Top 5 scenic wonders of Oregon

The state of Oregon is full of natural wonder and beauty. Within a few hours drive you can travel from the Pacific coast, through vibrant valleys, over snow capped mountains and across high desert. It’s really tough choosing just five scenic wonders, but here goes!

Original Photo:  Paul Hamilton  /  CC BY-SA 2.0

Original Photo: Paul Hamilton / CC BY-SA 2.0

1. Swim, beach comb and shop at Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock

In 1967 Oregon’s legislature passed the Oregon Beach Bill, which enacted public ownership of the state’s beaches. An adventurous person could freely hike all 382 miles of the Oregon Coast Trail, which mostly follows the state’s beaches.

One of the best beach spots is along the northern coast at the town of Cannon Beach. With a population just shy of 1,700, Cannon Beach offers a variety of dining, shopping and lodging options to serve as a great homebase while you begin a beach combing adventure. Scour the sand for cool rocks smoothed by the churning waters of the Pacific, shells, and maybe even a sand dollar or two. If you visit during June check out the sand castle building contest.

Just offshore is Haystack Rock. A 235-foot tall rock jutting up out of the sand and water. During low tide, you can venture out and explore its tidal pools to see crabs, anemones and starfish. Just don’t get caught out there when the tide comes in. Movie buffs will recognize Haystack Rock from The Goonies, Point Break and Twilight.

Original Photo:  Szapucki  /  CC BY 2.0

Original Photo: Szapucki / CC BY 2.0

2. Feel the water’s spray at Multnomah Falls

From Portland jump on the Historic Columbia River Highway, journey east then enter the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, a federally recognized National Scenic Area. The Columbia River Gorge is home to many waterfalls, but none so impressive as Multnomah Falls. You may feel like you just arrived in Rivendell, but rest assured you’re still in Oregon. Between the upper and lower falls, the water cascades down 620 feet. If you want a closer look, a short but sometimes steep hike 100 feet over the lower falls will take you to the Benson Footbridge spanning 45 feet across. (Warning: Don’t look down if you have a fear of heights!) You’ll get a spectacular view of the upper falls and a perfect photo backdrop. Multnomah Falls can get very busy and traffic can be brutal — especially during the summer — so I recommend making this your first stop of the day.

Original Photo:  Epmatsw  /  CC BY-SA 3.0

Original Photo: Epmatsw / CC BY-SA 3.0

3. Take in the beauty at Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park is probably Oregon’s best known wonder — it’s even on one of our license plates! The lake’s name is somewhat deceptive as it isn’t really a crater, but rather a caldera, or a volcano that has collapsed in on itself, leaving a crater-like formation. Because there are no streams or rivers flowing into or out of the caldera, all of the water in the lake is from rain and snow. In fact, Crater Lake averages about 44 feet of snowfall every year! Additionally that means very little contamination makes it to the lake, so it contains some of the purest, clearest water in the world. Crater Lake is nearly 2,000 feet deep, making it the deepest lake in the United States and one of the deepest in the world.

Biking, boating, fishing, snowmobiling, hiking and wildlife viewing are just some of the activities to engage in. The chipmunks and squirrels that live along the caldera’s slopes are especially  comical to watch. Due to elevation, location in the Cascade Range, and remoteness it’s important to plan your trip well in advance. The National Park Service website can help you plan appropriately for weather, lodging and food.

Photo by Author

Photo by Author

4. Boat, relax and barbecue at The Coves Palisades State Park

Honestly, until a few months ago I had never heard of this place. While planning a vacation in Camp Sherman, Oregon I was looking at a map to see what was in the area for hiking and exploration. I saw The Coves Palisades State Park and read a few reviews on it. One reviewer declared that it was “the most beautiful place in the world.” That said, I knew we had to visit, and we weren’t disappointed.

Lake Billy Chinook is the the park’s focal point. The lake is a reservoir created by the Round Butte Dam and fed by the Crooked, Deschutes and Metolius rivers. It is named for a Native American who accompanied John C. Fremont on one of his Oregon expeditions. The lake lies at the bottom canyons carved by the three rivers with some of the canyon reaching heights of 700 feet. Camping, fishing, swimming, boating and hiking are just some of the activities that you can participate in. Campgrounds offer tent sites and RV hookups.

