Keep Portland’s Airbnbs Weird

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Flicking on the lights, I mutter a “Woah”. The basement is huge: one side like a studio apartment with bed and couch and TV, the other like a workshop with kiln and tool bench and ping pong table. Every surface is a riot of art and color.

I gesture at the record player against the wall next to the giant cutout of a cartoon squirrel. “Welcome to Portland.”

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The title of the Airbnb listing, “Ladd’s Addition near SE Hawthorne”, does little to capture the spirit of the place beyond its location.  The X-shaped streets of Ladd’s Addition leap out on a map. Portland’s first planned neighborhood is a quiet little suburb dotted with rose gardens, only a thirty minute walk from downtown and even closer to hipster hangouts and foodie hotspots on SE Hawthorne.

We foray out to take advantage of the Cartopia food truck pod’s late hours.  Melted peanut butter and cream cheese oozes out of my sandwich from PBJs Grilled while Matt picks off some of the eponymous toppings on Pyro Pizza‘s “Onion” offering.  We walk back with a to-go box of Potato Champion‘s palak paneer fries in hand.


We pore over every inch of our lodgings.  Just when we think we’ve discovered it all, a new detail jumps out, from the colorful bathroom ceiling to Olaf peeking out from behind the kiln.

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Our late-night arrival meant we hadn’t met the hosts, so we can only imagine how awesome they are.  In our poking and prying, we find a photo album detailing a 1998 vacation to Colombia. Considering the rest of our discoveries, we can’t know whether it was actually theirs or some artsy flea market acquisition.

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We leave our stamp on the place by clattering out a message on their vintage typewriter and adding our own artwork to the adjacent stack of guests’ drawings.  Matt sketches out artful portraits, while I draw a misshapen dinosaur.

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In the morning, I eat one of the bagels our hosts left for us from a local bakery, wishing I had room for their homemade yogurt and fruit compote.  As I head out the door, I think of the wall art inscribed with:
“This is the coolest place I’ve ever been… let’s go somewhere else.”

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That somewhere else is another unique airbnb, “Cozy mud hut with big bridge view”.  After a day of Red Bull Flugtag, farmers markets, and books, we head to St. Johns in North Portland.  This neighborhood feels more like a self-contained and fiercely proud small town, and our lodging for the night has the look of a hobbit hole planted in a hippie commune.

The hosts are out of town for the weekend, so all is quiet apart from the chatter of birds.  The guestbook is full of words like “oasis” and “healing” and “Potato” (that’s the owners’ cat’s name).

I borrow one of the many weighted hula hoops and whirl about in the garden, past the chicken coop and fire pit and stage and Streamline trailer.  The outdoor kitchen has all manner of brews bubbling away in kegs – I sample the completed Ginger and Turmeric.  In short, it’s the kind of place that makes you feel guilty for purchasing anything store-made and packaged in plastic.  It’s wholesome and beautiful.

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The record high temperatures make the hut stifling, so we walk down to Cathedral Park, lulled by the beats of a drum circle and the swaying of the dock beneath our backs. The sunset paints the sky behind the bridge’s gothic towers.

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At night, the mud hut takes on a different tone.  We use an incense stick to light tea lights in the little alcoves.  After getting ready for bed, I burst back into the hut.

“Matt, you have to go to the bathroom.”
“No I don’t.”
“Trust me, you do.”

So Matt disappears into the night with a flashlight, and I hold back a knowing chuckle.  The journey to the bathroom requires you to stoop down a narrow set of stairs into the funny-smelling basement, where a bare red light bulb illuminates a startling scene.

The madly splattered canvases might be cheerful in full-spectrum lighting, but in the bloody glow they look menacing.  A plaster mold of a pregnant body sits on a shelf next to a woodland troll and some Korean language guides.

The brightly lit bathroom is a somewhat disappointing island of normalcy at the end of the trek.

We are both delighted by this find.  “I was afraid you’d follow me and do a jump scare,” Matt says, “but then I remembered you’re you.”

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In the morning, we leave the lovely but sweltering mud hut oasis and pet Potato goodbye.  Since we’re not big enough donut fans to wait in line at Voodoo or Blue Star, we pick up some treats at the nearby little Tulip Pastry (decorated like an antique store) and take them just across the bridge into Forest Park.


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While all of our Portland visit was fun, we found that our lodging was a highlight instead of just a place to rest our heads.  These are only two of the fun living spaces Portlanders have listed on Airbnb.  Want to stay in a treehouse?  Check and check.  On a farm?  You’ve got it.  A fan of Portlandia?  Reenact part of the show. I suspect Portland’s Airbnbs will have me coming back for more.


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