Oregon is a huge state with lots of travel opportunities. For this blog I will be sticking to the Portland area, and thee two beach towns of Cannon Beach and Seaside. I visited this area in July 2021 as part of a larger Pacific Northwest trip. This guide is based on that time spent in Oregon.
Portland is the city most people think of when they think of Oregon and it is the largest city in the state. Portland is known for it’s “weird” culture and as a haven for hippies and hipsters. It certainly lived up to it’s reputation with an atmosphere you would imagine with those two influences. The city was eclectic and grungy with touches of historic buildings, and a lot of artwork around. We also observed the presence of many many homeless in downtown Portland. Overall I was not impressed by the city of Portland and I would not suggest planing on spending more than a day downtown. The surrounding areas however are absolutely beautiful and I greatly enjoyed them and recommend them. Portland is well situated to use as a base, or a starting point for your journey.
Where We Stayed In Portland
We stayed at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Hillsboro/Beaverton which was about 15 to 20 minutes outside of downtown. This suburb location was a great fit for us allowing us to spend a day in the city and have fast access to the highways that took us to both the Columbia River Gorge and the coast. I also love being able to go to a grocery store easily in the suburbs and stock up on snacks, etc. for our trip.
This Homewood Suites was exactly what I expected from the brand, free parking, free breakfast, a gym, and larger rooms with a kitchen. These are the reasons I love Homewood Suites as a brand in general. The rooms where a little smaller than some others from the brand I have stayed in. The rooms were not as newly renovated as some but it was not showing age or disrepair of any kind. The room was clean and I had no complaints. I was happy with our stay and the price point was good.
Things To Do In Portland
Noteworthy Buildings: These are all landmarks of Portland and if you like architecture I’d suggest walking past each. The Portland Stag Sign is a classic photo-op.
- Portlandia Building with it’s massive statue of “Portlandia”
- The Pioneer Courthouse & Courthouse Square
- Portland City Hall
- Portland Stag Sign
Pittock Mansion: The Pittock Mansion is as stunning house built in 1912 by Henry and Georgiana Pittock. The couple both traveled west on the Oregon Trail as teenagers and settled in the frontier town of Portland. They started The Oregonian a successful newspaper that still exists today, and become fixtures in early Portland. They built their mansion on a hill with sweeping views of the city and mountains beyond. The mansion is now a non-profit museum. You can take a tour of the mansion itself, explore the grounds, which include beautiful gardens and lots of wooded trails. Or enjoy the panoramic views of the city. While the mansion tour has visiting hours and paid admission the grounds can be explored at your leisure for a few dollars worth of parking. It’s a great place for photos. We visited one evening for the grounds and views and both were impressive. On the drive to the mansion you see some of the modern day “mansions” or Portland in the neighborhood surrounding Pittock Mansion.
- Portland Art Museum – Most notable of the bunch
- Center for Native American Art
- Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
- Oregon Maritime Museum
We visited the Oregon Historical Society Museum the crown jewel here is the top floor which features the Experience Oregon exhibit. This takes you from the time the land was created to present day. The exhibit was very up to date and included some interactive elements, videos and well constructed displays. The museum also had exhibits about the Portland soccer teams, and exploring the everyday lives of Portland residents with video testimonials among a few others. I would recommend a visit for anyone who enjoys history or wants a better grasp on the city.
Powells Book Store has become an iconic Portland site as the largest independent book store in the world open since 1971. The winding series of rooms you will find here with seemingly endless staircases and twists and turns make is easy to get lost or lose yourself here. Certainly worth a stop for anyone checking out the top tourist destinations. A must for bookstore lovers. They sell new and used books along with board games, collectables and their own branded merchandise.
Nike Headquarters is located just outside the city in Beaverton the campus has many jogging trails accessible to the public. You can also visit Prefontaine Hall on the campus which has an exhibit dedicated to the history of Nike plus rotating exhibits.
Places To Eat In Portland
Voodoo Doughnut: Voodoo now has several dozen locations across the United States but these unique, cheeky doughnuts started here in Portland at the Old Town location. The Old Town location frequently has long lines to get in. To avoid that order online for pick-up, which we did and it saved us a ton of time standing in the sun. When we arrived we got to pop right in to see the inside of the store grab our order and pop right out. The doughnuts all have funny and sometimes obscene names. They also offer a wide variety of vegan flavors, including one for their signature doughnut the Voodoo Doll. As someone who eats dairy free I absolutely loved the vegan flavors, bought a bunch, and had them travel with us in tupperware for the next several days. There are also a few different locations around Portland where you are much less likely to find a line if you don’t care about seeing the original store.