Be sure to also check out nearby Round Butte Overlook Park. It offers some amazing views of the area, including the Lake Billy Chinook and the Round Butte Dam. If you follow SW Mountain View Drive a few miles east from the Overlook, and turn north onto SW Round Butte Drive, you can follow a small road that leads to the top of the butte. The panoramic views are worth the short drive. Just remember, this isn’t part of the park, so be respectful of those who live there!

Original Photo:  Squidocto  /  CC BY-SA 3.0

Original Photo: Squidocto / CC BY-SA 3.0

5. Explore the John Day Fossil Beds and the Painted Hills

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is located in Oregon’s high desert. The monument is divided into three separate units: Sheep Rock Unit, Clarno Unit, and the Painted Hills Unit. The three units are all part of the park, but are separated by some distance, which requires some driving. Your first stop should be at the Sheep Rock Unit. Here you’ll find the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center which offers a great overview of the park and its history alongside displays. You might even see some of the researchers in the lab cleaning fossils. To clarify, the fossils found at John Day are not from dinosaurs. The area was actually under the ocean during the age of dinosaurs, so all the fossils here are from mammals and plants. You won’t be disappointed though! Instead of velociraptors, you’ll be introduced to amazing camel and rhinoceros-like animals that no longer roam the earth. With the knowledge of the surrounding area you’ve learned at the center, head for the hills!

The Painted Hills are beautiful and truly look like someone has reached out with a giant brush and painted the hillside with watercolors. Shades of black, red and yellow form a backdrop that varies throughout the day as lighting changes and throughout the year as shrubs and bushes grow and flower. There are five mini trails that get you up close and personal with the terrain. I recommend the Painted Cove Trail where the rocks and soil are particularly vibrant.

Finish your adventure at the rugged Clarno Unit with a hike and picnic. Despite how the area looks today, 44 million years ago it was a lush semitropical landscape until volcanic mudflows covered the area, creating the fossils that we see today.

What do you think? Comment below and tell me what you consider to be Oregon's top scenic wonders!

Posted on June 21, 2015 and filed under State of Wonder.

5 adventures for a weekend trip to Seattle, Washington

If Portland is where my heart is today, Seattle brings me back to the places of my childhood. There's something reminiscent of the East Coast along the Puget Sound, a little bubble of culture that feels just slightly more Atlantic than Pacific.

I love making the 3 hour drive — or even a quick Amtrak ride — up to Seattle for a short weekend get-away. It's just far enough to feel like a vacation and the city's energy is entirely unlike life in Portland. Things feel a little more established ... almost grown-up. But who says you need to "act your age"? Here are five adventures to bring out your inner kid as you explore the Emerald City.

Original Photo:  Mtaylor444  /  CC BY-SA 3.0

Original Photo: Mtaylor444 / CC BY-SA 3.0

1. Explore Pike Place Market & the Seattle Waterfront  

Pike Place Market is a great spot to start your day! Grab a coffee from the original Starbucks before popping into Cinnamon Works for an amazing pastry. I can't visit Seattle without having one of their vegan cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip cookies … or two.

Spend some time exploring the market itself where you'll find fresh local seafood, produce, specialty foods and flowers as well as crafts from local artisans. Be sure to get your picture taken with Rachel, the Market's 550 pound bronze piggy bank. Navigate your way down to the Market Level and delve into a world of tchotchkes and unique gifts. Once you're ready to move beyond the Market the Seattle Waterfront is home to many attractions. Whether you're looking for food and libations, gift shopping, a sightseeing cruise or want to learn about the local aquatic life at the Seattle Aquarium (one of the best I've ever been to), there's plenty of activity to fill your day with great memories.

Original Photo:  Santhosh Rajangam  /  CC BY 2.0

Original Photo: Santhosh Rajangam / CC BY 2.0

2. Train your gaze upward to take in the incredible architecture.

Seattle's skyline is easily distinguished by the Space Needle, but the city has a wide variety of other unique and fun architecture. The Seattle Central Library is in the heart of downtown, where Architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus created a modern work of art for the city. The exterior is fascinating on its own, but be sure to go inside too!

