The slogan “Keep Portland Weird” has become Oregon’s biggest city’s unofficial motto and mantra. Thanks to a slew of positive press and the TV show Portlandia, whose premise pegs Portland as the breeding ground for the strange and the unusual, people flock to Portland to bask in its weirdness. But what’s so weird about Portland, Oregon anyway? Tired from walking through a farmers market one day, we sat down over some pints of craft beer to compile this list of 365 weird things to do in Portland, Oregon—one for every day of the year!
What’s so “weird” about Portland, OR anyway?
“Weird” is what Portland is known for. The list is our compendium of what we consider the most fun things to do in Portland, Oregon. We could have listed 10 things to do in Portland, but we decided to get weird and list a whole year’s worth.
We have a broad definition of weird. The original intent of the “Keep Portland Weird” slogan was to promote local and independent businesses and activities and to thus discourage people from supporting chains and corporations, which have slowly been encroaching on the Portland landscape (the slogan itself is appropriated from Keep Austin Weird). The suggestions in this guide meet our definition of weird in that they
- involve places, events, and people that make Portland unique;
- are independent, local businesses instead of national chains;
- are examples of the Portland lifestyle AKA we work hard and play hard; and
- celebrate the diversity of people who live and earn a living in Portland (yes, we have diversity).
Weird is what makes our city a special place to visit. This guide is about the things that make Portland—well, Portland. In our minds and in this guide, vegan strip clubs are just as weird as independent theater productions, weed beer tastings no weirder than soccer games, and puppet karaoke (R.I.P.) equal in weirdness to a city park fountain.
This article features 99 of 365 weird things to do in Portland. See ALL of them with links in 365 Weird Things to Do in Portland, Oregon (ebook, $3.65 or less).
In this article
- 365 weird things to do in Portland, Oregon: Only in Portland
- 365 weird things to do in Portland: Food & drink
- 365 weird things to do in Portland: Events
- 365 weird things to do in Portland: Outdoors & wellness
- 365 weird things to do in Portland: Culture
- 365 weird things to do in Portland: Shopping
- BONUS: 5 normal things not to do in Portland
- BONUS 2: Slogan imitations around the country
365 weird things to do in Portland, Oregon: Only in Portland
When it comes to stuff to do in Portland, weird translates to most as quirky whereas, as we mentioned, to us it just means Portland-y. Whatever your definition, there are plenty of cool things to do in Portland that define the city and make it what is—weird.
Take a selfie with the KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD sign
We can’t not start our compendium of weird things to do in Portland any other way than with the famous mural. The black-painted back wall of Dante’s in downtown Portland bearing the famous three yellow words, KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD (sans the exclamation point), is one of the most Instagrammable places in town.
The Music Millennium store across the river has a smaller version on its wall as well, and with the requisite exclamation point.
Keep track of slogan riffs
The slogan Keep Portland Weird has inspired a number of imitators, using the same syntax and on occasion even the branding. Remix being post-modern, Portland qualifies as a post-modern city. As you walk or bike around town, revel in the creativity of its denizens, even if it’s a little derivative. Like the slogan itself.
Tourist-watch at Voodoo Donut
Voodoo Donut belongs among top Portland tourist attractions—just open your guide book or read any travel blog. You can spot a tourist by their pink box they carry around town (and the look of dismay after they actually bite into the contents). And you can see a mass of them in a curling line outside the downtown store.
Take in the sight and do what the locals do: skip the line to this “single most overrated tourist stop” and keep walking to where they focus on the donuts not the wackiness, i.e. Blue Star or Coco just a few blocks away in downtown.
Ride in an urban air gondola
Rise above the urban din and ride in the silent Portland Aerial Tram from the South Waterfront to the Oregon Health and Science University hospital and back. Fabulous views of the city and residential backyards below await. Watch out: it’s crowded at rush hours with tired, cranky OHSU staff who are not amused by your selfie antics.
Find the last of the Tiny Horses
In 2005, a local artist tethered toy horses to historic rings affixed to curbs around the city. Hundreds of Tiny Horses appeared in the ensuing years, part of the Horse Project; today only a few remain. See if you can find them, on a sidewalk or elsewhere.
Hang at the Hung Far Low sign
The Chinese restaurant has relocated to SE 82nd Avenue, but its sign remains and even got restored in 2010. As iconic as its double-entendre pun, the downtown Portland attraction represents Chinatown more than the neighborhood’s gateway. Just don’t expect to smell any almond blossom fragrance, which is what the sign really means.
Wave to the affirmations guy
We don’t know who he is or why he’s there or at what times exactly but the young man occasionally greeting bicyclists at the eastern end of the Hawthorne Bridge with a cheerful “Good morning!” or “You look beautiful today!” is our hero. Let us know if you find out more because all we can do as we zip by on our bike ride to work is smile and wave.
Pet a superhero pig
Portland may love its pets but only one of them has superpowers. According to her 9-year-old owner, Wonder Woman the Pig’s superpower is “saving people from sadness.” And she’s pretty good at it: when Wonder Woman the Pig snuffles down the street, admirers and skeptics alike feel their tears dry and hearts melt.
Draw naked strangers
“Why can’t drawing naked people be sexy?” At monthly Dr. Sketchy’s drawing sessions at Crush, a SE Portland bar, it is. A Portland-esque twist on the paint and wine events that have proliferated around town, the “anti-art school” gets saucy while celebrating art at any level of experience, skill, or sauced-upness.
