My friend Krystina and I are not the type of travelers who spend the entire day lounging by the pool. When we travel together, each day’s itinerary is packed full of things to see and do. We cram in as many sights and as much adventure as possible, and our five-day trip to the Oregon Coast and Portland was no exception.
Our trip began on Saturday, June 9, 2018. We arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport just after sunrise, where we hopped on an early morning Southwest Airlines flight to Portland, Oregon. Our flight was smooth and uneventful.
Arriving in Portland
Stepping out of the airport terminal in Portland, I experienced a refreshing blast of cool, humid air. The high temperature was 71F (21.6 C) compared to 108F (42.2 C) in Phoenix that same day. It was a short walk from the airport terminal to the rental car center. We checked in and received the keys to our Hyundai Tucson, a compact crossover SUV that was finished in a beautiful color called Caribbean Blue. The inside had a strong “new car smell” that was a little overwhelming.
Driving to the Oregon Coast
With our bags loaded up, we began our drive to the Oregon coast with Krystina behind the wheel. The navigation routed us to take Interstate 205 / Interstate 5 over the Columbia River into Washington state. Less than an hour after landing, we found ourselves in a pounding rainstorm as we headed towards the city of Longview, Washington! We slowed down and were soon through the worst of it.
In Longview we crossed back into Oregon over the Lewis and Clark Bridge, which was the longest and highest cantilever bridge in the United States when it was completed in 1930. The bridge was designed by Joseph Strauss, who would be the engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge just a few years later.
We drove west on US Route 30 towards the city of Astoria (population: 9,836), which is located on the Oregon coast. The drive from the Portland Airport to Astoria took approximately two hours. I was amazed at the lush, green scenery during the drive.
Krystina and I were hungry by the time we arrived, and we stopped for lunch at the Astoria Brewing Company. There was a free public parking lot close by, and we walked over to the restaurant which is located along the Astoria Riverwalk.
Fort Stevens State Park
After a delicious lunch, we were fueled up and ready for our first adventure. It was back to the Hyundai for a quick 20 minute drive to Fort Stevens State Park. This park is the site of a former military installation that guarded the mouth of the Columbia River where it empties into the Pacific Ocean.
Wreck of the Peter Iredale
A long deposit of sand called the Clatsop Spit juts out from the mainland and has been the site of numerous shipwrecks throughout history. One of these was the Peter Iredale, a four-masted merchant ship. In October 1906, the Peter Iredale was sailing from Salina Cruz, Mexico to Portland with an empty cargo hold. She ran aground during a treacherous storm that damaged the ship’s main mast and rigging. Miraculously, none of the crew were lost during the wreck, though the ship was a total loss.
The ship was abandoned on the beach and most of the hull was dismantled for scrap, though the forward section was left intact. The ship’s iron frame has been slowly eroding over the years, with only the rusted bow and a few ribs still remaining – embedded in the sands for more than a century. After taking some pictures and exploring the beach, we were ready to check in at the hotel.
Our home for the next two nights was the Hampton Inn & Suites Astoria, which is right on the Columbia River. The room was also nicely equipped with double beds and a small balcony with an unobstructed view of the river. From our room, we had a panoramic view of the river and the massive container ships that were heading to and from Portland. These gargantuan shipping vessels are incomparable to anything back home.
It was a busy first day and we were ready to get some rest after all of our traveling.
The next day was Sunday, June 10, 2018. After breakfast at the hotel, Krystina and I loaded up the Hyundai and drove 90 minutes south to Tillamook, Oregon – home of the famous dairy co-op that produces delicious cheese, butter, yogurt, and ice cream. The visitor center is a popular tourist destination, drawing more than 1.3 million visitors annually.
From the parking lot we could see the new visitor center that was set to open on June 20, just ten days after our visit. That gives us a reason to come back another time! We navigated through the temporary visitor center and sampled some delicious Tillamook cheese. The visitor center had exhibits about farming, a gift shop, and a cafe. Krystina and I enjoyed some Tillamook ice cream – the Oregon Dark Cherry flavor was my favorite!
After checking out the Tillamook Creamery, it was a short 20 minute drive to our next stop: Cape Meares Lighthouse.
Cape Meares Lighthouse
There are nine historic lighthouses from the 1800s along the Oregon coast. Cape Meares is the second furthest north. It was activated in 1890 and in service until 1963 when it was replaced by an automated beacon. A paved pathway leads visitors from the parking area to the lighthouse, and it was incredibly pretty with trees, moss, and greenery everywhere.
At just 38 feet (11.5 meters) in height, Cape Meares is not your typical towering lighthouse. Instead, it is rather short and stubby. Originally lit by oil, it was converted to electric light in 1934. The lighthouse is small and doesn’t take long to see.
