Towering pines, rugged mountains and shimmering water inspire Portland's creative and entrepreneurial spirits. The vibe inspires residents and visitors alike to take advantage of all that life has to offer - even if it is a bit quirky, off the beaten path or across one of the city's 20 or so distinctive bridges.
Visiting Portland provides a fantastic opportunity to experience something you never dreamed of doing. In "Bridgetown," it's all about the journey, and we at GET.com aim to help you get the most out of that journey without spending a lot.
Finding Cheap Flights
Image source: By Axcordion at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons
We decided to take a closer look at Los Angeles, Chicago and the East Coast's Boston for comparison. We started our search about 6 weeks in advance, looking for basic economy nonstop round-trip fares that allowed a week's stay.
Flights From LA
From LAX in Los Angeles, no combination could beat flying on Tuesdays for $127; any itinerary involving Sundays and Fridays added $100 more. Our $127 nonstop fare on Spirit had lunchtime and late-afternoon takeoffs. The next-best airlines were Alaska and Delta, both at $163. On Alaska, those round-trip coach tickets ranged up to nearly $300 while first class ran around $400.
Flights From Chicago
For flights using Chicago's O'Hare, our best fare was on Frontier through Kayak. It departed on Wednesday and returned on Tuesday, flying nonstop for $224. Takeoff times were brutal, however: an 8 p.m. that landed in Chicago at 10:30 at night and a 1 a.m. that landed in Chicago at 7 the next morning.
Frontier's website was offering Den Deal 1-way fares between Chicago and Portland for $74 each way, but takeoff times were identical; we couldn't find a nonstop round-trip nonmember fare for less than $322.
Avoiding red-eyes, nonstop Monday afternoon flights totaled $377 on United, but only 4 seats were left. Other nonstop flights were $550, and refundable tickets were double that. Surprisingly, we could travel first class nonstop on United at even more convenient times for under $800.
By the way, the most expensive preliminary itinerary combination – $352 – used Thursdays, but Fridays were only slightly less.
Flying From Boston
From Boston, Tuesday-Monday and Tuesday-Tuesday itineraries were the least expensive, starting with a $347 Hacker fare combining Virgin America and Delta flights and incorporating a 4-hour return layover.
Long layovers continued up to the $480 mark, but at $483, JetBlue left Boston on Tuesday at 7 a.m. and departed the following Tuesday at 11 a.m. Blue fares ranged up to $700. Blue Plus fares averaged $740, and Blue Flex ranged from $600 to over $900.
Check out our guide to finding cheap airline tickets for ideas on where and when to find the best deals on flights.
Finding Cheap Hotels
If you long to stay in one of the historic rooms at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, economy twin rooms on the first floor start at $150 a night. "Intimate queen rooms" with 1 queen bed start at $265, and "premier fireplace guest rooms" with 1 king bed start at $340. Above the lodge, groups can rent Silcox Hut starting at $165 per person for 3 walls and a curtain door.
Downtown Portland has quite a few hotels, but clusters in outlying areas near the airport, to the southwest by Lake Oswego and toward Hillsboro to the west are less expensive.
Most 3-star rooms downtown started around $300 a night. For reference, 2-star Econo Lodge City Center had 1 queen bed for $179 a night; adding $10 yielded a second queen bed and free Internet, bringing a full week to $1,485. Parking was an additional $10 a day.
The nearby Travelodge had a king room for $113 a night that included free in-room Wi-Fi, breakfast and parking. Nonrefundable, $790 covered the week, but opting for a refundable reservation increased it to $930.
Near the airport, most 3-star lodging averaged around $200 a night. Courtyard by Marriott had a king room for $159 a night with free parking and airport shuttle. However, an identical deal at Clarion was $135 a night, $1,084 for a week; making it refundable was $270 more. All rooms included lakefront views and breakfast.
While a free breakfast can be hard to find, budget hotels near the airport often provide it: Howard Johnson Portland Airport starting at $80 a night, Quality Inn & Suites Airport from $81, Econo Lodge Port of Portland from $88 and Comfort Inn & Suites Portland Airport from $104.
If you plan to explore Canada as well as Portland, check out Camas Hotel in Camas, across the border from Portland in Canada. This 103-year-old boutique hotel offers low rates as low as $58 per night and an authentic experience in a beautiful town. Both Portland and Vancouver are within easy driving distance.
For a different kind of stay, look to Airbnb. Would you like a 5-star "garden home yurt experience?" In Southwest Portland, it's just $88 a night, $695 for the week. The yurt sleeps 5 and has 1-and-a-half baths, a fireplace, laundry, Wi-Fi, breakfast, meal-sharing and parking for 2 vehicles.
