In the land of the Pacific Northwest, legal green stuff, hipsters, food carts and microbreweries, Portland is a city that’s… how shall I put it?
Portland is weird, yo.
There’s a reason why the slogan “Keep Portland Weird” is scattered throughout the city on signs, buildings and bumper stickers.
Thanks to the quirky likes of Frank Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, I’m sure their hit show Portlandia has boosted Portland’s reputation and exposed some of the city’s weirdness.
But the truth is, the weirdness is kinda what makes Portland, Portland.
Last October for about five days, I got to know this city a little better as the last time I was here, I was a tween passing through on another family roadtrip. The only thing I really remember about this city is Powell’s City of Books, which you can read about in the roundup “normal” guide to Portland.
It’s hard to explain the weird vibe here, but hopefully some of these places will shed some light on the strangeness.
I know there are plenty more reasons why Portland is weird since there are places like the vacuum museum and the “Freakybuttrue Peculiarium” that I didn’t get a chance to check out, but as far as my visit went, here are some of the unusual things that I learned about or came across.
Let’s start with weird place #1: Mill Ends Park.
This tiny piece of land is the smallest park in the world. It even made it into the Guinness Book of Records. Officially becoming a park in 1976, Mill Ends is located smack in the middle of a pedestrian crosswalk at SW Naito Parkway and SW Taylor Street.
Over the years, the park has been through its fair share of turmoil.
The lone tree in the park was once stolen and replaced by a new one, and there was controversy over which park should really hold the title of “smallest in the world” after a community in the UK thought Mill Ends was too small to be a park…
Next up? Staying in a gypsy-style caravan at the Tiny House Hotel.
While I didn’t actually stay here, I passed by this place everyday and I bet the experience of staying in one of these would be pretty weird, but cool.
It’s a multi-functioning house on wheels except you’re living in teeny-tiny space with everything you need aka hot showers and flush toilets included.
So what else is weird? Well, some of you might find this the best thing about Portland–the legitimate green houses.
Oregon legalized the sales of recreational green stuff on October 1, 2015 at all legit dispensaries. In other words, marijuana is legal here for everyone and anyone over the age of 21.
Nowhere else have I seen these green houses before, so it was a bit of a surprise–what do you think about this? Weird? Interesting? If anything it’s definitely different from other (most) cities.
Moving on, the bike culture is pretty serious here.
The world’s largest naked bike ride happens annually in Portland (yes, you read that right), and while I’m not sure if I’d want to be a participant or a spectator, I noticed the number of cyclists in the city is nearly triple the number of walkers/runners–especially along the pathway near the Williamette River.
The streets really seem to cater to cyclists and since the city is relatively flat, I imagine it’s very easy to get around on two wheels.
A bit surprising but Portland has the strangest Chinatown I’ve ever been to.
Why? Because it’s not even a Chinatown really–it’s just a name for the area. Now referred to as Old Chinatown, there are merely a handful of Chinese restaurants and Asian shops still in business.
Walking around, I’m sad to say I observed more homeless people in the area than Asians.
It makes sense though because a majority of the businesses and the Asian population have relocated to SE 82nd due to the lack of parking in Old Chinatown, the high cost of rent, and the constant construction.
It’s depressing when you think about the decline of a historic area though.
Despite Portland’s best efforts to redevelop Old Chinatown, it doesn’t seem like there’s been a whole lot of progress.
Weird thing #6: Portlandia Statue
This is where Portlandia got its name from, but it didn’t come easy. It took many negotiations with the artist, Raymond Kaskey, to have this statue appear in the show’s title sequence.
What makes this public art piece so unique though is that it’s the second largest copper repoussé statue in all of the United States, second to the Statue of Liberty.
Look up and you’ll find it towering above the entrance of the Portland Building.
Now get this, even the food culture is a little bit weirder in Portland.
I swear there are more food carts (trailer on wheels) than fast food joints combined in this city.
Sometimes a single food cart will be tucked away in between two buildings like a few I spotted along Alberta Street.
Other times the food carts take up an entire parking lot.
While food trucks are becoming the new foodie trend in other cities, Portland is where the whole idea came from and it’s not new by any means here. In a way, these food carts kinda redefine the meaning of “casual dining.”
Next weird fact? People get married in doughnut shops.
Voodoo Doughnut is where people have officially been married, but it’s also a super popular place for a sugary treat.
You’ll see lots of people carrying around these signature pink boxes.
I suppose the crazy doughnuts is partially the reason for it’s popularity–they have doughnuts topped with Captain Crunch and M&M’s, or versions like grape flavour and a “gay bar” topped with rainbow-coloured Fruit Loops.
If you’re in the area, the original Voodoo shop is worth checking out. It’s cash only but they’re open 24/7 except on major holidays. Find it at the corner of 22 SW 3rd Avenue.
And lastly, when it rains, people don’t use umbrellas.
In fact, the one day it rained, the majority of people didn’t even wear rain jackets.
I was at the Skidmore and Portland Saturday Market and while it wasn’t cold per se, it rained heavily on and off and most people were walking in the rain without a care in the world–ladies in thick sweaters looking a bit dragged down, guys in T-shirts starting to look like wet dogs.
I can understand the preference to use either an umbrella or rain jacket, but to have nothing at all? Weird…
Anyways, like anything and everything, you kinda/sorta get used to the weirdness.
There’s plenty more to do in and around Portland so be sure to check out the roundup guide of “normal” things to do and see!
What’s the weirdest city you’ve been to and why?