As anyone knows, there are lots more than 20 great places to see in Northwest Oregon, but when you only have one week in paradise, you have to pick and choose. Our trip began in Portland on the Fourth of July with sightseeing and food tasting for two whole days. Then it was off to the coast — from Astoria to Yaquina Head, then eastward through the Willamette Valley‘s wine country, and back up to the Columbia River Gorge scenic area and Hood River. With only a week to see it all, we’re passing along highlights — but by no means the whole story. Here are our favorite 20 Places To See!
1. Portland’s Saturday Market (portlandsaturdaymarket.com) — Lively, colorful, and generally packed, the Saturday Market offers more than you can imagine. Go hungry ’cause you’ll watch cooks prepare everything from Nepalese food to chicken on a stick. There’s not much you can think of that’s not here and plenty of goods you’ve never even thought you’d need: children’s applique shirts, dog collars, carved wooden balls to roll out patterns in sand, and tie-dyed shirts. Or sit still and get tattooed. All fun, all good.
2. Portland’s Japanese Garden (japanesegarden.com) — Chill out and get your zen on. Stroll any or all of this well-groomed 5.5 acres billed as the most authentic Japanese garden outside Japan. Take pictures of Zig Zag Bridge, Wisteria Arbor, Tea Garden, stone lanterns and sculptures, and those all-too-neat pebbly, raked Japanese beds. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a spectacular view of Mt. Hood — but only if the haze abates.
3. Portland’s International Rose Test Garden (portlandoregon.gov/parks)– It’s only fitting that the City of Roses would install a garden featuring 7,000 blooming rose bushes. And, if you’re there in June or July, you’ll be in luck — especially if a harpist is seated in the garden playing music to roam by. With three tiers of lusciously blooming bushes all categorized with funky botanical names, you’ll be informed and enthralled — and ready to buy something rosy in the Gift Shop to take home.
4. Pittock Mansion (pittockmansion.org) — A French Renaissance-style chateau, this eclectically designed home once belonging to Henry and Georgiana Pittock from 1914-1919. But after falling into disrepair and taking hits from a storm in 1962, the mansion welcomed the concerned, caring citizens and the City of Portland who restored it for a re-opening in 1965. Even if you don’t buy a ticket to tour the tastefully furnished home, you can park free and stand at the edge of the front lawn for one of the best views of Portland anywhere.
5. Powell’s City of Books (powells.com) — Not just another HUGE bookstore (It occupies a whole city block, for heaven’s sake), Powell’s is replete with stand-alone collections of suggested books for fans of sci-fi, classics, new releases, and the employees’ faves of the moment. Sip coffee upstairs and catch up on community happenings via a large chalkboard or shop for souvenir mugs and tees. Or why not buy a book? You said you wanted to read more. Get on it!
6. Voodoo Doughnuts (voodoodoughnut.com) — The trick to actually getting in and ordering one of these freaky-creative doughnuts you’ve heard about is this: Go early on a weekday morning. Otherwise, expect to wait a while for a sugary, sweet Loop doughnut, Bacon Maple Bar, Tex-Ass, or Voodoo Doll with a pretzel in its belly. But time doesn’t matter. You need this. As founders Cat Daddy and Tres say, The magic is in the hole.
7. Astoria — The Goonies house — What’s not cool about visiting a town named after John Jacob Astor and boasting killer views, one heckuva Maritime Museum, and the now-covered-in-plastic-during-renovation Astoria Column? But it’s The Goonies house that has a steady parade up the hill in front of it. Be warned: park in the elementary school lot and walk from there. Then, like the guy from Germany who told us, I’ve been waiting my whole life to stand here, just smile for pictures under The Goondocks sign before you go home and watch Spielberg’s ’85 classic one more time.
8. Fort Clatsop — If you’re as big a fan of Lewis & Clark as husband Bert is, please stand up. We were on hallowed ground where Chinook and Clatsop Indians resided and the place L & C ended their 4,000-mile trek across the Louisiana Territory. Now, with a replica of the fort and another first-class National Park Service Visitor Center, you, too, can dive into history and walk where the Corps of Discovery camped from 1805 to 1806.
9. Gearhart (visittheoregoncoast.com/cities/gearhart)– Named One of America’s Best Little Beach Towns by Travel and Leisure, Gearhart (north of Seaside on Hwy. 101) oozes oceanside charm. Park and walk the long, narrow pathways through tall grasses to the wide expanse of sandy beach. Take pictures of gray-sided houses framed by rose-covered picket fences. Or have lunch at the Pacific Way Bakery and Cafe and long for an extended stay. Photo ops abound.
