Summers in Oregon can be sort of deceptive. You might get all the way into the middle of July before it starts to feel like it's been any warmer than the spring was, and then BAM: repeated flurries of multiple 100-degree days, and there you are, shirtless and sweating through your couch at 9:30 pm on a random Sunday in October. Now add a dang pandemic into the mix, and it might seem like there's not very much out there for those of you seeking to safely enjoy some time out and about to stave off the stir-crazies. But that's where we come in, with this guide to some great things to do in the out- (and in-) doors, from more involved activities like hiking and boating, to things like "watching a movie" or "eating fresh fruit."
SUMMER IN THE CITY
The Oregon Zoo
This tribute to the wonderful world of nature is probably going to be many Portlanders' first stop when looking for an outdoorsy reminder of what the world can be like, with almost 2000 animals representing over 200 species from around the world. And it's not just a lot of "oooh, look at the big kitties sleeping!" either. There are myriad opportunities to marvel at the biological diversity on this planet, and to learn about how we can do our part to make these creatures' habitats more healthy, both for them and for us.
Once you're done looking at all the animals, why not take a look at the just as varied, and just as beautiful, examples of nature's wonder at Washington Park, where strolls through the Japanese Garden, the International Rose Test Garden, and the Hoyt Arboretum are still open and available to you. If you want to get your Robin Hood on, the archery range is also open, and if all that beauty, walking, and shooting is starting to deplete your energy, you can sit down at the open picnic tables, enjoy a nice lunch, and maybe spend some time reflecting in the memorials and statues area.
Outdoor Skating at Oaks Park
The Rose City Rollers host multiple opportunities to get some fun in the sun on eight wheels, and if you don't own those wheels already, the RCR's Skatemobile has you covered with rental skates, helmets, and pads. And when they say you can skate at Oaks Park, they mean all over Oaks Park.
Portland Electric Boat Rental
It’s a proven fact that beer tastes better and music sounds catchier while on a boat, but such a privilege is usually reserved for those people with boating licenses or well-off buddies. Fortunately, you don’t need a boating license or fancy friends to rent and operate an electric boat from the Portland Electric Boat Company. Each vessel seats up to 10 people, and they’ll hook you up with maps so you can conduct your own tour of the city via the Willamette River.
There are a ton of great hiking options outside Portland—but for those without cars, or those who don’t want to end their hike sitting in I-84 gridlock, we have much, much closer options. Northwest Portland’s sprawling Forest Park is the go-to, with a seemingly endless number of trails and plenty of places where you’ll forget you’re right next to a city. Especially if you find yourself face-to-face with "The Witch's Castle," a dilapidated, moss-covered stone cabin located inside the park.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
One of the single most peaceful places in all of Portland is open again, and if you're a Portlander looking to get set adrift on memory bliss, a safe, socially-distanced walk through all this beauty should just about do the trick.
Sellwood Riverfront Park
This city has lots of very good parks for very good dogs, but it’s nearly impossible to beat Southwest Portland’s Sellwood Riverfront Park, which not only offers a big grassy lawn for very good dogs to run around in but also the river, where very good dogs can splash around and swim and shake and have the time of their goddamn lives! If you have a dog, take them here! If you don’t have a dog, go here and look at other people’s dogs! Dogs!
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
Located smack between Reed College and the Eastmoreland Golf Course, this park is nine acres of botanical garden gorgeosity—which is indeed a word—and is packed to the brim with rhododendrons, azaleas, winding paths and benches, and close to 100 different kinds of birds and other wildlife, including ducks and the occasionally grumpy goose. If you’re pissed at the world, this is the place to go to get your head right.
Portland Farmers Markets
For many who have come to see going inside of a supermarket as a fraught endeavor, getting fresh goods in the open air from local vendors seems like a great solution to getting your weekly shopping done, and it helps your community out. Check out our roundup of Farmers Markets open for business this summer, and enjoy the bounty the outdoors can provide.
The city's response to Phase One was to get very creative in how to use its outdoor space, and some of your favorite restaurants and bars have gotten (somehow) even more interesting and fun to visit with their new outdoor configurations. Check out our list of locations offering outdoor dining, and combine your outdoor jaunts with some culinary adventuring, too.
FUN IN THE OUTER WILDS
Forty-five minutes. That’s how long it takes to Oregon’s BEST, most charming, and only slightly creepy amusement park. Hand-built by the Tofte family beginning in 1971, this fairy-tale themed park has ah-may-zing animatronics, a legit spooky haunted house, birthday cake ice cream, a top-quality log flume ride, mazes, hilarious theatrical productions, and the greatest shooting ride/game ever produced by humankind, the Challenge of Mondor. Kids have done NOTHING to deserve the wonderment of this place—but you have. Go.
