Most cities have their own quirks but weird is what Portland is famous for. They even have a slogan that says “Keep Portland Weird” in the heart of the city. True, this actually has more to do with promoting local businesses and choosing them over corporations but this is a very interesting city and one can find a lot of weird things to do in Portland (especially during autumns); things that make Portland unique, showcase the best of the Portland lifestyle, and celebrate and appreciate the city’s diversity. In other, words, things that make Portland- well, Portland.
So, without further ado, from naked bike riding to moped gangs, bug sundae, and vegan strip clubs, here are 41 weird things to do in Portland.
1. Check out The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium
This list of weird things to do in Portland couldn’t be complete without the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium. The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium is everything the word ‘weird’ stands for and more. This place is an all-in-one oddities museum/art gallery/ice cream parlor where you can see some of the quirkiest pieces of art from local artists, such as sci-fi items, unusual movie props, bizarre statues, alien autopsy, and my personal favorite ‘buried-alive stimulator’. And if that’s not quirky enough, you can always try a bug sundae topped with real bug larvae.
If you want to visit the Peculiarium, you have to pay an entrance fee of $5. Unless you’re a dog. In that case, you get to enter for free.
If this sounds interesting, then you’ll surely like the next one…
2. Browse yard art
Adorning backyards is a thing among Portland homeowners and around the city but especially on the East Side, you can see some of the most fascinating (let’s call it) yard art you’ve ever seen. From homemade sculptures to uniquely-shaped benches and shelters, Portland homeowners are not afraid to showcase their creativity, delighting their neighbors and the passers-by in the process.
3. Visit The Witch’s Castle
This creepy, dilapidated house can be found in the southern part of Portland’s Forest Park and it’s a must-see if you’re looking for some weird things to do in Portland. The Witch’s Castle has been abandoned for many years and the forest seems to be slowly taking over the building with vines creeping up from all sides.
Long story short, the man leaving in the house shot his helper who was trying to make a move on his 15-years old daughter which resulted in the first legal hanging in Oregon. After the man’s death, his wife kept leaving in the house until she died after which the building was turned into a ranger station until the 1980s when it became a popular drinking place for high school students who gave the building the nickname Witch Castle because of its eerie appearance.
Whatever the case, one thing is certain; this building is quite the sight in the midst of a lush forest with only a handful of people around.
4. Explore Stark’s Vacuum Museum
When you think of the most popular museums in different cities, you think of art and history. In Portland, however, that’s not necessarily the case. One of the most popular museums in town is the Stark’s Vacuum Museum showcasing the few-decades of history of the household suction known as the vacuum cleaner. More than 300 vacuums call this quirky museum a home. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the only museum of its kind and a proof that in Portland, they don’t like being average.
Enjoying this post? Then you should also check out our list of charming small towns in Texas.
5. How about some Japanese food and porn?
Yes, you read that right, I said Japanese food and porn. Tanuki is a quirky Japanese restaurant in Montavilla, Portland with a motto ‘No sushi- no children’. What makes this restaurant special is the strange anime porn/ stripper zombie movies playing on the screens in the restaurants while guests are dining. Another cool thing about this restaurant is that you can just tell them how much money you’re willing to spend on your meal and they’ll take care of the rest.
6. Go go the smallest park in the world
Speaking of quirky, weird things to do in Portland, we just have to tell you about Mill Ends Park. Standing at 2 feet wide, Mill Ends Park is the smallest park in the world. It all started with a hole in the median designed for a light pole that was never installed there. Wild grass started growing from the hole, a local noticed it and planted a couple of flowers on the spot. In 1976 on St. Patrick’s Day, the spot as officially inaugurated as a park, making it the world’s smallest.
7. See Vaux’s Swifts at Chapman School
Since the 1990s, every September, tens of thousands of tiny birds swarm into a school chimney, making it a popular must-see attraction for locals.
