Portland is Weird, Here’s Why

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.

Seriously.

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.

 

Migrant Muse: Portland

 

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.

 

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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…

 

Migrant Muse: Portland

 

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.

 

Migrant Muse: Portland

 

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.

 

Migrant Muse: Portland

 

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.

 

Chinatown

 

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.

 

Migrant Muse: Portland

 

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.

 

Food Cart

 

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.”

 

Voodoo Doughnuts

 

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.

 

Migrant Muse: Portland

 

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?

Migrant Muse

 

 

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  • People don’t use umbrellas in Portland? That’s very much like my hometown in the UK – I think we get too much rain to be bothered with it! Portland sounds cool – it looks awesome!

    • Hi Sophie! Good point, maybe Portland locals are used to it too and have adapted to the rain! I suppose I find it odd since I grew up in a city with more “extreme weather conditions” where it’s best to be prepared for anything 🙂

  • DeafWanderlust

    That’s interesting…and weird, haha. My friends were telling me about how weird it is in Portland, but I asked, “what do you mean weird??” since I’ve never been there. They kept telling me that I should see it for myself. This post definitely give me a sneak peak, haha. I see now what they mean, but I’m sure it’s a lot more out there that I need to see for myself, right? The Ends Mill Park and getting marry at the VooDoo Donut is definitely odd! I haven’t been to any other weird cities, like Austin, Texas. I heard it’s weird there as well.

    • Yes, I think a visit is a must to fully understand why Portland is kinda weird haha. There’s still a lot of cool things to do though! Hope you get a chance to visit one day 🙂 I’ve never been to Austin before either but I’ve heard it’s also a pretty interesting city.

  • I love cities that have their own quirks which make them unique! Portland looks weird.. but cool because like you say – where else would people get married in a doughnut shop?! I agree with the slogan though – keep Portland weird – then everyone can experience this quirky town!

    • Totally! It’s weird yet cool at the same time 🙂 I found it’s also very laid-back and since it’s so close to the coast, there’s a ton of outdoor activities to see and do too.

  • Elaine J Masters

    Portland is full of so much diversity, creativity and powerful culture. I once lived there and love seeing the new developments like the food truck villages, the culinary explorations and art. It may be weird but at some point that is only a marketing ploy.

    • Hi Elaine! That’s awesome you used to live there! I did notice a very diverse culture in Portland too. There are definitely some unique spots–Mississippi Avenue was one of my favourite areas and so fun to explore. I’m sure you’re right about the marketing ploy, but it’s not a bad one I’d say!

  • I had no idea Portland was so weird! I definitely need to take a trip there!

    • Yes indeed! It’s weird but unique in its own way. There’s a lot more to do in the city too that I’m going to touch on in a later post, but it’s worth a visit if you ever get the chance! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Brianna

    Haha. This was a great post! I think I’d enjoy Portland. I’ve wanted to try Voodoo Donuts for a few years. And I also hate carrying umbrellas and rain jackets!

    • Hi Brianna! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 There’s another popular doughnut shop in Portland I wanted to try too but didn’t get the chance.. Blue Star I think it was called? Anyways, I heard it’s good too. Haha and yes carrying around rain gear can be such a pain sometimes! I’m starting to see why people there couldn’t be bothered with the rain after awhile.

  • aparnakris

    I loved Portland, and this post brought back some good memories of my trip! I preferred Blue Star donuts, but I’m not kidding when I say I took a box of Voodoo for my nephew and niece in Chicago, and there were TONS of people who were willing to “carry” the box all along the way from Portland to Chicago!

  • Only driven past Portland but this blog post now makes me realize what all I missed.. Next time for sure I will stop by and add Portland to my US destinations

    • There will always be so many places to see and places we have to skip even if we’re nearby. But I think that’s the beauty of it all cause you can always go back someday! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • hahaha! Well, I am an Asheville native. Another city that claims the phrase, except it is “Keep Asheville Weird”. I think anyone from Asheville with tell you Portland is like the Asheville of the West coast and anyone from Portland will tell you Asheville is like the Portland of the east coast 😛 I still havent made a visit so I cannot tell you if either is true.

    • Haha that’s awesome! Didn’t know there was that kinda competition between cities 😉 I haven’t been to Asheville but would love to go now just to see what it’s like there!

  • This sounds like my kinda vibe… gotta check it out next time I’m in the northwest.

    • Hi Stacey! I love the west coast vibe and Portland definitely has that despite the weirdness 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  • Haha great post! I haven’t been to Portland yet but have heard similar things from others who have. Love how each place is different and unique, fun to discover those things.

    • Thanks Alyssa! And yep, you gotta see it to believe it as they say 🙂 I agree with you too, it’s so interesting to see how different every city can be 🙂

  • Roy Stevenson

    Well written. This is a good travel story. Simply put, and to the point. Portland does indeed march to its own drummer!

    • Thanks so much for your comment Roy! Really means a lot. Completely agree with you and that statement about Portland 🙂

  • I had no idea Portland was so “weird.” Makes me want to check it out!

    • Hi Taylor! Hope you find the weirdness interesting if you get a chance to visit 😉 It really is a cool city overall and the Oregon Coast/Cannon Beach is gorgeous!