You can’t go far in Portland, Oregon without spotting a bumper sticker emblazoned with “Keep Portland Weird” (there’s even a billboard-size sign sporting the iconic message on S.W. 3rd Ave and Ankeny St. that’s popular for selfies). And the city definitely does a fine job at keeping things weird. Here’s a guide to where you can get a taste of Portland’s quirkier side.
Legend has it that underneath Portland’s Old Town lies a network of subterranean passageways, dubbed the “Shanghai Tunnels.” The story goes that these tunnels were used back in Portland’s early days to smuggle boozed-up young men from Old Town taverns onto ships docked in the nearby Willamette River, where they’d be forced to work as sailors on the open seas (a process known as “Shanghaiing”). Whether or not the story is true, these dilapidated catacombs are easily one of Portland’s spookiest attractions, and many locals believe the tunnels are haunted.
One of Portland’s oldest coffee shops, and certainly one of its weirdest, Rimsky-Korsakoffee House is a curious composer-themed cafe occupying the living room of an old craftsman-style house. Many of the tables in this whimsically decorated space are hooked up to mechanical devices so that they tremble occasionally, rotate very slowly and gradually, or retract into the wall – much to the surprise of first-time patrons.
Mill Ends Park
Although Portland is better known for its expansive parks and green spaces (including the gargantuan Forest Park, which spans some 5,172 acres), it’s also home to the world’s smallest park: Mill Ends Park, which measures around two feet in diameter. The park’s site, which sits in the middle of a traffic median in downtown Portland, was originally cleared to make room for a street light. When city officials failed to install anything, a local columnist whose office overlooked the park took action, planting flowers in the space and creating an entire legend around a resident leprechaun. Mills End was declared an official city park in 1976 and has been managed by Portland Parks and Recreation ever since.
The Zymoglyphic Museum
Suspend your disbelief before heading to the world’s only museum dedicated to all things Zymoglyphic (a term invented by the curator). This free museum showcases all sorts of oddities, from a plant sprouting an eyeball to a charmingly eerie mermaid. The 3D dioramas here are particularly intriguing, and depict scenes from myths from the so-called “Age of Wonder.” A few are even preserved in “primordial ooze.”
Book your stay at a Hilton while you’re exploring Portland’s stranger side.