The sixth day of our Pacific Northwest vacation started in northern Washington but concluded on the Oregon coast – not a bad way to round out the remainder of our trip. The adventure would soon come to an end, but not without more sweeping ocean views, a sprawling valley covered in vineyards, and a stop in Portland’s to partake in its extensive foodie scene.
Not one to pass up on opportunity to stretch my legs before a long car ride, I seized the opportunity for a morning run before our departure from Washington. Again, I found my myself drawn to the water’s edge, but this time my view was of Mt. Baker and the Cascades while I plodded along the Guemes Channel Trail. A short time later, we packed up our rented Subaru, bid adieu to our treasured Airbnb on Fidalgo Island, and headed south.
After a stop at the 222 Market in Washington’s capital, Olympia, for lunch, we steered west to meet up with U.S. Highway 101 which would take us along the scenic coast to Oregon. The scenery got even better as we neared the border, and reached an apex when we crossed the Columbia River into Oregon by way of a lengthy (4.1 miles) and impressive bridge over the Columbia River. We heralded our arrival in a new state (for Dan) with beer and a view on the outdoor patio at Fort George Brewery in Astoria.
A little further up the road was the town of Seaside and our rental unit for the next two nights. Our accommodations turned out to be little more than a glorified motel, but being positioned on the 1.5-mile-long beachfront promenade at least partially made up for the lack of space. We were surprised to find the small town of Seaside packed with tourists of every type, but reasoned that the town was a magnet for families looking to enjoy spring break on the coast.
It was a beautiful evening to walk the promenade to dinner at Dooger’s Seafood & Grill where the ambiance wasn’t exactly our style, but the crab cakes were great.
In a nod to the Lewis and Clarke expeditionary team that completed their journey to the Pacific by way of the Columbia River, on our first full day in Oregon, we embarked on a day of hiking along the coast. Our first point of interest was the summit of Neahkahnie Mountain by way of the South Trailhead. Located within Oswald West State Park, the south trail ascends the 1,680-foot peak while offering scenic overlooks of the forested inland, but it was the impressive view of the coastline from the top that was hard to beat. A scramble up a rocky ledge and careful footing produced gorgeous views of Neahkahnie Beach, Manzanita, and the coast all the way to the Nehalem Bay Mouth.
Back on Highway 101, we headed north to Chapman Beach for a stroll along the Pacific Ocean and careful climb up the sand dunes. We had the beach to ourselves, and while the weather was not quite suitable for swimming, we welcomed yet another day of warm sunshine.
Our final hike of the day took us to Ecola State Park where we made the three-mile roundtrip trek out from Indian Beach to the Tillmook Rock Lighthouse Viewpoint by way of the Canon Beach Trail and Clatsop Loop Trail. According to a sign at the trailhead, the Clatsop Look Trail follows routes established by Clatsop and Tillamook Indian tribes. Member of the Lewis and Clark expedition walked this trail in 1806 in search of a beached whale near present day Cannon Beach.
We didn’t encounter another person on the trail, but did see a number of eagles and hundreds of years old sitka spruce trees while taking in the view of “Terrible Tilly”, the deactivated lighthouse perched perilously on Tillamook Rock off the coast. As we watched from a distance, surfers took on the waves at Indian Beach, which has also been used as a filming spot in movies like Point Break, Twilight, The Goonies, and Kindergarten Cop.
We rounded out our day of hiking with a very satisfying dinner and thirst-quenching beers at Pelican Brewing. We shared a spot around the outdoor fire with a couple from Michigan who had relocated to Oregon years ago and offered up recommendations for our upcoming visit to Portland, along with plenty of reasons why they had no regrets about their relocation. One of these reasons being the beautiful coastal sunsets, which we got to experience for ourselves on Cannon Beach after realizing we had finished dinner just in time to make the quick walk over. It’s hard to beat a perfectly-timed vibrant sunset with iconic Haystack Rock as the backdrop.
