Explore Portland Like a Tourist {Even if You’ve Lived Here for Years}


My mother recently visited from Virginia, so I had the opportunity to view Portland through the eyes of a tourist once more.  Granted, I’ve only been in Portland for about nine months myself, so I’m hardly a local. But after you’ve lived in a new place for a while, some of its sheen is worn off by the inevitable obligations of daily life.  My mom’s visit was a wonderful reminder that I live in a place that is a popular U.S. tourist destination.

While she was here, I decided to dust off my visor and fanny pack to see my city anew, and I’ve come up with a list of tips to help you do the same.

Explore Portland Like a Tourist

  1. Set aside some time to explore.  You can designate a day, a long weekend, or a whole week for your adventure.  Setting aside some time for a “staycation” or even just focused wandering can help you appreciate all the wonders Portland has to offer.  Take advantage of a long break from school or a day off from preschool as a catalyst for your family adventure.
  2. Get out the map.  Go to the visitor’s center at Pioneer Square and pillage the display of maps and brochures.  The racks are full of events and attractions for every member of your family.  Don’t rule out attractions you have visited before or even places you go regularly; just remember to put on your tourist goggles before your visit, and you may notice all sorts of new things.  Plus, many attractions have rotating displays (for example, the hands-on display, Cirkus Zirkus, will be at the Portland Children’s Museum until May 31), so this month’s museum may be really different from last month’s.
  3. Create an itinerary.  You probably wouldn’t dream of traveling to another country without deciding what you want to do in advance, and the same principle applies to your adventures close to home.  Sit down with your family and figure out what each person wants to do. Because of the number of possibilities in our fair city, you might want to serve as a “tour guide” of sorts and narrow down the options before bringing them to the table.
  4. Take Tri-Met.  If you’re used to driving around the city, you might be surprised how different it looks through the window of a bus, train, or streetcar. Sit back, relax, and leave the driving to the professionals.  Tri-Met is free for kids six and under, and a day pass is only $2.50 for kids 7-17.  The MAX can take you to Washington Square (including the Portland Zoo, the Portland Children’s Museum, and the World Forestry Center) for less than the price of parking in some cases.
  5. Peruse the Museums.  Portland has some superb museums and attractions, and thanks to a recent collaboration through the Portland Attractions Marketing Alliance, your membership at any participating museum gets you free admission to a different attraction each month (excluding summer months).  April’s attraction is Lan Su Chinese Garden, May’s is Washington County Museum, and June’s is Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals.
  6. Pack a bag.  Set out from your house in the morning and plan to stay out all day.  Pack your backpack with rain gear, a jacket, a water bottle, and some snacks, and give yourself the freedom to be away from home for a while.
  7. Try some new cuisine.
    Taking in a day at the zoo
    Taking in a day at the zoo

    The restaurants and food carts in Portland are world class.  Find the nearest food cart spot when lunch time rolls around and do some “a la cart” dining. Try some of the trendy new restaurants during the week to avoid lines that wrap around the block.

  8. Hit the hot spots.  Top your meal off with dessert from Voodoo Doughnuts or Salt and Straw (the lines are actually pretty short if you hit them at the right times, like weekdays at 10 am or 2 pm).
  9. Take a hike. Portland is full of natural beauty. Hit the trails at Washington Square, Forest Park, Tryon Creek, Mt. Tabor, or one of the many other trail systems in Portland.
  10. Select a couple of excursions. Pretend you’re on a cruise ship docked on the Willamette and take some day trips to nearby towns. Hood River, Cannon Beach, Salem, and Mt. Hood, and Mt. Rainier are all within a short drive of the Portland Metro area, and each holds its own wonders to explore.
  11. Take in a show.  There are many options for family-friendly entertainment in Portland. Northwest Children’s Theatre and Oregon Children’s Theatre have a full schedule of kids’ shows, and the Portland Symphony also has designated kid-friendly matinees several times a year.
  12. Sign up for a tour or two.  Walking and biking tours abound in downtown Portland.  You can also take the whole family on a river boat tour or take your older kids on a ghost tour.  If you and your partner get some time to explore alone, take a brewery tour or learn about Portland’s shady past on a guided historical tour.

Whatever you decide to do, looking at Portland with new eyes can be refreshing.  Break out of your rut and find something else to love about the place you live.  Just think: people travel from all over the world to spend time in your backyard.


Kendra Kendra moved to Portland from the East Coast with her husband, Steve, and five-year-old daughter Karys in the summer of 2014.  A middle school teacher for the last decade, Kendra now spends her days writing, training as a doula, making jewelry, and exploring Portland with Karys.  You can find her blog at kendrakarysma.wordpress.com and her Etsy store at etsy.com/shop/kendrakarysma.

Previous articleMy Newest Sanity Saver: Telehealth Visits
Next articleHandling the Dreaded “NOTE HOME” from Your Child’s Teacher
Aside from being a writer, Kendra is a Birth Trauma Doula at KarysMa Birth, where she helps moms find their joy after birth trauma. A former middle school English and theatre teacher, she has an insatiable love for learning and a flair for the dramatic. Among the best moments of her life, she counts marrying her husband Steve during a dream rainbow wedding, planning a princess picnic on the beach with her eight year old daughter Karys, giving birth to her one year old daughter Saryn in the middle of a blizzard, and sitting on stage with Glennon Doyle. A Navy brat for the first 13 years of her life, Kendra settled in Virginia for eighteen years before she was finally ready to move again, relocating to Portland in 2014. You can find her work on Portland Moms Blog, The La Leche League Blog, and The Not Your Average Mom Project, as well as the hard drive of her computer.


  1. Very good article! I would save it for when I come to visit but …I will have the blogger with me won’t i? Love you!

  2. We’re new to the area and it amazes me how much I have yet to explore! Thanks for the suggestions. I like taking a “mommy” day every now and then. I have visited the Japanese gardens solo and with DH on a date night. We’ve all visited the zoo, and it was also manageable for me to take my brood on my own. I visited the art museum and loved the Italian Fashion exhibit. I am having a fun time planning little solo times with me and one of our 4 children in rotation to see something special. (Gives us that special bonding moment and is more manageable.) I’ve taken a DD to the ballet (first one I’ve ever been to!) and will be going to the Hello Kitty Festival and Frozen on Ice with the other two. DS loves having a day out with daddy so it’s just the boys, and they went to the Monster Truck Show! : ) Living it up in Portland!

  3. I love that Portland continues to surprise me with what there is to do. We’ve lived here almost 5 years and have so many things still to do on our list!

  4. Hi Kendra! We met at the press publish event and I’m so glad to see you on here! I just found this website and I love it! Great article 🙂

Comments are closed.