12 Joyful Portland Holiday Traditions

November 25, 2016 (Updated December 6, 2016)

There’s plenty of time all year long for new adventures, but the holiday season is meant for celebrating traditions. It’s never too late to start. Here are 12 classics we’ve rounded up for you.

1. Have a spot of tea. Grab your reservation now for holiday tea at the stunning new Headwaters PDX restaurant at the Heathman Hotel. The acclaimed Chef Vitaly Paley serves up a grand prix-fixe menu of authentic sweet and savory Russian tea favorites, including pierogi, Kiev tortes, smoked and kippered fish and open-face rye sandwiches. Call for reservations.

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2. Lace up the ice skates. Take a spin on the newly renovated Lloyd Center ice rink, which opened in 2016 after a major remodel. Open seven days a week for public skating, or register for lessons which are available for all ages and abilities.

3. Watch the Christmas Ships. At 63 years running, the Christmas Ship Parade along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers is one of Portland’s most beloved traditions. This year, the 15-night parade runs through Dec. 21. Check the schedules for the times and best locations for viewing.

4. See a live show. There’s nothing quite like dressing up for a live show. Take the family to see George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, which runs Dec. 9-24 at Keller Auditorium, with performances by the Oregon Ballet Theater. Or introduce the kids to Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story, A Christmas Carol, at Portland Playhouse, Dec. 2-30.

5. Bundle up for ZooLights. Now in its 29th year, the Oregon Zoo’s ZooLights once again transforms its space into a sparkly winter wonderland with colorful animal silhouettes and other cheery scenes created from 1.6 million lights. Marvel at the spectacle on foot or by zoo train through Jan. 7 and make sure to stop for hot cocoa and light-up cotton candy (even beer and wine) at any of the cafes on site.

6. Sip a seasonal beer or cider. There’s plenty of dark, rich, malty goodness on tap for just a short time this winter season, so taste it while you can. A few surefire bets designed to cure the winter blues include: Widmer Brothers Brewing’s Brrr Hoppy Red Ale, McMenamins Kris Kringle Yuletide Ale, BridgePort Brewing’s Black Pale Ale Dark Rain, Portland Cider Co.’s Winter Spice, and Atlas Cider’s Cinnamon Pear.

7. Drive-through lights. Cruise through the “largest light show in the Northwest” at Portland International Raceway’s Winter Wonderland, where the whole family ($20 per car) can be dazzled by the massive display. Bring your food donations for the Sunshine Division.

8. Shop local. ‘Tis the season to show your love to local businesses, and Portland is absolutely bursting with independent retailers selling lovely handmade clothing, home goods, accessories and vintage goods by local designers. Shops all over the city participate in Little Boxes, Portland’s alternative to big-box shopping that takes place the weekend after Thanksgiving, but you can give these stores love well into December and beyond.

9. Take a stroll along Peacock Lane. This enduring tradition has continued for decades, as the residents of Peacock Lane in Southeast Portland go all out with their dazzling nativity scenes, rotating Christmas trees and life-like replicas of Santa and Frosty. Visit during the evenings from Dec. 15-31, or for a special experience Dec. 15-17 during their pedestrian-only nights.

10. Get spirited on Distillery Row. Consider it your gift-buying research. A handful of innovative distilleries in Portland’s Southeast Industrial District make artisan whiskey, vodka, gin, brandy and more — and host frequent cocktail crawls and and tasting hours. This season, try Mud Puddle Bitter Chocolate Vodka from New Deal Distillery or the Holiday Spiced Liqueur from Eastside Distilling.

11. Catch a concert. Sit back and let the melodies envelop you. The Portland Chamber Orchestra hosts the International Holiday Festival, where you can experience the music of many cultures and languages Dec. 8 & 9. The Bach Cantata Choir and Chamber Orchestra performs a Baroque Holiday Concert on Dec. 22, and the Oregon Repertorie Singers who are celebrating their 45th season, perform the Glory of Christmas on Dec. 3, 8, & 10.

12. Find Santa. There are plenty of places to catch jolly old St. Nick around town; Washington Square pulls out all the stops during the holidays, and At Pittock Mansion, the historic home comes alive with their 50-year winter tradition, Symbols of the Season, with decorations, lights, music by local artists and the big man from the North Pole himself. Hop on the shuttle to avoid parking hassles.

About The
Author

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters and other online content. She loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two young boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

Featured in this story

Heathman Hotel
Lloyd Center Ice Rink
Oregon Zoo
Portland International Raceway
Portland’s Distillery Row
Pittock Mansion

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