All things Portland: The culture of weird

All things Portland: The culture of weird

by Adriana Stein

Updated May 17, 2023

You may have heard of the weird reputation of the city called Portland, where people keep pigs as pets, host the Naked Bike Ride and have the world’s smallest park. As a former resident of the city, I can confirm that all the rumors are true and you will most certainly become weirder just by visiting there. Portland’s thriving culture is definitely something to experience and if you ever find yourself nearby, you should pay a visit and immerse yourself in its vibrant environment. In the meantime, we have collected for you some of the most characteristic features that make this city such an unusual spot.

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Portland culture on Netflix

Portland, Oregon, USA became internationally recognized with the 2011 debut of the Netflix series Portlandia”. It featured a feminist bookstore, a mayor who swam to work and a couple seated at a restaurant where they learned the life story of the chicken they were about to eat. While the series has gone on to exaggerate the weirdness of Portland in later seasons, the first episodes were pretty accurate. Many people are vegans, obsessed with organic products and mostly wear either hemp or secondhand clothing. It’s a city where the 90s trends are basically permanent and buying new things is frowned upon.

“Keep Portland Weird”

I moved to Portland from rural Oregon in 2011 for my studies and stayed there for over 5 years. It was truly a whole new level of “weird”. In fact, if you weren’t “weird” in some manner, you probably wouldn’t make a whole lot of friends there. Being normal and conforming was considered suspicious.

This one day I was sitting in the campus park area and, looking around me, I remember being transported into a different dimension. One person was yelling bible verses, another walking their pig, a protest about the need for more organic food was taking place and a bunch of hipsters were blasting Nirvana. All in the same place. And once you are familiar with the city’s flow, you cannot but think “Yep, that’s Portland”.

The city’s motto “Keep Portland Weird” makes a whole lot of sense when you hear about things like vegan strip clubs, a museum for vacuumsUFO festivals and the world’s largest Naked Bike Ride. Portlanders love to be different, are proud of it and strive to become weirder by the minute.

A craft beer and foodie mecca

One thing that has permanently stayed with me after living in Portland is a huge love for good food combined with innovation. Because Portlanders love all things natural, the food there is incredibly delicious and highly authentic. They don’t try to “Americanize” the flavors of foods from foreign countries.

My senior thesis was about this topic (I studied Anthropology). I went all over Portland interviewing Indian restaurant owners about their food traditions and asking if they needed to change their recipes for Portland’s taste. “No, not at all” is what I got overwhelmingly as an answer.

The same goes for craft beer, too. By German standards, a lot of beer in Portland isn’t even beer anymore. But when you live in Portland, the typical bar has 20-30 rotating craft beers on tap at any given time (some dedicated places even have more than 200). There are mixes with every flavor imaginable, some good and some bad. One of the largest Christmas festivals even showcases about 1000 new craft beers every year.

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All things arts, poetry and theater (the weirder, the better)

Some of the strangest theatre performances I’ve ever seen also take place in Portland. As lovers of the arts, it’s quite common on a Sunday to watch a “Poetry Slam” where local and national poets come to read their poems on stage and compete for the winning title. Attending your first one is a rite of passage that can’t be missed, especially when you can drink a nice craft beer while watching.

Come one, come all – even with strange man buns, ripped jeans, and fully clashing textures that you couldn’t wear anywhere else.

An emphasis on alternative and punk music

Portland’s culture is heavily leftwing, LGBTQI-friendly and lover of all things punk. That’s often why they get a lot of transplants (people from out of town) from California, where hipsterism as alternativism originated. Along with those people also came a love for indie and punk music. No Portlander ever listens to anything on the top 100 hit list. If you do, you’ll likely be publicly shamed. I was quite happy about this, as it made all the local radio stations have really high-quality music.

If you’re a fan of these music genres, you’ll likely recognize names like The Decemberists, The Dandy Warhols, Anatomy of a Ghost, The Shins and Portugal. The Man and my personal favorite, Modest Mouse. Some of my fondest memories from Portland were when I was sitting in a park next to their house and listening to their jam sessions for free. Incidentally, I was at this park for a huge game of adult tag, another thing I’ve only ever seen in Portland.

More weird pit stops

Regardless you aren’t fully convinced of Portland’s culture and weirdness or are already planning your next trip there, here are a few other weird pits stops that show how weird things get there:

  • Mill’s End Parkthe world’s smallest park. It even has its own address
  • Voodoo Donutsdonuts at a whole new level and also vegan
  • Powell’s Books: the world’s largest independent bookstore with a cafe inside. Be prepared to spend an entire day there
  • The Annual Soapbox Derby: a real-life version of Mario Karts that takes place on an extinct volcano named Mount Tabor in the middle of the city
  • The Kennedy School Hotel: a school that was converted into a quirky hotel and restaurant with a public pool

Oh and one more tidbit: even though Portland has immense amounts of rain, true Portlanders never use an umbrella. Those are only for tourists.

Weird up and treat yourself to some real Portland culture

Few places on this planet see people thrive by just being themselves, regardless of what the norm would expect us to do or in which way to behave. Portland is one of them. Here all ideas seem to have fertile soil to blossom or at the very least, a chance to be pondered upon. A place where bizarre becomes the new normal. So, set that shame down and treat yourself to some Portland weirdness.

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