10. Ecola State Park (oregonstateparks.org) — Just minutes from Highway 101 near the north end of Cannon Beach may be the best vantage point for taking in the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse (nicknamed “Terrible Tilly” for the dangers imposed on keepers and suppliers) and Haystack Rock. But don’t be surprised if you fall in love with this paradise for other reasons like deep forests, bald eagles, or crashing ocean. So pretty.
11. Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach (Wikipedia: Haystack Rock) — One of the most recognized landmarks on the Oregon coast, Haystock Rock looms large just south of Cannon Beach. Take pics from a distance, but get close, too. You’ll want to see the thousands of birds that call this 235-foot sea stack home. (And watch out for sea creatures below.)
12. Tillamook Creamery (tillamook.com/products/ice-cream) — With a quick veer off US 101, we joined the throngs at Tillamook, ready to sample Oregon’s legendary ice cream. Watch ’em make waffle cones and dip into big tubs of flavors, some of which they’ve been making since 1947 — like Tillamook Mudslide, Marionberry Pie, Fireside S’mores, or (our favorite) Oregon Hazelnut Salted Caramel. And the scoops are BIG! Really big.
13. Devil’s Punchbowl (oregonstateparks.org) — For the guttural sounds of a swirling, feisty ocean, stop at Otter Rock about eight miles north of Newport along coastal highway 101. Layers of sandstone form a giant cauldron where angry surf spews its foamy white waters in and out with the tide. Great place to whale watch or just hang out and stare into the punchbowl’s mouth.
14. Yaquina Head (yaquinalights.org) — A visit to Yaquina Head just may be the total Oregon Coast package. A historic lighthouse — Oregon’s tallest — first lit in 1873 now offers a glimpse into lightkeeping operations. Birds — several species — fill the air with identifiable squawks and screams. Seals sun themselves on bare rocks. And the ocean moves in and out, displacing and replacing black beach particles in its wake.
15. Willamette Valley vineyards (willamettewines.com)– Who doesn’t like wine country? Row after row of grapevines sunning themselves just so we can sip the fruit of the harvest from more than 300 wineries. Pick one to see like Youngberg Hill (YoungbergHill.com) in McMinnville, and then, from the commanding front porch, stare ahead while sipping the area’s signature Pinot Noir.
Listen to the vineyard, and it will speak to you.
Jamie Good, Authentic Wine.
16. Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum (evergreenmuseum.org) — Whether you’re interested in flying or not, you’ll be awed by one of the largest collections of military and civilian aircraft anywhere. Oh, sure, you’ll come to see Howard Hughes’ H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose,” but you’ll be just as amazed at the other colorful, historic flying machines (hanging or parked). Don’t know a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird from a Supermarine Spitfire? Ask the veteran volunteers. They’ve been there, done that.
17. Vista House at Crown Point (vistahouse.com) — Leaving Willamette Valley’s not so bad if you hop onto Historic Columbia River Highway (Hwy 30) and stop at Vista House, the “comfort station” at Crown Point, 693 feet above the Columbia River. Check out the interior (marble floors, colored glass windows, rotunda), but save plenty of time to just stand on the balcony and stare. After all, this is what you came for.
18. The Waterfalls of the Historic Columbia River Highway (historicthedalles.org) — All within 15 miles of each other, the greatest concentration of waterfalls in North America is sure to astound you. Access them from I-84 or Hwy. 30, but be prepared to spend time looking, listening, photographing, and hiking (if you want to see ’em from the top). Multnomah Falls may be most visited, but Horsetail, Bridal Veil, Latourell, Wahkeena and others all have something to offer from sheer beauty to a place for wading or swimming. Be forewarned: Parking is at a premium, and lots may be closed when full.
19. Hood River Fruit Loop (hoodriverfruitloop) — From picking your own blueberries to making a lavender bouquet, you can experience the fruits of the Hood River Valley in one fell swoop. Take a self-guided tour of the 35-mile loop or stop at just the places that interest you on the map you can access here. Buy pears, cherries, apples, apricots or whatever is in season on these 14,000 acres. And hope the haze has lifted for the best view of Mt. Hood from the orchards.
20. Hood River Kiteboarding (hoodriver.org/kiteboarding) — You may already know that Hood River is the windsurfing capital of the world what with the mighty winds whooshing into the Columbia River Gorge here, but kiteboarding is coming on strong. For one colorful afternoon, grab this map, head to Hood River Sandbar and give it a try. Or just stand in awe (as we did), watching as other, much braver, sorts catch the wind.
Put Oregon on your must-see, must-do list. Or, if you’ve been there, add your favorite places to see in Oregon to the comments below. We want to know your favorite spots, too. After all, even though we’ve been there, we haven’t done it all/seen it all.
For more information:
Travel Oregon — traveloregon.com
Travel Oregon/Printed Guides — traveloregon.com/getting-around/printed-guides
For a video of kiting at Hood River, click here for a previous post.