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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

48 Hours of Fun on a Budget in Portland, Oregon

In this blog series I show you how easy it is to budget travel anywhere and I also give you a quick overview of a new city each time in a brief 48-hour itinerary.

I’ve lived in Portland since 1996 and it is, quite possibly, one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. Living for the majority of my life in Tucson, Oregon is much different. For one, it has trees and grass. For another, it’s not 112 degrees 80% of the year. I’ve got nothing against the heat, but it can get quite excessive and I am more than happy to give up sunny days for having four seasons. In Tucson, winter consists of days in the 60s, which is not really all that cold, and you almost never get snow. Portland rarely gets snow, but I can drive an hour to the mountain for the white stuff. I can also drive an hour or two and get to the beach. If I miss the dessert, I am not too far from that either.


Portland has consistently been named as one of the best family vacation destinations and, though we don’t have major tourist attractions, we do have great outdoor activities and more that can make all travelers happy. If you had two days to spend in the city, you can definitely do it on a budget. Though you can use public transportation like the bus or MAX light rail to get around, in order to get to some great places outside of the downtown area, it makes sense to rent a car. {You don't need to spend a ton on a rental car. In fact, you can save around 40% off regular car rental companies by using a carsharing service like Turo (formerly RelayRides). It works a bit like Airbnb, in that you rent a car from an individual. The car is insured, has roadside assistance, and basically includes everything you normally get when you rent a car, but at a lower rate. You can get a carshare for a few days or a few weeks and can even pick it up at the airport. The only difference between Turo and a traditional rental car company is that you are using a car that probably isn't brand-new, but it's more economical and more eco-friendly. Everybody wins!}


Day 1
I’m going to assume you are staying for the weekend and you got in on Friday evening. Saturday morning should find you standing in line at Voodoo Doughnuts downtown. As seen on several Food Network shows, Voodoo is known for its interesting (and cheeky) flavor combinations like the maple bacon bar what has real bacon on top, my favorite the Arnold Palmer and many varieties with cereal on top. No matter the day or night, it’s possible you will wait up to two hours for a doughnut here, but that’s part of the experience. Voodoo is cash-only, so make sure you hit up the ATM before you get there. We always buy a dozen on our trips there, because standing that long in line for two seems like a waste. You will consistently see travelers going home with a signature pink box or two under their arm. With coffees, you can get out of here for less than $20 for two if you purchase a whole dozen.

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A few blocks away will find you at Portland Saturday Market, an outdoor market (that is also open on Sundays) that sells homemade goods, décor, food, jewelry and more. You can easily spend several hours browsing the stalls and talking to the sellers. Make sure to walk along the waterfront before heading back and searching for some real food. Free if you don’t buy anything, but there’s something to fit everyone’s shopping budget.


Portland is known for its food trucks and is right on the top of the list of best trucks in the world. We have a ton, and it would be sad to miss out on trying some of the best mobile cuisine anywhere. Check out the food cart map in order to choose from what’s around you and grab a delicious lunch that you can enjoy walking around or while sitting in one of our many parks. Depending on what you choose, you normally can eat for under $10 per person.

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Spend more time outside with a trip to Portland Japanese Gardens. You can take the bus here, but it’s easier to drive to. This gorgeous outdoor space is a recreation of five different Japanese gardens, including the sand and stone garden and strolling pond garden. It’s quite peaceful and idyllic, plus it’s close to other attractions, like Pittock Mansion, Hoyt Arboretum and rose tests gardens, the Oregon Zoo and the Portland Children’s Museum, making it a great hopping off point to other Portlandy things. Stroll the gardens, indulge in a beautiful day and get some exercise at the same time. Admission is just $9.50.

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Get a bit of retail therapy in by finding a place to park along NW 23rd. A good tip might be to park in a garage downtown and take the streetcar, since there is not really a good place to park in the Pearl District, though there are shops and restaurants as far as the eye can see. If you came to Portland to buy something truly unique, this is where you’ll find it – from vegan shoes to gorgeous one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry. Splurge on a dinner out at one of the many delicious eateries in the area. My faves are Oba, Trader Vic’s and Sinju Sushi Bar. Window shopping is free, but plan to spend $50 or more on dinner for two.

You’ve had a long day, so head back to your hotel or vacation rental to get a good night’s rest for tomorrow.