Stalk the Unipiper
Once upon a time, in Portland, Oregon, there was a guy in a Darth Vader mask and a kilt playing flaming bagpipes while roaming the streets on a unicycle. Unipiper is his name and he considers keeping Portland weird a great responsibility. The weirdest, most iconic local celebrity is a definitive Portland must-see.
Become a pinball wizard
Ground Kontrol to Major Tom: we are the best of Portland places to visit if you’re nerd. The downtown video game arcade and after-5 bar (because of course) has legendary status among the playing masses. Sixty classic and some new video games. Twenty-seven pinball machines. Regular events like Pinbrawl and Laser League. and trivia nights. DJs. Nostalgia. Beer.
Browse yard art
Portland homeowners love to adorn their yards. Lawns or landscaping? Boring! Throw in some home-made sculptures, benches, fencing, or shelters to show off your creativity and delight the neighbors and passersby alike—that’s the Portland spirit. Spot these examples of folk art on your walks through Portland’s leafy ‘hoods, especially on the East Side.
Hang out at PDX
If you never left Portland International Airport, you would still have everything you need to have an authentic Portland experience. Rated the best airport in the USA for several years in a row, PDX is like a mini version of Portland. You can watch a movie at Hollywood Theatre, have a latte at Portland Roasting, eat dinner at The Country Cat, and browse books at Powell’s. If PDX had apartments we’d consider moving there.
Make a wish at a tree
Where other cities have fountains, Portland has a tree. The Wishing Tree is an elm where you can write a wish on a piece of paper and tie it to a branch or leaf. Started by the property owners in 2013, the Wishing Tree hosts hundreds of wishes, ranging from the mundane to the weird. So read the wishes of those who came before you, write down a wish of your own, and visualize them all into existence. Peace.
Play nickel arcade games
What if we told you that the oldest operating movie theater in Portland, maybe even the entire state, only screens second-run kids’ and superhero movies and used to be a mortuary and a brothel? And what if we told you that there’s also a nickel arcade in the building? Right. Stop wondering what to do in Portland with kids and get over to Avalon Theater and Wunderland on SE Belmont already, those arcade games aren’t gonna play themselves.
Paint an intersection
Those painted intersections you see in neighborhoods around Portland aren’t just art—they’re a statement. City Repair Project, a mostly volunteer-run nonprofit, reclaims public spaces and makes them into places. Paint an intersection. Build a public seating area. Eco-landscape. There’s plenty to do on your next visit to Portland.
Stay at a haunted saloon
If you’re into haunted buildings, White Eagle Saloon is one of the best places to stay in Portland, Oregon. Now a McMenamins property, the White Eagle Saloon started out as a gathering place for Polish immigrants, a history commemorated with the Polish eagle on the wall and an annual Polish mini-festival. Together with the upstairs Rock & Roll Hotel, offering an Old West charm, the White Eagle is one of the most haunted places in Portland and a great little music venue.
Stay at a tiny house hotel
America’s first tiny house hotel makes it easy to choose where to stay in Portland. Smack in the trendy Alberta Arts District, Caravan offers accommodations in mobile tiny houses. The Tiny Digs Hotel is a great option near the happening restaurant scene on NE 28th Avenue. Tiny house hotels are pretty cool places to stay in Portland, Oregon. You could even say you slept in a trailer.
These are just a few Portland-specific weird things to do in Portland. See ALL of them with links in 365 Weird Things to Do in Portland, Oregon (ebook, $3.65 or less).
Pin this for later
365 weird things to do in Portland: Food & drink
It’s no accident the Food & drink section of our guide to weird Portland is the biggest. Eating and especially drinking are pretty much the best things to do in Portland, Oregon (suck it, Seattle!). In other words, we keep Portland weird by eating and drinking.
No trip to Portland, Oregon—a drinking town with a food superiority complex—can be complete without eating at one of its 500+ food carts, so this section starts out with those, followed by a few brick-and-mortar restaurants. Breweries, too, are some of the best places to visit in Portland, as are dive bars. We round out the booze section with wine and spirits, and conclude a few weird places in Portland to enjoy non-alcoholic beverages like coffee and tea.
Bon appetit and cheers!
Eat at Shawarma Square
There are more than 500 food carts in Portland, many organized into pods. The downtown Alder Street Food Cart Pod is one of the largest. While many world cuisines are represented, the pod has been nicknamed Shawarma Square for no fewer than 10 such establishments in a single city block; our favorite is the Iraqi cart Baghdad, but our standby is the Mexican Más Sabor (formerly La Jarochita 2).
Enjoy your meal at the nearby Bryant Park (if it’s open) while watching street performers, madmen, or bike-powered smoothie people do their thing.
Try the only Mauritian food cart in America
Now with two locations, one downtown and the other at the airport, Chez Dodo has no equivalent in the United States. It’s famous for shyamosas (deep-fried samosas) and generous portions of delectable dishes blending African, Chinese, Creole, French, and Indian cuisines—all for just a few bucks.
Have velvet Amy Winehouse watch you eat fried chicken
There are a few fried-chicken joints around Portland, but only at Fryer Tuck Chicken, in SW Portland, does a velvet painting of Amy Winehouse lord over the gluttony. No word yet what she thinks about the live music shows or trivia nights.
