8 Low-Key Oregon Adventures
Eat (and Drink!) Your Way Through Astoria ↑
2 hours from PDX: Real adventurers arrive in Astoria armed with a fork. Start with a latte paired with pastries at Coffee Girl, serenaded by sea lions on the docks outside, then amble the Astoria Riverwalk into town for a second mug paired with an indie magazine at the Blue Scorcher.
For lunch, climb the spiral staircase for pints and a blazing-hot margherita pie at Fort George Brewery’s pizza pub, then head to the new Buoy Beer Company for a round with a view. Walk it off with a journey to the top of the Astoria Column. Go global for dinner at Drina Daisy, where Bosnian comfort food like slow-roasted lamb satisfies. Dessert comes courtesy Astoria Coffeehouse & Bistro, where the chocolate cake is obligatory.
Need a break from filling your face? Get your Donkey Kong on at the just-opened Arc Arcade, boasting more than 85 retro arcade games. Finish off with post-pinball fries and cocktails at Albatross. Want to stay the night? Bunk up at the Norblad Hotel & Hostel, a 90-year-old hotel restored by the owners of Astoria’s chic Commodore Hotel, with marble showers, a community kitchen, and Euro-style rooms. From $29
45 minutes from PDX: Stretching 21 miles through pristine forest along a once-thriving lumber railway line, the Banks-Vernonia State Trail offers a portal to a bygone era. Sections of towering woodland canopy are interrupted only by 12 bridges, ferrying you across unspoiled streams and emerald green glades on a paved pathway. Six trailheads allow you to tailor the ride as you please. For an abbreviated jaunt, park at Buxton Trailhead and ride five miles north, turning around at Topill Trailhead—the trail’s mild ascent becomes an exhilarating race through the trees as you freewheel back toward your car. Excessive grinning may result—along with the occasional bug in your teeth.
Paddle the Willamette
75 minutes from PDX: Flanking the west bank of the Willamette just over an hour from Portland, Independence is an ideal spot to drop in a canoe or kayak for a leisurely paddle. Launch at Buena Vista Park and gently paddle beneath soaring osprey and bald eagles. After about four miles, pull onto the beach at Rogue Farms and enjoy a hoppy pint while taking in the hops, rye, jalapeños, and hazelnuts. Play a round of lawn games, dodge the free-range chickens and turkeys, and spot potbellied pigs Voo and Doo before returning to your trusty vessel.
Dip in Dougan Falls →
1 hour from PDX: The best swimming spots require a bit of effort. Such is the case with Dougan Falls, tucked near the end of the winding Washougal River Road. Those willing to travel the extra miles along the forested, sun-dappled river will be generously rewarded with a 19-foot-tall series of cascades tumbling into a giant, blue-green pool. Leap into the bracing water, spread your towel on the sun-kissed rocks, and breathe deep. What to stay the night? Pitch your tent at the cozy Dougan Creek Campground, just a stone’s throw away.
Crabbing in Newport
2.5 hours from PDX: Forgive us our carnivorousness, but nothing beats the satisfaction of hauling fresh Dungeness crabs out of Newport’s Yaquina Bay, soaked in salt and sunshine, before devouring them back on the docks. Book your charter with Newport Tradewinds and head into the ocean spray for a three-hour loop around the scenic bay ($46). After your maritime excursion, make your way to Nye Beach and walk north on the sand about two miles to Yaquina Head, gawking at the cliffs above and tide pools below. Fuel up for your drive home with a cozy meal at ARR Place, where the motto is “actual food touched by human hands.”
Oregon City Nostalgia Tour
30 minutes from PDX: In Oregon City, charming vintage shops, a handful of museums dedicated to the state’s pioneer era, a striped-pole barber shop, and an old-school tobacconist offer a stroll back in time. The municipal elevator (touted as the continent’s only vertical street) and a waterfall-lined staircase make it easy to travel between the town’s upper and lower sections and offer access to the bluff’s McLoughlin Promenade and its view of the mighty Willamette Falls—just be sure to do the cliff walk before sampling the single-malts at the nearby Highland Stillhouse.
Blooms and Falls in Silverton
1 hour from PDX: Silverton’s picturesque downtown and surrounding hills are just a bonus to the area’s real draw: more than 9,000 acres of lush gardens and towering waterfalls. An early-morning hike on Silver Falls State Park’s Trail of Ten Falls weaves you through (you guessed it!) 10 gushing, mossy cascades. After cruising under as many waterfalls as you please, head downtown for lunch and window-shopping, then continue to the Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical haven claiming 20 specialty gardens and the only Frank Lloyd Wright–designed home in Oregon.
Why Oregon’s very own Coney Island shouldn’t be overlooked—By Michael Zusman
The best fudge in the world comes from Tom ’n’ Larry’s in Seaside. I know this because my 6-year-old self used to peer through the big picture windows along Broadway, Seaside’s main drag, and watch wide-eyed as the candymakers stirred the hot liquid fudge in big copper pots, then poured it on shiny marble tables where it was cooled, shaped, and cut into pieces. With enough begging, my mom would let my brother and me buy a few pieces—each one sweet, smooth, and peerless.
A trip to Tom ’n’ Larry’s was but one customary stop during the summer weeks my family spent in 1960s Seaside. It wasn’t just us. It was our community. There were Carls, Weinsteins, Rotenbergs, Hassons, Semlers, Spivaks, and many other Jewish families just a generation removed from the old South Portland shtetl. Everyone headed to the north coast to relax and beat the heat.
Many of those families stayed and shared evening meals at the City Center Motel—nothing fancy, believe me, but with kitchenettes in the rooms. During mild, ocean-scented days, the action shifted to Broadway. There was Harrison’s Bakery, home of marvelous maple bars and “beach bread,” and the forbidden Fascination Parlor, involving a mysterious bingo-like competition and lots of cigarette smoke. But the big draw for us kids was the carnival atmosphere that set Seaside apart from all the other Oregon beach towns: pinball at the penny arcade, miniature golf, bumper cars, skeeball, spin painting, and scary rides that went high into the air.
My family had a ritual at the end of every trip. On the way out of Seaside, we would stop at Bell Buoy, pick up whole cracked Dungeness crabs, then hustle back to Portland for a big family dinner. My grandfather presided as we cracked, picked, and savored the sweet meat on sheets of newspaper spread over my parents’ kitchen table. It was the best crab in the world.