Portland is one of our favorite places to visit because Mallory’s parents live nearby. We have explored much of the city and the surrounds and there are numerous photo opportunities everyone should enjoy, which is why we decided to do this article with some help from our own experience, input from several locals and experienced travelers and additional research.
Portland is not the capital of Oregon, but it is the largest city in Oregon. It is a major port city given its beautiful location at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers, not too far from the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 2.4 million people live in the Portland metropolitan area, making it the 25th most populous city in the United States and the second most populous in the Northwest behind Seattle (check out our Instagram guide for Seattle too!).
Now, let’s get to our favorite photo spots in Portland!
White Stag Sign
The White Stag Sign, also referred to as the Portland, Oregon Sign or the Old Town Sign, with its Oregon outline and jumping deer is a nostalgic spot to capture a great image. The sign is located at 70 NW Couch Street in downtown Portland. It has been around since 1940, used to advertise various companies during that time until it was acquired by City of Portland in 2010. The location is great during the day or at night, and is especially fun at Christmas when the deer is given a red nose. In the image below, Tatiana Young shows off the great stone railing and the lit-up sign.
Keep Portland weird mural
Even if Portland stole their slogan from Austin, but it has grown like crazy and is well known. If you are going to be in Portland and want to embrace its weird underbelly, make sure to stop and get the obligatory picture at the mural on the side of Dante’s. Laura Xiquin shows it off in the image below.
In another image, below, Photographer Christine Haskin captures Prinz Estaban embracing the message of the mural. If you are going to take a picture here, see how weird you can make it!
The Lan Su Chinese Garden is always a favorite spot when we visit Portland. It is downtown in Chinatown. It is enclosed by a wall and takes up a full city block, roughly 40,000 square feet. The Garden opened in 2000 following construction by 65 artisans from Suzhou, China. The Garden boasts over 400 species of plants and trees, 90% of which are native to China. It is great for a bunch of good photo ops with the architecture, pond, gardens and other features.
The Portland Japanese Garden is a great place to escape the business of the city and enjoy some beautiful nature and cool Japanese plants and other features. The Garden occupies 12 acres within Washington Park in the West Hills of Portland. The Garden features 8 distinctive garden areas and a cultural village.
In the image below Alexis Attisha poses in front of the lower pond, which is home to many koi fish and this great viewpoint of Heavenly Falls. Another of my favorite features is the 100-year-old five-tiered pagoda lantern, which was a gift from Portland’s sister city of Sapporo with ornamental rocks forming the shape of Hokkaidō island (where Sapporo is located) and a red stone for Sapporo.
Old Town Chinatown is located int downtown Portland. China is bounded by the Willamette River on the East, NW Broadway on the West, W Burnside on the South. Chinatown includes several districts on the National Register of Historic Places, including Skidmore, Old Town Historic District, New Chinatown and the Japanese Historic District.
Chinatown in Downtown Portland isn’t that exciting compared to Chinatown in some bigger cities, but it still has some good photo opportunities. Sasha shared this great image below as an example.
Voodoo Donuts is one of the most iconic spots in Downtown Portland. It’s known for its eclectic decor and unusual donuts. While I personally wasn’t super impressed with the actual donuts, it is definitely worth a visit to capture some great shots at the location, with the famous pink box and eating some crazy donuts. Note that they are cash only so come prepared.
In the image below, Abby Morris shows us how to pose with the famous pink boxes full of donuts!
In this next image, Abby shows off good donut-eating form that we can all hope to emulate.
St. John’s bridge
The St. John’s Bridge is perhaps the most visually striking man-made structure in Portland. The green spires stand out against an often overcast sky. The compositions are endless as you can capture the details of the bridge, the view from the top or many views from the ground.
The St. Johns Bridge is a steel suspension bridge that spans the Willamette River between the Cathedral Park neighborhood and the Linnton and Northwest Industrial neighborhoods in Northwest Portland. It is the only suspension bridge in Portland and also the tallest bridge in Portland. It has a 1,207-foot (368 m) center span and a total length of 2,067 feet (630 m). The two towers are 400 feet tall (120 m).
In the image below, from Pimsani Amp, you can see the full grandeur of the bridge from the ground.
In another great image, taken from on the bridge, Jillian Rogers captures a beautiful portrait showing off the gritty details of the bridge.
Capturing the spires from on the bridge is also recommended. Look at the awesome image below from Anmber Iqbal.
View of Mt. Hood
Mt. Hood is a prominent viewpoint that can be seen from many places in Portland on a decently clear day. If you get lucky with the weather, make sure to capture an image with Mt. Hood in the background. Get anywhere high and you will get a great shot, or look through this article to see a few highlights. In the image below, Sips with Sare captured a beautiful view from Hawk’s View Winery in Sherwood.
