Portland, USA – City Guide

Portland has been on our must-visit list since forever. We heard it was a hipster mecca with an exploding vegetarian and vegan scene way back and its green credentials and continued commitment to sustainability made us even more excited to get to see the city for ourselves.

Portland Green City Guide

Portland is a trailblazer in sustainability and thanks for a progressive urban planning policy and an environmentally conscious population, it’s already an extremely green city.

Portland has 175 LEED certified buildings, which is the most per capita of all American cities. The Oregon Convention Centre has a rain garden on the roof that collects and filters rainwater to prevent pollutants from reaching the Willamette River.

The city is a leader in renewable energy and currently uses 33% renewable sources compared to the 13% national average. Portlanders also recycle 70% of their waste, which is the highest in the nation.

Ready to explore green Portland? Our Portland city guide highlights all of the best green spaces, city museums and vegetarian restaurants on offer.

Parks, Gardens & Green Spaces

With over 37,000 acres of green space, Portland has some of the best parks and gardens around. When we were in Portland the weather was unfortunately really dreary. Never ones to be stopped by a bit of rain, we explored a fair few of the parks and gardens in Portland, but we did cross off Forest Park and a few of the further afield green spaces due to the weather. Here are our favourite selection of parks and gardens in Portland:

Lan Su Chinese Garden

Portland’s Chinese Garden is a lesser known secret of the city. While the Japanese Garden is the talk of the town, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is somewhat underrated. This amazing garden was built by artisans from Suzhou and transported across from China to Portland. The design is beautiful and the gardens are tranquil. There are covered walkways and pavilions which make the Lan Su Chinese Garden a charming place to be in the rain.

Japanese Garden

Raved about by Portland locals, Portland’s Japanese Garden is said to be one of the most authentic outside of Japan. When we visited, it was undergoing quite an extensive renovation which I’m sure will make it an even more popular place to visit in the future. The garden is up the West Hills making it a trek from town if you’re walking up like we did. There are five different style gardens within the grounds, all working to make a feeling of harmony.

Mt Tabor

Mt Tabor is a dormant volcanic vent in the South East of the city. It’s one of the highest points in Portland and on a good day you can – apparently – get a great view of the city. We went in the freezing cold and pouring rain and couldn’t see a thing through the thick mist. There are a number of hiking trails around the summit if you manage to get there in good weather and our Portland friends say they’re totally worth doing.

Museums & Galleries in Portland

Rainy days in Portland call for a visit to some of the city’s museums and galleries. There are quite a few different museums and galleries around the city. We picked two which our local Portland friends recommended.

Portland Art Museum

Portland’s art museum was massive and truth be told it blew San Francisco’s contemporary art museum out of the water (sorry San Francisco). The Art Museum is the largest in Oregon and one of the US’s oldest museums. The gallery has some staple exhibitions including a very interesting native American art collection. It also has some modern sculptures and a particularly disturbing/loud video from the contemporary art section that I’ve not been able to get out of my head since visiting (I won’t spoil it for you though!)

Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (OMSI)

This very cool science museum is popular with families and kids, and it’s not hard to see why. The museum is full of creative, hands-on ways of teaching children about science including multiple interactive labs. Included in this was a heat sensor that showed you which parts of your body were warmest (my hands were so cold that they didn’t show up!) and a sandbox that showed land contours and rainfall.

Other Things To Do in Portland

There are lots of really cool neighbourhoods in Portland that are worth checking out. We enjoyed ambling around the different areas when we weren’t busy seeing the parks and museums in Downtown.

Hawthorne Neighbourhood

Hawthorne is Portland’s hipster home. This is the place for browsing in vintage shops and boutiques and eating in independent restaurants. There’s a Powell’s bookstore, an independent bookstore chain in Portland, that’s worth checking out. Grab a healthy bowl at Harlow Restaurant and stop by Likewise bar – which supports local artists – a few doors down for a unique cocktail.

Soaking Pools at McMenamins Kennedy School

The soaking pools were a total gem in Portland that we weren’t expecting at all. The soaking pool is a heated pool in a private courtyard of the McMenamins Kennedy School. It’s surrounded by bamboo and covered in ceramic tiles. The pool has a saltwater based system which is eco-friendly and uses mineral salts. Guests of the hotel and outside visitors are welcome to the pool. Entry is $5 per person for an hour. You can also drink a beer in the pool if you’re so inclined.

