You should go to Portland. Skip New York, skip California, chillax in the Pacific Northwest, America's best corner, though we like to pretend we're our own country up there. It's what I did this summer. The city slogan is "keep Portland weird". We stole it from Austin, Texas, but if the shoe fits... And P-town does wear that funky clown shoe well. Historically, Portland has had a depressed economy. You'd think this would be a bad thing, but somehow it works. Everything's cheap. You can afford to live in bohemian comfort on your part time service industry job. Just don't expect to find any other sort of work. The career minded generally leave (it's why I did, eventually), and what's left is an antimaterialistic, artsy, idiosyncratic culture. It's a place you can dress like a cosmic mermaid, knit sweaters for trees, and perform ukelele raps about your goat Buster - and people are going to think you're pretty normal.
Living in the city for awhile is the best way to enjoy its peculiarities, but rather than give a TMI-laced acount of my recent stint in PDX, here are some suggestions to help you create your own delightfully unrecountable-in-polite-company Portland experience.
1. The Horse Project. Now and then you'll encounter iron rings bolted into the sidewalks in older parts of the city like the Pearl, Old Town, and inner South East. They're for tethering your horse. Since everyone's traded their ponies for bikes, the rings are going to waste. Back in the mid aughts, a nice artist remedied this by tethering toy horses all around the city. For awhile you could hardly pass a ring without encountering a tiny horse. People brought them blankets, hay, apples... The trend peak is over, but keep a lookout. And why not participate in a tradition while you're in town?
2. Zoobombing. Portlanders love bikes. Wanna make local friends? Grab a helmet, dress up, and head to the pile at SW 13th and Burnside on Sunday at 8:30 pm. If you don't have your own bike along, pick out your very own minibike for the evening, and take the tram up one of the city's biggest hills along with your new friends. Bomb the hill on your crazy tiny bike (or try out a tall bike if you can borrow one). Repeat. BYOB. Remember to clean up after yourself and put the bike back in the pile when you're done.
3. Belmont goats. Mourn their loss. Can you believe developers have evicted this nice goat family just to put up some ugly-ass condos that no one can afford? Yeah, there was a field full of goats in the middle of the city. They had a sweet goat clubhouse. The only reason these goats don't top the list is the hopefully temporary hiatus. Worth checking the website prior to visiting Portland to see if they've managed to find another home in town that we only just learned that you can find them at SE 91st and Foster!
4. Brunch. Tofu scrambles. American biscuits. Stacks of pancakes bigger than my head drenched in maple syrup. Breakfast burritos. I'm just listing food I miss now. Unlike the brunches popping up in Helsinki, Portland brunches are ubiquitous and dirt cheap. $5-10, you won't be hungry for the rest of the day. Genies, jam, and Hungry Tiger are all popular choices.
5. Bars - dark, dirty, and without legal limits on pours. If you like alcohol with your alcohol with your live metal hit up Tonic Lounge for a greaser vibe or Slabtown for a cabbie vs outlaw pinball tournament atmosphere. Portland is famous for craft beer, offering hundreds of places where you can partake in classier environs. My personal recomendation has got to be Dots. Velvet brocade walpaper, velvet paintings, cheesy fries, a G&T that makes the liver happy, people dressed as rangers, pool tables - Dots captures the quintessence of drinking in PDX.
6. Ground Kontrol. Also a bar, and an arcade. In fact, this place often makes it into world's top arcades lists. It's two floors packed with classic games plus almost 30 pinball machines. Alternatively, if you want to get hardcore about keeping it weird, check out the Avalon. All the games run on nickles, and half of them are Japanese adventure games with bewildering controllers. In one you kill frogs with an oar to find out how much your boyfriend loves you.
7. The Bins. Portland has a fantastic selection of cute vintage shops. If you have a weak stomach, stick to SE Hawthorne. But for the stout hearted, the Bins is a classic experience. It's a warehouse. Full of bins. Full of stuff. You pay for the stuff by the pound. You find mindbending shit here. Sometimes you find literal shit. Seriously, bring latex gloves and dig carefully. Anyway, some locals make a living by trawling the Bins for antiques and vintage clothes and reselling on ebay, so it can be worth the intense sketch. Like most of Portland, it's the filth that really makes the atmosphere.
8. First Thursday (or its younger sibling Last Thursday), monthly nights when art galleries fling open their doors and performance artists fill the streets, are great occasions to people watch, as is the weekly Saturday Market, the largest continuously operated outdoor market in the US.
9. Food cart pods. If you've heard of PDX then you've heard of food carts. What can't you get from a cart for a fiver? Favorites include the viking themed crepes on SE Belmont and the stoner milkshakes on Hawthorne and SE 12th.
Portland culture puts an emphasis on creating a good day to day life, whatever that means to you. It's hard to capture that in a list, so don't forget the daily pleasures while you're in town.
Grab a coffee from Waterstreet, Albina Press, or Heart and just walk around one of the more interesting neighborhoods (like Hawthorne/Belmont, Selwood, or NE Mississipi/Alberta). Neighborhoods build communal outdoor spaces on street corners, paint the intersections, and people decorate their houses like DIY art projects. Or find the small press shelves and read local, experimental literature in the blue room at Powell's Books, a four story city block of reading bliss.
I could go on, but now I'm homesick.