36 hours in Portland
Portland, Oregon's largest little city, is a bastion of creative living, excellent food, happy inebriation and devotion to the great outdoors. Video: New York Times
If you watch the sketch comedy TV series Portlandia, you might assume the city of Portland is the epicentre of all that is hipster, eccentric, and downright odd on the west coast of the USA.
You wouldn't be entirely wrong. In recent decades, this formerly gritty industrial city on the Columbia and Williamette Rivers has reinvented itself as a creative, diverse place with lively arts and food scenes, and with unusually good public transport.
It's easy to get around, and it's also quirky. Several locals told me on my recent visit, "Portlandia is a documentary." Here are ten attractions that prove it.
1. Voodoo Doughnuts
In the grungy but decorative Old Town, this popular outlet usually has customers lined up out the door. They're ordering from a menu of distinctive treats, including the Maple Bacon Bar (yes, a doughnut containing bacon), the Triple Chocolate Penetration (studded with cocoa puffs), and the Old Dirty Bastard (bulging with Oreo cookies and peanut butter). Its signature doughnut, the Voodoo Doll, is a scary chocolate-coated doll likeness with a pretzel stake in its heart, oozing jam. 22 3rd Ave, voodoodoughnut.com.
2. Korean Twist
A craze that's swept America's food truck scene over the past few years is the unlikely combination of Korean food with Mexican food. It sounds odd, but it works. In Portland, head for the big food truck "pod" in the centre of Downtown and look for Korean Twist. At its window you can order your own Korean-Mexican mash-up, such as a bulgogi beef taco, a spicy tofu burrito or a kimchi quesadilla. Corner SW Alder & 10th Sts, foodcartsportland.com.
3. Stark's Vacuum Cleaner Museum
I like to think that if Tony Stark hadn't devised the Iron Man outfit, he'd have set up this home appliance shrine instead. Housed within the Eastside branch of a local vacuum cleaner company, it's an intriguing jumble of cleaning gadgets dating back to the 19th century. Some items have tags explaining their history, many don't. The effect is more that of an art installation than a serious industrial museum, but it's interesting nonetheless. Gaze with awe on one of the earliest hand-held vacuums, the Hoover Dustette. 107 NE Grand Ave, starks.com/vacuum-museum.
4. Kennedy School
The McMenamins company dabbles in all sorts of hospitality across the northwest USA; starting out with a single pub in the 19th century, it now operates an eclectic array of premises. One of the most memorable is Portland's Kennedy School, a century-old elementary school which now houses a hotel, bars, restaurants and a cinema. The corridors look just like those in Buffy or Glee, but you can sip a craft beer from the onsite Concordia Brewery before catching a Hollywood movie in a comfy armchair. 5736 NE 33rd Ave, mcmenamins.com/kennedyschool.
5. Common Grounds Wellness Center
It's normal to find mixed-gender all-naked spas in Germany, but not in the relatively prudish USA. But this is funky open-minded Portland, and Common Grounds is the place to soak your body hang-ups away. The central feature of this establishment is a large outdoor hot pool, open to the sky. It's pleasant to visit at the end of the day, to warm up in the bubbling water while the sun sets and the sky goes dark above you. Massage and other therapeutic treatments are available. 5010 NE 33rd Ave, cgwc.org.
6. Portlandia Statue
You may well have heard of the largest hammered-copper statue in the USA – it's called the Statue of Liberty. The second-largest is less renowned, yet no less graceful as it hangs like a figurehead on a Portland office building. Created by sculptor Raymond Kaskey, it was installed in 1985 after being floated along the Williamette River by barge. Though it's never become as iconic as its New York cousin, it features prominently in the opening title sequence of Portlandia. 1120 SW 5th Ave.
7. Powell's City of Books
If the ebook is killing the traditional printed book, no-one told Powell's. In 1999 the bookshop chain expanded its main branch to take up an entire city block in the Pearl District. Spread over multiple floors and 6,300 square metres, this multi-level bookshop places old and used books together on the same shelves. You can sit in its internal cafe and browse volumes before buying. On the way out, admire the Pillar of Books, a sandstone carving depicting eight of the world's great books including The Thousand and One Nights and Hamlet. 1005 W Burnside St, powells.com.
8. Spin Laundry Lounge
It's always hard to look hip while washing your clothes at a laundromat, what with that drab fluoro lighting and those scuffed old machines. Luckily, Portland has the solution – Spin Laundry Lounge. Housed within a small former factory, this laundry is also a café and licensed bar, with free wifi. There are pinball machines on the mezzanine, and gleaming new washing machines accept payment by cash, card or phone. Fancy a beer while waiting for your clothes to dry? Why not? 750 N Fremont St, spinlaundrylounge.com.
If you're strolling along funky Mississippi Avenue in North Portland, this gallery is worth dropping into. Upstairs there are stimulating exhibitions, often by local artists. Downstairs there's a gift shop with plenty of quirky Portland-themed items on sale. It's also the shop in which Portlandia's "Put a bird on it!" sketch was shot; if you look closely, you'll spot one remaining bird from filming, perched on the air-conditioner control box. 3925 N Mississippi Ave, landpdx.com.
10. Keep Portland Weird
This message painted in large letters across a wall of music venue Dante's says it all. Rear of 350 W Burnside St.
Qantas and Alaska Airlines fly to Portland via LAX, see qantas.com.au.
Alternatively, Railbookers Australia can arrange train and accommodation packages to Portland from Los Angeles and other cities, see railbookers.com.au.
Hotel Eastlund, hoteleastlund.com. Ultra-hip accommodation with great dining. From US$160 per night.
Crowne Plaza Portland Downtown, cpportland.com. Comfortable business-style hotel. From US$190 per night.
The writer paid for his airfare to the USA, and was hosted in Portland by Railbookers.com.au and Travel Portland.
See also: The next US hotspot for Aussies