One of the world's great towns for beer, weirdness, cheap food, funky neighborhoods, forest hikes and much more, Portland is the kind of city you visit for two days and then move to. Endlessly entertaining and intriguing, it's easily walked and explored by bike, and most locals will tell you the infamous rain is merely a bonus. We've picked 10 reasons you should already be planning your trip.
Beer, beautiful beer
Portland is home to some 70 breweries (more than a hundred in the larger metro area), and they're not turning out bland lagers. Rather the vast and funky range of brews is matched by the vast and funky range of breweries. You can sip a sampler of Northwest-style sour beers at Cascade Brewing, have a stratospherically good Spectra pilsner at industrial-chic Ecliptic, or try the crowd-pleasing IPA at Hopworks Urban Brewery, which nails two local priorities by serving organic beer and having a strongly pro-bicycle theme. Better yet are purely neighborhood bars, like LaurelThirst, where you can try a range of local brews.
Drivers in Portland often think the city puts bikes first, and they're right. Streets with wide bike lanes and green “bike boxes” at intersections criss-cross the city, and a lack of major hills makes it easy for people of all ages to pedal their way around. You can join the thriving cycling scene by renting a bike at Everybody’s Bike Rentals and Tours.
In a city renowned for its food, you can find some of Portland's most inventive chefs clustered in parking lots, preparing meal magic in food carts that range from old vacation trailers to sheds where you'd store your lawnmower. A few faves: super-size gyros at Aybla, with several spots around town; handheld Chinese street snacks at Bing Mi!; kimchi quesadillas and bulgogi burritos at Koi Fusion; and the perfect post-music-club poutine at Potato Champion.
Saw it on Portlandia
An outlandish yet humorously insightful look at all things Portland, this hit comedy series has both defined the city and annoyed some locals with its iconic line about Portland being 'where young people go to retire'. The Peabody Award-winning Portlandia skewers local pretensions (hardcore foodies, bike messengers) and is a great introduction for those planning to visit.
Weird on show
'Keep Portland Weird' is more than an overly used, clichéd bumper-sticker (one we borrowed from Austin, Texas, anyway) – it's an ethos that ensures that a fully tattooed guy dressed as a clown riding a 10-foot-tall bicycle barely gets a second glance. Some places milk it, like the over-hyped Voodoo Doughnut, which features weird names for weird doughnut flavors, but the normalcy of the strange is endlessly fascinating.
Downtown Portland is compact, historic, walkable and has a great riverfront park, but the real fun is out in the compass-spanning neighborhoods. Three winners: Southeast's Hawthorne Boulevard, once a hippie holdout but now a blend of indie boutiques, bars, restaurants, an iconic movie house, and pretty residential streets; North Mississippi Avenue, which has an edgier, grittier mix plus a fab food cart pod; and northeast's Alberta Street, a long-gentrified-but-still-fun strip of galleries, shops, great little cafes and bars, plus a monthly street party called Last Thursday that's pure Weird Portland.
Round a corner in Portland and you'll likely be startled by the perfectly conical profile of Mt Hood, the 11,249-foot (3429m) volcano some 50 miles (80km) east of the city. On clear days its snow-capped summit looks startlingly close. Just west of downtown, Forest Park sprawls over 5100 acres in the hills; more than 70 miles (113km) of trails wander through dense forests of evergreens. Finally, see and smell the true meaning of Portland's moniker 'The city of roses' at the spectacular International Rose Test Garden.
Rain? Big deal!
Okay, it often rains every day in January, and it rains a lot nine months a year (summer is sunny and warm), but it rarely rains very hard, and all that water keeps things really green – including the luxuriant moss that grows on everything. Not to mention the bounty of flowers each spring. The weather also encourages indoor entertainment, boosting the city’s live-music scene and thriving bar culture.
In an episode of Portlandia, the solution to the city's excessive produce bounty is 'We can pickle that!' But skip the screwtops and head to the farmers markets for famous berries, mushrooms from the rain-saturated forests, artisan-baked goods, mobile food carts, locally made gifts and a community vibe where love is celebrated amidst the tomatoes. Try the main Portland Farmers Market downtown or the buzzing neighbourhood version in Hollywood.
Bang for your buck
Pints of local beer are often under $6, Happy Hour food specials can be less than $5, food carts are bargains and prices for fine meals remain comparatively low, especially given the quality of Portland’s food scene. It’s also cheap to get around by public transit – and weirdness is always free.
This article was originally published in April 2012 and updated by Becky Ohlsen in November 2017.