: ZooLights by Michael Durham / Oregon Zoo

12 Joyful Portland Holiday Traditions

November 25, 2016 (Updated December 1, 2019)

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.

Grab your reservation now for holiday tea at the stunning new Headwaters PDX restaurant at the Heathman Hotel. (Photo credit: John Valls)

1. Have a spot of tea. Grab your reservation now for holiday tea at the stunning Headwaters PDX restaurant at the Heathman Hotel. 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.

2. Lace up the ice skates. Take a spin on the Lloyd Center ice rink, which is open seven days a week for public skating, or register for lessons, which are available for all ages and abilities. Relish disco night and other public skate sessions at Sherwood Ice Arena. Or take a spin where the semi-pros play at Winterhawks Skating Center in Beaverton.

3. Watch the Christmas Ships. At 66 years running, the Christmas Ship Parade along the Columbia and Willamette rivers is one of Portland’s most beloved traditions. This year, the night parade runs Dec. 5-22 for 15 nights. 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. 7-26 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. 1-30. For the adults, there is Miss: Bennet: A Christmas at Pemberley, a clever sequel to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” running from Nov. 30-Dec. 29.

ZooLights transforms the Oregon Zoo into a sparkly winter wonderland with scenes created from 1.5 million lights. (Photo credit: Oregon Zoo)

5. Bundle up for ZooLights. For more than 30 years, the Oregon Zoo’s ZooLights has transformed its space into a sparkly winter wonderland with colorful animal silhouettes and other cheery scenes created from 1.5 million lights. Marvel at the spectacle on foot or by zoo train Nov. 29- Jan. 5 and make sure to stop for hot cocoa and light-up cotton candy (or 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. 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. For a non-traditional mall experience, head to Lloyd Center for Lloyd Local, featuring 100+ small businesses and brands.

Drive through the “largest light show in the Northwest” at Portland International Raceway’s Winter Wonderland. (Photo credit: Gregor Halenda)

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


9. Catch a concert. Sit back and let the melodies envelop you. The Portland Chamber Orchestra hosts an annual holiday concert, Dec. 21-22. The Bach Cantata Choir and Chamber Orchestra performs a Baroque Holiday Concert on Dec. 20, and the Oregon Repertorie Singers perform the Glory of Christmas on Dec. 8, 13 and 15.

10. 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.

11. 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.

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 Hipster Santa gets a lot of attention at Pioneer Place. 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

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson is a longtime journalist and travel writer/editor who is now Travel Oregon’s Content & Community Manager, helping to align content for visitors via social media, print and web. She’s called Oregon home for 25 years and loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.