Portage to Portland!
Updated: May 14
Autumn is a beautiful time to visit Portland! The cool crisp fall days can be felt in the air and seen in the landscape. We ventured to the west coast to visit our oldest son who recently moved to Portland for a great job opportunity. Spending one week there provided enough time, not only to see some sights in Portland but also to stray away from the city and hike at Mt. Hood, explore the coast, and sample in Willamette Valley. Those familiar with me, or my blog, know that I love art, culture, quality food, wine, and travel. Consequently, my trip and my recommendations will reflect ALL of those. Below are some fun indulgences for YOU to explore and potentially add to YOUR West Coast itinerary.
Portland Japanese Garden: This tranquil, urban oasis is nestled in Washington Park in Portland and is well worth your visit. Strolling through the garden is a unique treat as you will see elegant Japanese gates including one that is 200 yrs old, a traditional tea house, fountains, stone walkways, countless manicured plants and trees, a koi pond, haiku poetry, wisteria arbors, Sapporo pagoda lanterns, weeping Japanese maples, Zen meditation gardens, bridges, ponds, and ancient Bonsai trees. It is proclaimed to be the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan.
Tip: Purchase the self-guided tour booklet of the Japanese Garden at the ticket counter for $10. It provides very helpful descriptions and all proceeds go to conservation.
Powell's Bookstore: Powell's bookstore is reportedly the largest independent bookstore in the world, selling both used and new books. This multi-level building occupies an entire city block in Portland, with each section color-coded according to genres and themes. Being a lover of books, I was particularly intrigued by the display at Powell's northwest entrance, listing what they selected as 8 OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST BOOKS! Each is carved on the sandstone 'Pillar of Literature' in the script in which it was originally printed. They are as follows: Psalms (Hebrew), The Whale (English; original title of Moby Dick), Mahabharata (Indian), War and Peace (Russian), 1000 Nights and a Night (Arabic), Tao Te Ching (Chinese), Hamlet ( English), The Odyssey (Greek). How many of these have you read?
Portland Art Museum: While the art museum is not a site that I have yet seen mentioned on the numerous lists of "Top Things To Do In Portland", I HAD TO GO. The reason for my urgency was an INCREDIBLE exhibition that just opened featuring some treasures of the Egyptian Queen Nefertari, whose name translates to 'The Beautiful Companion'. This may not resonate with many, but it was VERY cool! In a nutshell, Queen Nefertari was the "favored wife" (you gotta love that) of the famous pharaoh, Ramses the Great. He was a pharaoh that reigned Egypt for over 60 years during the 1200s BC. They were a power couple, to say the least!! Her tomb in the Valley of the Queens in Luxor, Egypt has been looted many times, so not many treasures remain. But, a few items of hers have been found and salvaged and are now on awesome display in Portland. The exhibition, 'Queen Nefertari's Egypt', will be available through January 16, 2022. Opportunities like this are rare! Try to go, if you have the chance.
Drinking and Dining: Portland is synonymous with coffee roasteries, craft beers, and a STELLAR food scene. Many trendy restaurants abound and despite the cooler autumn days, most still offered outdoor seating alongside gas heaters and fire pits. We seemingly ate and drank during the ENTIRE week! Great coffee spots were Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Spielman Bagels and Coffee Roasters. Microbreweries we imbibed at were Deschutes Brewery and Ecliptic Brewing. Fantastic restaurants were Lechon (South American tapas), Eem (Thai bbq & cocktails), Afuri (Tokyo sushi & ramen), Mediterranean Exploration Company (Middle Eastern), and Olympia Provisions (European charcuterie). These were ALL delicious eats and drinks!! Unfortunately, I get ZERO kickback from ANY of these places but go check them out. You won't be disappointed.
