Travel

12 Actually Cool Things to Do Right Now in Portland

Make the most of the warmth.

Visit McMinnville Oregon
Visit McMinnville Oregon
Visit McMinnville Oregon

It’s no hyperbole to say that this last fall and winter was a dismal series of months. Between the massive spike in COVID-19 rates, repeated pivots for bars and restaurants in an attempt to stay open, a catastrophic snow storm that saw thousands of Oregonians losing power, and an election season rife with turmoil and anxiety, Portland had seen better days. 

As we head into summer millions of Oregonians have been vaccinated. Outdoor dining plazas line the streets while shops, restaurants, gyms, and bars reopen. There’s, hopefully, a sustained movement among many industries to be more equitable and sustainable. We’re by no means out of the woods yet-and we have a drought to contend with that could make this summer a rough one, and still have that pandemic going on-but that’s all the more reason to celebrate the beautiful city we have. There’s plenty of fun to be had in the City of Roses, from its cafes to its parks and rivers, bars to bookstores. And while you explore the city, remember that it’s only as good as we make it. Support one another, treat workers with respect, and keep yourselves and others safe. 

Hit up a patio

$ to $$$
Multiple locations
Portland has always prided itself on its bar, cafe, and restaurant patios despite its predilection for rainy gray weather. But since the pandemic struck the city transformed itself-now nearly every shop in town has some kind of outdoor dining area, from full covered patios to modest streetside seating areas. Many restaurants are still hesitant to fully open for indoor dining, just as many guests are reluctant to move back inside. And during the sunny season there’s really no reason not to find a favorite patio with a glass of wine or a non-alcoholic tipple in hand and enjoy the weather. 

Courtesy of Smith Teamaker
Courtesy of Smith Teamaker
Courtesy of Smith Teamaker

Get your buzz on

$ to $$
Multiple locations 
We’re not talking about a buzz from a Negroni or pint of IPA here-beyond being a destination for beer and cocktail lovers, Portland is home to dozens of independent coffee roasters, importers, and shops that take coffee as seriously as any other beverage. From the culinary focused Australian transplant Proud Mary, to Never Coffee with its unconventional latte flavors, to the sleek and breezy local chain Barista, the City that Works clearly does so with a healthy amount of caffeine. Add to that tea shops like Steven Smith Teamaker and Tea Bar, and you’ll never be out of range of a buzz-inducing beverage. 

Visit McMinnville Oregon
Visit McMinnville Oregon
Visit McMinnville Oregon

Go visit wine country

$ to $$$
Willamette Valley
Now that the counties around Portland proper have been reopened, so have the wineries. Oregon is home to one of the most famed wine regions in the country, with the Willamette Valley competing on a national level thanks to its legendary Pinot noir. Beyond the wineries, boutique tasting rooms, and grand estates, there are numerous smaller towns to explore (including Newberg and McMinnville) with all sorts of shops, cafes, and restaurants. Keep in mind that there’s still a pandemic going on, so continue to wear masks whenever requested.

Go hiking in the Gorge

$ to $$
Columbia River Gorge
Rather than heading west to wine country, you can also head east to the Columbia River Gorge whose looping, winding trails are open for hikers and campers to explore in a stunning display of the local ecology and environment. As with all things, though, there’s a responsibility placed on visitors to maintain this. Enjoy the country and all of its wonders, but clean up after yourself and don’t set any fires outside of designated fire pits and at designated times.

Powell's Books, Inc.
Powell’s Books, Inc.
Powell’s Books, Inc.

Visit Powell’s Books

$ to $$$
Multiple locations
Powell’s Books, aka the City of Books, is nothing short of a Portland landmark. At the start of the pandemic, it was touch and go whether the venerable shop would survive without its loyal patrons being able to peruse its shelves. Luckily, the bookstore quickly pivoted to a new model and was even able to hire back many of its furloughed employees and today, shoppers can finally revisit the towering, mazelike aisles of the City of Books. The smaller satellite shops are open as well, some with limited hours so be sure to check ahead of time. 