Keller Fountain Park
Keller Fountain Park is across from the Keller Center and makes for an awesome background with flowing water all over the place. Just check out this great image from Thalia.
Another great image comes from Eileen Lu with a fun composition, as long as you trust your balance to not fall in!
Crown Point is where you get the iconic views of the Columbia River Gorge. The basalt promontory was also know as Thor’s Heights or THor’s Crown in the past before officially becoming Crown Point. It is about 15 miles east of Portland into the Gorge. Crown Point stands 733 feet above the massive Columbia River.
The most popular place to go is the Vista House. Vista House is an observatory at Crown Point that also serves as a memorial to Oregon pioneers and as a comfort station for travelers on the Historic Columbia River Highway. From this parking area, you can capture amazing views of the Gorge and you can also get an image in front of the Vista House as well, which is a pretty cool backdrop.
Showing off the wonderful view from Crown Point with the Gorge below, and even some snow, is the great image below from Ashley Franqui.
In another great image from Crown Point, Fisher Dodd goes with more of a portrait throwing the beautiful river below slightly out of focus, which is also a very effective technique from Crown Point..
The beautiful portrait below comes from Alexander Annus, who captured a retro feel showing just a bit of the river and highway below.
If you want to get the Vista House and the Gorge in your frame, Chanticleer Point is another great photo location at Crown Point. This image was taken by me on one of my recent trips out there.
Forest Park is a public city park in the Tualatin Mountains just west of downtown Portland. The park covers over 8 miles (13 km) on the hillsides overlooking the Willamette River, making it one of the country’s largest urban forest reserves.
The park covers more than 5,100 acres (2,064 ha) of mostly second-growth forest with a few patches of old growth as well. It features about 70 miles (110 km) of recreational trails open to the public.
Forest Park is home to more than 112 bird species and 62 mammal species. Given the 40 inches (1,000 mm) of rain fall the Park gets every year, it is always green. It also features small creeks the flow to the Willamette River, some of which are big enough to harbor trout or salmon.
In the image below, Amanda Olson shows off the greenery and a massive tree. There are photo opportunities everywhere in Forest Park that are a great change of pace from the other urban scenes in Portland.
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a little walkway area in Downtown Portland by the river. The park itself is about 36 acres of land along the Willamette River. It was opened to the public in 1978 and renamed in 1984 to honor former Oregon Governor Tom McCall. In 2012, Tom McCall Waterfront Park was voted one of America’s ten greatest public spaces by the American Planning Association.
The park is bordered by RiverPlace on the south end,, the Steel Bridge on the north, Naito Parkway on the west, and of course the Willamette River on the east.
The park is busiest during lunch hours on weekdays and all afternoon on weekends. The most common activities in the park, besides photography, are jogging, walking, biking, skateboarding, fountain play, picnicking, basketball, fireworks viewing, Segway riding and boat watching.
The park also hosts several major events every year, including the Waterfront Blues Festival, the Oregon Brewers Festival, the Gay/Lesbian Pride Festival, the Bite of Oregon festival and many of the Rose Festival events
It is an easy stop if you are doing anything downtown, especially if you are headed to Saturday Market. The main draw for me is the great view of the old-school bridges. Check out this great image from Mary Nguyen capturing the reflection of one of the bridges.
While the bridges are great, it is easy to get sucked in by them and forget about the grand scheme available at the waterfront. While there is still a bridge in the background, it is not one of the more interesting ones, but the long path, railings, light posts and fall trees make this beautiful image stand out. It comes from Karina Chavez.
The Pittock Mansion is a great location in the West Hills that provides panoramic views of downtown Portland. The mansion is a French Renaissance-style château that was originally built in 1909 as a private home for London-born Oregonian publisher Henry Pittock.
The mansion is a massive 46-room estate built of Tenino Sandstone situated on a beautiful 46 acre (190,000 m2) piece of land that is now owned by the city’s Bureau of Parks and Recreation and open for touring. The mansion was designed after Victorian and French Renaissance architecture, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
The Pittock Mansion is a great place to capture some good images. It boasts a few different compositions. There is the mansion itself, some key architectural points to focus in on, the grounds and an amazing view of downtown Portland beneath Mt. Hood.
In the image below Jiacheng Hu shows the interest of mansion in his great composition.
In this next image, Miranda McCafferty shows off the beautiful view of Mt. Hood above downtown Portland that you can capture from the Pittock Mansion.
The Portland Saturday Market is always a favorite stop of ours when we are in Portland. It is an outdoor arts and crafts market in downtown Portland. It is the largest continuously operated outdoor market in the United States. It is held every Saturday and Sunday from the beginning of March through Christmas Eve.