Watch a movie with cake and liqueur at a French patisserie
When we think of dessert (or fun dates in Portland, for that matter), one of the three places we think of is Pix Patisserie. What started out as a fancy dessert place is now also a sherry and champagne/sparkling wine haven that’s just this side of middle brow. To forgo the distraction of the underwhelming decor and overwhelmed service, enjoy your cake and beverage on an outdoor movie night.
Drink a cockshake
Three kinds of Poutine, a burger with pork belly on top, and an evil genius concoction called a cockshake (milkshake with liquor) make Foster Burger one of the best places in Portland to ruin your cardiovascular health. Be careful: drink too many cockshakes and you’ll be stumbling around SE Foster-Powell asking unsuspecting strangers if they want a cockshake.
Experience the wurst of times with German beer
Of the three Portland breweries that focus on German beer styles, Occidental is the oldest and our favorite. A bike ride to its location in the far north reaches of Portland, in the St. Johns neighborhood, makes the sausages and beer there a prize worth biking for.
Bonus: Oregon’s most beautiful bridge, the St. Johns Bridge, provides a worthy backdrop, and Cathedral Park below the bridge is an excellent picnic place.
Try a CBD beer
The first (and only?) brewery in Oregon selling a Cannabidiol-infused beer, Coalition recently opened a new patio outside its SE Portland facility. Two Flowers IPA isn’t for everybody but every beer lover will love having tried it. And no, it won’t get you high.
Drink beer with cheese steak
The best bottle shop in town and one of the best places for beer in the US boasts 1,400+ beers and an ever-rotating list of draft micros from all over town, state, coast, and beyond in the adjacent Biercafe. Best served on the patio with a cheesesteak sandwich from the Monks Deli food cart out back. Geographically challenged among you beware: rather than Belmont Street, The Belmont Station is located on SE Stark Street.
Chug one at a supermarket
As if there weren’t enough options to drink craft beer (and wine), you can have a pint on draft at the West Burnside AKA Stadium Fred Meyer, a local superstore chain. Kick back, drink and watch locals chase their toddlers around while they try to shop for groceries. Cheers!
Bonus: The pub serves beers made on premises, right above from where you make your beer.
Have Asian snacks at a dive bar
Next time you find yourself in the St. Johns neighborhood of North Portland, saddle up to the bar at Slim’s, a century-old institution, and order yourself a $1.25 PBR and some Agedashi Tofu from the appetizer menu. That’s right, one of Portland’s divey-ist dives serves some of the best Asian food in the city, as well as traditional bar fare of burgers and totchos. A Japanese immigrant and her partner bought Slim’s several years ago and they have managed to gussy up the menu while maintaining the illusion of old Portland grunge. They have breakfast too: try the Mediterranean Pancake, a pancake-sized falafel with all the fixings.
Taste spirits on Distillery Row
The Central Eastside Industrial District is slowly transforming into the next Pearl. A good sign of the times: Distillery Row, a coalition of spirit makers, offering samplings, tours, and of course a passport to incentivize your visit. Whereas sampler trays are an inferior way of tasting beer, spirits lend themselves well to flights, so take one (responsibly)! The highlight: Aviation Gin at House Spirits Distillery.
BYOB on the river
If drinking on land isn’t enough, buy a six pack (of local craft beer, of course) and take it on the BrewBarge, a 1.5-mile beer cruise up and down the Willamette River. The catch: you and your mates must pedal to power the boat.
Drink booze in detention at a former school
A flagship property of McMenamin’s, our little Pacific Northwest empire with many cool locations around the region, most in renovated historic buildings, Kennedy School is a converted elementary school that includes a hotel, a soaking pool, and a bunch of restaurants, pubs, and bars. Roam the hallways, drink some beer, soak in the pool, and cap your night with a cigar and a shot of something warm at the quirkiest bar of all, Detention. The most enjoyable punishment you’ve ever endured.
Join a whiskey club at Holman’s
If you believe drinking whisky should come with a tangible reward, join the Whiskey Club at Holman’s. Drink all the shots on the menu to get a brass plaque affixed to a panel above the bar and a commemorative t-shirt to wear. Serving thirsty, hungry, and hungover Portlanders since 1933, Holman’s also has the best make-your-own Bloody Mary bar in town and a year-round back patio.
Pair a biodynamic wine with your Zodiac sign
“Portland’s weirdest wine shop” lives up to its name. Where else would you find pairings of wine with astrological signs or with Game of Thrones characters or with dog breeds? At Pairings of course! Pairings also offers classes on how to taste and pair wine.
Bonus: Bring food from the restaurants across NE Glisan Street to enjoy with your wine.
Figure it out at Rimsky-Korsakoffee bathroom
Few culinary establishments in Portland offer free live music, and among them only the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House features has classical music. But that’s not the best reason to come here: it’s the coffee, the cakes, and the peculiar, carnivalesque atmosphere of a haunted, unmarked SE Portland Victorian. Open after 7:00 p.m., Rimsky’s is an iconic—and iconicly weird—spot for dessert adventures. Make sure you go to the restroom.
Have coffee on a doubledecker
In addition to craft beer, Portland is a coffee town, too; walk a few blocks in any direction and you’ll run into a great coffee shop. None is uniquer than Tov on SE Hawthorne where you drink your brew, be it Egyptian coffee, Turkish tea, or a traditional espresso, at a double-decker bus rooftop furnished like an Egyptian sitting room.
