world. They have over 68,000 square feet of floor space within a five-story building covering an entire city block. Things might have dropped during the pandemic, but the last I heard, they had around a million titles available, and 3,000 more books arriving every day.
I spent many hours walking through Powell’s aisles during the months I lived in Portland when I was younger. I was particularly impressed by the sci-fi/fantasy department, where I was able to find nearly every title ever published in the genre. There was one series I really liked as a kid with over a hundred books. Most bookstores only carried a couple titles or perhaps as many as a dozen. Powell’s had every book in the series, and multiple copies of each, both new and used.
International Rose Test Garden
On the western side of downtown is the extensive Washington Park, where you’ll find the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Japanese Gardens, and the International Rose Test Garden. If you’re on a budget and a time crunch, I’d recommend just the free rose gardens.
These gardens have over 10,000 roses of roughly 650 varieties. You can walk around the gardens at your own pace, or jump on the daily tour around the gardens at noon. This is also where you can get a nice view of downtown Portland.
If you have more time and money, you can check out all the other gardens and attractions in Washington Park. The Oregon Zoo costs $24 to enter, and the Japanese Garden is $16.95. Those aren’t unreasonable by US standards, but a lot more than I’m used to spending in Europe.
The Willamette River (stress the “lam”) runs through the center of Portland to the Columbia River, which separates Oregon and Washington. In downtown, you can walk several blocks along the river on the Waterfront Park Trail. Sadly, when we were there in 2021, the park was full of homeless, but so was the rest of Portland.
If you want to get further away from the city, there are plenty of other parks along the river banks such as Sellwood Park, not too far away from Saburo’s Sushi and Nectar FroYo.
Finally, there’s Multnomah Falls. This beautiful waterfall is located on the Columbia River only about 30 miles east of downtown Portland. At 620 feet, it’s the tallest waterfall in Oregon, although it falls in two stages. The first drop is 542 feet, and then a 9-foot gradation down to another 69-foot drop.
It takes about an hour to hike the 2.2 miles trail to the top of the falls. There are 11 switchbacks on the trail, although the last two switchbacks are downhill on the back side of the ridge to a lookout platform above the waterfall. Make sure to bring extra water as it’s a good climb – 700 feet of elevation to the summit. It’s also a good idea to ensure the falls are open, as landslides, floods and falling rocks shut down the trail from time to time.
Until 2021, the waterfalls were free to enter. Then in July 2021, due to the pandemic, a nominal fee of $1 per person was introduced, although that’s waved for people arriving by bike or public transportation. If you want to take the bus, get the Columbia Gorge Express from the Gateway Transit Center. Just make sure to purchase a day pass online for $15 beforehand, as you can only buy a one-way ticket for $10 on the bus.
How Expensive is Portland
As a major city in the US, Portland is relatively expensive. Not quite as expensive as Seattle, but more expensive than most of Europe, including my home base of Edinburgh. Thankfully, there are some aspects of Portland that are cheap, namely public transportation and street food. It’s not too hard to find a good meal for under $10, and a one-way ticket on public transportation is $1.50.
By far the biggest chunk of your budget will be for accommodations. Lolo Pass dorms start at around $38 per night, or $125 for a private room. Hotels average around $150 per night, although it is possible to find some cheaper ones for under $100 per night. The average price for an Airbnb is also about $150 per night.
I found food in the supermarkets in the US to be quite pricy in general, especially compared to most of the rest of the world. It’s almost easier to eat out at cheap street food trucks than preparing your own food at the hostel or an Airbnb.
A rough estimate for a daily budget in Portland is probably around $75 on the cheap end ($50 if you’re super thrifty), and $250 if you plan to stay in a good hotel, have at least one fancy restaurant meal a day, and visit a couple of paid attractions. I would recommend using public transportation regardless of what budget you’re on unless you’re in a hurry, in which case Uber is a good alternative.
Tips for Spending 48 Hours in Portland
You certainly don’t have to follow the same itinerary we did if you only have 48 hours in Portland, but I found that we were able to squeeze in a significant number of attractions and stops with the one we used.
First of all, I would recommend scheduling a hike up Multnomah Falls on whichever day has better weather. Portland has an average of 155 rainy days each year, and you probably don’t want to be caught out on the trail in inclement weather, even if it’s usually a very light rain.
For your second day, try to get to as many attractions around the city center as you can. There are some very nice parts of town to explore, especially Nob Hill in NW Portland. Nob Hill is my favorite place to find fantastic restaurants, such as McMenamins Blue Moon Tavern, Tea Chai Té, Marrakech, Little Big Burger, and Salt & Straw for the best ice cream in Portland.
I’d say the best place to stay is in SE Portland, which is where you’ll find the best vintage and thrift shops, cafes, nightlife, and food courts. This is where you’ll find the Hawthorne Asylum, as well as Saburo’s and Nectar FroYo.
No matter what you do or where you stay in Portland, I can only hope you fall in love with the city as much as I have. It’s always been my favorite city in the US, and I can’t wait to go back and visit again someday.
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Although I spent years of my life growing up in the Pacific Northwest, that was long before I started my blog. So far, I only have a handful of stories about Oregon and Washington.
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