Tens of thousands of tiny birds swarm into one school chimney every fall. During this time of the year, the small insect-eating birds start their migration, roosting in trees and chimneys as they go on their way to the South. One of their favorite stops during their journey is the chimney of the Chapman School In Portland. Hundreds of people come every year to witness this unusual spectacle and see the birds perform different kinds of aerial maneuvers before roosting into the school’s chimney.
8. Explore the Shanghai Tunnels
Even though it might be hard to believe, during the 1800s, Portland was one of the most dangerous ports in America. For a while, they even called it ‘The Forbidden City of the West’. The infamous Shanghai Tunnels are a remnant from that era. These tunnels were basically basements of hotels, bars, and other establishments used for opium dens, prohibition drinking hideouts, and human trafficking hotspots. According to urban legends, somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 people were ‘Shanghaied’ and sold into slavery in these tunnels, hence the name.
And if you like underground tunnels and are exploring the West Coast, you’ll also find a lot of interesting things to do in a city that was originally established on a lot lower ground- Sacramento.
9. Have a coffee at Rimsky-Korsakoffee House
How often do you come across a coffee house in a (reportedly) haunted Victorian house that plays only classical music, and is named after a Russian composer? Rimsky-Korsakoffee House has a nice casual atmosphere, amazing coffee, and deserts, and happens to be one of the oldest coffee houses in town. The interior is decorated with knickknacks and hanging objects, every table in the cafe is named after a different composer, and some of them are haunted (vibrating and elevating from time to time).
10. Take a selfie with ‘KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD’
We mentioned this famous mural at the beginning and clicking a selfie with it sure deserves a spot on this list of weird things to do in Portland. The yellow mural on the black wall of Dante’s in Downtown Portland is one of the most popular and Instagrammable places in town.
11. Watch the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby
Every August, a group of adults in a desperate need to let their inner child out participate in Portland’s legendary Soapbox Derby. The Soapbox Derby is basically a race in which participants drive the cars they have built for the derby down the curves and straightaways of Mount Tabor. It’s fun, it’s quirky (a lot of Flintstone cars and Batmobiles), and it’s free entertainment you won’t find anywhere else!
12. Check out the Paul Bunyan Statue
Paul Bunyan is a giant 30-feet-tall lumberjack statue made of steel and cement that has been sitting on the road since 1959. The statue recently turned into a roadside attraction but we had to put it on this list of weird things to do in Portland because it’s weird that anyone would put a giant lumberjack statue in the middle of the road without any significant meaning. Especially because the lumberjack from American folklore has nothing to do with Portland or Oregon for that matter.
13. Draw naked strangers
Crush is a famous gay bar in Southeast Portland described as a welcoming neighborhood gay bar for everyone. Once every month, in the bar, there are monthly Dr. Sketchy’s drawing sessions in which visitors get to draw other naked strangers. It’s a weird (and if may add, Portland-esque) twist on the paint and wine events that have become a big hit across the country.
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14. Taking the Naked Bike Ride (Pedalpalooza)
Honestly, this would have to go to the ‘bad naked’ category but hey, where else can you see hundreds of people riding bicycles naked at the same time? Unlike what you might think, this isn’t an attempt for naked exhibitioners to showcase their assets, it’s actually for charity but still, a list of weird things to do in Portland wouldn’t be complete without this annual event.
15. Hang at the Hung Far Low sign
Except for being one of the sweetest double-entendre puns I’ve ever seen, this sign is also one of the most iconic sights in Portland’s Chinatown. The sign once marked the Hung Far Low restaurant (Cantonese for almond blossom fragrance) but today it stands proud as one of Portland’s proudest monuments. The restaurant has been relocated for years and the local authorities tried to remove the sign that has served as the unofficial gate of Chinatown but the locals didn’t like that and even managed to collect $45,000 through donations just to keep the sign.
16. Participate in the City Repair project
Perhaps this one isn’t as weird as some other things to do in Portland, but how often can you participate in reclaiming and redesigning old, unused public spaces in the city you’re traveling to? The City Repair Project is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization that reclaims public places that are not being used and gives them a second life. And anyone can help. It doesn’t matter if you’re a local, an ex-pat, or just a passer-by. Take action and participate in one of the many different projects they work on around the city.
