We loved Oregon!
In 1991, my wife Debby and I had the good fortune to take a two-week vacation in Oregon. We landed in Portland, headed east to Mt. Hood and the Columbia River, then south through the Cascades to Bend and Crater Lake. After a visit to Jacksonville, we dipped into California to get to the Pacific coast. Much of the second week of our vacation was spent working our way up most of the length of Oregon's spectacular coastline. (Sorry, my California friends, I think Oregon's got something on you here!)
Oregon is a state of dazzling variety in views, climate and vacationing options. Before we left, we collected notes from a zillion guidebooks, and condensed them into what served as our main reference during our Oregon vacation. (This is a separate file, "Oregon Notes".) But when we came back we wrote these additional notes on our discoveries and experiences.
We should mention that our tastes tend towards great food in unpretentious roadside kind of places rather than elegant dining experiences, and we much prefer B&Bs over "name-brand" hotel/motel chains. So, if you judge a restaurant by the length of its wine list, and lodging by its exercise rooms or cable TV channels, you probably won't like our suggestions.
Also, since we were traveling with a toddler (our son was about 18 months old at the time), we had to forego the more adventurous hiking and water activities that Oregon offers in abundance. That accounts for why such popular activities aren't on this list.
After an obsessive amount of research, we concluded that the Let's Go guide to the Pacific Northwest came closest to what we were looking for in restaurants and sightseeing. It had oodles of great tips on these. It only fell short (for us) when it came to lodgings; our interests and budget tended more towards cozier and nicer inns and B&Bs.
We encountered the "phones from hell" nightmare at several stops in Oregon and even at roadside phonebooths. (Thank you, Judge Geneen!) Watch out! Example: we checked and found that one call forty miles up the road would have cost $2.74 for the first minute if we let it go through the default company, but only 72 cents through AT&T. Find out who the carrier is, and if you've never heard of them, find out how to connect to AT&T or someone else you know. And these devices make it tough for you to do that, usually not allowing the access codes you may be familiar with. Try dialing "00" (zero-zero); that usually got us to a friendly, familiar operator.
We city dwellers didn't budget for much time in this city, but maybe we should have. Portland has quite a reputation for being a very livable city, and what we saw confirms it. So, we are short on Portland tips but we're eager to learn more ourselves!
a- Powells "City of Books": this really is an amazing bookstore! They hand you a map of the store as you walk in. An interesting an effective twist is that new and used books are sorted together throughout the store, making exploration even more fun. There is a separate Powells technical store two blocks away. Powell's is often said to be one of the two best bookstores in the U.S. (along with Tattered Covers in Denver).
a- Hanna Anderson Main Store: a couple blocks from Powell's main store. Attractive, pleasant store; play area for kids within view of all areas of store.
Beaverton (suburb west of Portland)
L- Yankee Tinker Bed and Breakfast: A relaxing retreat from urban life, and a great base for touring Portland or doing business with the "silicon rainforest" companies in the west suburbs. The Wadleighs thoroughly made us feel like visiting relatives in their very comfortable suburban home. We enjoyed the hot tub after a hard day of sightseeing, and we had breakfast with the Wadleighs on their large deck overlooking their garden.
A comment from one reader: Did you not go to Astoria on your wonderful vaction to Oregon or Ft. Clatsop National Memorial? Astoria is the oldest settlement east of the Mississippi and a very interesting place!Cannon Beach
Very touristy compact little town. Trendy little shops and malls line both sides of the main drag, with lots of wood exteriors and cutesy signs.
A comment from one reader: It's the beach, stupid! (you know what I mean)Garibaldi
The third largest monolith in the world, Haystack Rock...did you miss it? Ecola State Park THE place where any poster of Oregon...well that's where they took the picture! Yes, it is touristy, but also artsy and lots of fun to explore. It makes a good combination with Seaside, which is definitely for family fun. Along with Astoria, we hope you will come again. (I don't work for anyone here, just love the place!)
Some promising-looking cafes, but overall shows too much of its industrial past.
A hidden-away tiny resort town off the main road, west of Tillamook. Great beach, and impressive offshore rocks.
R- Roseanna's: Delicious and interesting dishes, pleasant, helpful and unhurried service, with romantic ocean views.
Take Devil's Lake State Park turnoff to bypass at least the north part of Lincoln City. (East Devil's Lake Road)
Busy with tourists on weekends.
Pretty big town. Mark Hatfield Marine Science Museum: a nice (but very small) marine museum and aquarium. Old town: stores, restaurants in a very casual setting.
Guy DiTorrice from the Central Oregon Coast Association wrote to report that the Hatfield Marine Science Center has been greatly expanded since our visit.Newport is sort of a dividing point between heavy-duty tourist towns (to the north) and quaint, small towns with similar great views but better bargains and no crowds (to the south).
Looks like a nice little town: wish we had had time to explore it.
Cozy shore town, with a fabulously wide beach (at low tide), good places to eat, stay and sightsee. Debby's favorite town on our trip.
