Portland on a budget

Hit the town without busting the bank.

tilikum-trimet01Take a budget-friendly trip across the futuristic and pedestrian-friendly Tilikum Crossing.
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    Want to wine, dine and explore Stumptown, all while leaving your wallet intact? Portland’s pleasures span every price point, letting you make the most of your time — and dime — in the Rose City. Here’s how to enjoy Portland on a budget.

    See Portland on a budget

    Free attractions

    Comedy

    Get your giggle on at the nonprofit Curious Comedy Theater, where the Sunday open mics and bi-weekly Thursday Night Throwdowns are free (but with a suggested donation of $5). Also on Sundays, the Alberta Street Pub hosts Control Yourself, a free showcase of local and national comedians followed by an open mic. At EastBurn, It’s Gonna Be Okay provides free laughs every Monday. On Tuesdays, Helium Comedy Club offers a free open mic night (with a two-drink minimum). At the Funhouse Lounge, there are three free weekly shows: an open mic on Wednesdays, Funderland: An Improvised Game Show on Thursdays and Midnight Mic on Fridays (at midnight, predictably).

    Music

    You can catch great live music with no cover charge several nights a week at Southeast Portland’s Laurelthirst Public House. From 6-8 p.m. daily, happy hour shows — often featuring acoustic, Americana or bluegrass artists — are always free. See free shows by local bands during Sunday Sessions at Rontoms in the Central Eastside. Velo Cult Bike Shop hosts the 20-member Hollywood Bluegrass Band on the first and third Tuesday of each month. Wash down the tunes with one of 12 local beers on tap.

    Theater

    To go or not to go is definitely not the question when it comes to sweet summertime’s Shakespeare in the Park. This annual celebration of the beloved bard presents free public performances by the Portland Actors Ensemble at magical outdoor venues around the city.

    Held in Portland’s picturesque parks under the glorious summer sunshine, Concerts in the Park delight the young and old alike. This yearly tradition brings the Rose City’s brightest musicians to the eagerly waiting masses for free.

    JAW: A Playwrights Festival brings a weekend of free staged readings and other theatrical events to the Portland Center Stage at the Armory every July.

    Inexpensive attractions

    Movies & more

    Open since 1923, second-run movie palace Laurelhurst Theater offers the best of modern, independent, art and classic flicks. And with tickets priced at only $4, you’ll have plenty of extra cash for pizza and pitchers of local brews.

    See first-run films in a cozy setting at downtown’s Living Room Theaters — screenings are just $5 on Mondays and Tuesdays. Pints of local beer are $5 and wine starts at $6 a glass.

    Whether you want to learn about the night sky, experience a rocket launch firsthand or enjoy a laser light show featuring the music of Pink Floyd or Radiohead, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is the ticket. Grab a beer at the on-site café before heading into Kendall Planetarium, which features 360-degree, full-dome projections for under $10.

    Music

    Set within the hip Jupiter Hotel, Doug Fir Lounge is Portland’s home for indie tunes. While big names do pass through, this woodsy venue mostly hosts artists on their way to the top. Tickets to a variety of toe-tapping shows start at just $8, with most in the $10-15 range.

    Eat & drink Portland on a budget

    Head to Southeast 82nd Ave. (aka the Jade District) for affordable Asian cuisine. With an always-packed parking lot, Kenny’s Noodle House is a standout for exceptional congee and warming bowls of wonton soup. The unbeatable Ha VL doles out mouth-watering $4 banh mi sandwiches and broth-heavy soup specials that can easily feed two. Don’t forget local dim sum favorite HK Cafe,where hungry guests find carts laden with $4 dumpling delights.

    Southeast Division stalwart Reel M’ Inn is a favorite inexpensive spot with local flavor — in other words, a neighborhood dive. This small but lively fishing-themed watering hole offers cheap beer, jojo potatoes and juicy fried chicken, prepared right before your eyes.

    This city is so chock-full of terrific happy hours that it can be difficult to make a decision. Here are two standouts. On the west side of town, try the Pearl District’s Brix Tavern, where inventive house cocktails only cost $5, and a mouthwatering list of small plates won’t clean out your wallet, either. On the east side, head to Belgian bistro La Moule for a comfortable yet chic happy hour with $2 pilsners and $5 bowls of mussels. Pro tip: Don’t skip the frites!

    Do Portland on a budget

    Free outdoor activities

    In a town nicknamed Bridge City, adventuring across one of Portland’s many walkable Willamette River spans is a must. Go for a jaunt over the elegant St. Johns Bridge, take a selfie on the futuristic and pedestrian-friendly Tilikum Crossing or stroll across the century-old Hawthorne Bridge. There’s plenty to see, and walking is the perfect way to get intimately acquainted with the city in no time.

    Since it opened in 2006, the Portland Aerial Tram has ferried more than 12 million people up the steep slopes of Marquam Hill. On clear days, the four-minute ride provides visitors with plenty to “ooh” and “aah” over, including views of Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood. You can ride from the top down for free (see the 4T Trail for details); the round-trip fare is $4.55.

    Although Portland is home to many awesome parks, the 658-acre (266-hectare) Tryon Creek State Natural Area might top the list. It remains a magical respite within the growing city, providing nature-lovers with 8 miles (13 km) of hiking trails teeming with flora, fauna and other natural marvels.

    Inexpensive activities

    Arcades

    The brightly lit era of the arcade thrives in Portland, so put down your Nintendo and head to the Avalon Theatre. When you’re finished playing air hockey and skee-ball at the nickel arcade ($2.90 admission), duck into the adjoining cinema for a $3 second-run movie.

    On the second Thursday and last Wednesday of each month, Ground Kontrol sets all video games and pinball tables to free play! Just pay a $5 cover to get in and play to your heart’s content.

    During ’90s Throwback Thursdays at Grand Central Restaurant & Bowling Lounge, enjoy half-priced video games and $3 tallboy cans of beer from 7 p.m. – close.

    Bowling

    Neon lights, potent drinks and funky carpet greet visitors at Southeast Powell’s AMF Pro 300 Lanes, where a no-frills experience is just the ticket. Lane rentals cost a mere $5.50 plus $2 shoe rentals, a surefire strike.

    Portland State University’s Viking Gameroom charges just $3 per game on its six bowling lanes ($4 Friday and Saturday evenings). Shoe rental is $1 per pair. Too rich for your blood? Pay just $1 per game on weekday mornings or $2 per game all day Tuesday and Thursday.

    At Grand Central Restaurant & Bowling Lounge, Sunday-night Soul Bowl offers $3 bowling and free shuffleboard and billiards.

    Sing & dance

    Break into song at Voicebox Karaoke Lounge during $12 Tuesdays. Parties of at least seven guests can sing all night for $12 each (the usual rate is $6 per hour). The Goodfoot Lounge lets you kick up your heels for a song on Friday nights. The $5 Soul Stew DJ dance night delivers funk, soul, disco and break beats on vinyl 45s.

    Cheap shopping options

    Head to Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, the funky home of Stumptown’s top vintage shops. From the sprawling House of Vintage to Portland staple Red Light Clothing Exchange, this strip has a spot to tickle your nostalgia for any era.

    Downtown, score a bargain at Nordstrom Rack or Ross Dress for Less and enjoy free people-watching at Portland Saturday Market (open Saturdays and Sundays, March–October).

    More savings

    Looking for even more ideas? Check out our list of free and nearly free adventures in Portland.


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