We weren’t up in time for the sunrise the next morning, but our run along the promenade was no less scenic, and thankfully a lot less busy than the prior evening. Not long after, we packed up and said our farewell to the Pacific Coast for the last time, as our itinerary took us inland to the Willamette Valley. It turns out I had been mispronouncing Willamette throughout our trip, which is almost as bad as not fully appreciating the world class wines that are produced in this beautiful region. The 1.5-hour drive took us from the ocean and through forested landscapes before backcountry roads steered us into the vineyard-filled valley and to our destination – Penner-Ash Wine Cellars.
We hadn’t made a reservation and thus appreciated the ease with which Penner-Ash accommodated us for an impromptu tasting while seated in Adirondack chairs overlooking the vineyards. The Willamette Valley region is known for their Pinot Noir, but each of the wines we sampled was fantastic. Between the attentive service, great views, and quality wine, we were convinced we could find a way to make some room in our suitcase for a couple take-home bottles.
What does one eat for a late lunch in Oregon’s wine country? Why, tacos of course! The laid-back vibe of the Willamette Valley is, in my opinion, a huge aspect of its appeal, so it was only fitting that we fueled up at Dos Mundos Food Cart, located in the parking lot of a pawn shop in Newberg, on our way into Portland. I devoured my delicious taco salad too quickly to document all its deliciousness.
After parting ways with our rental car at the airport, we took the light rail over to our hotel in the Pearl District of downtown Portland. Portland is an interesting place – some would say weird – with plenty to observe and make sense of. One of first things I noticed about the city of Portland is the prevalence of homeless encampments along city streets and in the parks. As with all my travels, I try to gain an understanding of the places we visit, both from a historical and cultural perspective. There are plenty of opinions on the causes of and solutions to address homelessness in Portland, but it is a fact that it has become all the more visible in the past year as a result of the pandemic and the city scaling back the removal of camps in an effort to limit COVID-19 transmission in overcrowded shelters. As of late May of this year, the clearing of homeless camps has recommenced as new guidance takes effect.
Furthermore, there is an increased demand for affordable housing in Portland – as in many cities across the U.S. – which poses a challenge for those looking to buy or rent within their means. The desire to live in Portland is at least partially attributable to its access to nature and mild summer weather in which to enjoy this nature. It is a city in close proximity to both the ocean and the mountains, with excellent outdoor activities within an hour drive and an environmentally conscious approach to living.
On clear days in Portland, you cannot only see Oregon’s highest peak, Mt. Hood, but also Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and even Mt. Rainier to the north over in Washington. We identified each of the peaks from the rooftop of our hotel before walking to dinner at Jake’s Famous Crawfish, another Portland landmark, known nationally for their excellent seafood.
Our last day of vacation arrived all too quickly, so after a slow start to the morning, we headed out on foot to take in the food and sites. Our first stop was takeaway bibimbap from a Korean restaurant, The Soop, which we hauled uphill to eat in Washington Park. Again, Portland’s food scene did not disappoint and we devoured lunch while enjoying the view of Mt. Hood from a bench in the International Rose Test Garden. The roses had not yet bloomed in the garden but there were other spring florals aplenty.
Our walk continued in the trendy Nob Hill neighborhood where we were enticed by the smell of homemade waffle cones – and a surprisingly short line – to step into Salt & Straw for their unforgettable ice cream. I was first introduced to this shop on a visit to Portland in 2013 (Hi Mel!), and am pretty sure I have been telling Dan about it ever since.
A few blocks up we decided to give Breakside Brewery a try, but after finishing our tasting flight we both agreed that it couldn’t top our previous Oregon brew experiences at Pelican Brewing and Fort George Brewery.
Our Portland food and drink tour continued with a final meal at Vaux before we called it a day to pack up our suitcases in anticipation of our early flight the next day. Flying out on a clear, Easter morning afforded us with a final spectacular view of the most prominent landmarks of the Cascade Range as we ascended into the clouds.
As I wrap up this recap of our Pacific Northwest Road Trip, I’m reminded that exactly one year ago we had completed a road trip through France and were preparing for our move back to the US. I look back on both of these trips with an appreciation of the beautiful coasts, the historic trails through areas inhabited for thousands of years, and the exciting cuisine we consumed. Our road trip through France signaled the end of a significant chapter but the journey has continued and with it I’ve welcomed a fresh perspective and renewed appreciation for the American Road Trip.