FEELING A LITTLE LIGHT in the wallet area? Don't you worry—we've all been there. I have it on good authority that Gus Van Sant once sold a kidney on the black market to buy camera equipment—and it wasn't even his kidney. Fear not! There are lots of great things to do around Portland that are completely free and at least as fun as not doing anything.
The International Rose Test Garden
One of Portland's most famous attractions, the IRTG has hundreds of varieties of roses being photographed by hundreds of varieties of tourists. Get in there! Put your phone too close to a flower! And don't feel bad if the roses aren't fully grown. No matter what time of year you go, you just missed the blooming season!
Right next to the International Rose Test Garden is a true natural gem, the Hoyt Arboretum. Just minutes from downtown you can escape into an ancient rainforest that looks like a place you'd find a body while jogging (you probably won't). Go for a walk on one of the many hiking trails and take in the beauty that used to cover this whole area before we cut it down to build a mecca for environmentalists.
About a 40 minute drive east of Portland is the tallest waterfall in Oregon (which it never gets tired of bragging about at its high school reunion). Take the mile hike to the top unless you don't like physical exertion or standing on top of things. It's also free to stand at the bottom and look up! (Some might disagree. See Overrated Portland.)
When you first get to Portland, you might think you accidentally walked into an audition for "1970s PE Teacher," but no. That is just how people present their upper lips in this city. Try to spot the eight major types of mustaches in one day: The Dalí, The Clark Gable, The Handlebar, The Tom Selleck, The Walrus, The Pencil, The Wild West, and free space.
In the heart of downtown at Director Park, there's a giant chess set that anybody can play, weather permitting. Bring a friend and move pieces that come up to your knees while teenagers in the park judge your ineffective pawn deployment!
Spot the Mountain
For some reason this game is incredibly popular with people in the Pacific Northwest. So glance east and play "Can I See Mt. Hood Today?" More often than not, the clouds win this game.
Drink from a Benson Bubbler
Have you noticed the oddly shaped bronze water fountains all over downtown? They're called Benson Bubblers and are unique to Portland. Named after Simon Benson, the famous anti-button activist, these eclectic water fountains are notable for never turning off and being used by up to four pigeons to shit in at once!
Well, it costs money to buy that tie-dyed Bob Marley flag, but it's totally free to walk around and marvel at the ingenuity of these local artisans. Did you know you can make wallets out of 45 different kinds of garbage? You do now! Plus this is a great place to fill out the last couple of squares on your Mustache Bingo card. (Some might disagree. See Overrated Portland.)
More Newcomers' Guide Articles:
Welcome to Portland!
Rain! Rain! Rain! Rain!
A Portlander's Pronunciation Guide
A Newcomers' Guide to Making Friends
Portland Free Stuff
Getting Around Town
Finding a Place to Live
How to Apologize for Moving to Portland
Bicycle Death Traps
Portland History 101
Portland Myth Bustin'!
Portland Tourist Traps