Lunch in Cannon Beach
After leaving Cape Meares, we drove approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes north along US 101. At around 4:00 PM we stopped in Cannon Beach, Oregon where we had a late lunch/early dinner at Pelican Brewing Company. We liked the atmosphere of the place with its warm wood tones and large windows – and the food was excellent!
After our meal, we drove a few more minutes up the coast to the resort town of Seaside, Oregon. We parked the car and walked towards the beach under cloudy skies. It began sprinkling as we reached the “End of the Trail” Lewis and Clark statue at Seaside Beach. The statue commemorates the famous 1803-06 expedition from Saint Louis to the Pacific Ocean. On our walk Krystina found a $20 bill on the ground – what luck!
We walked up and down Broadway Street which is lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, and an indoor arcade. We stopped at a candy store next to the arcade and bought a few sweet treats for later. I imagine that on a warm Summer’s day the town is bustling with activity. We visited on a drizzly Sunday afternoon and the town had an empty, almost eerie feel to it with very few people out and about.
It was around 5:30 PM when we left Seaside and drove back to Astoria. Instead of stopping at the hotel, we continued on to the Astoria-Megler Bridge. The famous bridge was completed in 1966 and its 4.06 mile length makes it the longest continuous truss bridge in North America, linking Astoria, Oregon to Megler, Washington.
We crossed the bridge into Washington state so that I could get a photo with the Washington State Line boundary sign, which is part of my project to get a photo with the sign for all 50 U.S. states. We crossed back over to Astoria and I got a few photos with the “Welcome to Oregon” sign too.
The “Goonie House” in Astoria
Our last stop for the day was to cruise by one of the most famous places in Astoria: the house that was used for filming in the 1985 movie The Goonies. Unofficially known as the “Goonie House,” it is located in a neighborhood directly across from our hotel.
The owners of the house used to be okay with visitors stopping by to take a photo, but sadly, some visitors were not respectful. They would trample the plants, knock on the door late at night, and leave trash behind. On our visit, the road leading up to the house was adorned with multiple No Parking signs. The house itself was covered by blue tarps in a last-ditch effort to have some sense of privacy. We were respectful tourists and left without approaching the house.
Late Snack in Astoria
We returned to the hotel to rest for a bit and were soon thinking about a light snack around dinnertime. Krystina and I walked from the hotel to Rogue Public House, a brewpub located on a wooden pier in the Columbia River. The restaurant had a nice view and we enjoyed a little snack before bed. The walk back to the hotel was beautiful with cloudy skies and cool air. We could hear the sounds of sea lions barking on the pier as we walked back. After a long day of exploring, we were both tired and looking forward to a good night’s rest.
The following morning, the clouds had nearly disappeared and the sun was shining. We packed up the car and checked out of the Hampton Inn. Our plan was to spend the first half of the trip exploring the Oregon coast, and the second half of the trip in Portland. After two adventure-packed days in the Astoria region, it was time to head to the city.
Driving to Portland
We took US Route 26 into Portland, which was approximately a 100 mile (161 km) drive from Astoria. We left around 10:30 AM and arrived in Portland at approximately 12:45 PM. As we made our way to the restaurant for lunch, I got my first glimpse of Portland from the car window. I was stunned at the number of beautiful rose bushes growing along the freeway!
For lunch, we ate at a restaurant called Podnah’s BBQ that Krystina had looked up. We had a fantastic lunch that both of us really enjoyed. Having spent most of the morning in the car, we were eager to get out and walk around a bit.
Vancouver Land Bridge
Our first exploration of the day was a short drive over the Columbia River into Vancouver, Washington. We checked out the Vancouver Land Bridge, which is a pedestrian footbridge that goes over a busy highway. The bridge is unique with its organic shape, meandering path, and is covered with indigenous plants. From the bridge, I had a nice view of Fort Vancouver and Mt. Hood.
We had dinner at a restaurant called McMenamins on the Columbia River. McMenamins is a family-owned chain of brewpubs that has locations in historic buildings or properties. While the Vancouver location was not historically significant, it did have a great view of the Columbia River.
After dinner, we walked along the riverfront and watched the boats going by. I took some pictures of the Interstate 5 bridge. We cruised around Vancouver a little and stopped at a cute little shop called Ice Cream Renaissance for a quick after-dinner treat.
By this time, we were ready to get to our hotel. We drove across the river back to Oregon and checked in to the Hyatt Place Portland Airport. The room was great and very spacious. I fell asleep tired and happy.
The fourth day of our trip was once again packed with back-to-back activities. This day was special because we were going to do something we cannot do back home – which is leave the car behind and get around entirely using public transit.
Riding the MAX Light Rail
Our hotel was a three minute walk from the MAX Light Rail stop, so after breakfast we bought tickets for the light rail at a kiosk. Soon, we were riding the light rail to downtown Portland with a bunch of commuters, as it was a Tuesday morning. We got off the train at the Washington Park stop, which is 1.8 miles from the Rose Garden. Luckily the city of Portland operates a free shuttle to and from the garden, which worked out great for us.
