Being in Portland in winter doesn’t have to mean holing up at home watching the rain outside. There is plenty to keep you busy in this city, even in the colder months!
It’s my first true winter living in a colder climate.
I grew up in California, where it generally never dips below 40 or 50 degrees in winter.
When I made a visit to NYC for New Year’s Eve a few years back, that was probably the coldest weather I experienced, but that was just for a week.
Melbourne was potentially the coldest place in winter from my time abroad, mainly due to the intense wind, but I’ve never before experienced freezing temperatures as I do here in Portland in winter.
I’ve taken on this whole winter idea wholeheartedly, buying warmer clothes, learning how to layer properly, and finally experiencing my fair share of snow.
When I woke up last week to fresh snow covering the ground, I felt like a little kid at Christmas. I was so excited. After my recent trip up to Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort to learn how to snowboard, I’m finally starting to see just how beautiful winter in Portland, Oregon can be.
To share with you my excitement for the winter season, and hopefully have it rub off on you a bit, I’m sharing some of the best things to do in Portland in the winter.
A Portland winter is pure beauty (assuming you have the right gear to stay warm).
This city during winter is hard to beat.
This Portland itinerary will help you discover what to do in Portland in winter.
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Ugly Sweater PDX
One activity to do in Portland in winter is to decorate the cities art in holiday gear. In true Portland fashion, iconic downtown sculptures get bombarded with handmade ugly sweaters around November and December for Ugly Sweater PDX.
It’s hilarious walking around and seeing the most loved sculptures around the city decked out in the ugliest holiday sweaters and little beanies.
It has become somewhat of a Portland, Oregon winter tradition to go around taking selfies with all the animals you can find, tagging your pictures with #uglysweaterpdx. Clearly, it’s a movement.
Snowboarding at Mt. Hood Meadows
A classic Portland winter activity is snowboarding. I already wrote about my experience learning how to snowboard at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort last week, and I still cannot recommend it enough. No matter if you are spending 36 hours in Portland, Oregon, a week, or you live here, you must try snowboarding at Mt. Hood Meadows.
Mt. Hood Meadows is recommended profusely by locals as having the best slopes near Portland for snowboarding and skiing. This is especially the case if you’re a beginner because they have a good variety of different levels on the slopes.
Now that I’ve tested the slopes myself, I can only agree with the local recommendations I heard before my visit. Snowboarding or skiing at Mt. Hood Meadows seems to be another Portland tradition that’s loved by locals and visitors alike.
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Lloyd Center Ice Rink
If you are visiting Portland in winter you must stop by the Lloyd Center Ice Rink. This indoor ice rink is actually open year-round, so you could go ice skating or play some Portland hockey at the height of summer if you want, but what’s more wintery than ice skating in Portland!? Although I prefer the atmosphere of outdoor ice rinks, especially if it’s snowing, this is the next best thing since Portland doesn’t have an outdoor rink that I know of.
Lloyd Center is a huge mall in Northeast Portland, and the ice rink is the centerpiece of the mall so you’ll probably have quite a few shoppers watching you skate around the rink. Since this is appropriate for all ages, skating at Lloyd Center is also one of the many fun things to do in Portland with kids.
I tried Portland ice skating for the first time toward the end of last year at Lloyd Center, and I wasn’t as bad as I thought I would be. They do offer lessons at the rink though if you have any trepidation about skating on the ice.
Beer drinking is a favorite winter pastime for many cultures and is definitely one of the top things to do in Portland in the winter. Luckily, there are an abundance of breweries in Portland to choose from! Now, not all of them are amazing, but there are a good handful that are quality breweries and offer brewery tours.
If you would rather experience a variety of different breweries without having to figure out directions to each one, there is always the Portland craft beer group tours. They cost more money but will give you a good overview of the craft beer scene in Portland.
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Trail Blazers NBA Game
Another one of the great winter things to do in Portland is to attend an NBA Game.
Seeing a live NBA game was another first for me this winter in Portland. I saw the Portland Trail Blazers vs. the New Orleans Pelicans. And we won!
Although I’m a Golden State Warriors fan through and through, seeing a relatively inexpensive NBA game was still the perfect winter activity to enjoy in Portland this season.
You can find seats as cheap as under $20 at the Moda Center, and there is plenty of craft beer from the likes of Pyramid and 10 Barrel to keep you happy throughout the game.
Snowshoeing at Timberline Lodge
The historic Timberline Lodge is an iconic site just outside of Portland, located in the stunning Mt. Hood territory.
The Timberline beginnings go all the way back to the Great Depression and Franklin Roosevelt’s WPA. It’s also the lodge that was in The Shining movie with Jack Nicholson.
Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort may have the best slopes in Oregon, but Timberline is one of the best spots to go snowshoeing in Oregon and enjoy the winter mountain wilderness while you’re at it.
