Is it possible to travel cheaply in Portland – what with all those world-class restaurants, great live music, and some of the best hiking in the country? It sure is! I brought in a Portland native to give us the low-down on the best food carts, $3 cocktails, and how to see Multnomah Falls for $5 instead of $40!
Greetings from the Rose City! My name is Ben Nason, and I am proud to be from the Pacific Northwest. I’m in the process of creating my own tour guide business, so trust me when I say that all you have heard about Portland is true- the eclectic food scene, breathtaking natural beauty, more breweries than you can count.
But did you know you can experience all this great city has to offer and not break the bank? As a native Oregonian who has lived in Portland for eight years, I’ve retained a plethora of budget-worthy ideas for you to take advantage of. Let’s get to it!
CHEAP LODGING IN Portland
Looking for a cheaper alternative to Airbnb? Portland has some penny-saving lodging, and in ideal neighborhoods to boot! (If you are looking to use Airbnb and save some money, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!)
HI PORTLAND- Hawthorne District $28-37/Night Dorm Bed
Great for solo travelers! Depending on the season, it’s around $30/night for a dorm bed, just a few minutes walk from the trendy SE Hawthorne District. Complete with an eco-roof and a rainwater harvesting system!
NORTHWEST PORTLAND HOSTEL $27-45/Night Dorm Bed, $69/ Night Private Room
Another adorable hostel in a great location! This place is a steal,with the hustling NW 23rd street, Washington Park Rose Gardens, the upscale Pearl District and Powell’s city of books all within walking distance!
BLUEBIRD GUESTHOUSE $70-80/Night Private Room
Great for couples traveling together! Each private room in this quaint little guesthouse is named after a different author and complete with a queen sized mattress, all tucked away in the thriving foodie district of SE Division street!
All of your culinary dreams are just minutes from your doorstep. I recommend the Raymond Carver, Elliott Smith or Gao Xingjian Rooms to get the most bang for your buck.
CHEAP FOOD/DRINKS IN Portland
FOOD CARTS- Portland is home to over 600 food carts! Always a viable option for good food for cheap. However, with all of these options, how do you know where to go? Here’s a list of my favorites:
STRETCH THE NOODLE- $8 Pan Fried Noodles. *Enough for two people!*
A food cart that serves Huge portions of chinese pan-fried noodles. Here’s the kicker- the noodles are so fresh, they literally stretch the noodles in front of your eyes- all made to order!
LOVE VERONA PIZZA & PASTA- $6-$8 10” Pizzas
Located in a large food cart pod downtown, this staggeringly fresh pizza sets itself apart from the competition! Personal 10 inch pizzas for that cheap are hard to pass up. Forget Pizza by the slice, come here and get the real deal. ( The pasta is great too!).
TAQUERIA LAS PIEDRITAS– $1.50 Tacos, $2 Enchiladas
Having trouble finding legit Mexican food in Portland? Look no further. This food cart is only open after 9PM, primarily to serve the many nightclubs in the area. Their homemade tortillas are the icing on the cake, so treat your tastebuds and make sure this cart is on your itinerary for your evening out!
THE GRILLED CHEESE GRILL– $6-$7 Grilled Cheese
Although there is a location downtown, I recommend the NE Alberta location- where their dining area is inside a renovated school bus! No matter the weather, this place will hit the spot guaranteed. The Mondor is to die for- melted pepperjack cheese completely smothers the avocado, red onion and roasted red peppers, sandwiched between two slices of Portland French Bakery’s Multigrain bread.
ZENDAKO- $5 Takoyaki
For those unfamiliar, Takoyaki is a filling Japanese snack consisting of fried pancake balls with octopus inside the soft, gooey center. For those of you familiar, yes this is the real deal. You will snack happily at this food cart right in the middle of downtown.
ROSCOES- $5 Chicken and Andouille Gumbo (2-6PM)
This charming neighborhood dive is worth the bus ride to outer SE Portland. Located in the up-and-coming downtown Montavilla neighborhood, they serve a killer happy hour with southern food to die for. Their beer on draft is not only constantly rotating, but they’ve got twenty beers on tap to boot!
