: Justin Katigbak / Travel Portland

How to Enjoy Downtown Portland’s Arts and Culture Scene Again

September 1, 2021 (Updated February 8, 2022)

You may not have been to downtown Portland in a while. You may have seen downtown Portland spotlighted in headlines, and may have heard of some businesses that have closed — but others have pushed through, adapting to every challenge and coming out stronger. 

These resilient business owners are welcoming you back to the Rose City — to the colorful outdoor dining plazas throughout the downtown streets, to the lively outdoor concerts and events, to the celebrated arts and music scene and the new luxe hotels that make for an amazing urban staycation. 

You may not have thought it was possible, but there are even more global-inspired food carts than before, right alongside your favorite dishes prepared by James Beard Award-winning chefs. From contemporary art to street art, theater to bars and nightlife, downtown is the creative hub of the city — and local artists and performers are shining every day and night, looking forward to taking their encores in packed houses once again. Downtown Portland is a story of revitalization. Here’s what to do when you’re ready to rediscover the heart of the Rose City.

A band plays on colorfully painted circles in a public square
Pioneer Courthouse Square is the place to go for live music, including the PDX Live concert series and Polka Dot Downtown's weekly performances. (Photo courtesy of Pioneer Courthouse Square)

Catch a Show: Find Music, Theater and Art

With the distinction of being the oldest art museum in the Pacific Northwest, the Portland Art Museum houses galleries dedicated to modern and contemporary art, photography, Native American art, graphic arts, and more. Check out exhibits like “Sharita Towne & A Black Art Ecology of Portland” (through July 2022), a look at the artist’s efforts to bring together community organizations in support of creating, reclaiming, and redefining spaces for Black art and audiences in Portland.

Grab your space in downtown Portland’s living room, aka Pioneer Courthouse Square, where you can purchase tickets to see top acts like the Indigo Girls and The Roots perform during a new outdoor concert series called PDX Live. Shows run mid-June through July 2022 and tickets will sell out fast. Also at the square, Polka Dot Downtown designed by Bill Will, hosts weekly performances like Mondays on the Mall. The art installation began in summer 2020 and has since welcomed nearly 900 Portland artists to perform on the Polka Dots throughout the city.

Just a few blocks up Broadway, you’ll know you’ve reached the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall when you’re greeted by its iconic theater-style “Portland” sign. The Schnitz is a stunning example of Italian rococo revival architecture, and it is once again ushering patrons back into its plush seats. Catch performances ranging from Pink Martini and Rodrigo & Dawson to Wynston Marsalis and The Princess Bride in Concert with the Oregon Symphony

For a more intimate entertainment experience, stop by streetwear brand Upper Playground’s Old Town store to check out the current show at the attached UPDX Gallery. Less than 10 minutes away on foot (or quicker on two wheels), the Pacific Northwest College of Art shows boundary-pushing exhibitions from emerging artists at its Center for Contemporary Art & Culture. Tread deeper into the Pearl District and you’ll find contemporary art galleries like Upfor and Elizabeth Leach. If you’re lucky enough to be in town on the first week of the month, the neighborhood’s First Thursday in the Pearl event features new show openings, often with the artists on-site, and is not to be missed. In the mood to sit back, relax, and enjoy some top-notch theater? Portland Center Stage is the city’s largest theater company, home of the historic Portland Armory building. The theater captivates audiences with an array of productions, from classical to contemporary to world premieres. 

Sit down to creative snacks and cocktails at Chicha, the playful patio spinoff of Peruvian restaurant Andina. (Photo by Dina Avila / Chicha)

Chew On This: Food Carts, Cafes and Outdoor Patios

Just a block west of the Willamette River, pan-Asian comfort food dishes like linguine pad kee mao and kimchi fried rice await at Buranko Café. Around the corner, the delightfully spooky Raven’s Manor cocktail bar slings “deadly tonics” and “eerie elixirs.” If you want to really get into the spirit, the bar’s Elixir Experience offers a 90-minute interactive mixology adventure straight from Dr. Raven’s laboratory. 

Pioneer Courthouse Square also offers excellent options for a grab-and-go breakfast or lunch — find carts like the sunny-yellow Fried Egg I’m In Love or the meat-focused Olympia Provisions Salumeria, which takes cues from the charcuterie and sandwich traditions of Italy. 

The Cart Blocks food-cart pod is perched at the south end of the North Park Blocks, making for an easy meal if you’re walking, biking, or riding a scooter between the Pearl District, Old Town, Chinatown and downtown. The carts’ cuisines span the globe, so diners can piece together an international smorgasbord of burritos from Fernando’s Alegria, jian bao from Shanghai’s Best, and doro wat from Emame’s Ethiopian all in one meal.

For an al fresco dining experience, let Chicha take you on a culinary journey via the street foods of Peru. It’s the playful spinoff of venerated Peruvian restaurant Andina. If you’re not lucky enough to score a seat, grab some anticuchos (meat skewers) or sanguches (Peruvian sandwiches) to go and have a picnic at nearby Jamison Square or Tanner Springs Park in the Pearl District.

Portland brunch stalwart Screen Door’s second outpost is located nearby in the Pearl District, serving their sought-after fried chicken piled high on top of a fluffy sweet-potato waffle or with Southern sides. (Note: Screen Door’s location at the Portland International Airport is set to open in March 2022.) About a half-mile away, craft cocktail bar Botanist House PDX hosts live music, comedy, drag shows and pop-ups at their open-air venue, Lovejoy Rooftop. 

A fluffy dog sits in a bright hotel lobby
Enjoy luxurious amenities for both you and Fido at the luxe Hotel Grand Stark in Portland's Central Eastside.

Book a Room: Check Out These Swanky Hotels

Downtown Portland boasts modern boutique hotels in close proximity to some of the city’s biggest cultural institutions and Providence Park, home of the Portland Timbers and Thorns. Stay awhile at the wood and neon-accented Hyatt Centric or the Moxy, which features a laid-back day-lounge area in its entryway and a sleek bar with all-day breakfast. Situated in the West End, you’ll have easy access to buzzy eateries like Lil’ Shalom and Toki. At the stately Sentinel Hotel, you can get a taste of one of Oregon wine country’s finest at the elegant Domaine Serene Wine Lounge, which often has live music on weekends.

Across the river from downtown, in the Central Eastside district, the pet-friendly Hotel Grand Stark offers a bespoke pet program so you and your furry bestie can both enjoy the luxurious amenities. The hotel features pops of green, reflecting the verdant Pacific Northwest, and houses Wes Anderson-esque Grand Stark Deli and classic hotel-bar-inspired Bar Chamberlain by the acclaimed Submarine Hospitality. Two blocks away, pop in for a cocktail and a bite at Bit House Collective.

If you’re looking for a bit of Scandinavian flair without having to leave the country, look no further than Icelandic import KEX Portland, a quick walk over the Burnside Bridge from downtown. Upstairs, the lovely Lady of the Mountain rooftop bar (temporarily closed during winter 2022) invites you to imbibe while enjoying cityscape views.

About The

Janey Wong
Janey Wong is a freelance writer and food Instagrammer @foodbbpdx. Born and raised in Portland, she has also lived in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of her family’s home country Malaysia. She loves to explore all of Oregon’s unique landscapes and cultural pockets, and has a goal of visiting all 50 states. Compiling lists of places to eat is often her first priority whilst trip planning. Her work has appeared in The Oregonian, Travel Portland, Womanly Magazine and others.

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