Oregon: The Best of the Pacific Northwest

Crater Lake

Finally, we arrived at the Pacific Northwest! Woohoo! The state of Oregon holds a very special place in my heart. At 17, I visited the evergreen state to look at colleges and completely fell in love with it (especially Portland, whose diners, record shops and boutiques felt like cool people paradise to my teenage self). Like any good hipster-complainer, I’ll point out that this was before ‘Portlandia’ made the city a nationally-appreciated and much-mocked locale (so, I liked it first! Kinda! Not really.) I didn’t end up going westward for school, but the state has held a firm place in my heart as a favorite spot, and has stayed so through subsequent visits. Beyond Portland, Oregon is wild, beautiful, and boasts a unique amalgamation of rugged coast, coniferous forest, small town and frontier charm.

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We came up through Northern California and set our sights on Crater Lake National Park. The titular lake is known for it’s signature blue color and incredible depths (nearly 2,000 feet at its deepest points!)- and it’s located in an ancient, inactive volcano crater, hence the name.

Even though it was June, we were reminded once again that just because it’s summertime doesn’t mean the snow has entirely disappeared. The park was still very chilly and snowy- in fact, most of the road running the circumference of the crater was closed to traffic. Only a small slice from the visitor’s center to a lookout point was open (although you could walk on part of the road if you wanted, which we did!)

The ideal time to visit this park would be July or August, since interaction with the lake is only really possible if the rim drive is open and snow-free. That said, the lake is beautiful to look at under any circumstance! The color itself has to be seen to be believed. The electric blue comes from the cleanest water available to any lake around- since the lake is in the bottom of a high-elevation crater, only fresh snow and rain feed it- there’s very little opportunity for silt and other muddying material to gather on the way down.

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Crux Brewery had a great outdoor patio with beanbags!

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On recommendation from several friends, we made a quick stop in the town of Bend for an evening. We didn’t have much time to explore this small, outdoorsy town, but what we did see and do was pretty sweet! Bend has several breweries (including the nationally-available Deschutes) and an excessively cute dowtown. Since we were there after hours, we weren’t able to shop at the adorable Japanese gift shop or see a film at the stylish Tower Theater, but they’re making the list for things to do in the future. We left knowing that we have to return someday.

Mount Hood

After Bend we made a quick stop at Mt. Hood. It ended up being so blustery up on the mountain that we only looked at the peak for a few minutes before we retreated back into the trailer to make mac and cheese and watch an episode of Star Trek. It’s embarrassing to admit how lame we can be sometimes, but our aggressive schedule often leaves us exhausted and in much need of some Netflix and Chill (so that’s our version of it, anyway.)

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Multnomah Falls!

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Before arrival in Portland, we hit the area at the edge of the massive Columbia River Gorge (which is just 40 minutes outside the city!). There are several places to stop along the tall cliffside while driving  the Historic Columbia River Highway, including the much-famed and photographed Multnomah Falls, Horsetail Falls and Oneonta Gorge.

A friend introduced me to Oneonta Gorge on a visit to Portland a couple of years ago. A hike through the gorge takes you over a natural dam made up of dead trees and into the narrow space, which has water running through it most of the time. The final bit of the hike (before you reach a tall waterfall at the end) takes you through neck-deep water, so you have to swim! Given that, this hike is best done on a hot day with the right clothing. We had neither this time around, so we only ventured into the gorge a few hundred feet. This hike is highly recommended for adventurous types who don’t mind a little scrabbling and swimming. Although we didn’t go all the way this time, it’s an unforgettable place- a living, breathing terrarium, lush with greenery all the way up the walls.

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Oneonta Gorge

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Next we arrived in Portland. Like San Fransisco, Portland gave us the chance to connect with friends who have moved out there in the past few years. Again, like San Francisco, we tried to focus on spending time with friends rather than documenting the city. We know it’s a strange choice to put the camera down, given that this is a travel project- but truthfully, we can’t afford to do all of the best, most photo-worthy things in most cities- we pick and choose, splurging here and there on a meal or ice cream- and try to get the best experience we can on a shoestring budget. We don’t have a ton of pictures of the city, but for those interested there’s a guide to some of our favorite spots (from both this trip and previous) down at the bottom of this post!

Portland Rose Garden

Rose Garden Portland

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A few people had recommended Portland’s Japanese Garden. We went to check it out, but realized upon getting there that the admission fee was steep. Luckily, the Portland Rose Garden was just across the street, in perfect bloom, and best of all, totally free!

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The city reminds us SO much of Minneapolis. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always liked it so much- it feels like home, but with milder weather and more cool stuff per capita!

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Obligatory Salt & Straw picture. We managed to eat ice cream here twice in a mere few days. OM NOM NOM!!

Finally, we headed out to the northern Oregon coast.  We completely fell in love with this part of the state. It has all of the best Pacific Northwest elements rolled into one- ocean, cliffsides, small towns and forests. The campground we landed at even had a shed for shucking clams that campers caught out on the bay each day.

Our friend Lee, his wife Raina and their 3 kids came out to join us for a day at the beach at Cape Kiwanda. There are several gorgeous beaches up the northern coast, but Cape Kiwanda is this family’s favorite due to smaller crowds and the enormous sand dune you can climb. We picnicked and made a campfire while everyone played in the sand. It was one of those perfect days that we’ll always remember, firmly wedged in a specific place and time. We’ll forget that the wind blew sand on our hotdogs and that we didn’t bring the kind of mustard that kids like to eat; we’ll remember the smell of the ocean and time spent with good people.

