Many American cities look the same -- a collection of skyscrapers, busy streets, and chain stores that could be anywhere in the United States.
But the minute you enter Portland, Oregon, you know you’ve entered a city that is proudly different. Its citizens prefer to buy local, believe passionately in sustainability, and take their beer very seriously. It’s also a city that values the outdoors, from the large, green Washington Park located in the heart of the city to the nearby Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
The natural beauty of the city plus its bohemian vibe equals a city you’ll want to return to time and time again. Here are eight things to know about Portland before you visit.
1. It Will Rain
With an average of 43 inches of rainfall a year, visitors should expect rain and come prepared. In many parts of the country, rain results in canceled events and residents remaining indoors. But in Portland, life goes on, rain or shine.
With that in mind, it’s important for visitors to bring the proper attire. Locals dress in layers and quality outwear, but they don’t use umbrellas. Yes, that’s right -- locals rarely use umbrellas, so if you want to blend in, leave yours at home.
Before you start to complain about the rain, consider the benefits it provides. As you drive around the city, you’ll notice how green everything is. In fact, you’ll be amazed at the range of green that can be seen at the local parks and in the surrounding mountains. Portlanders understand rain and the role it plays in making the city beautiful.
2. It’s Weird -- And Proud Of It
“Keep Portland Weird” has been the city’s unofficial motto for over a decade, and it sums up this place quite well. The slogan was originally intended to promote local businesses, but over time it came to represent the individual expression and creativity that are so admired here. Today, residents embrace this slogan in a wide variety of ways.
Here are just a few reasons why Portland is considered weird.
- There are more strip clubs per capita in Portland than anywhere else in the U.S. There’s even one for vegans.
- There’s an annual naked bike race.
- It’s home to the world’s smallest park, Mills End Park.
- The Shanghai Tunnels, located under the city, were once used to kidnap men for slave labor on local ships.
- The creators of bone marrow ice cream, Salt & Straw, got their start in Portland.
3. Buying Local Is Essential
While national chains certainly exist in Portland, the locally owned businesses are the ones that really shine. Residents value the many family-owned businesses and make a point to shop at them regularly.
So as a visitor, head to the locally owned stores. Book lovers will salivate the moment they walk into Powell’s Books, located in the Pearl District. For more than four decades, this family-owned bookstore has sold both new and used books side by side on its shelves. Even better, it hosts numerous book-related events throughout the year.
Portland is also home to several stores that only carry goods made in the city or in the Pacific Northwest. Tender Loving Empire -- offering five locations, including one at the airport -- features gifts, food, and music by artists and artisans from the region. MadeHere has two stores that feature quality, design-savvy products made in Portland and the Pacific Northwest. They offer a wide range of items, including snowboards, backpacks, jewelry, and food products.
If you’re into vintage and thrift shopping, Portland is for you. A popular vintage store is Artifact, located on SE Division Street; it offers a mix of clothing and home decor. This store was founded by Leah Meijer, whose mom owns a nearby vintage store called Village Merchants. For a thrift shop with a really big selection, check out House of Vintage, a 13,000-square-foot space located in the Hawthorne District.
4. The Beer Is Really Good
Locally owned breweries and brewpubs have become popular in many U.S. cities, but Portland is the epicenter of craft beer. Portlanders have taken their beer seriously for decades, and the result is a wide range of seriously great brews.
If you enjoy sour beers -- or want to try them -- head to Cascade Brewing. After all, this is the city that invented sour beers. You’ll find the waitstaff and bartenders to be very knowledgeable about the beer and happy to help you select one.
If you enjoy IPAs, then check out Breakside Brewery and give the Wanderlust IPA a try. If you’d like to support a good cause while you drink, visit Ex Novo Brewing Company, which has set a goal of donating 100 percent of their profits to nonprofit organizations.
As a visitor, it can be time consuming to find all of these great breweries on your own, so why not try a beer tour instead and learn from the experts? You can enjoy an afternoon of beer sampling and brewery tours with BeerQuest Walking Tours or Brewvana.
