Any visit to Portland can, and should, include at least one venture out of town—consider the Oregon Coast, the Columbia River Gorge, and the Willamette Valley.
By some feat of luck or magic (or the work of a few prescient pioneers), the City of Roses just happens to sit about an hour from three renowned destinations: the stunning Oregon Coast, the outdoorsy Columbia River Gorge, and the bucolic Willamette Valley wine country. That means any visit to Portland can, and should, include at least one venture out of town. Here’s what to see, do, and eat—and where to stay—while you’re out exploring. Read on for our editors’ picks of Portland’s best day trips.
WILLAMETTE VALLEY WINE COUNTRY
Amid this beautiful rolling countryside of hazelnut orchards, family farms, and small towns, you’ll find an award-winning wine region producing bottles to rival Burgundy. It’s a wine collector’s paradise of pinot noir, chardonnay, and sparkling wine, all served up with a laid-back, friendly charm that belies the region’s world-class status. Drink up, but save room for dinner—because when it comes to farm-to-table cuisine, you can’t get any closer than this.
Located in the heart of old McMinnville, a small country town with agricultural roots steeped in pioneer history, the brand-new Atticus Hotel stands out like a beacon of grown-up sophistication. It’s at once classic but modern, with clean lines and warm personal touches, courtesy of the Dutch cruiser bikes at the entry, rich walnut trim, and jewel-toned fabrics. Framed silhouettes of local residents and a custom-made recreation of an artfully arranged nutcracker/walnut exhibit from the 1909 Pacific Exhibition add irreverent touches. Everything about the Atticus feels intentional and well-thought out. There are hooks near the door to hang your coat and bag. Forget Keurigs; there’s an actual teapot, as well as a French press and local coffee and tea. Utensils—a cutting board and cheese knife, actual plates, and even a pitcher—mean you can make a nice spread of local cheeses and meats or maybe a pitcher of G&Ts, without scrounging for disposables at the corner deli. A guide book in each room tells you about the art on the walls, all of which came from local artists. And every room is different, from the upholstery on the custom-made couches to the hand-painted wallpaper, so you feel like you’re getting a truly unique experience.
The Vintages Trailer Resort
Set right off one of the main highways through the Oregon wine country, The Vintages has rows of shiny, refurbished ’50s and ’60s travel trailers that appear as if from nowhere, much like a movie set or some sort of a bizarre portal into the past. It’s also adjacent to a more modern RV park, which makes the lineup of old-school Airstreams and Shastas seem all the more surprising. It looks like a pop-up party you want to be part of, especially when you see the property’s festive glow of string lights. Anyone who has ever fantasized about owning a retro Airstream or an adorably outfitted travel trailer will get their fix at The Vintages; it’s all the charm with none of the hassles of maintenance. The very definition of cozy and quaint, they improve your mood just by looking at them—it’s truly impossible to be in a bad mood when you’re staying in one of these snug little throwbacks.
New-money Napa Valley with lots of Old World and Tuscan-style influences: that’s Domaine Serene. This combo could devolve into cheesiness, but there’s clearly a lot of money to back it up. The winery’s Clubhouse feels plush and almost palatial, with big windows affording incredible views of the verdant landscape. Domaine Serene makes some of the best wines in the country; it also has a sister winery in Cote d’Or, France (called Chateau de la Cree). That makes it almost a one-stop shop for wine lovers who want to taste offerings from both of these world-class wine regions.
Stoller Family Estate
The first thing you see when you walk into Stoller Family Estates’ low-slung, solar-powered, LEED Gold–certified winery? The gentle rolling hills of the vineyard. That’s because the entire back wall consists of floor-to-ceiling windows, most of which roll all the way up in summer, giving you the feeling that you’re tasting wine right where the grapes are grown. Though the large, spare, airy tasting room feels exceedingly modern, the breathtaking view of the landscape brings the outdoors in, so you somehow feel like you’re communing with nature without having to get your feet muddy. If you love Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, you’re in luck, because that’s pretty much all Stoller makes, save for a small lot of Riesling, Tempranillo, and a rosé sparkler made from Pinot Noir.
Joel Palmer House
One of the Willamette Valley wine country’s oldest and most revered fine dining restaurants, The Joel Palmer House attracts food lovers of all types, but particularly those who love French-influenced cuisine (and wild mushrooms). No one knows wild Oregon mushrooms better than Jack Czarnecki, the chef-founder of The Joel Palmer House, and his son, Chris, the restaurant’s current chef-owner. Mushroom foraging is a family passion dating back generations, and the Czarneckis are Oregon’s go-to resource for all mushroom-related culinary applications. If the dish has mushrooms, and there’s a very good chance it will, order it. From the five-spice duck breast served with black truffles, foie gras, and marionberries, to the maple-y candy cap mushrooms in creme brulee, wild fungi make an appearance in all parts of the menu.