17. Go to a vegan strip club
When it comes to weird things to do in Portland, it doesn’t get more quirky than a vegan strip club. Casa Diablo in Portland is the world’s first 100% vegan strip club. Because, why should vegans compromise their dietary morals just because they want to see some hot strippers shaking it (in faux leather, of course)?
18. Check out the Hat Museum
Did you know that Portland is home to one of the largest hat museums in the world? The National Hat Museum in Southeast Portland is home to more than 1,100 hats from different eras and categories. You can see all the hats you can imagine and much more! Just make sure to call in advance; the museum accepts visitors by appointment only.
19. Stalk the Unipiper
Even if you don’t know a lot of things about Portland, you’ve surely seen the Darth Vader on a monocycle wearing a Scottish kilt. That’s the Unipiper. Ever since he got famous as the Darth Vader on a monocycle, he did a lot of other stunts including popular TV shows references and he’s still active. Who knows, maybe next time you visit Portland, you’ll get the chance to see him doing something crazy.
20. Walk the Portland Troll Bridge
No one quite knows how and why these tiny, cute trolls started appearing under this old wooden bridge in Portland but the bridge is starting to turn into one of the city’s quirkiest attractions. Trolls were once fearsome creatures used for scaring children but somewhere in the 1960s, the legendary Scandinavian mythical creatures were plasticized into colorful tiny dolls probably in attempts by the local population to keep Portland weird.
21. Visit the oldest operating movie theater in Portland
The oldest movie theater in Portland is a real gem where you can watch superhero and second-run kids’ movies all day long and take a massive throwback by playing nickel arcade. To make things even more quirky, this same building was once used as a mortuary and a brothel. This might make you feel a bit weirded out if you’re visiting with children but then again, when it comes to kids’ entertainment, it doesn’t get much better than this.
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22. Go back in time at Ground Kontrol
According to their staff, this is one of the city’s Top 5 places to visit if you’re a nerd, making it a great fit for this list of weird things to do in Portland. The Ground Kontrol is home to 27 pinball machines and a bunch of arcade games. How’s that for a throwback? And if that’s not enough, you might even witness some of the Ground Kontrol’s regular events, such as Laser League and Pinbrawl.
23. Dont miss the Pint-size Puppet Museum
If for some reason, you want to learn about all things puppet or just release your inner child for a couple of hours, remember the Ping Pong’s Pint Size Puppet Museum. You can see hundreds of puppets, ranging from marionettes, talking animals, and witches come to life every Thursday-Sunday and you can see a myriad of live performances.
24. Release your inner child at Kidd’s Toy Museum
No that’s not a typo. It’s not kids’ toys, it’s ‘Kidd’s toys’. This massive collection belongs to Frank Kidd, a toy collector from Portland who traveled around the country to collect close to 20,000 toys! In addition to the familiar smell of your grandfather’s attic, the museum stretches a lot deeper than you might think. You can see room after room filled with stuffed toys ranging from plush dolls, Disney characters, and railroad toys to cap guns and action figures just to name a few. And as impressive as the collection sounds, it’s nothing compared to Kidd’s private collection, two-thirds of which remain in storage because of lack of display space in the museum.
You might think this museum is bizarre but that’s only because you didn’t visit…
25. Get curious at the Zymoglyphic Museum
We really can’t complete this list of weird things to do in Portland without the legendary Zymoglyphic Museum. This eclectic cabinet of curiosities was created by artist Jim Stewart and features exhibits that not only display but also embody the city’s slogan ‘Keep Portland Weird‘. The exhibits are divided into two categories, artificialia and naturalia, or in other words, marvels of man and marvels of God. However, looking at the exhibits, it’s often difficult to tell where the hand of nature starts and the one of the artist begins. Prepare for a lot of bizarre figurines, ethnographic artifacts, quirky dioramas, alchemy objects, and fascinating natural phenomena.
