Portland may be warmest and sunniest in the summer, but what’s a trip to Portland without a little rain and fog? Having been to Portland in both summer and fall months, when I’ve stayed for as many as 3 weeks, I can attest that the city has something different to offer during each season. Since fall seems to be the less popular time to visit Portland, I’ll share my top tips for getting the best out of Portland in the fall. Maybe by the end of this I’ll have convinced you that fall is the only time you’ll want to visit PDX!
1. Fall foliage is in full effect
The Columbia River Gorge is one of the best places to spot fall colors on the west coast. If you’re from a city that lacks the four seasons like me, you know it’s all the more precious to be able to spot seas of yellow, orange, and red leaves. Moreover, Portland gets the most rain from October through May. Imagine how beautiful all 90 waterfalls at the Columbia Gorge will be after a day of rain. You might be thinking – Yuck! Rain! Honestly I was too…and somedays it can be real rainy. But the rain adds a romantic atmosphere and it makes Portland, well, Portland.
If you decide to make it out to the Columbia River Gorge, here are my top tips for making the most out of your trip:
- Do a hike or two – AllTrails is my favorite app for researching trails. Simply type in your location or the park you’re visiting, and the app will show you all nearby trails. You can search by difficulty, ratings, and how trafficked each of the hikes are. The amount of traffic is such a good feature especially if you want to keep a safe distance from others during COVID. You don’t need to hike the most popular trails to see beautiful waterfalls.
Wanderer Tip: Bridal Veil Trail is a short and easy hike (0.5 miles) and the waterfall at the end of it is stunning! Plus there’s a lookout on to the Columbia River just next to the trail.
- Drive to the Washington side – Fun fact: the Columbia River Gorge sits on the state line between Washington and Oregon. Driving on the Oregon side through Mt. Hood National Forest gives you close up views of waterfalls and forest greens. If you go to the Washington side, you’ll get a more distant view of the Oregon scenes, which is gorgeous in a different way. Also – how cool is it to be in two states in the same afternoon? If you decide to do this drive, I recommend stopping by Thunder Island Brewing Co. before driving across the Bridge of Gods. The brewing company has beautiful windows that look out on to the part of the river where the two states meet. While you’re at it, try their super tasty burger and test your beer palette (or alcohol tolerance) by ordering a flight of their beers.
For a detailed guide on leaf peeping in Oregon, take a look at this nifty guide by Travel Oregon.
2. Coffee roasters will be waiting with hot brews
To be fair, you can sample from Portland’s vast selection of coffee roasters any time of the year. But fall brings with it many good things in the coffee world: the perfect weather conditions for a hot cup of jo, fall flavors (think cardamon, pumpkin, maple..), and the perfect fall foliage to go with your instagram pic.
Here are some of my favorite spots for coffee in Portland:
- Proud Mary – The coffee and the food here are seriously divine! If you’re in the mood for something fancy, get one of the Geisha pour overs. As an avid coffee drinker, I was surprised by how good coffee could taste. I swear they put flowers in that thing! If you do get one of the Geisha pour overs, also know that the heavenly tasting coffee does come with a steeper price tag.
- Ovation Coffee & Tea – Ovation serves Moroccan coffees and teas. We saw a lot of good reviews for the Pistachio Latte so we ordered that and it was delicious. I had no idea coffee and milk could pair so well with pistachio.
- Nossa Familia – Unless you’ve been to Nossa, you probably haven’t had honey in your coffee. Try the Bee Sting Latte and you’ll want to add honey to all your coffee orders in the future. Their other selections: Mocha Fogo, Espresso Con Panna, and Japanese-style iced coffee also sound delicious and I’m looking forward to going back and trying those out.
The coffee in this town sometimes makes me miss the coffee back home in San Francisco. If you’re a coffee lover, be sure to stop by a few in Portland and sample the different flavors.
3. Extra discounts during Black Friday
Oregon is one of five states in the U.S. that has no sales tax. You heard me right – NO SALES TAX! That means you get a slight discount on everything you purchase in Portland (and that includes online orders you ship to Portland). So where should you shop?
- Downtown Portland – You’ll find many of the popular stores in downtown Portland near the Pioneer Courthouse Square, including Nordstrom, Sephora, Nike etc. Popular Japanese retailer Muji has just one store on the west coast, and it’s in Portland. Pay a visit to Muji for quality stationery and home goods.
- Woodburn Premium Outlets – We did not expect this when we went to Woodburn outlets, but apparently it has the only Nike outlet in all of Oregon! Aside from the Nike employee store, this is probably the best place to get Nike deals.
If you’re reading this and getting anxiety about holiday shopping and can’t make it to Oregon in time, start with my 2020 Holiday Gift Guide for the Travel Lover for this year’s gift shopping, and you can always plan ahead for Portland next year.
4. Seasonal donut flavors you can’t get any other time
If you look forward to PSLs from Starbucks every September, Portland’s donuts will make you look forward to their seasonal varieties as soon as you’ve tasted one!
A few of the popular donut spots are: Blue Star, Pip’s and Voodoo. Word is, the locals like Blue Star the most. But there’s something for everyone, so try all of them to decide for yourself. Some flavors offered at these popular donut shops include: Blueberry Bourbon Basil, Apple Crumble, and Dashing Pumpkin. I’m getting hungry just typing these up…
5. Experience the city like Bella from Twilight
The popular romance series Twilight is based in Portland. If you’ve read the books or watched the movie, you probably think of Portland as a small misty town. To experience the city in its truest form, visit during its rainy season. Maybe even relive your favorite moments in the series by visiting a few of these 13 places where filming took place.
6. Save money on flights and run into less tourists
This is technically two great reasons packed into one, but the idea is the same 🙂 If you visit during a less popular time, you’ll run into less tourists and have more opportunity for great instagram pics. Plus you’ll likely save money on flights as the demand for them will be lower.
Visiting Portland in the fall just to see the Columbia River Gorge is reason enough for me to do it. Oh, and the shopping too (duh!) But I hope you’ll find one of the reasons above enticing enough to book your next trip to Portland for the fall. If you do, let me know how it is in the comments below! I’d love to hear about your experience.
For more fall inspiration, here are 6 ways to get into the fall spirit.