Beautiful, scenic, scrumptious, and weird are but a few words to describe Portland, Oregon. Strange attractions and festivals meld perfectly with the stunning landscape of the Pacific Northwest, where the lush green of the mountains and forests blend into the cool tranquility of the valleys and river's edge. There's plenty to see and do in Oregon's largest city, so do it on a budget and go with a student group!
Lodging in Portland ranges fairly nicely from cheap to expensive (unlike many other cities where it's always expensive). For even more affordable hotels, look to the lower east side, away from downtown Portland. Prices are also pretty low around the airport and further away from the city center. Depending on where you want to be, in the action or on the sidelines, you can have your pick of the price.
If you're afraid of staying in a hotel further out, don't worry. Tri-Met, the area's transportation system, offers really cheap day passes and fully connected stops. They use light rail, streetcar, and a bus system to get you where you need to go, even from the airport. There's no need to take a taxi, which is severely overpriced. Also, the only reason for your group to rent a car was if you were planning on a long-distance side trip. You don't want to worry about gas, parking, payment, and insurance while you're on vacation.
There are a number of attractions in Portland that are either free or ask for a modest admission price. You don't have to break the bank to see the full city. All you have to do is set your daily limit, choose which admission-charging attractions you absolutely have to see, and plan from there. Don't go over budget because you think you have to pay to see everything because there are plenty of free things in Portland that show the city's true colors and offer up a good time.
- Voodoo Doughnuts ($-$$) - One of the city's staple eateries and famous for their fried dough, Voodoo constantly makes weird creations like those topped with Cap'n Crunch cereal or the Tangfastic doughnut, topped with powdered Tang and marshmallows. I know this should technically be in the "food" category but it's an attraction in itself, and one everyone should experience.
- Portland Japanese Garden ($$) - Portland is known for its beautiful gardens and the Japanese Garden is certainly among the best. As an authentic Japanese garden, complete with a Tea Garden and lovely cherry trees, taking a tranquil stroll here is a no-brainer.
- Oregon Zoo ($$) - Who doesn't like seeing animals?
- Multnomah Falls (free!) - Travel just 30 minutes outside Portland to see the 611-foot natural wonder at Multnomah. While you're here, learn all about the area's Native American lore for a fun, educational stop.
- Powell's City of Books (free to peruse) - The single largest new and used bookstore in the world, Powell's is a sight to see even if you don't buy anything.
- Oregon Museum of Science and Industry ($-$$) - You might not expect this unassuming museum to contain the U.S. Navy's last non-nuclear submarine, featured in The Hunt for Red October. Other exhibits showcase hands-on experiments and displays, a children's learning playground, a planetarium and IMAX theater, and more.
- The Grotto (free-$) - This beautiful Catholic sanctuary is famous for its recreation of the Pieta and stunning natural gardens. Only the upper garden charges admission, while the grotto, visitors center, lower garden, and chapel are free.
You're in luck with Portland food as it's practically the capital of food trucks. The ultimate places for affordable, delicious foods, these food trucks offer a full range of traditional recipes to fusion plates, gourmet, and more. Here are some top picks:
- Nong's Khao Man Gai ($) Thai chicken & rice
- The Dump Truck Food Cart ($) Dim sum
- Mississippi Marketplace ($) Mexican
- DC Vegetarian ($) Vegan
- PBJ's Grilled ($) Sandwiches