Exploring Portland, OR Without a Car:A 48 Hour Adventure

Portland, Oregon, has a fun little slogan that says "keep Portland weird". It often appears on signs, bumper stickers and the occasional building and Portland has embraced it as their unofficial motto. Portland is a haven for urban explorers and food enthusiasts and has just enough quirk to keep it charming...or weird, whichever you like! With its vibrant food scene, eco-friendly ethos, and easy accessibility via public transit {or your two legs!}, Portland is the perfect getaway even if you arrive car-free. In this guide, we are going to delve into how you can make the most of 48 hours in Portland starting with your first adventure-taking the Amtrak Cascades route from Seattle or Tacoma, WA! Then we will explore downtown Portland without a car, indulge in a food tour and stay centrally located all while still savoring the delights of the renowned Portland food cart scene. Are you ready? Let's go!


Exploring Portland, OR Without a Car: A 48 Hour Adventure


Day 1: Arrival and Downtown Exploration

If you are a Seattle or Tacoma local like I am, this is a great trip away for 48 hours. If you are visiting the PNW and want to get a feel for another state on the West Coast, this is a great way to add a little extension to your visit. If you arrive in Seattle via SeaTac International Airport, you can fly out of Portland International Airport as an extension of your trip. Or vice versa! 

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Getting There: Amtrak Cascades from Seattle/Tacoma

Your adventure begins aboard the Amtrak Cascades, offering scenic views as you journey south from Seattle or Tacoma, WA. The comfortable train ride provides a stress-free start to your car-free Portland experience. Arriving at Portland's Union Station, you're seamlessly connected to downtown via MAX Light Rail or streetcar, both excellent options for exploring the city without a car.

Pro tip: Book your Amtrak tickets early for the best fares!

Checking In: Royal Sonesta Portland

This hotel is an easy walk from the Portland Union Station, less than a mile and mostly a straight shot! Located in the heart of downtown Portland, the Royal Sonesta offers convenience and comfort, making it an ideal bae for your urban explorations. With its modern amenities and proximity to key attractions, you can easily drop off your bags and begin your Portland adventure.

Pro tip: The hotel will hold your bags for you if your room isn't ready for check in just yet!

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Morning Exploration: Pioneer Courthouse Square and Downtown

Begin your day with a stroll through Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland's "living room," before exploring downtown's mix of historic buildings, modern boutiques, and coffee shops. Don't miss Powell's City of Books, a literary landmark spanning an entire city block!

Powell's City of Books

Powell's is a paradise for book lovers, housing an extensive collection that spans multiple floors and genres. Lose yourself among the towering shelves stocked with new releases, used gems, and rare finds. The store's welcoming atmosphere invites you to browse at your leisure, with knowledgeable staff on hand to guide you. 

The Rare Book Room

For real bibliophiles, a visit to Powell's Rare Book Room is a must. Located at the top floor of the main building, this intimate space houses a curated selection of rare and collectible books. From first editions to signed copies and limited printings, each volume tells a story of its own. Whether you're a serious collector or simply curious, the Rare Book Room offers a glimpse into literary history and craftsmanship.

Pro tip: Grab a lanyard just outside of the Rare Book Room for admission in. It's free to enter, but they limit the number of people inside at a time.


Lunch: Portland Food Carts

For lunch, delve into Portland's renowned food cart scene. With more than 500 food carts, no other city does street food the way that Portland does! You'll be close to both the Portland Courthouse Square carts or the Midtown Beer Garden carts. These carts, often run by passionate chefs, serve up everything from gourmet sandwiches to authentic Thai dishes, showcasing a fusion of flavors and Portland's diverse culinary experience.

Afternoon Activity: Cultural Exploration

Explore more of Portland's cultural offerings in the afternoon. Visit the Portland Art Museum to admire its impressive collections, including contemporary art and Native American artifacts. Or you can take a leisurely walk along the waterfront to soak in views of the Willamette River and the city skyline. 

Explore Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI)

After lunch, you can take the MAX Light Rail or streetcar to OMSI, located on the east bank of the Willamette River. If you prefer to walk, it's about a 30 minute walk on sidewalks. Explore interactive exhibits on science, technology, and natural history, including hands-on displays and a planetarium. OMSI's outdoor exhibit area and submarine offer additional unique experiences.

Tiptoe Through the Gardens

If gardens are more your thing, head to the Portland Japanese Garden, nestled in the hills of Washington Park. You can take the TriMet bus #63 to the gardens. They are open from 10-6 daily and closed on Tuesdays. Stroll through serene landscapes featuring traditional Japanese architecture, peaceful ponds, and meticulously manicured gardens. 

Nearby, you'll find the International Rose Test Garden that offers free admission until 10 pm every evening. With more than 10,000 individual rose bushes in bloom from May-October, you aren't going to want to miss visiting!

Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden

If Beverly Cleary was one of your favorite childhood authors too, then a stop at the Sculpture Garden is a must! It's located on the west side of Grant Park with Cleary used to play as a child. You'll find sculptures of Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins and Henry's dog Ribsy. 

Evening Food and Unwind

There are no shortages of food options in Portland. Portland City Grill has a popular happy hour but mostly just eye-popping vistas from the 30th floor of the Bancorp Tower, the second tallest building in Portland. 

If you want a swanky rooftop restaurant Departure has one of the best open-air views downtown!

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Day 2: Explore the Neighborhood


Morning Adventure: Neighborhood Exploration

Start your day with breakfast at a local café before exploring Portland's neighborhoods. Visit the Alberta Arts District for its galleries and vibrant street art or stroll through Hawthorne for eclectic boutiques and cafes. Each neighborhood has a unique glimpse into Portland's creative spirit.

Explore the Green Spaces

Portland has a lot of green spaces for being such a vibrant city. Take some time to explore them. Consider spending some time in China Town and going to the Lan Su Chinese Garden. In the heart of downtown, it's a tranquil oasis with classical Chinese architecture, a tea house, and winding pathways.

Mid-Afternoon Food Tour

Embark on a food tour with Lost Plate Food Tours, known for their curated culinary experiences that highlight Portland's diverse food scene. Sample local favorites and hidden gems while learning about the city's culinary history and culture from passionate guides. Tours run daily at 1:30 pm and last for three hours. They cover about 1 mile of  walking distance, and large portions of food and drinks are provided from 5-7 carts! 

The tour takes you to two different food cart pods, a food hall and one brewery. You'll end up with more than a meal and lots of new knowledge about the food cart history in Portland!


Early Evening Departure

If you are headed back to Seattle or Tacoma via the Amtrak Cascades, book an early evening ticket.

Pick up any snacks you want to take with you on your way home! I learned that there are no liquid restrictions on the train like there are on an airplane!

Portland, OR has such a rich culture, culinary delights, and scenic beauty and you can explore them all without needing a car! From the scenic Amtrak Cascades journey to exploring downtown landmarks, including Powell's City of Books, OMSI, and peaceful urban gardens, every moment in Portland will be a new adventure. In just 48 hours, Portland's diverse neighborhoods and cultural attractions will create lasting memories. But be careful, you might try some food that you just can't get out of your mind, and you'll need to plan another visit! Ask me how I know!

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