Elk Rock Island
For those who want just a little bit of nature and exercise, Elk Rock Island is a quick 15-minute drive from downtown, in neighboring cute-as-hell Milwaukie. Park in the neighborhood, enter at the playground, and walk through the woods to the river, where you’ll clamber across some rocks (if they’re not underwater, which they usually aren’t in the summer) to get to this tall, gorgeous island that was formed by a volcano. The loop around the island is about a mile, and it’s fun to chill out on the beach, go for a swim, and yell mean things at jet-skiers. And it’ll feel like you’re 100 miles away from Portland.
Look, there are times when scientific accuracy is super important, and there are times when it gets in the way of hilarity. Visiting the Prehistoric Gardens on Highway 101 is one of those times. Established in 1955 (when dinosaur science was a little less exact), the Prehistoric Gardens takes you on a leisurely 20-minute winding hike through a gorgeous Oregon rainforest to view 23 life-size statues of dinos and their kin. (If you’ve visited the similarly awesome Enchanted Forest, you already understand the vibe.) So put the logic center of your brain temporarily on hold, because... DINOSAUR STATUES! RRRAWRRR!
If you're looking for a really peaceful, placid, and profound experience in the outdoors, Jewell Meadows in the Oregon Coast Range Mountains is basically like walking into a moving landscape painting with every step, and if you keep your eyes open (and maybe bring some binoculars with you) the sheer amount of flying and ground-based wildlife you'll spot is remarkable
Mt. Hood Adventure Park
Mountains! Apparently they are “useful” for “many things,” but mostly they are good for ALPINE SLIDES, which send you rocketing down a narrow, downhill track as you cling desperately to a dinky little wheeled cart and pray that you don’t die! (Think bobsledding, except smaller, and also you can do it in the summer, and also you don’t have to waste your entire life training for it.) Thanks to the fact you’re so close to the ground, shooting down the slide—banking off curves, speeding down straightaways—feels a lot faster than it is, making it a fun, exciting way to experience the great outdoors while barely having to move at all.
Desperate for that “haunted cathedral” experience, but you’re a church-allergic heathen? Get thee immediately to the abandoned mill at Vernonia Lake, a hidden oasis for feral pagans like yourself. Formerly used as the fuel bunker for the Oregon-American Lumber Co. (est. 1924), this four-story concrete structure is a showcase for some righteous graffiti artists; every reachable surface is layered with an always-evolving collection of tags and murals. Mature aspens and sword ferns grow within the walls toward the open roof, giving the place a strangely reverent vibe (in that post-apocalyptic, Planet of the Apes kind of way). The old fuel bunker is the last vestige of the lumber mill and its huge operation... and yes, it’s definitely FULL of ghosts. TREE GHOSTS.
The theatrical experience has been forever altered by COVID-19, and even though some theaters are re-opening for the tail end of summer, a lot of people have already decided "going to the movies" means getting in a car and taking a pleasant drive out of the city and to one of the many spots in the PNW that have hung up big screens and invited people to park and watch cinematic classics like The Empire Strikes Back, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Grease, The Princess Bride, and much more!
INDOORS, YET SAFE AND SOCIALLY DISTANT
Portland Art Museum
The oldest (and best) art museum on the west coast is now (re-) opened and ready to expand your mind and invigorate your senses through local and nationally recognized works.
No better time to get very, very interested in science and how it can improve our lives than this time, right now, and luckily for you, you live in Portland, where one of the best science museums in the entire world is open, with five halls full of learning, wonder, and more.
Oregon Jewish Museum
First floor exhibitions and the museum shop have reopened for purchasers of timed tickets seeking to get a good look at exhibits like Southern Rites, or to simply learn more about Jewish history through storytelling, art, and ephemera.
Powell's City of Books
It's still not the same experience that led many people to move to Portland to see if they could potentially live at this wonderland of words, but Powell's is re-opened. Not all of it, and certainly not to the sort of crowds full of booklovers they're known for, but if you've been seriously missing a trip to what many consider to be the country's best bookstore, miss it no longer. The Green and Blue Rooms will be open as of Friday, August 21 at noon.
The Mansion that serves as a history of how Portland transformed from a pioneer town to the city you call home is allowing timed visits for you to walk through its halls and see firsthand how one of the most influential families in Stumptown lived.