Travel & Leisure
updated 11/17/2011 6:21:00 PM ET 2011-11-17T23:21:00

Portland, OR, has earned a reputation for quirkiness: independent shops, locally produced cuisine, and—how to be diplomatic?—offbeat locals. You can see it in how they dress, perhaps, or through their love of bicycles, eco-conscious living, and craft beers.

Las Vegas resident Corey Lewis puts it more bluntly: “You see more mustaches in Portland than in a 1970s high school yearbook.” Even so, the communications professional says he loves the city for its all-natural, unconventional flair. “In other places, it would be called an Arts District,” he says, “but here, it’s really the whole city.”

Portland easily made the top five cities for America’s strangest people, as judged by Travel + Leisure readers. They evaluated 35 major cities in travel-related categories for our annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, and the inclusion of an offbeat category highlights how much travelers appreciate a little eccentricity in their getaways—mustaches and all.

How did voters define offbeat? For some cities, it likely reflects a long tradition of flamboyance and colorful people-watching —found in No. 1–ranked New Orleans. Other top 20 cities, such as Santa Fe and Providence, RI, have vibrant arts communities, ranking well in the survey for galleries, theater, and live music.

For other winning cities, the strange factor stems from a mash-up of alternative styles that can date back decades. For instance, here’s how Emily Williamson, communications specialist for Lusso Bags, describes her fellow residents in Seattle: “We still have a kind of hip-grunge demeanor going on around here—thrown in with business casual, business professional, and a streak of goth.”

You can also argue that kookiness is learned, rather than being an innate quality, and that some locals are striving for just that kind of compliment. After all, strangeness isn’t just something in the water—or even the locally brewed beer.

“In Austin, you’re really not a part of the scene until you’ve grown a beard, gotten a tattoo, and found the most ironic consignment-store clothing available,” says James Beswick, a technical author and consultant who recently moved to the Texas capital. Not that he dislikes the place. “The city is full of friendly people,” he adds.

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