THE AALTO LOUNGE- $3 Select Cocktails, $3 Grilled Cheese/Pita and Hummus (5-7 PM)
This cozy bar lies in the heart of the adorable Belmont district! The only thing that can make this intimate spot even sweeter is their killer happy hour! It runs every day from 5-7 PM. I’m not talking well drinks, either. Try the Belmont Jewel- Bourbon, lemon, pomegranate juice and orange blossom water- just $3!
BARTINI– $4 Martini’s (All night Sunday/Monday, Tuesday thru Saturday from 4-6:30 PM, 9:30-Close)
Who doesn’t like cheap martinis? Located in the busy shopping area of the NW Alphabet district, swing on by on a sunday or monday for the all night happy hour! Come in and sip on a deliciously cheap lemondrop or raspberry cosmo after a day of hiking Washington Park.
FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN BUFFALO WINGS: $3 Pints, $10 Pitchers (All day Mondays)
The wings at Fire on the Mountain are to die for! But, in great Portland fashion, it is also a successful brewery! All day on monday at all 3 locations, they’ve got $3 Pints and $10 Pitchers. You’ll be hard pressed to find another deal like this Come see why this has been a Portland staple for over ten years.
SCANDALS- $3 Well Drinks (4-8 daily, Tuesday’s 9 PM- Midnight)
This charming divey LGBT bar has survived the test of time. Serving cheap drinks to the LGBT community for over 35 years! Swing by and understand why it’s been a local favorite for so long. $3 (strong) well drinks until midnight on Tuesday, in conjunction with their GAY-raoke night. Sing, drink and be merry!
CHEAP THINGS TO DO IN Portland
Portland is a great city to visit on a budget. The usual spots to hit are the gorgeous Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the always hopping Portland Saturday Market ( Every weekend March-Christmas Eve), the breathtakingly beautiful Portland Rose Gardens, and the stunning city of books’ Powell’s Bookstore. However, I have a few more lesser known suggestions for you:
PORTLAND FARMER’S MARKET(At Portland State University)- Free every Saturday
Every Saturday, the biggest farmer’s market in the city serves Portlanders all year round. You’re certain to be serenaded by someone with a didgeridoo while you’re sampling the city’s freshest produce, all surrounded by the picturesque Park Blocks. With 140 spots to fill, come see just how much Portland prides itself in showing off its locally made goods.
COLUMBIA GORGE EXPRESS: $5, (May thru September)
Multnomah Falls is one of the most iconic spots in the Columbia Gorge. Tour companies charge upwards of $40 to get there, and parking is usually nearly impossible. Skip the tour and take the Columbia Gorge Express instead. It will get you to Multnomah Falls, round trip, for only $5!
The shuttle also stops along the way at the local favorite Rooster Rock State Park. With miles of hiking trails and breathtaking beaches (including the very first clothing optional beach in the country) you’ll never want to leave. Ride in on an earlier shuttle and stay until the last one leaves!
THE SOAKING POOL AT MCMENAMINS KENNEDY SCHOOL: $5
Situated in a refurbished elementary school, Mcmenamin’s Kennedy School offers bars, restaurants, a hotel and even a movie theater! However, my favorite amenity has to be the warm and relaxing soaking pools.
Oh, and to sweeten the deal, you can buy beer at one of the 4 adjacent bars and bring it into the pool with you. Come on in, drink some locally crafted beer, immerse yourself in some warm water and enjoy the garden surrounding you. Open until 8PM for non-hotel guests!
FIRST AND LAST THURSDAY’S ART WALK: Free
Portland is a hub for artists, and there are regular events showcasing the diversity of Portland’s art scene! First Thursday (The first thursday of the month), happens year-round, in the stunning Pearl District. All of the gallery receptions and openings are free and open late (many including drinks & snacks!) Sip on free wine and appreciate the art with ease, late into the night.