L- See Vue: Just a small motel, but it was one of our favorite lodgings on our vacation, and also the least expensive! Wide, uncluttered ocean views. A dozen rooms, each individually decorated to a theme: ours was the "Salish" northwest Indian room, others were "Princess and the Pea", the Crow's Nest, Granny's House, the Oriental Room, and so on. Charm outweighs minor cosmetic defects. Near Yachats, restaurants and Cape Perpetua, and only a little further to dunes and Florence. Get reservations in advance, as word about this place is getting out. Phone: (541)547-3227.
R - La Serre: a wonderful restaurant, delicious and imaginative food in a spacious and attractive restaurant. A warm and pleasant space. Fine dining but not stuffy or pretentious, despite the name. Well-prepared for toddlers: the menu offered a "Baby Distraction Plate" of crackers, fruits and other snacks.
R - Yachats Crab and Chowder: appealing menu attracted us to this disappointing restaurant. Strong attitude of "eat faster, can't you see there's a crisis going on?!?!" Two indifferent adults were the waiters, a crew of indifferent teenagers do everything else. Fish'n'chips arrived thick, chewy and overly fried. Most other menu items were vastly overpriced given the lackluster decor and service. Uneasy quiet was periodically broken by clatter of dishes and barely audible bleating of 1930's big band music.
R- On the Rise bakery: a great start to the day. Second cup of coffee is free.
Excellent, informative Visitors Center (with a sensational view) would be a great start to exploring this area. Five whales have currently decided to stay off the cape year-round. There is a very worthwhile 22-mi auto tour also.
Medium-sized town, with interesting "old town" strip not along ocean (like a few other coastal towns), but rather along the wide river. Only three B&Bs, and they all look equally pristine from the outside. Suggestion: stay at the Sea Vue (s. of Yachats) as a base instead, and drive down to Florence as an outing.
A tiny oceanside town, with a couple of good eateries. We very much enjoyed our extremely casual but tasty lunch at the 7 Seas Cafe.
North Bend and Coos Bay
Adjoining real towns, with malls, downtowns, gas stations, franchises and everything. But perhaps we didn't spend long enough... read what a visitor to this web site said about her home towns:
(Next time, spend more time with our town so you can) cross the path of our beautiful beaches, rivers, and harbors, (and sample) our great local talents in music, cuisine, and art...
Tiny town with enormous harbor for both working and pleasure craft. See the memorial to lost sailors at end of dock.
R- Sea Basket: inexpensive dockside diner with big portions of delicious fresh seafood.
Take Seven Devils Road south from Charleston. Go all the way down to Cape Arago (follow signs). Parking loop there has a viewing platform for the view to the south, but a much less well marked short trail leads to the north for a fabulous view and beach. Explore tidepools, see birds diving for fish, hear sea lions on offshore rocks. A can't-miss adventure.
Small fishing town. WE LOVED IT! Romantic dock and lighthouse, astonishingly wild beach, and our best pig-out meal in Oregon.
R- Bandon Fish Market: WHATEVER ELSE YOU DO IN OREGON, STOP HERE!!! It's just a small carry-out shack, but wow! Wonderfully fresh and light fish, very lightly fried fresh only upon your order (allow time). Huge servings at low prices. Enormous shrimp cocktail for $2.50, delicious clam chowder. Only downside is that you'll spend the rest of your vacation trying to match it.
R - Bandon Boat Works: a nice restaurant across from the lighthouse. Great views, romantic feel, generous portions.
A - Cranberry Sweets: Candy shop, selling its own astonishingly wide variety of goodies, many featuring the native cranberry. Lemon meringue candies are also luscious.
L - Sea Star Guest House: convenient apartment-style lodgings directly across the street from the harbor in the old town area. We enjoyed our room, 3A, and room 1 looked fabulous. But room 3B is teensy. The Sea Star does have something of an identity crisis: just in back of the "guest house" rooms ($50-85) are the "Sea Star Hostel" rooms at $8 per person. The guest house and the hostel share a common "front desk", and they've transformed what had been a popular casual coffeehouse into a "bistro" restaurant.
L- Lighthouse B&B: We didn't stay here (baby not allowed), but from the guidebooks and from an outside look, this might be a good, romantic stop for a couple.
(Suggestion to the La Familia Mexican restaurant: with all that fresh seafood around, how 'bout offering some Mexican seafood specialties, like Snapper Veracruz?)
Just like the guidebooks say, "From Port Orford south to the California border, the jagged coastline may be the most beautiful of the coast". Be sure to drive up Cape Sebastian for the view.
A pleasant-looking town, may be a better place to serve as a base for touring this amazing coastline than Brookings (feels removed from the ocean) or Port Orford (small).
L - Ireland's Rustic Cottages: looked very nice, nicer than their brochure suggests. There are both lodges and motel rooms. Both look very nice, but the lodges look better.
r- Mama's Authentic Italian: A real find! Absolutely delicious and genuine Italian specialties, cooked up by 84-year-old Mama herself! Consider it a carbohydrate fix before you start or after you finish your coastline tour full of seafood.