26. See Moped/scooter gangs
When you think of bike gangs, you probably think of big, scary-looking guys that ride Harley Davidsons. However, in Portland, bike gangs are a little bit different. Over here, they have moped/scooter bike gangs. The two most popular ones are Twist N Play and Moped Army and they both host weekly get-togethers for scooter riders and enthusiasts.
27. Hang out at the PDX
There’s a good reason why the PDX makes it to most lists of the top 5 (or top 10) airports in the US every year. The PDX is like a mini version of Portland and even though this might sound quirky, there are a lot of activities you can indulge in. You can see a movie at Hollywood Theater, see the art exhibits at PDX Contemporary Art, enjoy PDX’s music program or even click a picture of your feet at the famous PDX carpet (one of Portland’s quirkiest social media trends).
28. Stay at a tiny house hotel
Did you know that the first tiny house hotel was built in Portland? The Tiny House Hotel is a part of the always trendy Alberta Arts District and offers accommodation to travelers in tiny houses on wheels at affordable rates. To make things even better, Caravan and its tiny houses are located very close to the always-happening NE 28th Avenue, so you’ll never be bored in the area.
29. Weird things to do in Portland- Sleep in a Haunted Hotel
If you’re not familiar with it, the Heathman Hotel has often been referred to as one of America’s most haunted hotels. There have been numerous instances of guests reporting paranormal activities and you might think that this would be enough for the hotel to be shut down but no. Not in Portland. In Portland, this hotel is actually a popular tourist attraction and people travel from around the country just to stay in it.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for some more normal places to stay in Portland, you can use our Booking.com voucher to save up to 15% on all properties in town.
But, let’s get back to weird things to do in Portland…
30. Attend the UFO Festival in McMinnville
Every May, hundreds of earthlings gather in McMinnville, a small town 35 miles away from Portland to attend the annual UFO Festival. This quirky festival features three full days of costume contests, dance parties, parades, and even expert speakers that share (what they claim to be) their alien encounter stories.
31. Soak Naked at Bagby Springs
The Bagby Hot Springs is one of the most beautiful hidden gems in Oregon and one of the best ideas for a day trip from Portland. It’s tucked into the Mount Hoot National Forest, roughly 2 hours driving away from Portland. You won’t find a lot of guided tours and public transport options to get there, so if you want to explore the beautiful natural surroundings of Portland, it’s probably a good idea to rent a car. Just don’t forget to use AutoEurope to compare the prices of all local car rental companies and save up to 30% when renting a car in Portland.
But, back to the springs! This elaborate system of wooden aqueduct channels made of growth timber is a great place to unwind and relax and it also happens to be a very popular place among nudists. But don’t get your hopes up; most of the people who come here aren’t the ones you would like to see naked…
32. Get drunk in detention
McMenamins Kennedy is an old elementary school in Portland that has been turned into an entertainment hotspot. However, they decided to keep some of the school’s interior, so today, you can do all kinds of quirky things in the former school, such as eating in the boiler room or getting drunk at the Detention room that has been turned into a nice, cozy bar.
And after all that heavy drinking, you’ll need an equally heavy junk meal and what’s better than…
33. Eating dirty fries at Lardo
Speaking of weird things to do in Portland, we just have to mention the dirty fries at Lardo; one of the most popular junk food snacks in Portland. What makes the fries at Lardo dirty? A mix of herbs, cheese, marinated peppers, and pork scraps. I know it sounds quirky, but trust me, it tastes better than it sounds. It can be eaten as a snack or if you’re looking for a caloric bomb, have it as a side with Lardo’s legendary Pork Meatball Banh Mi.
34. How about a Voodoo Doughnut after so many weird things to do in Portland?
Voodoo Doughnuts are extremely popular across Oregon and there’s a good reason for that. Their donuts are pretty good but what makes them special are their unique flavors and creative designs. Some of the quirkiest donuts are the Marshall Mathers covered in M&Ms (get it?) and the Dirty Snowballs covered with marshmallow and topped with peanut butter, but they also have some amazing creative mashups like the Loop Doughnut covered in fruit loops and The Old Dirty Bastard covered in peanut butter, chocolate, and crumbled Oreo cookies.