Saturday Market: Every Saturday this street fair happens and features lots of food, and craft stalls. We visited and were not overly impressed as this is the sort of thing we can do at home, but if you are already planning to be nearby on a Saturday it’s not a bad stop to add to your day. It is located right next to the Portland Stag sign.
Breweries: Portland has a ton of breweries. If you enjoy them make sure to research some to stop at while you visit.
For more info on visiting Portland see my vlog linked here.
Columbia River Gorge
Just a quick 20 minute drive from our hotel in Beaverton was the start of the Columbia River Gorge area. You can take Highway 30/84 or the Historic Columbia River Highway, I suggest taking the new highway to get to your first destination to save time and then take the historic road the rest of the time. The gorge is large and you could keep driving for another hour before you reach the end of the National Scenic Area. There are lots of options of activities in the area, from the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum, playing golf, boating on the river, tons of hikes and parks, small towns, visit the Columbia Gorge Dam, or cross the Bridge of the Gods into Washington. Or simply enjoy the scenic views from the road. There is something for everyone to enjoy here.
Waterfalls: The most popular attraction in the gorge are the waterfalls, there are 26 in all. Some are right next to the roadways and some require a hike of various lengths to get to. They are very well marked on the historic highway.
Multnomah Falls: The tallest, and most popular of the falls this one is a must see. If you have ever looked at Portland travel brooches or the like you have certainly seen a photo to these falls. The parking here is limited there is a very small lot right next to the entrance off the Historic Highway, I wouldn’t shoot for this one unless you are looking for handicap parking. The second lot is off the new highway and is larger. You have to walk on a paved path and through a tunnel to get to the park entrance, its a fairly short walk. Come EARLY the parking lot opens officially at 8:00am we pulled up at 8:05am to the larger of the lots and it was about a third full. By the time we left an hour and a half later it was totally full. Parking here was free as was entrance to the falls area this was the case throughout the gorge. There is a paid shuttle offered from a further parking lot if these are full.
At the entrance there are restrooms, a coffee cart, gift shop, and restaurant housed in a stone building. It’s a very short walk to the bottom of the falls. You can take the trail up to the bridge which is about a 10 minute hike up a paved path, but is at an incline. I’d recommend anyone that’s able do the walk to the bridge. After the bridge you can continue on up the trails to the top. The trail is well maintained but it is a long hike to the top and it is all switchbacks that just get steeper. We went a little bit further and then turned around. Don’t feel you have to walk to the top, you can get similar views from other vantage points you can drive to.
Multnohmah Falls is worth the hype, it is a must see in my opinion if you are going to be in Portland and the wonderful thing is it doesn’t have to take up a large portion of your day.
Bridal Vail Falls: We also visited Bridal Vail falls, the falls are much shorter here but you can get so much closer to them. This parking lot was right off the historic highway and was unpaved, but there were restrooms. This trail was unpaved but very well maintained. It was about a half mile to the falls. Once at the falls there are stairs to an observation platform or you could walk down off the path and right up to the falls. There was also a river nearby that offered some fun exploring opportunities. There were additional trails beyond the falls as well. I enjoyed being able to get so close to these falls while still feeling I was in a very safe situation. Plus the hike did not have a lot of incline. Again the parking and experience here was free.
Bonneville Hatchery – Five minutes beyond Multnomah Falls was the fish hatchery. The visitors center of the hatchery allows visitors to see hatching ponds, a salmon run (seasonally), and some exhibits of different kinds of fish in ponds including trout and sturgeon. There are also restrooms and a store, as well as a historic building. This was a lovely little stop and the whole operation is historic first constructed in 1909. A fun stop for kids or anyone who likes to see animals.
For more info on visiting the Columbia River Gorge see my vlog linked above.
After our time in Portland we made our way to the Oregon Coast with our first stop being Cannon Beach. The drive was an hour and a half, scenic, and very easy.
