5 things to do in Portland

Fiona Fraser revels in the unique vibe of Oregon's quirkiest city
5 things to do in Portland

You’ll see the bumper stickers everywhere – little reminders to “Keep Portland Weird”.

Small and quite perfectly formed, Oregon’s largest city (population 580,000) has a reputation for being offbeat – but that’s what makes it one of the coolest US centres of all.

1. Sing it – Portland style!

Karaoke is a firm fave in this neck of the woods. I was particularly intrigued by Portland’s karaoke bus services – Bus’ a Move takes you to all the hottest sing-along spots, while several other coach companies include a karaoke machine on the bus! And the unwritten rule appears to be that participation is compulsory. Whether you try Karaoke from Hell (where you have a live rock band as your backing music) or Devil’s Point Stripperoke (where, you guessed it, a dancer removes her clothing while you sing), it’s a must-do.

2. Last Thursday

Over in Portland’s north-east Alberta precinct, we embrace the slightly grimy and oh-so weird street party that they call Last Thursday – which happens on the final Thursday of each month.

Queue at a food cart for a tasty taco or try the ubiquitous Voodoo Doughnuts. Then search out an original artwork or jewellery piece, watch stilt-walkers and fire-breathers, hang out with buskers and don’t forget to dress weird. There are tattoed, tutu-wearing rollerskaters, and others dressed as skeletons and pirates … It’s kind of like being at a Dunedin rave in the ’90s.

3. Doggone fantastic!

There are dog meet-ups (many by breed!) all over the city, often conveniently located at craft breweries. In fact, all animals are welcome just about anywhere in Portland. At my hotel, the lovely, upmarket Hotel Vintage Portland in the south-west of the city, I’m first alerted to this when I check in and see my name written on a blackboard.

It says “Welcome … Hew! Millicent! Fiona!” “That’s sweet,” I think, until I realise the blackboard is positioned next to a water bowl – and Fiona is most likely a canine. And don’t worry if you didn’t bring your pet to Portland. Pets are provided! The hotel manifesto advises that if I’m feeling like company, a goldfish avec bowl will be delivered to my room.

4. Coffee with a bang

In a country obsessed with Starbucks, it’s refreshing to find Portland loves good coffee almost as much as we do. Stumptown, in several locations city-wide, will make you a fantastic flat white (aka a “wet cappuccino”). And if you’re in town for the annual Feast Portland food festival (this year it’s scheduled for September 17-20), you can learn the tricks of the trade at Stumptown’s A-Game Coffee masterclass, and come away with brewing skills even better than our Kiwi baristas!

But for coffee with a real difference, go to Portland’s oldest restaurant, Huber’s, and order their Spanish Coffee. Without giving the game away, it’s, erm, a performance. Made with alcohol, fire and exaggerated arm movements, it’s a Portland late-night tradition.

5. Rub-a-dub

The weather isn’t exactly tropical in the Pacific north-west, but you needn’t forego warmth altogether. That’s why there’s Tub & Tan, a specialist “tubbing” salon where you can rent a hot tub by the hour, complete with wacky lighting, waterfalls, themed décor, disco balls and your favourite music. Oh, and as the name suggests, they have sunbeds too.

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