Eat a vegan burger at a strip club
Among the 50+ performance venues in America’ strip club capital, Casa Diablo may have gained notoriety for its illegally doctored $2 bills, but it’s better known for unironically serving vegan food with the, khm, main attraction. You can rest assured no animals have been harmed in the making of your stag party.
Quaff a kombucha at a speakeasy
Kombucha + speakeasy = Kombucha Speakasy. The reservation-only, certified organic, shoes-optional restaurant is exactly what you pictured when hearing those words. One of the most Portland things to do in town.
Experience Russian Tea
The Russian Tea Experience at the Heathman Hotel, one of downtown’s upscale hotels, pays homage to the local 100,000-strong Russian community. You need a reservation for this eastern equivalent of the English high tea.
Stock up on fresh produce at a farmers market
Shopping for produce at a farmers market is a very Portland thing to do. The year-round, Saturday market on the Portland State University campus reigns as the unofficial king among the city’s farmers markets. Stock your pantry or get a snack or breakfast at one of the stalls around the South Park Blocks before heading to other downtown Portland activities.
Hoard Asian snacks and other goodies at an Asian mall
The supermarket in this the “Largest Asian Shopping Center in Oregon” is a treasure trove of culinary delights and oddities. Go to Fubonn to stock up on seaweed snacks, squid jerky, and instant noodles from all over the Asian continent and islands. They also have an amazing prepared foods like eggrolls, dumplings, and bao to load up on to your hearts content. The mini mall is dotted with a few good restaurants, as well as a Starbucks, because, well…it is America after all.
These are just a few weird places to eat and drink in Portland. See ALL of them with links in 365 Weird Things to Do in Portland, Oregon (ebook, $3.65 or less).
365 weird things to do in Portland: Events
It’s events where Portland gets truly weird. These time-based activities both celebrate the city’s spirit and exemplify the fleeting nature of life—and Portland’s weirdness. If you seek fun things to do in Portland, Oregon, whether it’s at night or on the weekend, solo or with kids, indoors or out, look no further than the city’s event calendar.
Celebrate Russian Old New Year (January)
Thanks goodness the Orthodox celebrate New Year’s two weeks later, according to the Julian calendar, elsewise we would miss out on the joyful celebration that is the Russian Old New Year, organized and headlined by the local Gypsy punk band/Slavic party band Chervona.
Bike on the worst day of the year (February)
The only thing Portlanders love more than complaining about the weather is proving that it can’t keep us down. The Worst Day of the Year Ride is intended to be exactly what it sounds like: a bicycle ride on the worst weather day of the year. Of course it’s hard to schedule it on the exact worst day of the year, but they get pretty close. Expect rain, sleet, or even snow—and costumed hipsters in a rainbow array of rain coats.
Run in the rain at Shamrock Run (March)
Every Sunday of St. Patrick’s Day weekend, thousands of people run through the streets of Portland, rain or shine (mostly rain). One of the most popular running events in the city for more than 40 years, the Shamrock Run is also a benefit for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. And, since it’s Portland, there’s beer at the end!
Buy vinyl on Record Store Day (April)
Record Store Day may be a global celebration of the analog medium, but Portland’s record stores go all out. In-store live music and DJ performances, discounts, and even free beer spin music lovers and hipsters alike into a frenzy. An excellent opportunity to support iconic independent record stores like Music Millennium and Everyday Music and go home with some rare vinyl finds.
Tour a mausoleum (May/Memorial Day)
One day per year the Wilhelm Mausoleum opens its doors to the public. Stroll through eight floors and many miles of corridors and hallways and nooks lined with urns and grave-site memorabilia. Best morbid fun in town, guaranteed.
Have bikey fun at Pedalpalooza (June)
Whether you bring your own bike or rent one, you won’t want to miss hundreds of bike-related events during the three-week Pedalpalooza festival in this bike-friendly town. From the Midnight Meth Ride to Happy Hour Bike Polo to the Pastafarian Pirate Ride to the Big Lebowski ride to the group cuddle at Cuddle PuddlePalooza to the Naked Bike Ride, there’s something for every bicycle enthusiast.
Parade with mermaids (July)
Just when you thought events in Portland, Oregon couldn’t get any weirder, the Portlandia Mermaid Parade marches along. The new-ish event celebrates not the TV show but the giant downtown sculpture of the local river goddes as well as the river itself and “all things mermaid and water myth related.” Join the professional mermaid entertainers in a stroll along the waterfront as a group of artists, led by Una the Mermaid, revitalizes “Portland’s artistic energy” and “fantasy-based self-expression.”
Cheer human ingenuity at a soapbox race (August)
PDX Adult Sopabox Derby has spawned a generation of humans making and piloting homemade vehicles down roadways around Mt. Tabor. Batmobiles, Flintstones and Scooby-Doo mobiles, and many totally unique creations hurtle down the extinct volcanic cinder cone past lines of cheering onlookers to race for prizes and attention. Few events in Portland get this weird (or crowded), and it’s totally free (but BYOB).
Watch swifts roost (September)
Every September, one hour before sunset, the Chapman Elementary School lawn fills with lawn chairs and blankets when Portlanders come watch the greatest nature show in town: Swift Watch. Thousands of migrating Vaux’s Swifts circle overhead and pour into the school’s brick chimney which they use as a roost. Birds of prey provide the occasional drama.