If you're near the Space Needle, you'll easily spot another architectural delight — the EMP Museum, home to a variety of pop culture collections from music to sci-fi. The building was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and epitomizes his unique style.

Want a magnificent view of the city? Try a lesser known Smith Tower. Built in 1914, it was tallest building on the West Coast until 1962 when the Space Needle eclipsed it. Take the elevator up to the 35th floor Chinese Room, named for a gift from the Chinese Empress — all the furniture and ceiling panels! If you're truly adventurous (and not afraid of heights), step outside to the narrow observation deck that surrounds the Chinese Room and take in spectacular views of Seattle.

Original Photo:  Frank Kovalchek  /  CC BY 2.0

Original Photo: Frank Kovalchek / CC BY 2.0

3. Test your seaworthiness with a ferry ride across Elliott Bay

Take in the sights and sounds of Puget Sound with a ferry trip to Bainbridge Island. The ferries operate on a regular schedule, offer ample indoor seating with windows, and if you want some fresh air you can go out on the deck! You may want to bring a coat, the wind can be chilly even on warm days. You'll get amazing views of the skyline, Mt. Rainier, and Bainbridge Island. If you're lucky, you might even see some whales! Once on Bainbridge Island, you can choose to turn around and sail right back to Seattle, or stay and explore the island a bit. The small downtown is a short stroll from the ferry terminal where you'll find plenty of dining and shopping.

Original Photo:    David Herrera    /    CC BY 2.0

Original Photo: David Herrera / CC BY 2.0

4. Tour Seattle's neighborhoods for historic homes, modern design and Scandinavian pride!

Seattle has a number of fun and exciting neighborhoods just waiting to be explored. If you're looking for more of the city's architectural history, a stroll through the Queen Anne neighborhood is sure to delight. The neighborhood is home to 29 city landmarks, twelve of which are homes.

If you're looking for a more funky vibe, great food, music and shopping checkout Capitol Hill. The neighborhood is just east of downtown and historically was home to many of the city's wealthiest residents. In the years following World War II, the neighborhood changed, losing much of its historic architecture in favor of modern design. A large gay and lesbian population has called Capitol Hill home since the 1960s and it continues to be a vibrant and multifaceted area today.

But maybe you want to explore your Scandinavian roots without the hassle of flying? Checkout Ballard. This neighborhood served as home to many of Seattle's Scandinavian migrants. The Nordic Heritage Museum provides a fascinating look at the history, culture and stories of these people as they settled in the area. And mark your calendar to visit on May 17 — help celebrate Ballard SeafoodFest and Norwegian Constitution Day!

Original Photo:  Cord Rodefeld  /  CC BY-SA 2.0 

Original Photo: Cord Rodefeld / CC BY-SA 2.0 

5. Jet over to the Boeing Museum of Flight

A personal favorite for my fellow aviation geeks. Not every city can claim to be home to an aviation icon like Boeing. For aviation and space enthusiasts, this is a must see! The Museum of Flight offers an in depth look at the history of Boeing from its origin in 1910 up through modern times with a glimpse at the possible future of air and space travel. Where the museum really shines is in the diversity of exhibits. Some of the permanent exhibits include the first Boeing 737 production aircraft; the first 747 built ushering in the age of the "jumbo jet;" and the first jet airliner to go into service, de Havilland D.H. 106 Comet Mk. 4C.

Some of the exhibits offer an even more up close look at aviation history. The museum's Concorde and first jet powered "Air Force One" are open to board. It's amazing to see how tiny and cramped the Concorde was — you were truly paying for speed and not comfort when flying.

And in case that's not enough, Boeing Field is an active airfield. On any given day you'll see a variety of aircraft — from everyday 737 commercial jets to one-of-a-kind NASA air testing models — but you'll also see planes painted in the colors of airlines from near and far (cheatlines for you aviation enthusiasts). An aircraft spotters dream!


