I've been seeing Portland pop up on blogs about start-ups, art, food and drink, activism and all kinds of things for the past couple of years. After being on my list of places to visit for ages, I had high expectations for this small city in the beautiful state of Oregon. Luckily enough, I got my chance to visit after being invited to give a talk to local businesspeople - I even got to meet the mayor (who was hilarious!) at a tasting event for local wines and cheeses.
Watch out! On a visit to Portland, you could easily spend your entire stay wandering around the biggest book shop in the world. The place is massive. It's an entire city block. I think in two hours we managed to do barely a quarter of the shop - there are entire sections on brewing your own beer, Mexican street food and urban farming - to name a few that took my fancy. You'll also need to leave some time aside for Powell's 2, their second store, which is right next door and crammed with fascinating science, engineering and how-to books.
I'm pretty fascinated by the 'Zine' culture in the US - there are thousands of people making tiny little magazines about topics that interest them. A lot of them are really geeky but others are arty, some are political and most are fascinating just because they are so quirky and niche. Microcosm Publishing is a bit out of the way but I found it worth the trip - its a workshop where people produce their own magazines, with a small shop attached that sells hundreds of little Zines.
There are loads of art and photography galleries scattered about town - one that I checked out was the Nine Gallery - they're currently showing a series of unbelievable pictures of a mausoleum in Chicago and of rag-pickers in (I think) the Philippines. Nearby is the Museum of Contemporary Craft, which is worth a look.
Probably one of the city's biggest triumphs is its 500+ food trucks, serving up a whole spectrum of lunches and snacks. They're all dead clean and fresh and we found ourselves eating past the point of being full. There's great banh-mi, empanadas, pulled pork rolls, steamed pork buns, Korean Tacos..
As if we hadn't hadn't eaten enough, we swang by the death-themed Voodoo Donuts shop (as strongly recommended to me by a 7-year old boy who came along to my talk..). The girl behind the counter was surprised I only wanted to buy two donuts - most people were buying two dozen (if you buy eight dozen, they come packaged in a wooden coffin!). They're famous for the Bacon & Maple Donut..
Elvis Wedding Vending Machine
When you see 'Keep Portland Weird' bumper stickers on people's cars, this is kinda what they mean. Wandering around town, we found a beautiful vending machine in the side of a wall that, on entering a quarter, performed an Elvis wedding..
It felt a bit like being in an episode of The Simpsons, playing on all the vintage pinball machines, Street Fighter and Pac-Man in the arcade. It's full of actual kids, as well as ironic hipsters..
The first Ace Hotel is in Portland; they're always a great place to stay or just hang out in, as is Stumptown Coffee (they also have one in New York). The city also has more microbreweries than anywhere else in the US and a library on wheels for people who live outside.
During my two-day visit, Portland certainly didn't disappoint and I came away inspired, wanting to go back.