Vegetarian Food in Portland

Portland is chock-full of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. In fact, we regularly started to see signs saying “meat options available” because so much of the food here is veggie. This is not surprising considering the city’s eco-aware population and their commitment to green living. And it’s awesome for us as vegetarian visitors to Portland! Here’s our favourite vegetarian and vegan food finds from around Portland:

Downtown Portland

Wolf & Bear’s – Middle Eastern falafel stand

Our falafel cravings were well and truly taken care of at Wolf & Bear’s falafel stand. There are couple of the chain around the city. We visited the one in downtown, which is in a group of international food stands. The falafel wrap is vegan and comes with hummus, caramelised onions, roasted red peppers, grilled eggplant, pickles, chillies and tahini. Definitely the best food in the city for lunch on the run.

Google Map: SW 10th between Alder & Washington, Portland

Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen – talk of the town modern Vietnamese restaurant

We’d heard so many people raving about this Vietnamese restaurant and the queue here was always out of the door, that we decided we had to try it. The food was good but we weren’t blown away. I guess our expectations might’ve been too high! There’s a good vegetarian pho that has a nicer and more flavoursome broth than many you usually find. There’s also a weird ordering system where you’re asked to place your food order before sitting down from a hanging menu board.

Google Map: 835 SW 2nd Ave, Portland

Southeast Portland

Paradox Organic Cafe – vegetarian, hipster American diner

Luke was desperate to find an American diner that would have some decent vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. Fortunately, we found just that at Paradox Diner. Think classic American diner with a vegetarian-hipster twist. Luke went for a dish of veggie sausage and potatoes topped in gooey cheese sauce called ‘Mt. Tabor Taters.’ I went down the healthier road and ordered a non-classic ‘ScramBowl’ of tofu and veggies with arugula pesto.

Google Map: 3439 SE Belmont, Portland

Harlow Restaurant – healthy veggie bowls

The veggie bowls at Harlow were healthy, hearty and chocked full of good grains and leafy green veg. The menu is made up of a number of different bowls and sauces, or you can construct your own. The food is simple: a good grain, healthy veg, a protein (beans or tofu) and a sauce. The only downside is that the cafe is very brightly lit and feels as though it’s decorated to be a tea shop. Don’t let that put you off though because the food is great.

Google Map: 3632 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland

Bamboo Sushi – sustainably sourced sushi
This is the world’s first certified sustainable sushi restaurant and the sushi is divine. This restaurant is more high-end than the others on our list, but their sushi is worth it. For vegetarian and vegan sushi lovers like us, there are plenty of options.

Google Map: 310 SE 28th Ave, Portland


Salt & Straw – fresh made ice cream shop

Portland’s favourite ice cream shop is the fave for good reason. Their ice cream is fresh and rich and comes in loads of different crazy (and non-crazy) flavours. The servers are happy for you to try as many flavours as you like before committing to getting a scoop. I was fond of the strawberry honey balsamic with black pepper. There are shops located across the city.

Google Map: 3345 SE Division St, Portland


Northeast Portland

Bye and Bye – laid-back bar with vegan food

Casual cocktails and bar-style vegan bowls are the speciality at Bye and Bye. I really loved this restaurant because it had a great, low-key bar vibe but also really good food. I recommend the Eastern Bowl of nutritional yeast breaded tofu, broccoli and brown rice in a ginger peanut sauce (beware they’re a bit heavy on the sauce). Luke can vouch for the vegan meatball sub which comes with veggie meatballs, marinara sauce and oat cheese in a baguette.

Google Map: 1011 NE Alberta St, Portland

Green Transport in Portland

Portland’s sustainability commitment extends to the city’s transportation system too. The city even has a bridge that is dedicated solely to pedestrians, bicycles and multi-modal public transit.

Cycling – Many of the city’s residents cycle and commute by bicycle on the 345 miles of developed bikeways. Portland also has a bike-share program called BIKETOWN that allows cost-effective bike rentals.

Car-sharing – Portland was the first place that car-sharing started in the USA and Zipcar, an alternative to car rental where locals rent their cars when they’re not using them, is very popular here.

Aerial tram – The city’s aerial tram runs up to the main campus and boasts the eco credential of cutting more than 1000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. You can take the tram up for panoramic views of the city.

Visiting Portland

If you’re travelling to Portland and looking more information beyond this Portland city guide, I can’t recommend the Travel Portland website enough. They have amazing resources on what to do and where to eat in the city, as well as up-to-date information on what’s going on in Portland.

Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

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