In Hawthorne, an apartment in a private home was $112 a night, $962 for the week total. It slept 4 and was light and bright, with a fully equipped kitchen and laundry. We also found a beautiful condo with sweeping views of the Willamette River. It slept 4, had 1-and-a-half baths, and offered a quick "jaunt over St. John's Bridge to Cathedral Park" or walk to Forest Park.
Image source: Marathon Mouth
For cheap and tasty, Portland has a tremendous assortment of food vendors – literally 6 or 7 hundred unique purveyors – ranging from food carts to trucks and stands grouped in "pods." CNN flatly ranked the city's pods as "the world's best street food," and Bon Appétit recognized Portland's modern food-city vibe as well as the variety and quality of the food available in the 8 pods:
- Alder Street Pod – near Powell's City of Books.
- Fifth Avenue Pod – downtown on Southwest Fifth Avenue.
- Third Avenue Pod – on Southwest Third Avenue.
- Portland State University Pod – near the South Park Blocks.
- Mississippi Marketplace – on Mississippi Avenue.
- Cartopia Pod – on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard.
- Cartlandia Pod – near the Springwater Corridor cycling path.
- Tidbit Food Farm and Garden – on Southeast Division Street.
Portland has farmer's markets in some parts of the city nearly every day of the week. On Saturdays, Portland State University hosts the largest of them. Along with fresh and artisanal foods, vendors offer plenty of prepared specialties.
If you're more interested in crafts, the open-air Portland Saturday Market at North Waterfront Park is open on Sundays, too. Local artists and artisans exhibit their unique wares, and food vendors offer everything from elephant ears to kettle corn and kielbasa.
Free Things To Do
Image source: National Park Service
While in Portland, you have access to 3 amazing sites that are outside the city but well worth visiting:
- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area encompasses an 80-mile river canyon through the Cascade Mountains. It's a treasure of towering waterfalls like Multnomah Falls, basalt cliffs, bridges, woodland and unbelievable views. Drive the Historic Columbia River Highway, or bike, hike, boat or swim.
- Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Gifford Pinchot National Forest is an hour-and-a-half drive north, but where else can you experience vast acres of mountainside recovering from a massive landslide and volcanic eruption? The forest is growing, and Spirit Lake is more beautiful than ever.
- Mount Hood National Forest is home to Timberline Lodge, an "architectural wonder" built as part of the Great Depression's Federal Works Projects Administration. The mountain retreat is a tour destination for nearly 2 million visitors annually.
Portland itself has tons of public parks, and its handy online "Find a Park" search tool returns results by area and amenities. For instance, we found Forest Park in the hills above northwest Portland, with miles and miles of trails designated for hiking and a number for bicycling. Mt. Tabor Park in Southeast Portland is another scenic destination, its highlight the Mt. Tabor volcanic cinder cone, one of 4 within the city's limits.
Portland has a platinum bicycle-friendly community rating from The League of American Bicyclists. If you're an avid bicyclist, Rubber to the Road is an online site that will help you find exactly the type of route you'll enjoy. In addition, a number of hostels and other lodgings cater to the cycling crowd. If you can't bring your own set of wheels, you can rent through area shops, the BIKETOWN share program or SpinLister.com.
The "City of Roses" is home to the "oldest public garden of its kind in the United States." The International Rose Test Garden is in Washington Park, with its famous Gold Medal, Miniature Rose Test and Shakespeare Gardens. In North Portland, Peninsula Park is a sunken garden of 9,000 roses, and close to Hawthorne and downtown, Ladd's Addition Rose Garden is smaller but known for its "diamonds of roses."
For museums, FreeMuseumDay.org lists free Portland museums and free days; it also provides direct links to the institutions' websites so that you can check times and locations. First Thursdays are popular, but some facilities vary, offering both free and discounted admission days. Second Tuesday, for example, at the Oregon Zoo means $4 admission; show your transit ticket or TriMET pass, and save $1.50 any day.
Image source: On Mount Hood
A visit to Portland without experiencing Powell's flagship City of Books would be a travesty for bibliophiles. On West Burnside Street, "the largest used and new bookstore in the world" occupies an entire city block and houses a million books. Search out a hard-to-find or rare print copy, or take advantage of the fantastic print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine to finally print your own books in paperback form. Thousands visit each day to browse the "staff picks," appreciate the rare book room, snag a souvenir tee, read, daydream or indulge in a cup of coffee.
The worst waste of money in Portland may be insisting upon the standards – especially during busy times. Just the stress of waiting in lines can put a serrated edge on an otherwise pleasurable experience – especially if you're hungry and waiting for food. Unpredictable mishaps occur in crush times, and you may not get the ultimate experience.
Also, some iconic places have gained reputations that take on a life of their own, so keep expectations reasonable. On the other hand, if a price frays the edges of your budget, Portland will always have something else to see, somewhere new to explore. After all, the best treasures are the ones that no one else has discovered yet.