Get your yeast on at a fermentation celebration (October)
Time to get your probiotic freak on! Whether your poison is kombucha or kefir, kraut, or kimchi, you’ll find a few friends at Portland’s Fermentation Festival. For the cost of admission, you can taste professional and amateur creations. Your gut may—or may not—thank you.
Watch amateurs hump (November)
Anyone can be a porn star and anyone can watch them at Hump! Film Festival, a showcase of amateur porn shorts. Now touring around the U.S., this cinematic “cornucopia of body types, shapes, ages, colors, sexualities, genders, kinks, and fetishes—all united by a shared spirit of sex-positivity” will make you laugh and cry and horny and sad, but most importantly, it’ll make you rethink porn.
Dress up as Santa (December)
On the second Saturday in December, a mob of Santas spreads through Portland on an annual pub crawl. A weird Portland invention, Santacon has been spreading cheer around Portland since 1996, inspiring a couple of imitators. Yes, there’s a Christmas-in-July Santacon as well.
Monthly, weekly, seasonal, and other events
Stroll on Alberta Street at Last Thursday (monthly, year round)
Last Thursday on Alberta has grown into Portland’s largest art event. The best time to partake is in the summer,
Watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight (Saturdays, year round)
The Clinton Street Theater has shown The Rocky Horror Picture Show every single Saturday at 11:30 p.m. since 1978. This is what happened to Saturday night.
Zoobomb (Sundays, year round)
Every Sunday evening, rain or shine, go to the Zoobomb Pyle in downtown Portland to pick up a loaner kiddie bike and join a group of adrenalists on a wild downhill ride through Washington Park. The Zoobomb is a veritable institution and one of many unique things to do in Portland—if you’re into that sort of thing.
Cheer at a roller derby bout (March thru December)
Call it a weird sport all you want, roller derby is a popular all-women sport around these here Portland parts. The Rose City Rollers league bouts at the Oaks Park hangar can be quite a raucous affair so leave your earmuffs at home and get cheerin’.
Attend a beer festival (June-July)
Come June, there isn’t a weekend in Portland without a beer festival. The Oregon Brewers Fest is the biggest, Fruit Beer Festival the fruitiest, the Fresh Hops Fest the brightest, and all the other fests in between beerlicious as well. See listings in the Oregon Beer Growler, available for free at any brewery.
Toss a teddy bear at a junior hockey game (September thru March or ?)
Portland lacks an NHL franchise so ice hockey fans flock to watch the Winterhawks, a junior major-league team. Sit up close and bang on the glass as future NHL stars grow into men in front of your very eyes. For an even weirder hockey experience, get tickets for the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss, where fans throw thousands of teddy bears and other stuffed animals onto the ice after the Winterhawks’ first goal. The bears are shoveled into big bins and sent to a local children’s hospital.
See a show at a puppet museum (year round)
Oregon’s first and only museum of puppets, puts on regular shows featuring their exhibits. Browse the cramped museum space, see the puppets in action in the outdoor theater.
Bonus: Visit the Puppet Museum’s awesome 1990’s throwback website.
This article features 99 of 365 weird things to do in Portland. See ALL of them with links in 365 Weird Things to Do in Portland, Oregon (ebook, $3.65 or less).
Pin this for later
365 weird things to do in Portland: Outdoors & wellness
Portlanders love and outsiders move here for the great outdoors. Within a two-hour drive, you can trek up a live volcano and a few extinct ones, wade in the ocean, hike through woods, windsurf, fish, drive a boat, dip in hot springs, camp, and who knows what else.
You can also enjoy a ton of outdoor activities within the Portland city limits. From the largest urban forest to parks, from rivers to ponds, there is a great wide city world to explore.
And because it rains here sometimes, Portlanders have also mastered indoor activities. You can keep working out or relaxing under a roof pattering with raindrops.
Spot a leprechaun in the world’s smallest park
You can easily miss Mill Ends Park, a 452-sq in expanse of green in the middle of a four-lane Naito Parkway next to the waterfront at SW Taylor Street. The world’s smallest park (and largest leprechaun colony outside of Ireland) exemplifies the best of Portland, or at least the weird Portland we all love.
Pet goats at an urban pasture
Exiled from their inner SE pasture by a ginormous sterile condo complex and a Chipotle, the Belmont Goats continue their grazing ways at points further east (out in Lents thru 2018). There’s 14 of them and they have a hen.
We are all Belmont Goats.
Worship the Mother Tree at Laurelhurst Park
Of the nearly 1,000 trees in Laurelhurst Park, the one with a makeshift shrine inside a ground-level opening is the most special. Nicknamed by some the Mother Tree, perhaps inspired by the shape of the opening, the tree is located off a dirt path in the northwestern part of the park. The contents of the shrine constantly change as passersby add and remove items like leaves, flowers, scraps of paper with messages, discarded objects, and so on.
The park itself is host to nearly 115 species of trees, about one-third of which are Douglas-firs, a pond, miles of trails, lawns, a majestic brick staircase, picnic tables, and an off-leash dog area. You can run, you can hide, you can picnic, you can lounge, you play guitar, you can do tai chi or yoga, you can throw a Frisbee, you can dance at the silent disco, you can take wedding or quinceanera photographs, you can volunteer to clean up or landscape…or you can just be.