The market is located in and adjacent to the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, which also makes it onto our list on its own. We always like to hit up the market and then take a stroll along the river.
The market has over 400 booths and attracts an estimated 750,000 visitors to this area each year. Needless to say, there are plenty of photo opportunities abounding in the market given all the people, the performers and the surroundings.
In the great shot below, photographer Althea Williams captures a special moment between a father and son watching a clown.
Powell’s Book Store
Powell’s Book Store is a famous bookstore in Downtown Portland. While Powell’s is a chain of bookstores in Portland, its headquarters is the famous location, called Powell’s City of Books.
Powell’s City of Books is located in the Pearl District, occupying a full city block between NW 10th and 11th Avenues and between W. Burnside and NW Couch Streets. The store contains over 68,000 square feet (6,300 m2), or about 1.6 acres of retail floor space. CNN rates Powell’s as one of the “coolest” bookstores in the world. The store is said to have over 3,500 different books.
It is a famous landmark on its own, but the inside also is loaded with photographic potential. It is like stepping back in time to an old book store that is bigger than you can imagine. Rachel Dessenberger shows one cool image you can make inside.
Another popular shot is showing the long rows of books, captured brilliantly below in the image from @yokowakerock, who added a twist for some more interest to the image with the subject hanging off the ladder.
Mill Ends Park
Mill Ends Park is as tiny of an urban park as you can imagine. It is located in the median strip of SW Naito Parkway, approaching esplanade along the Willamette River near SW Taylor Street in downtown Portland.
The park is a small circle, just 2 ft (0.61 m) across, with a total area of 452 sq inches (0.292 m2). It is the smallest park in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records, which first granted it this recognition in 1971.
As you can see in the image below from Edvan Meraz, the park is nothing more than a tiny tree planted in a cement ring with a placard, but it has a nice park view and a bridge in the background that you can capture in a quirky image.
There isn’t a whole lot of variation you can capture at Mill Ends Park. It is after all about the size of a small bench, but here is another shot from Amy aka @lukalock of this quirky little spot in Portland.
International Rose Test Garden
A trip to Rose City wouldn’t be complete without visiting the city’s main rose garden. The International Rose Test Garden is located in Washington Park.
There are over 10,000 rose bushes of approximately 650 varieties. The roses bloom from April through October with the peak coming in June, depending on the weather.
When the roses are in bloom, you can walk among all different kinds and colors of roses, many of which will come up to your head, which is great for all kinds of compositions. I loved the image below from Melody Beuzelin aka melodyinternational as it shows her walking through a row of roses beneath the tall evergreens.
Cathedral Park could probably be included with St. John’s Bridge since it is located under the bridge, and the main draw is the fantastic pattern of pillars that support the bridge. However, I decided to make it its own destination because the main composition you get at the park is completely different and stands on its own. You can see this fantastic composition in the image below from Inna Kozarez.
If you want a tighter crop on the bridge, you can go down another level and capture the view like @tradercams did in the image below.
The view from down in the grass is also pretty spectacular as you can see the bridge above the arches. Its always a plus when you get some nice fog rolling in too, like the image below from Kamera Johnson.
Moda Center (Blazers)
Moda Center, formerly Rose Garden, is the arena where the local NBA team, the Portland Trailblazers play. Getting a shot at sporting events is always a fun time, so catch a game while you are in Portland, and capture a great image of you with the court in the background like the one below from Stephie.
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland has a ton of great photo opportunities from the great architecture to the always-happening public square. The Courthouse itself dates all the way back to 1875 and is quite impressive.
Pioneer Courthouse Square is a public space, which is also known as Portland’s living room. The Square is a public space occupying a full 40,000-square-foot (3,700 m2) city block in the center of downtown Portland.
The Square was opened in 1984, and is bounded by Southwest Morrison Street on the north, Southwest 6th Avenue on the east, Southwest Yamhill Street on the south, and Southwest Broadway on the west.
My personal favorite photo spot at Pioneer Courthouse Square is the sign pointing to many of the world’s sites. Lily Mejia shared with us a great image showing the fun sign with the courthouse in the background.
Not far from downtown Portland by car is the famous Multnomah Falls. While there are more interesting waterfalls in my opinion (see Panther Creek Falls and Spirit Falls for two of my favorites), the the Columbia River Gorge, none are as easily accessible as Multnomah Falls, which is just off the freeway. Lindsey Kuehl shows off its beauty in the image below.
Another great image from Multnomah Falls is below from @sofiaryannoelle.
If you made it here, those are the best photo spots we could find in all of Portland. Let us know if you have any other favorites or which ones you like best by joining the discussion in our Facebook group.