The City of Roses is full of colour (Picture: Alamy/ Voodoo Doughnuts)
Keep Portland Weird is the city’s unofficial motto, thanks to its predominantly young, hipster, liberal-leaning population and its support – and passion – for alternative lifestyles (try Burnside Street and Harvey Milk Street for gay and gay-friendly bars, cafés and stores).
Having spent several days in this alluring city in the Pacific Northwest, three hours from Seattle, I hope it stays this way forever.
Take my first encounter with the surreal: Mill Ends Park, set by the wide Willamette River that bisects Portland.
It’s billed as ‘the smallest park in the world’ and they’re not kidding: Mill Ends is only 2ft wide and covers just 452 sq ins.
It started life in 1948 as the proposed site for a lighting pole but when the council did zilch, local journalist Dick Fagan planted flowers in the gap and named it Mill Ends (the phrase for leftover wood pieces in Portland’s lumber mills).
Welcome to the smallest park in the world (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)
Portland is filled with colourful rowhouses (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)
On St Patrick’s Day 1976 it was dedicated as ‘the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland’.
So far, so strange. Then there’s my visit to the Freakybutttrue Peculiarium (tickets £4), set on charming Thurman Street, which is lined with cute, colourful houses, French cafés and marijuana dispensaries.
The Freakybuttrue Perculiarium is certainly, um, spooky (Picture: Visitor 7)
There’s a 10ft stuffed sasquatch by the entrance and when I ask the woman behind the desk what exactly this place is, she laughs and says: ‘We get asked that all the time! Think of it as a mix of art gallery, popular culture archive and museum.’
Beyond the curtain there’s all sorts of mad stuff, such as a vampire-killing kit and a statue of Krampus.
And after all this madness, it’s downright criminal that I’m not in town
in time for the annual Naked Bike Ride in July, a protest against
the use of fossil fuels.
Strolling around later, it seems that if there’s not a coffee shop on every corner, there’s a strip club – Portland has more per capita than any other US city.
The local uniform among younger inhabitants appears to be beanie hats, backpacks and cropped jeans, with lumberjack-style beards for men.
Portlanders go for a naked bike ride every year encouraging body positivity and protesting against fossil fuels (Picture: Natalie Behring/Getty Images)
Albert Arts District is famous for being a funky LGBTQ+ neighbourhood (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)
You’ll find them out in force at the Alberta Arts District, another creative cuckoon full of boutique shops, street food and murals in the city’s north-east corner.
I also learn that Portlandians are fiercely tribal about… doughnuts, with two successful home-grown brands slugging it out on the city’s streets.
Blue Star Donuts’ outlets have a light, clean feel, with avant-garde creations for the more sophisticated palate, such as grapefruit paprika smoke, orange olive oil and Cointreau crème brûlée.
So yummy (Picture: Voodoo Doughnut)
There’s a reason why Portland is known as the City of Roses (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)
I try their signature, the unusual Blueberry Bourbon Basil, before heading to rival Voodoo Doughnut, whose decor screams ‘Goth Barbie’s living room’, thanks to its neon-pink signage and prints of skulls and coffins.
There’s a queue around the block and you can even get married here. Flavours include Viscous Hibiscus and the Ring Of Fire (chocolate and chilli) but I try the stomach-defeating Bacon Maple Bar, a rich, maple cream-glazed concoction topped with two rashers of bacon.
To (try to) walk these off, I head to Washington Park, a vast, city centre forest criss-crossed by hiking and biking trails overshadowed by huge pine and fir trees.
I huff up a rather steep path to the unexpected International Rose Test Garden, where growers from all over the world send samples for cultivation and research.
Its 10,000 rose bushes of approximately 650 varieties bestow Portland with its nickname, City of Roses. Beautiful and bonkers, it’s the kind of city you won’t forget in a hurry.
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