Now it's your turn: Comment below and tell me your favorite things to do in Seattle!

Posted on June 19, 2015 and filed under City Adventures.

5 exciting ways to explore Portland, Oregon

Portland is one of my favorite cities. Like many that call Portland home, I grew up elsewhere, but can't think of anywhere I'd rather live. It's just big enough to feel like a major west coast city, and still small enough that random people on the street don't feel like strangers.

Visiting Portland is certainly a treat, and you can get to mountains, beach or wine country in less than an hour by car. And while not a traditional "tourist city," there are certainly plenty of things to see and do right in town. Best of all you can walk or take public transportation most anywhere. So explore some of Portland's best with my 5 recommendations below.

Original Photo:  Joe Mabel  /  CC BY-SA 3.0

Original Photo: Joe Mabel / CC BY-SA 3.0

1. Take a hike in Forest Park.

Whether you're into hiking or biking, you’ll enjoy time exploring Forest Park, one of the largest urban forests in the United States. With more than 70 miles of trails there is abundant potential for exploration. Bird lovers will appreciate that more than 100 species frequent the park. The Wildwood Trail is the longest in the park and has been designated as a National Recreation Trail and stretches for approximately 30 miles. Leif Erickson Drive is a dirt service road closed to motor vehicles, but great for hiking and biking.

Original Photo:  Another Believer  /  CC BY-SA 3.0

Original Photo: Another Believer / CC BY-SA 3.0

2. Use your nose to explore the International Rose Test Garden.

Portland's love affair with roses stretches back to the late 19th century. Located in Washington Park, the International Rose Test Garden was created in response to fears that unique European hybrid varieties might be destroyed during the First World War. Decades later there are over 500 varieties. Spend the morning admiring the roses, enjoy a picnic lunch and then check out one of the many other monuments, sites or adventures in surrounding Washington Park.

Original Photo:    LikeWhere    /    CC BY 2.0

Original Photo: LikeWhere / CC BY 2.0

3. Check out one of the city’s awesome neighborhoods.

There are 95 recognized neighborhoods in Portland. Looking for trendy and upscale? Check out the Pearl District. Music and good food? Mississippi/Williams is your destination. If you're looking for hipster fun and a vegan burritos, you'll want to head to the Alberta Arts District. If laid back and antiques are more your speed, Sellwood-Moreland is your destination.

Original Photo:  Allison Park  /  CC BY 2.0

Original Photo: Allison Park / CC BY 2.0

4. Eat and drink your way around town!

Oregon is home to more than 185 breweries, many in Portland. Whether you're looking for a traditional IPA or a fun, fruity seasonal beer, you’ll find what you're looking for! Want something a little harder? Checkout Portland's Distillery Row in Southeast Portland. Home to seven distilleries, many within walking distance of one another, you'll find more than 20 different liquors to choose from.

Once you've quenched your thirst, food options in Portland are equally varied. Whether you're looking for fine dining or something quick and dirty, you're sure to discover something tasty. Portland is home to an amazing food cart culture! You'll find food cart pods — groupings of food carts setup in the same area — all over the city. This is particularly great for families with diverse culinary needs. Mexican? Sure. Burgers? You got it. Vegan? Without a doubt. And all in one place. 

Finally, after a walk around town to digest everything, end your day with a donut! The city is home to some of the best and most creative donuts you can experience, from X-rated confections to more classic yet creative cakes.

Original Photo:  LWYang  /  CC BY 2.0

Original Photo: LWYang / CC BY 2.0

5. Explore Downtown Portland.

City Block Size

Pioneer Courthouse Square, and the Tom McCall Waterfront Park all make for a fun and easy walk. Plenty of people watching, architecture and unique statues including Portlandia (no, not the show). After the Statue of Liberty, it’s the largest copper statue in the United States!

As if it couldn't be better, Portland city blocks are actually one-third the size of those in Manhattan (see chart to right to verify: PDX city blocks love your feet)! So walking around downtown is both quick and easy.

Now it's your turn: Comment below and tell me your favorite things to do in Portland!

Posted on June 14, 2015 and filed under City Adventures.