L- Spindrift Motel: a simple motel, without much of a view, inexplicably recommended by some guidebooks. Phone-From-Hell long distance connection makes reasonable-priced calling all but impossible.
Quaint and interesting western-style gold mining town, with a variety of appealing restaurants and places-to-stay, and home to the respected Britt Festivals.
L- McCully House Inn: charming and pleasant inn with three rooms, with a great breakfast included. Since this is a full restaurant, don't expect the homier B&B touches, but still a very nice place to stay in a fun town.
Ashland was a charming town, and one of Kevin's favorites on the trip. It's home to an internationally-known Shakespeare festival, and so consequently it has a wildly disproportionate number of bookstores, restaurants and other amenities for a town its size. (Of course, our fall vacation was well out of the peak tourist season, so take that into account.) a- Lithia Park: a terrific and sprawling urban park; great place for the kids to get some exercise.
R- Back Porch BBQ: Wonderful Texas-style menu, in a multi-level outdoor deck right on the little river. I wanted to move in, it was so comfortable! (I think this might be just a part of the larger "Gator's" restaurant).
R- Chata: Much to my regret, we didn't stop here: I picked up a brochure menu and read about the place only after we had left the area. But it's a neat premise: the food of eastern Europe, all the way from pierogis to dolmades.
An interesting little stop, with historical notes of interest. It is on is a lesser-used route connecting Crater Lake and Ashland which offers an interesting variety of scenery: cattle ranches, wildlife refuge, mountain forests and lakes, and a twisting road down into Ashland.
No matter what you've read, you won't be prepared for the sight. Startlingly beautiful, fascinating geology. We stayed in the cabins run by the national park itself. They were quite clean and comfortable, and very convenient. We had dinners in the restaurant near the main overlook: quite tasty and satisfying in a lodge sort of atmosphere. (The actual park lodge is now closed for major remodeling).
Two thumbs down. Hot, dry, and very ambivalent about tourists. The reasonably appealing downtown area rolls up the sidewalks at 5 p.m. (most restaurants included!!!), leaving a few outposts and a franchise strip as your dinner choices. Official town brochure guides have highly misleading maps, showing nonconnecting streets as intersecting and curving streets as straight.
R- Italian Cottage: Very odd: spartan room hardly seemed cottage-like, and the utterly neutral decor would have led you to expect a waffle or maybe tea sandwiches instead of anything Italian. Uninspired menu and preparation. Cold, dispassionate "service". Creaking floorboards magnified the rushed pace of the waitresses and added to our urgent desire to get out. Not inexpensive, either. As a final touch, there were no public phones.
R- Snow Bunny Restaurant: The brightest eating spot we found in Bend, this cozy upbeat diner has great, tasty and satisfying breakfasts.
L- Best Western Entrada: The brochure made this sound like a resort lodge, nestled by the woods, and with decent prices to boot. Big mistake. It's a motel. A very nice motel, but still a motel. With about a zillion motels to choose from in Bend, there are many other choices, most at lower prices. We should have stuck to B&Bs.
a- High Desert Museum: DON'T MISS! Lively outdoor interpretative exhibits, and a masterful "Spirit of the West" museum indoors.
a- Century Loop Drive (Cascade Lakes Hwy): a nice drive, but somebody really ought to introduce the guy that puts up the road signs with the other guy that wrote the tour guide pamphlet. The correlation is about 0.04. On the trip, a good simple lunch stop is the small rustic lodge at Twin Lakes, on the south part of the loop.
a- Lava Lands Vistor Center: OK, so the name sounds like Wally World. Forget that, and stop here anyway. It's a government thing and it's free. Fascinating walking trails through lava-covered acres.
Tips on Roads -- Mt. Hood to Bend
The obvious way to get from Mt. Hood to Bend is through the Warm Springs reservation. We were told that it's a fairly boring drive, so we instead took a winding path down the Cascades, west of the reservation. That turned out to be a good idea! It's a little-traveled, heavily forested area. Make sure that your map is up to it, and watch carefully for subtle road signs. The roads themselves are of good quality, though narrow.
- McKenzie Pass Hwy (Hwy 242) west of Sisters: I'm sorry we missed this; from everything I read, it sounds like quite a spectacular road.
The famous ski lodge on Mt. Hood. Unless you're under 25 or so and single, maybe just stop for a look at the workmanship and the view. Another guest at the Mountain Shadows B&B (below) said that the nearby smidgen of a town called Government Camp reminded her of one of those sci-fi movies where the kids kill all of the adults and then take over.
Columbia River Gorge
a - An absolute must: the spectacular drive along the Columbia River's cut through the Cascades. Take the scenic route that parallels the interstate, but at a higher level.
a - Multnomah Falls: the most impressive of the many waterfalls along the Gorge.
r - The lodge at Multnomah Falls (no accommodations): a great meal at a great location.
a - Larch Mountain: this is a short side trip off the scenic route. It's worth the detour for an absolutely breathtaking panoramic view of the Columbia.
You may also be interested in our notes of our Colorado vacation in 1998.
Your comments are welcomed.
Return to my home page.