Blow your top on a volcanic cinder cone
Did you know there’s a tiny volcano in Portland? Mount Tabor is a cinder cone of an extinct volcano and the park that covers it is very much alive year round. Meandering paths, picnic and play areas, and awesome views of the city will make you forget the urban jungle is just steps away. Check out a free summer concert in the Caldera Amphitheater. Just don’t pee in the reservoirs, okay?
Tour Hawthorne Boulevard
If there’s only one street you walk in Portland, make it SE Hawthorne Boulevard: it’s like a cross-cut of Portland in about 40 blocks. From a comedy club and a dog-friendly brewery to a food cart pod to a bakery and fruit market to a single-screen cinema to a brew-and-view to quirky shops to dive bars and coffee shops to a couple of local supermarkets and all the way to the foot of an extinct volcano that is Mt. Tabor, Hawthorne embodies the city’s weird spirit from beginning to end. A Portland must see—go to there.
Take a self-guided mural tour
The up-and-coming Central Eastside Industrial District is rich in fun places to go in Portland, including bars and restaurants. Add to the list a self-guided street-art tour which will take you by some 35 of the 100+ SE Portland murals, many of which exemplify the city’s spirit. Best go on Sunday when delivery trucks rest and few cars park to block views.
Circumnavigate a college lake
At first sight, you wouldn’t guess Reed Lake on the Reed College campus constitutes part of a larger watershed and a state wildlife refuge. The mile-long (or so) path around “the pond” offers a natural respite a stone’s throw from the SE Woodstock neighborhood.
The best time to visit and explore: Canyon Day in April, a volunteer event to clean and continue the restoration of the lake.
Discover Portland by bike
Bicycling is one of top things to do in Portland, Oregon, you may have heard. Biking is one of the best ways to discover the weird delights of this top bike-friendly city. Borrow a bike from your local friends, rent one at Everybody’s Bike Rentals, or check an orange one out with the Biketown bicycle sharing service, and pedal around 350+ miles of marked bikeways.
Planespot along the Columbia
The wind will blow. The cars will pass. The noise will deafen. But a bike ride or a run on the Marine Drive Trail will reward you with awesome views of the adjacent Columbia River on one side, planes taking off and landing at Portland International Airport on the other, and Mt. Hood toward the east.
Play urban golf
Golf? Totally mainstream. Urban golf? Totally weird—and perhaps the quirkiest Portland sightseeing method out there. The ball is tennis, the holes are anything that fits it, and the course is the city. Join the Portland Urban Golf group on Facebook for dates and courses.
Play bike polo
Portland may not have invented bike polo, but it sure is keeping it alive and well. Head to Alberta Park in NE Portland to watch matches, and who knows, you may also end up trying it out. Few outdoor activities in Portland get weirder than this.
Cuddle with a stranger
We all get lonely sometimes, deprived of touch, a hand to hold, or a shoulder to cry on. The professional cuddlers at Cuddle Up to Me, where “you are always welcome and always loved” can change that, if only for 15 to 300 minutes. For $1 per minute, a “fully clothed, completely platonic cuddle session” will get you the touch you need. If you’ve never met a certified cuddler, this is your chance.
Toke and train at a gym
Weed is legal in Oregon, and, as you would expect, it engenders various creative business ideas. Take Mary Jane Fonda, where you toke up before, during, and after the dance workout or yoga. “Get lit and get fit,” as one reviewer put it, highlighting yet another delightful fusion of indoor activities Portland, Oregon can boast.
Sun your buns at a nudist beach
Who needs swimsuits? Portlanders, that’s who. It’s all about priorities: there may only be one beachy spot in town to suntan by a river but there are two to do so nude on an even bigger river. The city’s and Oregon’s two clothing-optional beaches, both on the Columbia River are the co-ed Collins Beach on Sauvie Island and the gay-friendly Rooster Rock State Park.
This article features 99 of 365 weird things to do in Portland. See ALL of them with links in 365 Weird Things to Do in Portland, Oregon (ebook, $3.65 or less).
Pin this for later
365 weird things to do in Portland: Culture
Portland is not all quirk and weirdness all the time. We’ve got high culture too! Concerts and museums, theater and paintings…
Kidding. Somehow Portlanders manage to infuse even the highest of arts with an idiosyncratic pop-culture twist.
Ogle Hollywood memorabilia at Movie Madness
A Portland landmark and “the greatest independent video store in the world,” Movie Madness carries the torch of cinematic history with its extensive selection and more than 100 costumes and film props. Blade Runner, Aliens, Fight Club, Psycho, and The Wizard of Oz are just some of the movies that have items on display. Walking through the maze of shelves, many of which carry rare and cult flicks, is one of the most memorable things to do in Portland, OR.
Ponder WTF at a peculiarium
A “store dedicated to learning and terror”, the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium and Museum is a roadside attraction at the edge of the swanky NW Alphabet District. Funky art, oddities, novelties, and other weird stuff will make you wonder just what the hell is going on while you lick the ice cream sold on premises.
Pair with a normal éclair from St. Honoré Boulangerie up NW Thurman Street.
Get over your case of the Mondays with Kung Pao Chickens
It’s nice to know some things stay the same. Kung Pao Chickens have been playing gypsy jazz on Monday nights at Laurelthirst Public House in NE Portland for many years, and they’ll continue to do so thanks to the bar’s fans and customers. When the building owner announced he was selling, the bar took to crowdsourcing so they could purchase it and stay in business. Long live Laurelthirst and the Kung Pao Chickens!
