How to: Visit Portland, Oregon on a Budget

by  Jessica Festa | Jul 17, 2014
Portland Skyline
Portland Skyline / Sean Pavone Photo/iStock

 Looking to plan your next vacation but don’t want to spend a fortune? For an enriching getaway that doesn't break the bank, Portland’s utopia of sustainability, cycling, good eats, and natural beauty has you covered.

Getting Around
Renting a car or taking taxis is unnecessary in Portland, thanks to the excellent public transportation system and bike infrastructure. As far as public transit goes, widely used is the TriMet light rail, which encompasses four lines and 84 stations -- connecting commuters to attractions like Washington Park, Lloyd Center, Oregon Convention Center, and the Portland Expo Center. Tickets are $2.50 for a 2-hour ticket, $5 for a day pass, or $25 for 10 tickets. Other options include TriMet bus service, street cars, and commuter rail.

Cycling is also a great option for getting around Portland, considering the city's 319 miles of bikeways, 15 intersections with bicycle-specific traffic signals, and 5,000 bike racks. If you're not bringing your own wheels, Cycle Portland Bike Tours offers rentals starting at $5 per day, $20 per day, or $80 per week.

One budget-friendly hotel option in Portland is the Ace Hotel, located in the trendy West End area of downtown. Accentuated with vintage furnishings and local artwork, the boho interiors fit right into the hip vibe of the city. Guests enjoy free WiFi and Malin + Goetz bath products in their rooms, as well as an onsite Stumptown Coffee Roasters location and restaurant and bar. Standard queen and double rooms start from $205, while double and triple rooms with shared bathrooms start from $135 and $145.

Even thriftier travelers can try the eclectic McMenamins Crystal Hotel, also in West End, which boasts queen rooms with shared bathrooms. These range from $85 to $105 each, an excellent price for the prime location and for a gorgeous building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Amenities include onsite dining and bars, a music venue with nightly shows (mostly free), a saltwater soaking pool, and more. Guests of the hotel also have the privilege of buying tickets to otherwise sold-out concerts at the Crystal Ballroom, a very popular concert venue in the city.

Things To Do

1. International Rose Test Garden
One of Portland's most popular attractions is well worth the hype -- and is free to enjoy. You'll see why Portland is touted as the City of Roses at the International Rose Test Garden, where experimental and new rose varieties are cultivated. Here, wander themed gardens featuring over 10,000 individual plants from 500 varieties, bursting in rainbow hues. Even if you've seen your share of flowers, it's more likely than not that you'll spot a bloom you've never encountered before. (The roses bloom May through September.)

2. Portland Farmers Market
To get a taste of local flavors on the cheap, look for the Portland State Farmers Market, which sets up camp in countless locations across the city. We especially recommend the Portland State University market, home to over 100 stands of locally sourced produce, creative sauces and spreads, fresh baked goods, Oregon wine, and other artisanal creations. Since almost every purveyor lays out free samples, you can save on appetizers as you decide what to purchase as your main meal.

3. Food Trucks
Of course, we can't forget Portland’s 500+ food trucks. Among other locales, you'll find a hub of many mobile kitchens around 10th and Adler Streets, where ethnically diverse food trucks abound. A meal typically can be had for under $10 here, whether you're craving chicken and rice from Nong's Khao Man Gai, porchetta sandwich from People's Pig, or pierogi from Eurodish.

4. Powell's City of Books
Powell’s City of Books is so huge that you’ll need a map to get around. We're not kidding -- the 1.6-acre store actually provides one, along with an app. Inside this flagship location of the world’s largest independent bookstore, browse 1.5+ million new and used books, as well as stationery and gifts. We recommend making an appointment on the weekend to check out the rare book room, or see the calendar for live events.

5. Stumptown Roasters Cupping
Stumptown Coffee Roasters -- known for high quality coffees, knowledgeable baristas, and sustainable sourcing -- may have locations in various cities across the country, but Portland is where it all started. Monday through Friday at 3 p.m. at their Annex, visitors can savor a free "cupping" session, essentially a guided tasting in which you'll learn how to appreciate the aromas and flavors of different javas. Also in the Annex is an interesting wall of high-tech coffee-brewing paraphernalia and a small exhibit of coffee-brewing artifacts. Tours of the facility are offered for $15 on Wednesdays at 1pm. (Email to make reservations.)

6. Local Parks
Grab your camera, paintbrush, or a good book and head to one of Portland’s many luscious parks for a low-key and low-cost afternoon in the city. While Forest Park boasts being the country’s largest urban forest -- with 5,157 acres and endless hiking and biking trails -- Albert Kelly Park offers mountain views, sports fields, picnic areas, and lots of woodland. Another great choice is Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park, where many locals go for jogging, picnicking, and boat watching along the Willamette River.

7. Free Museums
A few of Portland's museums are free to enjoy during all open hours, including the Lewis & Clark College Hoffman Gallery, Oregon College of Art & Craft Galleries, and the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts. Otherwise, most others have designated complimentary admission hours -- the Portland Art Museum, for example, is free from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. the fourth Friday of each month.

8. Tours for Locals 
Sometimes, a tour is simply helpful in getting your bearings -- and getting context that will enrich your time in a destination. Know Your City offers a number of city tours for a reasonable $17 ($20 day-of), including Multicultural Portland, which introduces the city's diversity, and DIY PDX, which focuses on the local artisan community. They also occasionally host free popup tours and events. But what really sets Know Your City apart is that they’re a non-profit, with a great artsy, social justice bent. It's as much for engaging locals as it is for introducing the city to visitors, all the while keeping costs down for accessibility. 

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