And if this isn’t quirky enough for you, you can always…
35. Try some of Portland’s weird ice creams
To be completely honest, Portland should be taken to court for some of the crimes it committed against ice cream. Only in Portland and the surrounding area you can find ice cream flavors like pickled mango, cracked pepper with strawberries, bacon ice cream, and perhaps the worst one- Cheetos-topped ice cream! And it’s not just one or two shops, you can find these around the city.
And if you’re looking for a healthier alternative, how about…
36. Pedal-power your smoothie
If you like healthy food and healthy habits, you’ll surely like Portland’s Moberi. At Moberi, you can hop on their pedal-powering bike-blender and make your own smoothie by cycling. This way, not only are you consuming a healthy smoothie, but you’re also getting some exercise. And did I mention that their smoothies are delicious?
37. Have your Coffee on Fir
Huber’s has been around since the 1870s, making it the oldest restaurant in Portland. The food here is amazing as it can be expected from a high-end restaurant but that’s not the reason why Huber’s is on this list of weird things to do in Portland. Huber’s is famous for the show that happens while preparing and serving your coffee.
First, the server brings a big tray, starts lighting things on fire, and (on request) even pour alcohol into your glass from waaay above his/her head. Trust me, this is something you’ll want to record!
38. Check out the Flutter
If you’re looking for a quirky souvenir from an even quirkier city, head to the Flutter and you’ll find fascinating disarray of old objects. Some of the things you can find here include a lot of old books on different topics, but also a lot of vintage dresses, kimonos, and slips, quirky taxidermy animals, old chairs, ornate cabinets, etc. Basically, you can find any quirky item you can think of.
39. Try to find the Transcendence while trying other weird things to do in Portland
Nothing screams ‘Keep Portland Weird’ like a statue of a salmon fish that looks like is swimming through the corner of a building. The statue, 11 feet in length was designed by Keith Jellum and placed in the perfect location; next to a seafood restaurant on Salmon Street. The statue is located on the third floor of the building, so a lot of passers-by actually pass by it without noticing it.
40. Enjoy a cuddle session with a professional cuddler
Did you ever experience a cuddle session with a professional cuddler? If not, what better place to lose your cuddle virginity than Portland? Jokes aside, at Cuddle Up To Me, you can experience a completely platonic and fully-clothed cuddle session that lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to 5 hours.
41. Visit the Reed College research reactor
To round up this list of weird things to do in Portland, how about a visit to the world’s one and only nuclear reactor operated by liberal arts undergrads? The nuclear reactor at Reed College has been used for the research needs of the college since 1968. Interestingly, until a couple of years ago, there was a family of rubber duckies floating in the cooling water of the reactor until federal inspectors dispose of them citing a violation of protocol.
Today, the nuclear reactor is maintained by students who must receive a license from the school for which they have to take a special exam. The reactor produces 250 kilowatts of heat, about 11 times more than a home furnace (just to demonstrate the amount of energy that’s not being used for anything but research).
Helpful resources for discovering weird things to do in Portland
If you’re looking to save big on your flight to Portland, check out Qatar Airways’s Oh-La-La Deals.
For some great accommodation deals in Portland, use our Booking.com voucher to save up to 15% on all properties in town.
Are you planning to rent a car in Portland? Use AutoEurope to compare the prices of all local car rental companies and save up to 30% when renting a car in Portland.
And finally, don’t forget about travel insurance. Personally, I recommend you choose World Nomads. Sure, they might be more expensive than most average travel insurance providers but they will have your back no matter what happens, unlike some other travel insurance providers that offer cheap packages but don’t provide coverage for a lot of emergencies.
For some more unusual things to do in different cities in the US, check out some more of our West/Pacific articles:
Finally, did you like this list of weird things to do in Portland? Do you think we didn’t mention something quirky but worth doing in Portland? Let us know in the comments!
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