March forth with MarchFourth
It’s a marching band. It’s a circus band. It’s a vaudeville band. It’s a steampunk band. Most importantly, “this band is your band.” The traveling band MarchFourth AKA M4 puts on a show like no other. Within seconds, find yourself seduced by the joyful spectacle of raucous brass music, frenetic drummers, and energetic stilt walkers and dancers. If you miss them in their hometown, catch their show at yours for one of the best exports Portland, Oregon has to offer the world.
See a live concert at a record shop
Like many places on this list, Music Millennium boasts legendary status in its category. Seeing a live show at this temple of alternative music—where, in fact, the in-store performance as a form was born—ought to top your list of Portland things to do. If you miss a date, come browse the maze of CDs and vinyls and ogle all the music paraphernalia during an artist meet-and-greet; or on Record Store Day, which the manager, Terry Currier, helped found; or on the newly proclaimed Terry Currier Day, August 12. You know what, just go any time you visit Portland.
Groove to the beat of a weirder drum at a silent disco
On their own, discos are kinda weird. But imagine a disco where dancers grove to music you can’t hear, and not in a dark dance hall but outside in a park and in broad daylight. That would be really weird. But, it’s Portland, and such a thing exists (supposedly in other weird parts of the world too). Heartbeats Silent Disco does pop-up dance events in Portland’s Waterfront Park and Laurelhurst Park, as well as other special events, such as the “Loveboat,” a silent disco aboard the Portland Spirit riverboat.
Watch a movie in 70 mm
The NE Portland landmark Hollywood Theatre shows first-run, alternative, and cult films at its newly restored, 90-year old building. The premium vintage format 70 mm screenings are particularly worthwhile, as are the Kung Fu Theater festival and Hecklevision event series. If you care about cinema, you’ll love this nonprofit.
Go art yourself
Disjecta, a nonprofit gallery in N Portland, has been showcasing modern visual and performance art for 18+ years. This is where Portland artists get their boost and where Old Portland retains a stronghold of weirdness (we saw chainsaw carved and painted penises here and a life-sized sheet-rock replica of a front half of a semi). A must do in Portland, Oregon if you’re an artist or a patron of the arts or even just a visitor looking to get away from Portland’s same same.
Sing karaoke with strippers
Who doesn’t love naked, pole-dancing women and off-key renditions of Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way”? No one, that’s who, and SE Portland strip club Devil’s Point has figured out a way to bring the two together. Stripparaoke takes place every Sunday at 9:00 p.m., so you have all week to practice your air guitar solos and save up your dollar bills to tip the dancers.
See a second-run flick at a brew-and-view
One of the Portlandiest things to do is seeing a second-run movie with a pizza slice and craft beer. Academy and Avalon theaters are the last such brew-and-view theater standing (other $4 brew-and-views include, at select times, Mission Theater and Kennedy School), so do it before they all disappear. We fondly term a night at a brew-and-view a $4 date; the matinees are only $3.
Of all the things to do in Portland at night, a drag show at Darcelle XV Showplace must be one of the riot-est. World’s oldest performing drag queen performer puts on a cabaret show (longest-running on the West Coast) literally like no other in town. See it before Walter Cole AKA Darcelle retires.
Tell jokes at an open mic show
Fancy yourself a fungi? Show what you got at one of many open mic shows around town. Put your name down on the list (or in the hat) before the show and brace yourself for demanding crowds. Stage fright got you down? Still working on your set? Check out some of the myriad of aspiring comedians at one of the open mics—before they get really good and move to L.A.
These are just a few quirky culture-related things to do in Portland. See a whole lot more, with links and everything, in 365 Weird Things to Do in Portland, Oregon (ebook, $3.65 or less).
Pin this for later
365 weird things to do in Portland: Shopping
Avoid death-by-book at a tiny bookstore
Once upon a time, in SE Portland, shelves and stacks of a gazillion books filled every nook and cranny of a small old house, spilling on the porch and lawn and sidewalk on nice days. Only the bravest souls ventured into Wallace Books, for fear of literary claustrophobia, losing themselves in the cozy maze of books, and lack of limbs to carry all their purchases out. Those who survived spoke of a bookstore like in the olden days, with friendly staff and time that sto—
Stick it to the capitalist machine
Every year when then weather starts to clear up, Portland residents begin clearing out unwanted stuff from their garages, closets, and studio apartments. There are a number of options for getting rid of stuff—donating to a charity, selling on Craiglist, or just dumping it in the trash—but the option that embodies the Portland spirit most is setting out a “free box” on the street corner. Stroll through any Portland residential neighborhood in the sunny months and you’re bound to find some treasure you never knew you needed.
Twist your yarn in a knot
Are you halfway through a scarf and need to frog? Just started knitting a beret and realize you need to tink a few rows? Head over to Twisted. This yarn shop on NE Broadway is wall to wall with skeins of delicious yarn. They also have talented instructors who will teach you all you need to know about stranded color work and yarn dominance.
Find treasures at a nonprofit art supply store
Someone’s dusty, frayed old pipe cleaners from a second-grade project are another person’s homage to the late, great Prince. This is the philosophy behind Scrap, a reuse store in downtown Portland that brings unwanted crafty items to the crafters who will put them to creative use. Prices are low, thanks to donations, and you’ll find anything from doll heads to yarn to clay to googly eyes. They even host classes called Crafternoons, where you can learn different ways to make stuff that will sit unpurchased on your Etsy site.