Cannon Beach is a small coastal town full of small hotels, inns, and rental properties. It was very quaint with a main street shopping district full of tiny coffee shops and sandwich shops, as well as boutique craft stores. The vibe was of a higher end beach town and reminded me of New England. We parked in the public lot in the middle of town right next to the Sleepy Monk coffee shop we arrived around 10am and the lot was nearly full but there was street parking around. There were public restrooms nearby too.
From there it was about two blocks to the beach. It was a foggy morning and at times even drizzled a little and the beach was absolutely stunning. There were not large crowds at all. The rocks were breathtaking and the beach stretched out in front of you was beautiful. Very few people were actually in the water and most of those were surfing in wetsuits as it was cold even in July.
Cannon Beach is home to the famous Haystack Rock, it was huge and looming over the beach you could even see it from the road driving in. The rock is home to lots of birds including seagulls, murre, and puffins. The puffins are very popular. If you want to see them bring good binoculars or plan your visit to coincide with one of the times the town is hosting a binocular viewing and you can use their equipment. Our binoculars were not quite good enough we did see puffins but there were very small. We also saw some flying around the rock.
Check out the cities website on details about the puffins:
After our time at the beach we got back in the car to take the short drive to Ecola State Park. Once in the park it was a winding 10 minute drive to the Indian Beach parking lot, where you will find the Clatsop Loop trail. This looped trail is a total of 2.6 miles, with the option to go further to view the Tiilamook Rock Lighthouse. The trail takes you through the woods and loops you back along the shoreline toward Indian Beach with wonderful views and overlooks of the beach and ocean. If you are lucky you could even see some whales or other wildlife. We hiked a bit of both ends to the trail. The end of the trail in the woods is very well marked and surfaced but it is uphill. The end of the trail on the coast is not so uphill but much more treacherous, though nothing intense. If you don’t like heights this may not be for you though. There are pit toilets at the trailhead and halfway thought the loop. There were a few picnic tables in the parking lot area.
For more info on visiting the Cannon Beach see my vlog.
Lewis and Clark
This whole general area of the country is full of Lewis and Clark related sites. About 10 minutes outside of Seaside we visited Fort Clatsop, a location where Lewis, Clark and their party spent the winter after they reached the Pacific Ocean fulfilling their goal. Run by the National Parks Services this site offered a reproduction of the fort which was very well done and allowed you to walk through the different rooms. There was also a small museum, which was rather outdated in its style, but had a lot of information about the Lewis and Clark exhibition. Admission for the park was $10 per person and I found that a little step comparatively speaking. There were several programs going on around the fort, with seating available. Park rangers were giving talks on various topics and had some artifacts and reproductions you could touch. There was also a system of trails that you could take all the way to the shore. We opted to just go as far as the boardwalk system that took you to the river where you could see remnants of the logging industry. If you are a history fan it is worth a stop, my husband actually teaches this period of history so we made it a point to visit. If you are not interested in the history you can skip it and be secure that you are not missing anything monumental.
Seaside is just 15 minutes north of Cannon Beach.The town of Seaside is larger with larger hotels, and more of a vacation beach town vibe, with a small aquarium, a longer beach full of people camped out for the day, volleyball nets, a playground, an independent movie theatre, lots of traditional beach shops selling souvenirs, bathing suits and candy, even an arcade and a ton of dining. A paved path along the beach front known as the Promenade will lead you to the main strip with all these places. The Promenade offered a great walking or running path as well. This seemed like a town where people where taking a vacation here, where this was the final and only destination. The beach itself was very sandy with some dunes, and rocks in the distance. This location seemed to have a lot more that would appeal to children vs Cannon Beach.
We stayed at Best Western Plus Ocean View Resort which was right on the beach and about a 10 minute walk to the center of town. I was very pleased with the room, it was very large, clean, and had a lot to offer such as a kitchenette and small dining table, plus a couch, and even a fireplace. Of course the ocean view balcony was the best part. I would stay here again in a heartbeat and the price was reasonable. There were a restaurant in the lobby and a gym on site, parking was free. It is a Best Western though so don’t expect luxury here.
For more info on visiting the Seaside see my vlog linked above.
During my time in Oregon I much preferred the coastal areas and the towns of Seaside and Cannon beach to the city of Portland. But I do think that the waterfalls or the greater Portland area are not to be missed and grab a doughnut while you are at it.
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