Amid the slightly more formal (and somewhat predictable) restaurants lining McMinnville’s quaint Third Street, Thistle’s casual, almost thrift-store-like elegance feels refreshing. Enter through the cozy, casual bar, perch on one of the skinny metal stools, tell bartender-legend Patrick Bruce a few of your likes and dislikes, then let him do his magic. When you’re ready to eat, wander to the small dining room, and owner Emily Howard, a quiet soul with a knack for hospitality, will get you settled. Don’t expect cheffy fireworks. The food here is fresh but simple, and really lets Oregon ingredients shine. A chalkboard menu offers about 10 options (generally six starters and four entrees), all with faint French influences. Can’t decide (or see that far away)? Just order the Chef’s Whim and let the kitchen send out a multicourse feast meant for sharing. Homey desserts, like panna cotta or clafouti, are a simple yes-or-no situation, as there’s usually just one available every night. The answer is yes: Order it.
COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE
To give you some idea of the jaw-dropping beauty in the Columbia River Gorge, consider this: it’s the birthplace of the nation’s first ever scenic highway. Yes, even driving through is enough to leave you awestruck. But with hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails flanked by waterfalls and carpeted in ferns, you’d be remiss not to stop and get yourself out in the middle of all that natural beauty. When you’ve worked up an appetite, the quaint town of Hood River is there for you with brewpubs and farm-fresh cafes to help you refuel.
pFriem Family Brewers
Away from Hood River’s busy, boutique-lined main streets, down by Waterfront Park, with its jogging paths, immersive playground, and front-row seats to kite-boarders jumping the waves on the Columbia River, pFriem Family Brewers stands proud as probably the most popular destination in this new mixed-use village. The acclaimed brewery doesn’t shy away from the usual industrial-chic thing, with lots of reclaimed wood, gray walls, and giant steel tanks of beer to match the metal seats. But a long communal table, artistically unusual chandeliers, and a welcoming patio with a gas fire pit keep it from feeling too cold. Finally, a brewpub with legitimately good food: The food is familiar enough to please the usual pub-goer, but the twists and the attention to detail make it worth the stop even if beer’s not your thing.
Starvation Creek Trail
Whatever hike you’re in the mood for—wildflowers, sweeping views, lush forests, waterfalls, easy jaunts or all-day-long athletic excursions—you can take your pick from the hundreds of trails criss-crossing the Columbia River Gorge. But this 1.5-mile, out-and-back hike in Hood River, which boasts four waterfalls, is perfect for those who don’t have a ton of time (or fitness) and want to see a little of everything. Plus there’s an option to make it harder and longer, too. The hike starts in a parking lot right off Interstate 84, the main route in and out of the Gorge.
Celilo Restaurant & Bar
Celilo, easily the nicest restaurant in Hood River, uses local ingredients from area farmers, and the menu specifics change seasonally around a core group of stalwarts. There’s always steak, steamed mussels, and housemade pasta like pappardelle. All are expertly cooked, and they’re simple rather than heavy or fussy, letting the freshness of the ingredients shine. Lunch offers a crowd-pleasing lineup of sandwiches, burgers, and salads. The flavorful smoked salmon burger with spicy aioli won’t ever let you down. If you’re in the Columbia River Gorge for a special occasion, Celilo is where you go. It’s upscale without feeling exclusionary, it has a fabulous wine list, and it offers beautifully cooked seasonal Northwest dishes that aren’t too fussy: just right for this nature-loving little town.
A stay at Sakura Ridge allows you to play out your fantasies of living on a genteel farm without any of the harsh realities of agrarian life. The five-bedroom B&B, about 15 minutes from Hood River, is built like a grand Adirondack lodge, complete with huge logs and long porches. It’s also a working organic farm with chickens, sheep, and an extensive garden. If you want, you can help with some of the more pleasant farm chores (feeding the chickens, moving the sheep) or just relax and soak up the pastoral views of Mount Hood. If you want to picnic on the porch, you can pre-order a meat-and-cheese platter and bottle of wine. Also, the common room in the lodge encourages hanging out, with rocking chairs, a wood-fired stove, free tea, hot chocolate, and popcorn. It’s a great place to get away from it all, without actually being too far away when you’re ready for some fun.
Hood River Hotel
Right in the middle of downtown, The Hood River Hotel marries historical intrigue with hipster cool. Walk into the old brick building’s narrow, but spacious, lobby and a black-and-white checkered floor greets you, just as it has for more than a century. Sleek modern couches flank a working fireplace with a crackling fire, while the head of an elk looms above. Indie rock pipes through the speakers while the din of diners at Broder Ost next door lends an almost party-like atmosphere. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about this place. Every room is different; try to book a river-view room so you can peek at the action on the Columbia. The lounge is fun; there’s free coffee and $1 off beer, wine, and cider (mostly local) from 4 to 6 nightly. Take it up to your room, or, if it’s a lazy morning, get a “Mimosas for two” bucket for $15.
Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail
Riding a bike is fun, but riding a bike through stunning scenery is even more fun. And when you can do it without any hassle from cars or risk of getting lost, it’s like you’ve gone to paradise on two wheels. That’s what awaits you at the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, a car-free bike path just east of downtown Hood River. A 4.5-mile portion of the old highway has been transformed into a car-free asphalt road that you can bike, walk, or run all the way to the cute town of Mosier. There’s no way to get lost—there’s just one road with nothing branching off it. Several turnouts and viewpoints along the way allow you to take a break while getting out of the way of other cyclists. If biking’s not your thing, you can walk, jog, or even skateboard.
ASTORIA & THE OREGON COAST
The Oregon Coast is famed for its slow pace and dramatic scenery, waves crashing against towering sea stacks and mist twirling through forests of evergreens. But Astoria offers an entirely different, and arguably richer, point of view. Set at the Northwestern tip of the state, where the mighty Columbia River empties into the expansive Pacific, it’s an endearing mash-up of old-timey charm and trendy cool, small town vibes and bustling maritime energy. Watch the parade of container ships, feast on just-shucked oysters and fresh-caught fish, then settle in at one of the many breweries to lift a pint to this historic coastal town.
Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa
In the shadow of the impressively long Astoria-Megler bridge (the longest continuous truss bridge in the United States), The Cannery stretches out on a pier along the Columbia River. Clad in brick-red metal siding and looking not too dissimilar from the old cannery it replaced, the hotel doesn’t earn points for curb appeal. But you’ll soon forget that once you walk in and see the comfortable lounge, with its cozy couches, fireplace, and two-story floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the deck and busy river below. Low-tech rooms feature decor firmly planted in the late 1990s, but they’re plush in their own way. You’ve come to Astoria to watch the river, and there’s no better place to do it than here. Add in really comfy beds, fluffy towels and robes, and a gas fireplace, and you’ve got the coziest perch in town.
Columbia River Maritime Museum
With a roofline that resembles the crests of incoming waves, the modern glass and wood-shingled Columbia River Maritime Museum doesn’t waste any opportunity to educate the public on the biggest natural feature that defines Astoria. Not giant but certainly eye-catching, it’s one of the best-known museums in the state. The museum explores all aspects of Astoria’s commercial, geographical, and military connection to the river and the coast. Using actual ships, artifacts, and documentary films, the museum has constructed an array of dramatic exhibits.
Commodore Hotel Astoria
These days, Astoria’s long history as a rough-around-the-edges port town has gotten a bit of hipster sheen, and The Commodore Hotel serves as a prime example. The historic brick building in the middle of downtown stands adjacent to the city’s coolest third-wave coffee shop, with a minimalist awning welcoming guests into the gently nautically themed, thrift-store-meets-artist-loft styled lobby. The rooms are quite small and bare bones in a clean, minimalist way. But even the Deluxe Riverview Suite, the most expensive category, with a queen bed, small sofa, and en suite bathroom, isn’t roomy. If you came to Astoria to experience the city and want a slightly quirky, vintage-inflected, non-cheesy room at an affordable price, The Commodore is your spot. It’s within a short walk of everything you want to see, do, eat, and drink.
Buoy Beer Co.
Like so many brewpubs, Buoy in Astoria capitalizes its dude-friendly industrial vibe. Though it sits right on a pier on the river, close to the heart of downtown, the exterior has all the charm of a giant corrugated metal warehouse. Inside it’s all thick wood, exposed beams, and metal ductwork. The three things that set this place apart, however, will make you a die-hard fan: the glass window in the floor, where you can watch the massive sea lions flop around on wood platforms under the pier; the incredible river views; and the truly fantastic beer. Buoy’s taps seem to always offer something new, with a selection that ranges from light Czech-style pilsners to Belgian strong ales and sours. In between, you’ll find a core of greatest hits always on tap, including the very balanced IPA—a fan favorite all over the Northwest.
Albatross & Co.
In a town rich with bars, brewpubs, and vaguely ’90s-era seafood bistros, the Albatross is like a breath of Portland-fresh air. That is to say, the décor and menu lean hipster, as do the diners. Neither hush-hush serious like a fine dining spot, nor loud and boisterous like a bar, this Astoria restaurant straddles the line between neighborhood tavern and destination must-eat. You can stop by for oysters and a drink, fuel up with a burger and a beer, or make it a big night out with a fancyish dinner of braised rabbit or dry-aged steak with chanterelles. Albatross gives you a true taste of the Northwest, both from the atmosphere and the menu.
Generally, a column on a hill isn’t that compelling, but the Astoria Column is different. First of all, it’s free. Second, you can go inside and climb the 125-foot spiral staircase all the way to the top, where the views will take your breath away. Look down across the city of Astoria to the Columbia River. Look due West and soak in the seemingly never-ending horizon of the Pacific Ocean. Then walk to the other side of the platform and gaze across the Youngs River delta and the evergreen forests blanketing the surrounding hills. It’s impossible to decide which view is prettier. But before you climb the stairs, be sure to buy a balsa wood plane from the gift shop. Launch it from the top and watch it spin and dip and rise as it glides its way down, as if it has a life of its own.