Day 2
Start your day with a yummy breakfast made with fresh, local ingredients at Mother’s Bistro. You’ll want to make reservations, as it can become quite full even right after opening. Choose from signature dishes like the Grilled Portabella Mushroom Scramble and Wild Salmon Hash. Look to spend about $15 per person with an entrée and a cup of coffee. If you aren’t down for a whole big breakfast to-do, grab a quick breakfast at a food cart. One of my faves is the Gaufre Gourmet that serves of liege waffles with fantastic toppings that change with the season. There are always sweet or savory options. I love the ABC Waffle, which has arugula, bacon and camembert, with a bit of fig jam, but I often opt for the Monte Cristo, which is topped with turkey, ham, Swiss cheese and strawberry preserves. Order a coffee and you have the perfect Portland brekkie. A beverage and a waffle won’t set you back more than $10.

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If you have rented a car today, put on your walking shoes and bring a sweater or jacket for a drive out to Multnomah Falls. We have the tallest year-round waterfall in the U.S. and the drive is equally is enjoyable as getting to the actual falls. Don’t forget your camera, as you can get some amazing shots from all points of view. I hike up to the bridge on every trip I take there, but harder core hikers can take the steep trail up to the very top. If you’re coming with kids, you will definitely get their energy out here. When you’re done with all the walking and photos, check out the gift shop and the visitor’s center. Multnomah Falls is a lovely place to sit down to a picnic lunch, especially after hours of being in the fresh air and needing to sit back and relax. If you’d rather someone wait on you, the restaurant on-site feels like a log cabin and serves up simple, but really good dishes and desserts. The falls and visitor’s center are free, but a meal at Multnomah Falls Lodge can run $15-25 per person.


If you didn’t rent a car, you can still enjoy something totally Portland. Book a tour of the city’s bridges on a vintage motorboat. It’s informative, beautiful and a little romantic. I’ve been on several different cruises along the river, but Portland Boat Tours has been my favorite by far. Portland has 9 bridges, with a 10th one being built as we speak, over the Willamette River and they are all different. Not only will you learn about the history of the bridges and the city itself, but you’ll also get fantastic views of the city and waterfront. This is a bit of a splurge at $59 per person, but it’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. If that price tag is a little jaw-dropping for you, a Portland Walking Tour will run you only $20+ per person and will also give you a fun perspective of the City of Roses.


Luckily, Portland is totally walkable, so if you’ve just taken a walking or boat tour, head up to the Picnic House for a great lunch that will help you rest your feet and feed your inner foodie. Their vegetarian dishes are some of the best I’ve tasted. Lunch will run you around $35 for two.


Indulge your inner child with a trip to Ground Kontrol in NW Portland where all your favorite arcade games can be played again. A handful of quarters can last you several hours if you are a natural gamer. Follow up with another fun Portland activity glow in the dark mini-golf at Glowing Greens. This pirate-themed course makes use of black lights for a truly unique putt putt experience. Just as fun for adults as it is for kids, you can make your game even more challenging by purchasing the 3D glasses, so everything pops even more. We went on an adult-day out and played at Glowing Greens and it was a blast. Games are $10; however, they are cheaper if you get there before 5pm Monday-Friday and a second game the same day is half-price.


Want to try something totally outrageous for dinner? Skip the fancy restaurants and head straight to Brunch Box where you can get a bacon cheeseburger between two grilled cheese sandwiches. Okay, that might be a little gross, though it’s fun to try once, even if you split it with someone else. Don’t worry, you can also order normal burgers and sandwiches here and then split an order of fries – regular, bacon cheese covered or drowning in bleu cheese. You will not be disappointed by the selections here. Two can dine in for around $25.

Now that you’ve walked and ate yourself silly, you are probably ready to fall into bed. Head back to your room and pack up for your trip back to the airport. Hopefully you’ve gotten a good slice of what Portland’s all about and have stayed on budget. Depending on your choices, you’ve spent between $260 and $350 for two of you and may be planning a return trip.

{Some other awesome things to check out in Portland: OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), the Portland Art Museum, free Shakespeare in Washington Park, the farmers’ market in the North Park Blocks and free concerts and activities in Pioneer Courthouse Square.} Have you been to Portland? What was your favorite thing to see, do or eat here?
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