Exploring a new place is like navigating the body of a new lover–you take your time, you go slow, kissing every inch possible, trying not to miss a thing.
At least that was my experience when I recently visited Oregon.
When I close my eyes and reflect upon my travels, I remember delicately breathing in the sweet scent of wildflowers, shore pine (Pinus contorta) and Douglas fir trees that densely lined the coast before falling gradually into the thrashing sea. These rocky forested headlands allowed my eyes to focus on the horizon of Earth’s vast bounty. I captured mental photographic images of the territory I covered, and seem to continuously remind myself that this is what life is all about: unbounded passion, self-discovery, and a seemingly never-ending adventure.
There’s something extraordinary about being all alone in an unknown destination like I was. It’s much different than traveling with a companion. An adventure like no other.
When my cell phone decided to self-detonate on the second day of my trip, I was left disconnected from my comfort zone of text messages, Facebook status updates, late night drunken phone calls to friends and family who wished they were accompanying me, and constantly adding pictures to the photo stream on my Instagram account every time I stumbled upon a strikingly beautiful place worth documenting, like one of Oregon’s seven wonders.
Luckily, my sense of direction isn’t all that horrible, so getting lost in pursuit of visiting my list of “must do” attractions was actually quite a pleasant experience.
You really do start to appreciate what is in front of you when you are forced to remain in the present moment. Instead of being distracted by the constant madness of the next best thing, I learned to appreciate and savor the small moments, like standing on Cannon Beach and watching as the waves crashed against the 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock. It was also a time to experience the depth of flavors of the local cuisine at Saucebox, as the deejay spun some of the best beats I’ve ever heard while enjoying the most excellent happy hour in Portland.
Tucked into the Northwest corner of our country, Oregon‘s old-world charm hospitality, no sales tax, lush green landscapes and dramatic coastline should be enough to lure you away from your routine and embark upon a new journey, but that’s not all this amazing place has to offer. It’s a wonderfully diverse part of the country that offers a little something for just about everybody. C’mon, you don’t even have to pump your own gas!
It’s clear to see that the state’s motto lives up to its promise: Alis volat propriis, or “she flies with her own wings.”
Eccentric Portland merits (at the least) an entire day of exploring. I’m serious. You can’t even do one third of everything you desire in two days.
If you’re familiar with the popular show Portlandia, its depiction of the city isn’t too far off base. With its infinite amount of microbrews, off-brand coffee shops, unrivaled art and foodie scene (the food trucks are ridiculously good and Noble Rot has some of the best mac and cheese and views in town), and intoxicating vibe, this cosmopolitan-esque City of Roses invites you to get outdoors. Yes, even when it’s pouring rain!
I remember walking down Burnside St. during a torrential downpour trying to get to the world’s absolute greatest bookstore, Powell’s, Joris Delacroix’s “Take Your Time” blaring in my headphones, and realizing the great travel writer Freya Stark was right when she wrote: ”To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”
And I’ve been chasing that euphoric feeling ever since.
Even after visiting Lan Su Chinese Garden and refueling on copious amounts of zen, green tea and the sweet scent of edgeworthia and daphne, I was still in search of something more.
The music scene here isn’t so bad, either. You know that band people are always talking about that you’ve never heard of? Well, they’re probably from Portland. And they probably got their start at the acclaimed Doug Fir Lounge. Of course, Oregon’s true identity can only be grasped by touring more than one region–one milepost and landmark at a time.
While there are countless places you could choose to explore, you don’t want to pass up on venturing along the Columbia River Gorge and checking out Multnomah Falls or Crowne Point Vista House. If you do, you’ll probably regret it.
When you’re finally ready to call it a night, get some rest at the Jupiter. This boutique hotel in downtown is one of a kind.
After departing Portland and embarking upon a 95-mile journey on Highway 30, complete with sweeping visual landscapes, I found myself at the mouth of the Columbia River in Astoria, one of the state’s most historic cities. Both rich in tradition and architecture (there are over 300 Victorian homes throughout the city), this fabled fishing community makes you feel as if you’re stepping back in time to the days when the waterfront was cluttered with salmon canneries and dance halls, where saloons lined every corner.
While no longer the fishing capital it once was in its hey-day, you can still purchase sardines, Dungeness crab, sturgeon, shrimp, Albacore tuna, and salmon down at Union Town Fish Market located at 229 West Marine Drive. There are also an array of boutiques, art galleries, wineries, great restaurants and hotels, and the Columbia River Maritime Museum, which is actually much more amazing than you’d ever expect. The lightship is a real treat.
My first stop after checking into the Cannery Pier Hotel was to try some of the most talked about lightly beer battered fish and chips in the region at the famed Bowpicker (which is right across from the Columbia River Maritime Museum). Let me tell you: I wasn’t disappointed. Upon arriving at the tiny gill net boat, I was warmly greeted by co-owner Linda Ford. She then proceeded to whip me up some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. End of story.
And if you just so happened to grow up in the 80s like I did (hey, you guys!) making a brief stop at the Goonies House is an absolute must.
If you decide to take the 101 down through multiple counties towards the dramatic, pristine beaches that line Oregon’s windswept coast, you will be greeted with breathtaking sights, and perhaps even start thinking that driving mere inches away from large timber trucks, while your car hugs the jagged cliffs edge, sort of reminds you of scenes from Final Destination. You’ll pass through towns with populations of less than 200 people and feel as if you have been transported to a bygone era, when life was lived at a much slower pace and people were completely satisfied with simplicity. The rooftops are covered in thick, moss, algae and lichens, giving the atmosphere a medieval feel. Damp, wet and cold.
The rolling, sage-covered hills, sturdy evening primrose, and magnificent Pacific Ocean captivated my senses. Extending from the seashore to the foothills, the Oregon coast left me in awe, as places of interest and lookout points start passing in rapid fashion.
Just two and a half hours from Portland (five and a half if you make all the appropriate stops), Newport really is one of the friendliest cities in America. Even the most transient visitor can take notice of this. Everyone I came across and talked to was accommodating, knowledgeable and fun. I suppose that’s the beauty of small seaside communities.
A few places worth checking out while in town? The Yaquina Head Lighthouse, one of Oregon’s nine historic lighthouses, is absolutely breathtaking and provides wonderful photo opportunities and tidepools to explore, while the Oregon Coast Aquarium and their Marine Discovery Tours will allow you to survey the marine life of the Pacific Northwest.
Ultimately, I discovered that four days was not enough time to see and do everything my enthusiastic heart desired. I think everyone who thinks of Oregon imagines gorgeous scenery and endless things to do…but I never expected to be this overwhelmed with options.
Most of all, I loved the sense of community. There really isn’t a way to articulate how serious I am when I say that everyone in Oregon is nice. Its residents are also incredibly diverse — sort of like Los Angeles or Orange County, but without all the fuss.
When planning a trip to Oregon, I encourage you to approach it the way Oregonians do, with a sense of wit and adventure.
As a Southern California girl, I always thought I needed sunshine to feel alive. But coming to Oregon taught me that you are the one who brings the sunshine to a place. You venture out into the unknown all bright-eyed and eager to take in each and every experience for what it’s worth and then some.
You can travel hundreds of miles and traverse through countless towns, but your peace of mind and sense of adventure is what keeps you grounded.
As long as you bring your adventurous spirit, Oregon will make sure to leave you in wonder. Believe me, you won’t want to leave.