Overhyped wackiness aside, Portland is deeply functional. From the time you take the effortless trip from the airport on MAX light-rail to the moment you spot a picnic bench outside a Northeast Jiffy Lube—why get an oil change when you can picnic and get an oil change?—the city is strikingly accommodating. Combine its kid-tested bike trails and community gardens offering children's classes with the beer scene and the state's legalized pot, and Portland may be the most family-friendly den of iniquity this side of Amsterdam.
The singular urge to create manifests itself in countless ways. I caught a performance of the podcast Live Wire, a rollicking variety show recorded in front of an audience. At Kachka, a Russia-by-way-of-Stumptown restaurant on SE 11th Avenue, I would have happily died with a mouthful of Moldovan eggplant with prunes.
I spent much of my last day up near the airport, drinking and lounging at an elementary school. Northeast's Kennedy School is among dozens of inventive undertakings from the McMenamin brothers, Mike and Brian, two of the most accomplished makers around. Over four decades they've made a career of converting neglected old buildings into things groovier—in this case a hotel with a movie theater, a soaking tub, various bars, and a brewery in a former girls' restroom.
In Portland, even the tycoons are hospitable and artistic. When I reluctantly left the city, it was with the happy sense that here a creative spirit can go right to the top.
Compared with places that had their growth spurts sooner, Portland is young, its destiny still up for debate. Visitors will find a city trying to maintain its laid-back, don't-work-too-much, why-not-take-up-the-ukulele vibe amid a massive tech boom. Portland is dreamy if you like biking around, bumping into one homemade creation after another, and then pausing to discuss it all over a good beer—possibly brewed in someone's basement.