DISJECTA
DISJECTA
DISJECTA

Get cultural with art and science

$$
Downtown and East Portland
Two of Portland’s cultural institutions are back open to the public, now with some modest safety measures and limited hours. For those looking to view some classic and contemporary art, the Portland Art Museum has reopened its doors-it still maintains an online presence as well for those not quite ready to peruse the halls. Those looking for some engaging and interactive science and education can once again head to OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Currently, the featured exhibit is all about dinosaurs. 

Ride your damn bike

Free to $$
Multiple Locations
Tragically, Portland’s infamous World Naked Bike Ride is cancelled for the second year in a row due to the Coronavirus. Happily, Pedapalooza is back and bigger than ever. This months-long bike festival features dozens of different community-organized rides, usually with around three to five a day. With all kinds of different themes, from hosted neighborhood tours to travelling dance parties, breakfast on the bridges to family-friendly rides through parks, there’s something for everyone. Portland has long been known as a bike city, and Pedalpalooza shows exactly why. 

Bullard PDX
Bullard PDX
Bullard PDX

Order takeout, including cocktails 

$ to $$$
Multiple Locations
Portland restaurants had to move quickly to adapt to the changing landscape that COVID-19 brought to the city. While many opted for delivery through third-party apps, no one is happy to have done so. If you’d like to support your favorite restaurant and enjoy some meals in the safety and comfort of your home, there’s no better time to do it, and takeout is definitely the preferable way. As an added benefit, wine, beer, and even cocktails are now available for takeout, and thanks to a law signed by the governor in June, those are here to stay for good. 

Taste your way through Portland’s beer scene

$ to $$$
Multiple locations
Beer is one of Portland’s most well-known and well-regarded institutions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many Portland breweries sport large, open patios and beer gardens which have remained busy even through the worst of the winter. Most have fully reopened, and even those that are still closed for on-site imbibing are delivering or offering curbside pickup service so you can grab your favorite IPA from Breakside, sour beer from Cascade, or lager from Ruse.

Matt's BBQ
Matt’s BBQ
Matt’s BBQ

Visit a food cart

$ to $$$
Multiple Locations
Coming out of 2020 the forecast for restaurants looks considerably better than originally feared. Portland absolutely lost some treasured gems, especially downtown in hotels, and things certainly still look different. But the unique food cart scene that helps define Portland’s restaurant identity remains relatively the same, if not even better than before. Fine dining institution Higgins has added a satellite outdoor bistro food cart kitchen, Piggins. And while the beloved Cajun restaurant Le Bistro Montage closed for good, it has reopened as Montage ala Carte. While there’s still no hanging out in pods late at night, you can grab a favorite dish from food cart standbys like Kim Jong Grillin, Matt’s BBQ, Gumba, Jojo, and Desi

Oregon Zoo
Oregon Zoo
Oregon Zoo

Check out some animals

$$
Sylvan Highlands
The Oregon Zoo is back. The staff there kept people amused and uplifted over the last year with adorable animal footage on their social media outlets while the zoo was closed, but now it’s reopened to the public to see those same animals in person. Otters, penguins, bats, red pandas, polar bears, and hundreds of other animals call the zoo home. Beyond offering an opportunity to see some wild beasts up close, the Oregon Zoo operates as a conservation effort, helping to protect animals through direct action at the zoo as well as through the Oregon Zoo Foundation

Go Hiking on Mount Tabor or Forest Park

Free
Mount Tabor & Forest Park
Portland is home to some pretty stunning parks. One of them, Mount Tabor, is centered dramatically on the east side, a volcanic cinder cone home to reservoirs and winding roads, with a stunning view of the city from just about all angles. The other, Forest Park, is across the river and nestled along the West Hills, providing miles of sun-dappled hiking paths and shaded woods. Both are within city limits and easily acceptable by car, foot, bus, or bike. 

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Alex Frane is a Portland native. He’s grateful for Zoom calls with his friends, the resilience of his city, and door-to-door wine deliveries. Follow him at @franiacdrinks

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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