Get your own supply at a dispensary
After Oregonians voted in 2014 to legalize recreational marijuana, a slew of new dispensaries cropped up around town. Head to one of Nectar‘s three locations for affordable (especially on Tuesdays) smokables and edibles presented by knowledgeable and friendly budtenders. If you’re from out of state, don’t forget to consume everything responsibly in Oregon and not in a public place.
Get rocked at a gem shop
Don’t let the exterior of Ed’s House of Gems fool you. What looks like a funky vacuum repair shop on the outskirts of NE Sandy is actually, well, a house of gems. It’s a candy store for rock enthusiasts and amateur geologists. Even those of us who don’t care much about stones, other than the Rolling ones, can still waste away a couple of hours at Ed’s checking out the treasures.
Score some Oregon swag
If you’re coming to Portland for a visit, why not take a piece of Oregon home with with you. A lot of well-known goods are produced Oregon, such as Rogue Brewing beer, Tillamook cheese, and Stash Tea. You could get these at a grocery store, but where’s the fun in that? Made in Oregon, with locations around the city and at the Portland airport, offers Oregon-made products in a one stop shop.
Buy something with a slightly funny phrase on it
If you are someone who loves mildly humorous phrases on everything you own—tote bags, cell phone cases, mugs, t-shirts—Presents of Mind is the place for those sorts of shits and giggles. Perhaps you might even find some novelty toilet paper with “shits and giggles” printed on it. C’mon, isn’t it time you stocked up on socks that say “My Cat is Cool as Fuck” and changed out your boring, plain mug for one that lets everyone know you are an “Evil Genius at Work”?
Pick up elk sausage a fruit store
Established in 1916, Sheridan Fruit Co. has one of the most eclectic inventories of house-made sausage, bulk foods, deli salads and entrees, and even some hard-to-find produce. They are famous for their wild game sausages like venison, elk, and gator and something called The Lobster Roll, a “sausage” stuffed with lobster, shrimp, crab, and scallops.
Leave without hot sauce (at your own peril)
Hot sauce may not be exactly Portland-y or weird, but Aardvark and Stinging Kombucha are. No actual aardvarks are harmed in the making of the Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce, a hot sauce for all seasons and reasons. And Stinging Kombucha, made by the owners of the beloved Czech food cart Tábor (R.I.P 2004-2017), contains raw fermented red cabbage in addition to kombucha; it’s hot and it’s still alive! We can never decide which of the two sauces we prefer. Get them both to taste a little bit of Portland in your mouth with your meals at home.
Stock up on weird stuff by the kilo
When we want to experience weird Portland on purpose, we go to The Bins. A Goodwill store by day and technically-speaking in Milwaukie, just south of Portland, The Bins doubles as a shopping destination and a temple of thrift. Dig through—you guessed it—bins of stuff (bring gloves and hand sanitizer, no kidding) to find that buried treasure. Pile it all up on a scale at checkout and pay by the pound.
Buy macabre oddities
If you love to shop, few things to do in Portland, Oregon are as fun as discovering weird shops. Some even have weird and yet wildly appropriate names. Take Cemetery Gates, and “afterlife based vintage and handmade boutique with a penchant for the macabre,” which roughly translates into a haven of deathly antiques, skulls and taxidermy, occult and medical tools, and religious memorabilia. Go gently into that quiet store.
Buy a kilo of Polish caramels at a Russian grocery
A number of grocery stores serve Portland’s sizable Russian (speaking) population, the most accessible being Good Neighbor on SE 82nd Avenue. You might be addressed in Russian as you pick your kvas, pickled herring, and other delicacies. Fill up on your Polish Krowka caramels at the bulk candy section. Do yourself a favor and avoid the Ukrainian knockoffs.
These are just a few weird shops in Portland. See quite a few more for that Portland souvenir in 365 Weird Things to Do in Portland, Oregon (ebook, $3.65 or less).
BONUS: 5 normal things not to do in Portland
With fantastic networks of public transit and bike lanes connecting its neighborhoods, Portland is best enjoyed outside your car. Traffic here is getting worse anyway.
Stand in line
Brunch at Screen Door, ice cream at Salt n’ Straw, and silly donuts at Voodoo have you stand in line for hours? Don’t you have better things to do in Portland? See above for 365 of them!
Carry an umbrella
If you want to blend in on your visit to Portland, leave the brolly at home. Oregonians hate umbrellas.
Use your laptop in a coffee shop
Sure, plenty of Portlanders join Laptop Nation around town, often to the point where no seats remain for the lowly analog coffee drinkers. But not only can you do this at home or your hotel room, you’re missing out on your cafe experience. People-watching in Portland is stellar, and you never know what sort of crazy vehicle will pass by at any given moment. When in Portland, go analog!
That one show pegged Portland as the place where young people go to retire. No matter your age, think twice. Despite what the 2-4 months of sunshine may suggest on your vacation visit, it rains here the rest of the year. And who wants to live with bone chill in their golden years?
This article only features 99 of 365 weird things to do in Portland. Find the full list of ideas for your stay in Portland in 365 Weird Things to Do in Portland, Oregon (ebook, $3.65 or less).
BONUS 2: Slogan imitations around the country
Just as Keep Portland Weird is a famous knockoff of Keep Austin Weird, creative minds in other cities around the United States have come up with their own versions of the slogan, befitting their own cities. Spot them on bumpers as you travel around the country!
Pin this for later