5 Things to Not Do in Portland

So you’ve got your bags all packed and you’ve set your sights on Portland.  You can’t wait to visit – and why not?  It’s a great city!  You have some awesome activities picked out, you know the best restaurants to hit, and you might have even timed your trip for one of Portland’s summertime festivals.

But there are still a few things you should know before you arrive in the Rose City – things others are unlikely to mention when trying to entice you to visit.  To ensure you have the best time possible, here are five things you should not do.

Don’t try to pump your own gasoline

Or better yet, skip the car altogether!  Depending on where you’re staying in the Portland area, a car may not be necessary.  With a well-established light rail system, bike-friendly roads, and thorough Lyft/Uber networks, a car could be overkill.

However, if you hold aspirations of wandering the surrounding areas during  your visit – a day trip to the coast or up to the mountain – a rental car might be a good idea.  Just know that all throughout Oregon (with a few exceptions), it is not permitted to pump your own gas.  Gas stations hire workers to provide this for you, so stay in your car, and wait for them to come to you.

Don’t bother with Voodoo Donuts

Ok.  If you’re looking for a kitschy tourist trap, this one’s for you.  You’re welcome to stand in the massive line for an hour and get the infamous voodoo doll donut.  But you would be hard-pressed to find many locals in that line.  They’re not bad donuts, and they’re certainly weird in an Instagram-worthy way, but they’re not great.  They’re mediocre in flavor and nowhere near worth the long wait.

Telling a local you want to visit Voodoo will elicit a derisive eye roll.  And if they’re halfway decent people, they will try to steer you to something better.  If you actually want to enjoy the donut you’re eating, take our advice and give Blue Star some love, instead.  They serve gourmet donuts that are so rich and massive that you’ll want to share a single donut with a friend.  They don’t draw the same tourist crowd, so you can actually eat something before you collapse from hunger while waiting, but they do close up shop as soon as they sell out (usually mid-afternoon).

Go ahead and visit the flagship Voodoo Donuts shop downtown and take your picture of the neon sign if you have to, but give their donuts a pass.  If you absolutely must have that voodoo doll, hit them up first thing on a weekday morning (the downtown store is open 24/7), and you’ll avoid most of the crowds.

Don’t fear the homeless population

I’m going to level with you.  Portland is a beautiful city with many things to attract visitors.  Unfortunately, with the temperate climate and liberal attitudes, it has become a Mecca for vagrants.  If you find yourself near the city (or even along some of the city trails), you will likely encounter a tent or two.  Most are quite harmless, though you might see some occasional yelling matches.  Don’t worry about walking past them, and don’t feel guilty about not acquiescing to every request for change.

Portland is an incredibly safe city – even at night.  Some areas can be a bit sketchy after the sun goes down (Chinatown, anywhere near the Burnside Bridge, a few of the light rail platforms), and much of this is due to higher homeless concentrations.  Just use common sense, and you’ll be just fine.

Don’t miss out on the local outdoor activities

Brianna hanging over the edge of a beautiful Pacific Northwest waterfall | BIGtinyWorld Travel

This is the Pacific Northwest!  It is phenomenally beautiful here.  There are miles and miles of local trails and acres upon acres of wilderness to explore.  There are countless urban hikes right here in the city, and dozens more nearby.  Forest Park borders the northwest edge of Portland proper, and the city is sprinkled with buttes, hills, and foothills.

If you’re up for more of a day-long commitment, our wonderful outdoor playground of The Gorge is only 20 minutes away.  And Mount Hood has trails, camping, backpacking, and skiing (even in the summer).  To the west of the city, the Coastal Range has many lookouts to summit, and the coast has its own incredible oceanic wonders.

Whatever you do, don’t stay cooped up inside during your visit with so much to explore.  Even in the wintertime, there are adventures to be had close by.

Don’t get lodging in Vancouver

Monochrome panorama of downtown Vancouver, Washington | BIGtinyWorld Travel

Sure, Vancouver, WA is basically a suburb of Portland, but it lacks all the charm of the Oregon city.  And if you’re here to visit the city, you might quickly regret the decision to reside there.  Portland area freeways are horrendous, especially during rush hour.  And no single route is worse than the bridge connecting the two cities.  This simple, 8-mile stretch should take 10 minutes.  However, rush hour will stretch that out to at least an hour or more.  If you do find yourself in the boring attic above the good party, avoid going south between 6-9am, and don’t try to go north between 3-6pm.  Check traffic reports before you set out.

If you want to avoid staying in the downtown Portland area, going south is your best bet.  Tigard and east Beaverton will allow you the quick route up I-5 and into the city – even during rush hour.  Avoid taking Hwy 26 into or out of the west side of the city during rush hour, and stay away from Hwy 84 on the east side when commuters are on the road.

If Portland is too expensive for lodging, you might also consider Couchsurfing.com.  Locals are quite friendly, and there are many willing to host visitors.  This can keep you close to the city and let you avoid the hassle of driving at all (see the first point above).  You might even find us there 😉

The Portland skyline from across the river at sunrise | BIGtinyWorld Travel

Above all, don’t forget to enjoy your stay!

Have you been to Portland?  What lessons did you learn while you were here?

13 thoughts on “5 Things to Not Do in Portland

  1. Visiting for the first time in the summer so this is really helpful, thank you! 🙂

    1. Excellent, Jason! I’m so glad you found it useful. We have other posts on Portland as well; you’re invited to check them out. And please do let us know after your visit if we missed anything! Enjoy your trip!

      1. Thanks, I’ll definitely try and catch up on your other Portland posts 🙂

    1. Haha! I’m glad it was useful! Voodoo is alright if you want the touristy novelty of it, but Blue Star is definitely where the *good* donuts are at 😉

  2. I love this! I always, always, always steer people toward Blue Star over Voodoo. Basically, the only time Voodoo is worth it is if someone brings it to a meeting and it’s free 🙂

    1. Haha! Someone once brought in a dozen of Voodoo for a white elephant exchange, and STILL no one wanted them! I get it – it’s a kitschy thing.. but there are much better donuts out there 🙂

  3. It’s so funny you mentioned avoiding Voodoo Donuts; As I clicked the link, I was thinking that exact thing! I’ve never had a donut there that was better than passable, although I’ve heard there’s a maple bacon something or other that’s pretty good.

    Portland’s donut scene is an embarrassment of riches. Besides Blue Star, there are a great many mom & pop establishments that serve excellent donuts. Of course there’s Joe’s Donuts in Sandy, Sesame Donuts with their famous Portland Cream(like a Boston Creme but with caramel frosting instead of chocolate), Donuts Plus in Beaverton…..and many more!

    1. Nathan, we aren’t big on donuts, generally (for obvious reasons), but when we did eat donuts, we wanted to make sure they were worth it. You’re right there are so many better options in Portland! Just like we never have a reason to go to Starbucks 😀 Blue Star was just our failsafe go-to 🙂

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