Their snowshoeing track is 3/4 miles long and rentals will run you $20/person per day. The lodge even offers a moonlight snowshoeing in Oregon tour at a few select times throughout the year.
Timberline Lodge has snowboarding and skiing facilities as well, but it’s not as big or as good as Mt. Hood Meadows.
Portland Winter Light Festival
Who doesn’t love epic light displays? Cool Christmas lights have always been one of my favorite aspects about the wintertime, and Portland offers an actual winter light festival after the holidays!
This festival is one of the many unique things to do in Portland. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (or OMSI) started the Portland Winter Light Festival for the first time in 2016 and it has been going strong since.
This Portland winter lights festival showcases large-scale light installations and interactive light projections around the waterfront from a variety of talented artists. And the best part is it’s FREE! It happens at the beginning of February every year, so don’t miss out!
Cozy Up for an Inexpensive Movie Night
Perhaps my favorite aspect about Portland is the amount of inexpensive and unique movie theaters around the city. Due to the cold weather, cozying up for a movie is a great activity to do in Portland, Oregon in December.
One of my all time favorites is Living Room Theaters on SW Tenth Avenue, which offers $5 movies on Mondays and Tuesdays. They have a full bar, food menu, and comfy seats that you’re able to select ahead of time.
Heading across the river, the Avalon Theatre on SE Belmont Street shows relatively new and classic films for the price of $3, and it’s attached to a nickel arcade. The Academy Theater on SE Stark only charges a $4 entry.
Of course, there are a ton of other historic theaters around town as well that may not be as cheap but will definitely provide you with a unique movie experience. Hollywood Theatre, Roseway Theater, Cinemagic, Laurelhurst Theater, and McMenamins Bagdad Theatre are all retro gems.
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to cheap movies in Portland, and it’s hard to think of a better activity on one of the many rainy winter days here than enjoying a movie at one of these classic spots.
Hotels in Portland
Whether you are exploring Portland in December or visiting Portland in January anyone of these three hotels will make great accommodations.
Sentinel, a Provenance Hotel
This stunning luxury hotel is the perfect accommodation for anyone who wants to enjoy first-class service and amenities. You can relax in their spacious guest room and enjoy their soft, plush linens and 24-hour room service. Each room comes with a Well & Fit kit, which includes a yoga mat, resistance bands, weights, core ball, and a tablet pre-loaded with fitness videos. The hotel is located steps away from Portland’s best restaurants, theaters, and shops. Right outside of the Sentinel is a streetcar stop, which allows guests to travel to the Pearl District, shopping areas, and the South Waterfront easily.
Nordic Inn and Suites
The Nordic Inn and Suites is a great option for anyone who is looking for more budget-friendly accommodations. This motel is located about 3 miles from the Portland International Airport and features 24-hour front desk service. Each room comes with heating, air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, and a sitting area. The motel is fairly close to some of Portland’s famous attractions including the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Lan Su Chinese Garden and the Oregon Zoo.
This Portland hotel offers its guest affordability and stunning modern design. The Jupiter Hotel has an on-site restaurant, live music bar, and uniquely designed guests rooms. Each room is equipped with environmentally friendly bath amenities, stunning murals, and chalkboard doors. The Jupiter is only a 5-minute drive from downtown Portland.
What are your favorite activities to do during the winter in Portland? With my first winter in the Pacific Northwest, I’m learning to embrace the season and take advantage of all the fun things there are to do around town.
Recommended Portland Tours
Underground Portland Tour
You may not realize this, but Portland has a super seedy history. On this two-hour walking tour, you get to learn all about the city’s history with corruption, gangsters, and its role with the Shanghai Tunnels.
For the history buff who likes to get an alternative perspective to a city than just the usual sights.
Street Food Walking Tour
Portland is known for its food trucks and fusion foodie scene – and really you can’t come to Portland and not sample of its unique flavors and dishes around the city.
This two-hour walking tour takes you to 7-9 of the city’s most famous food trucks – from Cajun food to Chicago style. Just make sure to come hungry! (Don’t worry, you’ll walk it off).
Half-Day in the Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge is the most popular area to see outside of Portland. Explore this beautiful lush area with the help of local tour guides who will take you to the best waterfalls and fresh trails that the Pacific Northwest is so famous for.
You’ll visit sites such as the Portland Women’s Forum, Crown Point Vista House, Latourell Falls, Multnomah Falls, and Horse Tail Falls. It’s a good overview of the Columbia River Gorge if you only have a half-day to spare.
PRACTICAL INFO FOR PORTLAND
Book a vacation rental on AirBnB (and get $20 off your first booking).
Find out what to wear in Portland in January here Winter Day Hikes in the Pacific Northwest.
Buy your Pacific Northwest Travel Guide here.
Need help planning your trip to Oregon? Find inspiration from these blog posts!
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