Last Thursday (The last thursday of the month) happens June thru August. Hosted in the vibrant NE Alberta Neighborhood, this event stretches for fifteen blocks! Last Thursday is a blend of established galleries and also local artists, setting up temporary shops in the street. Both are must-see events for any visiting artist, and a great introduction to the local art scene!
THE LAURELTHIRST or RONTOMS: Free Live Music
Portland has so much local musical talent, chances are you’ll find a show wandering down almost any street. However, there are two venues in particular constantly hosting talented musicians (often for free!).
The Laurelthirst has been around since 1988, and continues to be a Portland musical staple. Constantly filled to the brim with locals, they have free shows almost every day of the week, with an open mic on Sunday evenings.
Rontoms has bands playing for free every Sunday. If it’s not raining, they move to the outdoor patio – one of the largest in the city! Come on down to either venue, grab a PBR, and experience the local music without hurting your wallet.
FOREST PARK, CATHEDRAL PARK, AND MT TABOR PARK: Free
Parks, parks and more parks- oh my! Portland is absolutely littered with trees, greenery, and parks as far as the eye can see.
Boasting over 5,000 acres and 80 miles of trails, Forest Park is one of the largest urban forests in the nation. Experience the forests of the Pacific Northwest without leaving the city!
Located in North Portland, Cathedral Park is not to be overlooked. Situated underneath the stunning St Johns Bridge, Cathedral Park is named for the enormous gothic-style arches that support the bridge. This park and the surrounding neighborhood are a hidden gem and definitely worth taking the time to visit.
Mt Tabor Park is built on a dormant volcano, one of only 4 in the U.S. located within city limits. Easily accessible from the trendy shopping district of SE Hawthorne Street, you’ll discover the incredible panoramic views that Mt Tabor Park offers.It is also home to many unique Portland events, including the annual Adult Soapbox Derby.
EARTHQUAKE HURRICANE COMEDY SHOW: $5 Suggested Donation, Every Thursday
Starved for some comedy? Try the hilarious quartet of Falcone, Elshieky, Nguyen and Lopez of Earthquake Hurricane. Some of the city’s best local stand-up and improv talents, these four are guaranteed to show you a good time.
Come support local and traveling comedians for a few dollars (and no minimum drink requirements!) and discover why this weekly show has become a local favorite.
Thanks so much for your amazing Portland travel tips, Ben! I know we have lots of Portland readers, what would you add to this list?
P.S. 7 travel tools I will not shut up about till you buy them
Ooh thanks for the Portland tips, Ben! My uncle lives there and I only visited once, but that was when I was a baby… maybe someday in the future. This guide would come in useful for sure! 🙂
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
Silent Disco, Ecstatic Dance (free at the Tiffany if you volunteer, else 15$), Naked Bike Ride
Great guide, Ben! I’m a fellow Portlander and native, and my recommendations for cheap/free stuff to do would be really similar, but I’d add a few. If you come in the spring or summer, drive 30 minutes to the farm stands and flower farms on Sauvie’s Island, and if it’s hot, go swimming in the river on the beaches there.
The Portland Art Museum regular admission is expensive, but they usually have $5-after-5 Fridays, where admission is $5 from 5-8. It’s crowded, but worth it!
I totally didn’t know about the Columbia Gorge Express! For about the same price ($4.70), you can also take a round-trip on the cool aerial tram we have here. It’s a retro-futurist’s dream, and the views are supposed to be amazing (it’s been on my to-do list for SO LONG).
Oh, also, go see a cheap movie in one of our many wonderful theaters where you can drink beer and eat pizza (or fancier meals/snacks). Hot tip: If you go to the Laurelhurst Theater for the last showing of the night, they sell their pizza slices for $1 each after the movie.
Speaking of food, I’ve never eaten at most of the places Ben recommends, because as a vegan, my recommendations would be totally different. But rest-assured that if you’re vegan or vegetarian, there is tons of amazing food here. Maybe one of these days I’ll write up my own guide for that 🙂
Love this! Thanks for all the tips, looking forward to going back to this awesome city and trying out your suggestions!