We loved Portland – it’s been one of our favourite places that we’ve visited in the USA so far. The food culture is delicious, the people are friendly and the population is young and entrepreneurial.
And we were happy to discover lots of quirky facts about things we didn’t know about Portland.
On the first morning we were there, we decided to do a ‘free’ walking tour to learn more about the city. The Secrets of Portlandia tour is run by Portland local Erik who knows the place like the back of his hand. He earns his money by the tip you decide to give him at the end. We thought he was great, so we gave him $20.
Erik certainly knows Portland well, but he won’t give you a boring run down of the city’s historical facts. Instead, he’ll give you an insight into the quirkiness of the city and tip you off on the best places to grab a bite to eat.
So what did we learn on the tour? I’ll break it down for you…
6 things you didn’t know about Portland
1. The most unique beers in the world come from Portland
Ok, so you’ll realise pretty quickly that the people in Portland love a tipple or three. The place is renowned for its boutique breweries and city wineries are becoming commonplace too.
But did you know that along with the Czech Republic and Belgium, Portland has the most unique beers in the world?
It’s evidently a good place to drink. Not only does Portland have a huge variety of booze, it also has twice as many bars per capita than Seattle. Now that’s our kind of place!
2. The water fountains you see all over Portland? They were installed to stop people drinking booze
It seems Portlandians have had a strong taste for alcohol for a very long time. When Portland was first being built, the lumberjacks had to cut down thousands of trees to make way for the town. But there was a shortage of water.
And cutting down trees is thirsty work.
So each day, these lumberers would go to the local bars for lunch to quench their first with a number of beers. As a result, many men started losing fingers and arms in lumbering accidents in the afternoon.
To prevent further injury one of the town’s founders, Simon Benson, decided to install water fountains out the front of every bar. It caused many watering holes to go out of business and they weren’t too pleased.
But the water fountains have remained so just remember that every time you see one you know a pub used to stand nearby.
3. The food cart revolution began in the recession
But it’s not just booze Portlanders love, they have strong taste buds for good food too.
In fact, there are 1,200 unique restaurants and 700 food carts in Portland so if you eat at a chain restaurant while you are there then shame on you!
The food cart revolution started during the recession because everyone seemed to be moving to Portland (in fact, only 10% of the local population was actually born in Portland!) and there weren’t enough jobs to go round.
So the locals got entrepreneurial to keep themselves afloat and began food cart businesses.
If you’re worried about eating at these food carts, don’t be. They serve very tasty food and in 2012 they actually were more highly rated for hygiene than the restaurants of Portland.
But if you want to cook instead, look no further than one of Portland’s farmer’s markets – there are 40 of them a week (!) – and you can find delicious fresh and local produce there.
4. Up until the late 1800s there was a domesticated elk living in Portland
Yep, as the city became more and more populated, this elk stubbonly refused to leave. He became loved by the locals and he turned into a domestic animal as they all fed him.
But don’t get the wrong idea – elk are dangerous!
In fact, they kill more hikers in the USA than bears each year, yet even so, this domesticated elk hung out in Portland for 30 years until he died.
When the elk passed away a statue was commissioned to remember him by but the locals were so unhappy with the finished result (they thought it looked more like a giraffe or a camel than an elk) that the sculptor got death threats and the locals tried to throw the statue in the water.
5. Portland is the ultimate city for girl power
If there’s a place for feminism, Portland is it? Why? Many reasons…
First of all, the first female police officer in the US (in the 1920s) was from Portland.
She was put in charge of monitoring the strip clubs to make sure the women didn’t take off all their clothes. The men in the force all volunteered but the head of police was worried they wouldn’t stay focused on the job.
The strip clubs soon got too clever – whenever the police woman would arrive at a club, the bar staff would push a button to warn the strippers out the back not to take everything off.
Portland was also home the US’s first female mayor in the 1950s.
But she wasn’t much fun – she banned pinball machines because she thought it would make people get addicted to slot machines and gambling.
If you’re looking for an empowering fairy tale where the women rule the world, look no further than the feminist bookstore in Portland.
And if that isn’t enough… more than 50% of the businesses in Portland are owned by women!
6. Portland (and Oregon) is the home of weird laws
Oh the laws are so, so strange in Portland but they must’ve been invented because someone was doing it!
Here are seven of their odd laws:
– You can’t wear rollerblades in the bathroom
– You can’t get out of your car and pump your own gas – you could be fined $500
– It’s illegal to modify the weather without a license
– It’s illegal to have a rooster for your own private use
– In Yam Hill (a town outside of Portland) it’s illegal to talk about the future
– You can’t feed canned corn to fish
And perhaps the strangest of them all…
– You can’t put a baby in your car seat and strap it to the top of a car with duct tape and drive it along the motorway
What the?! Someone did that?!