5. The Food Is Even Better
Portland has been attracting young and innovative chefs for many years, and this has contributed to a vibrant food scene. While many of these restaurants are considered fine dining spots, there are plenty of less-expensive options as well.
Among the city’s best-known eateries is Olympia Provisions, which specializes in cured meats. Be sure to order one of the charcuterie platters featuring house-made sausage complemented with local cheese. The weekend brunch is an excellent option as well, with a variety of eggs Benedict plates available.
One of Portland’s best-known restaurant groups, Pok Pok, should definitely be on your list of places to eat while visiting. Chef Andy Richter has been traveling to Thailand for years, researching regional dishes and bringing them back to the U.S. The result is authentic and delicious Thai food available at five locations throughout the city.
If you’re looking for a unique dining experience in Portland, then be sure to visit one of the food cart pods. Unlike the food trucks that roam the city, the food carts are semipermanent structures, often gathered in parking lots or empty lots. It’s estimated that there are 500 food carts currently operating in the city. Portland Mercado has gathered Central and South American food carts into one colorful and lively setting that includes a bar and a Latin American food market. Or head to Cartlandia, which features 30 carts representing 15 different countries.
If you’d like some professional help exploring Portland’s food scene, consider a tour. Eat Adventures, the only driving food tour company in Portland, offers tours focused on specific neighborhoods, like downtown and the Alberta Arts District, as well as tours of the city's food cart pods. Lost Plate offers a walking tour of some of the city’s food carts.
6. Coffee Is Serious Business
You won’t find a bad cup of coffee in Portland. What you will find are 600 independent coffee shops serving perfectly brewed java. This town loves its coffee, and for visitors, this means a wealth of great cafes to try.
With three different locations throughout the city, Heart Coffee Roasters is well known for its unique coffee beverages like honey cardamom lattes as well as perfectly crafted mochas.
Stumptown can now be found in cities throughout the U.S., but it got its start here in Portland; it’s known for sourcing its beans directly from producers around the world.
And if you’re a vegan, you won’t feel left out -- Jet Black Coffee has you covered. Dairy creamer isn’t available here, but you will find almond, cashew, coconut, and oak milks for your caffeinated beverages.
7. The Residents Love Their Bikes
Bike lanes can be found in most cities throughout the world, but in Portland, the lanes are wider to accommodate the large number of cyclists. In fact, Portland boasts the highest rate of bike commuting in the U.S. So if you’re driving while visiting, be aware that you’ll always be sharing the road with cyclists.
If you want to feel like a local, rent a bike and hit the road. Located downtown, Cycle Portland rents a variety of bikes, including single speeds and electric bikes. They also offer guided tours if you’d like to learn more about the city while exploring on a bicycle.
Or take advantage of the city’s bicycle-sharing program, BIKETOWN, which offers 1,000 bikes at 100 docking stations. This is a great option if you’re not sure when or where you’ll want to end your ride.
8. Sustainability Is Top Of Mind
Portland has long prioritized sustainability, even before it became trendy. While other cities around the world rush to implement environmentally friendly policies and practices, Portland is continually refining the ones put in place decades ago.
One of the most prominent examples of Portland’s commitment to sustainability is its efforts to reduce waste. Commonly found throughout the city are trash cans organized by material -- glass, plastic, paper, compost, and other. A few restaurants have gone even further and declared themselves zero waste -- everything in the store must be reused or recycled.
The city is also determined to cut down on traffic and the use of fossil fuels. As mentioned previously, most of the city is bike friendly, and dedicated bicycles lanes have been in place for years. Public transportation options like the MAX Light Rail service the entire city; there’s even a convenient line from the airport to downtown. This effort has been so successful that carbon emissions in the area have declined 21 percent over the past 20 years.
Portland has a way of staying with you long after you return home. Maybe you’ll go home craving the fish sauce wings from Pok Pok, or ordering shipments of Stumptown Coffee. And it’s possible you’ll start avoiding chain restaurants and seeking out the local family-owned ones in your neck of the woods. But there’s an excellent chance you’ll be back to explore this quirky, creative, and passionate city.
For more on Portland, visit this page.