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We explored other popular beaches up the coast before heading into Washington, including the beach at Oceanside (what ‘Tunnel Beach’ often refers to!) and Cannon Beach.

We had to wander a bit at Oceanside before finding the famous tunnel.There were no signs indicating the entrance- a graffitied, unassuming concrete entry led into the long tunnel, culminating in a jagged opening overlooking a massive cliffside tide pool.

We only had a brief few minutes at Cannon Beach, but it too was beautiful (and the small town adjacent to the beach looked wonderful, with plenty of craft breweries, gift shops and inns.)

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Lookin’ like Bucky (The Winter Soldier) at Tunnel Beach.

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Eating ice cream at the Tillamook cheese factory! We highly recommend stopping here for a snack. The dessert followed-up an epic grilled cheese sandwich.

Eating ice cream at the Tillamook cheese factory! We highly recommend stopping here for a snack. The dessert followed-up an epic grilled cheese sandwich.

We’re hoping that we can spend an anniversary or family vacation sometime down the road on the Oregon coast. It was bittersweet to leave, but we had to get to Washington in order to store the trailer and fly out to Alaska and Hawaii!

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Portland Recommendations:

*This is by no means intended to be a complete or comprehensive list; Portland is a creative powerhouse with more great business than we could ever list on here! Plus, it’s always changing. But these are places we have been and loved (with a few recs from friends!) 

Shopping:

Floating World Comics A sweet little comic book shop downtown.

Frances May A clothing boutique for men and women featuring sophisticated designs by fashion-forward makers both local and national.

Paxton Gate The shopkeeper referred to this place as “a shoppable natural history museum”- amazing, weird stuff for sale here. Turkey feet, sea anemones, macabre taxidermy and succulents. I bought a mink paw necklace here a couple of years ago! Who sells that? Who buys that? ME that’s who!

Screaming Sky Gallery  A boutique-meets-art gallery stocked with wild and wonderful stuff. They have both designer and blind box toys, plushes and awesome art prints for sale. On a bustling street in a rapidly developing neighborhood in north Portland, near tons of dive bars, restaurants and other shops/galleries.

Powell’s Books Non-negotiable, the actual GREATEST bookstore on earth. They have e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g you could ever want, in any genre, in any condition! We left with notebooks full of recommendations and a few new titles under our arms.

Food:

Pine St. Market (awesome new food hall downtown with stalls, including pizza and ramen. Also home to the Salt & Straw Wiz Bang Bar!)

Boxer Ramen Tasty little spot for ramen downtown. The menu is limited but great! Carl and I finally found a Tonkotsu broth worthy of the kind we enjoyed in Japan!

Pine State Biscuits Pretty simple, mostly biscuits on the menu here. YUM.

Coava Coffee Delicious coffee served several places in the city (in addition to their own storefronts).

The Screen Door Southern-inspired fare- great spot for breakfast, but very popular.

Slappycakes A pancake place where you cook your cakes on a griddle right at your own table.

Lardo / the food truck lot across the street (SE Hawthorne Lardo location) A burger joint with a huge beer list. If you’re not feeling the menu, you can grab a drink there and bring food from the food truck court across the street onto the patio!

Entertainment:

McMeniman’s Kennedy School Multi-use space run by one of the cities coolest breweries. Inside of an old high school, the space has a venue, theater, bar/restaurant and hotel!

The Living Room Theater Fun movie theater with couches and great food/drinks!

The Hollywood Theater Historic movie house that plays new films alongside classics.

The Doug Fir Lounge Music venue, bar, and cafe alongside a retro motel (The Jupiter Motel).

The Oregon Zoo

Portland Art Museum 

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Dessert:

Salt & Straw A great Portland chain featuring some of the best (and strangest) flavors of artisan ice cream on the planet. There’s a 45-minute line outside every location nearly all day long, but it’s absolutely worth the wait every time. We got slightly more traditional flavors, but our friend got the limited edition fish sauce and we all agreed it was one of our favorites!

Wiz Bang Bar by Salt & Straw – a soft-serve bar from the crazy ice cream scientists behind Salt & Straw. This will be the most expensive soft serve you ever buy but it will be SO WORTH IT. We ate a twist cone with local blackberry shell.

Blue Star Donuts (forget Voodoo Doughnuts. They may be the most iconic and popular doughnuts around, but our assessment is that they are kinda blah- nothing to write home about. You can definitely find a better one in town, and Blue Star is the place to start.)

Ruby Jewel Delicious and natural ice cream and treats!

-And since I always rely on Design Sponge‘s City Guide series whenever I go to a new city, you can find their Portland edition here!

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US Anywhere is a year-long, cross-country documentary project by newlyweds Carl and Anna. They are taking the 52 weeks of 2016 and are using them to travel the country and make short films about all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.). The project will seek to illuminate the states and the hugely diverse urban and natural landscapes of the US. They hope to inspire others to dream, travel, explore, and connect with the United States.

 

One thought on “Oregon: The Best of the Pacific Northwest

  • I love the pic of Anna with the white roses. What an awesome post. I love seeing what strikes people when they visit Oregon and Portland and finding new spots myself. Thanks for sharing you guys! Also, Anna’s description of Paxton Gate made me laugh.

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