Portland Rose Garden
Our destination was the Portland International Rose Test Garden, a world-famous public garden with more than 10,000 rose plants and hundreds of different varieties. While I don’t know much about gardening, I was awestruck at the different types and colors of roses on display.
We spent about an hour walking up and down the rows of rose bushes admiring the different colors and names of the varieties. Everything was in full bloom in June, and I got lots of great pictures of some very colorful roses.
Portland Japanese Garden
Just across the street from the Rose Test Garden is the Portland Japanese Garden. I enjoy visiting different Japanese gardens and I love the thoughtful attention to detail they have. Every feature of a Japanese garden is intentional and designed with some purpose in mind. On a previous trip, Krystina and I had checked out the Japanese Garden in Balboa Park in San Diego and really enjoyed it.
Portland’s Japanese Garden was proclaimed to be one of the most beautiful and authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan by the former Ambassador of Japan. The 12-acre garden has eight different spaces, each one representing a different aspect of Japanese garden history and design. The gardens were very peaceful and serene.
We strolled through the spaces for more than an hour, stopping to admire the authentic Japanese Tea House, meandering streams, intimate walkways, and a spectacular view of Mt. Hood. I also made a pass through the gift shop on the way out.
Exploring Downtown Portland
After walking around outdoors all morning, we were starting to get hungry for lunch. Leaving the Washington Park area, we took the shuttle back to the Light Rail station and rode the MAX light rail back to downtown Portland.
We disembarked the MAX Light Rail in downtown and walked for about 10-minutes to the Deschutes Brewery Public House on 11th Ave. The air was so much cooler than back in Phoenix, and we had no trouble walking the 0.4 miles to get there. Along the way, I admired up the tree-lined streets and red brick sidewalks.
The restaurant offers a full menu of salads, appetizers, craft burgers, desserts, and of course, a selection of regular and seasonal craft beers on tap. The Portland Public House is located in a former auto body shop and features a red brick exterior with beautiful timber interior and ornate wood carvings throughout the dining area. Though we did not try the beer, the meal and the atmosphere were amazing!
After lunch, we continued our exploration of downtown Portland on foot. Our next destination was Powell’s Books, a massive independent bookstore that has been a Portland landmark since 1971. Krystina and I spent at least an hour perusing the store, and we each picked up a couple of books to take home with us. I really enjoyed the bookstore and wished we had one that large back home!
Following the bookstore, we wandered into a two-story Target store and marveled at the shopping cart escalator that transported shopping carts from one level to another.
Our final stop of the day was another Portland landmark: Voodoo Doughnut. I cannot say for sure where or when the gourmet donut craze began, but Voodoo Doughnut, established in 2003, was probably on the forefront of it.
With flavors like maple bacon and crazy names like Voodoo Doll, their flavors and confections are far more exciting than your local donut shop (unless you live in Portland, I guess). A standout flavor for me was the “Mango Tango” which is a raised donut filled with mango jelly, topped with mango frosting. It was unique and delicious!
We arrived back at the hotel around 8:15 PM, just as the sun was setting. It was remarkable how far we were able to travel without a car, and how easy it was to get around via public transit.
The following morning was my last day in Oregon as I had to get back home to attend a friend’s wedding. Krystina would be staying a few more days to visit with family.
Heading Home to Phoenix
Krystina dropped me off at the Portland Airport, which was an easy 5 minute drive from the hotel. We said our goodbyes and I was soon inside the main terminal of the airport. I enjoyed some time planespotting and exploring the airport before my flight in the afternoon.
I always choose a window seat whenever possible, and I frequently fly with Southwest Airlines which does not do assigned seating. From my window seat, I had a fantastic view of the Columbia River during takeoff and climb.
The route home had a stop in Burbank, which meant I got to fly over Northern California after departing from Portland International. During the flight I saw Crater Lake, Mt. Shasta and many other landmarks from the plane. To me, looking out the window is more interesting than the typical in-flight activities such as sleeping or watching a movie.
After a quick layover in Burbank, it was a short flight back to Phoenix. I was on the ground at 6:30 PM, having spent most of the day traveling.
There were several takeaways from this trip, the first one being that Oregon is amazingly lush and green compared to the desert southwest where I live. The Oregon coast offers a relaxed pace of life with cool weather and plenty of historic and modern attractions to see.
Portland was also very cool, with lots of quirky, offbeat attractions. The great transit system and walkable downtown made it fun to explore the city’s amenities in a new way for us.
I really wish I had more time to see more of the state. Crater Lake, Multnomah Falls and the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville are a few sights I would like to visit on a future trip to Oregon.