There are MANY hiking trails on and around Mt. Hood. You can take a look at the details of each of the trails on a very convenient app called AllTrails. We chose to hike the Mirror Lake Trail, about a 1.5-hour drive east of Portland, and were NOT disappointed! It was a 4.2-mile loop hike and it was gorgeous! While at the base it was cloudy and rainy, the weather quickly transitioned to snow as we climbed in altitude. The snow-dusted pines contrasted beautifully with the golden autumn leaves and the sapphire-colored lake. The only disappointing part of the hike was that "Mirror Lake" did NOT mirror the adjacent Mt. Hood as the mount was FULLY buried in thick cloud coverage. In fact, we couldn't even see Mt. Hood, despite being right next to it! But the hike, itself, was amazing.
The Central Coast ... Florence, OR to Lincoln City, OR
Countless blogs already circulate featuring virtually every stop along the entire Oregon coast. As a result, I was tempted to not even mention it. But, there are a couple of specific sites that are quite impressive, those being the Oregon Sand Dunes, Cape Perpetua, Thor's Well, and Devil's Churn. We hiked alongside these areas and even out onto the coastal tide pools. The panorama of the coastline is spectacular, featuring POWERFUL wakes and waves that relentlessly pound the Pacific shore. The power of the ocean is truly captivating. It was time well spent!
Of note, we wanted to visit the famous Seal Lion Caves in Florence, OR but were disappointed to hear that the sea lions are not at the caves from the end of August through the end of November. This is an otherwise fascinating site where you can take a shaft elevator down into the natural sea lion caves. Given that the sea lions are not encaged but rather live FULLY and FREELY in their natural ocean habitat, they come and go as they please. Apparently, from late August through November they are out feeding. So keep that in mind when visiting the area.
Speaking of "not enCaged", we also stopped at Depoe Bay near Lincoln City, "the whale-watching capital along the Oregon coast." Reportedly a large pod of gray whales is resident to this bay from March through December. Despite our best efforts and time vested, we did not see ANY whales. Once again, they come and go as they please and they did not make themselves visible during the couple of hours that we were there.
The Willamette Valley
Vineyards: This was my second visit to the wine valley. The Willamette region is well known for its world-class Pinot Noir wines. Interestingly, the Willamette Valley is at the same latitude and thereby shares a similar growing climate as the Burgundy region in France, also well known for its exceptional Pinots. The Willamette Valley is divided into 8 viticultural areas such as Chehalem, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Van Duzer, Willamette Valley, and Yamhill-Carlton and is home to over 500 vineyards and wineries. Of this HUGE selection, we did formal tastings at two vineyards, Keeler Estate in Amity and Coeur de Terre Vineyard in McMinnville. We also stopped by and shopped at Soter Vineyards in Yamhill-Carlton and purchased some 'Les Dijonnaise' Pinot from Brick House Vineyards. I have to say, all were pretty phenomenal! A couple of things to note if you desire to go wine tasting in the valley are that appointments are required for tastings and the appointments fill up quickly. Be sure to call in advance. Tastings generally cost $35 per person to sample 4-5 of the estate's wines. The wine shops at the vineyards welcome walk-ins.
Hiking: While in the Willamette region we stopped at Silver Falls State Park located near Silverton, OR for a fun hiking experience. We chose a 2.9-mile loop that not only incorporated three waterfalls but actually snaked BEHIND one of them. We saw the North Falls, the Winter Falls, and the Twin Falls via Canyon and Rim Trails. The trail was well maintained and the colors of the foliage were lovely! The details of this trail are also on the AllTrails app.
All in all, Oregon in October did not disappoint. While the weather can already feel a bit cool, many balmy days still exist. The bright autumn colors of reds, oranges, and yellows beautifully juxtapose the tall green pines and hemlocks. Feeling the salty breeze off the coast or viewing the majesty of Mt. Hood undoubtedly add to one's innate desire to be outdoors. Hence, the outdoorsy aura of the region is pervasive and people ARE outdoors ... eating, drinking, hiking, viewing ... LIVING.
And, in case you may be wondering, COVID is STILL a thing! They take it seriously throughout Oregon, but particularly in Portland, having instated a state-wide mask mandate. Masks are required in ALL indoor facilities and even MANY outdoor sites. Restaurants will not seat you if you are not wearing a mask, even if the seating is outdoors. Once SITTING at a table, masks may be removed. Several restaurants, hotels, and B&Bs require proof of vaccination for admittance.