I'm happy to report that our little team of three successfully conquered the Pacific Northwest...at least as much of it as we possibly could in eight days. We spent half of our trip in the Portland area and then drove to Seattle for the second leg, essentially eating our way through the Pacific Northwest (oh, the food!). To do justice to both cities, I'm going to post about Portland first (mainly because I can't stop thinking about the doughnuts).
Our first day in Portland was rainy and cold, but after a summer in dry, hot Silicon Valley, it felt like Christmas (most likely because the mountains there are completely covered in Douglas firs, and because everyone was wearing plaid). We reconnected with old and dear friends, who hosted us in their home just south of Portland and also introduced us to their favorite spots in Newberg and Portland.
One of my goals was to have brunch at Tasty & Sons, but we ran the other direction at the words "three-hour wait." Por Que No? Taqueria was a top-notch runner-up: go for the horchata and agua fresca dispensed from massive jars; stay for the ceviche and burrito bowls. We also hit the Nob Hill area for coffee at Barista and ice cream at Salt & Straw (although we bailed again because the ice cream line was winding around the block. Look, I am the first to say that you can do a lot with your 18 month old, but sometimes you've gotta give him a break).
We also made a stop at Schoolhouse Electric, which sells reproduction vintage lighting in a gorgeous repurposed old building and scores extra points for sharing a space with Ristretto Coffee, so you can sip your mocha while browsing for rustic or midcentury-style light fixtures and general design inspiration, and warding off 100 types of envy.
The Portland food carts are practically a destination in themselves. They can be found all over town, but we tackled the main food cart hub located on 10th and Alder, downtown. After a long deliberation, we landed on Hawaiian BBQ for Jordan and Thai curry for me. Sam, the bottomless pit and aspiring foodie, ate most of both (stinker).
While we were downtown, we checked out the Ace Hotel, which is adjacent to a Stumptown Coffee and absolutely brilliant for people-watching (pro tip: check out their working vintage photo booth in the lobby), and spent a mere, heartbreaking 30 minutes in the mammoth and legendary Powell's Books:
...and grabbed enormous goat cheese/truffle oil/green onion pizza slices to go at Sizzle Pie. We carted our slices up to the reservoir on top of Mt. Tabor and lounged on the grassy hill while watching the sun set over the city and reflect off the Cascades.
By the way, Portland has this nifty aerial tramway, which mainly functions as commuter transit to a medical center on top of a hill, but anyone can ride it, for only $4.50 a pop (which I realized too late). So, if you go to Portland, you should totally ride the tramway.
Another day, we piled in the car with our friends and spent a day exploring the Columbia River Gorge, which marks the Oregon-Washington state line. We drove along the Historic Columbia River Highway, up to Vista House observatory, past Oneonta Gorge and ALL the waterfalls, stopping for a mini hike up to Bridal Veil Falls and for pictures at the epic and enchanting (but bustling), 620-foot-tall Multnomah Falls, which is like a scene from Rivendell, but with iPad-wielding travelers and really good soft-serve.
From Hood River we turned south and drove up into the Cascades to Timberline Lodge, halfway up Mount Hood. From there we could admire the rest of the glacial peak, jutting up another 6000 feet or so from where were standing.
Back in Portland, we spent a little time exploring Hawthorne, which is a street full of vintage eye candy, hole-in-the-wall-style gourmet eats, and doughnuts. We opted out of the iconic Voodoo Doughnuts in favor of Blue Star Donuts, which (I'm told) are less of a cult classic but much tastier. After trying the blueberry bourbon basil on a brioche doughnut, I honestly can't imagine that a better doughnut exists anywhere.
Across from Blue Star is an easy-to-miss, tiny hole-in-the-wall (quite literally) called The Waffle Window. It is, in fact, a magical window in a brick wall that you can walk up to and order waffles topped with anything your heart desires. Jordan took the savory route (bacon/brie/basil waffle with peach jam) and I went for sweet (pears/raspberries/whipped cream on a dark chocolate-dipped waffle). It was the best meal of our whole adventure. (Although the tamales we bought from a man in a suit standing next to a cooler on Hawthorne were also phenomenal. Probably not FDA-approved, but a good tamale is a good tamale.)
On our way to Seattle, we detoured to the Oregon coast for an afternoon at Cannon Beach, which was so idyllic and beautiful it left me breathless. The beach is wide and flat, with a shallow surf that comes a hundred feet up the beach. At low tide, you can walk right up to Haystack Rock and explore hundreds of tide pools full of anemones and mollusks of all kinds.
As for the smallest traveler, he was a champ, despite coming down with a cold halfway through our time in Oregon. We built in some time for him to roam free in grassy spots and hit a few playgrounds, which helped break up the time he was confined to the car seat or stroller. We stocked the rental car with snacks, lift-the-flap books (this one can keep a kid busy for days), and novel (a.k.a. borrowed for this trip) toys, too, but he actually didn't need a lot of bribing. The last time we took a major trip, he had considerable trouble getting comfortable in his surroundings and sleeping well, but this trip was different. I could see so many ways that our preparations for this huge adventure helped him to acclimate and be relaxed on the road. He knew what to expect, because we had talked about it for weeks beforehand, and I can see that it made a huge difference in his comfort level and engagement. And now that we're home, he gets a delighted look on his face when we talk about our travels (and squeals every time he gets to the Multnomah Falls page in his book Good Night, Oregon, scored from Powell's). I'd say we're all getting a little better at adventuring together.
Here's a list of our top Portland picks, in case you find yourself in the neighborhood:
Blue Star Donuts
Heart Coffee Roasters
Por Que No? Taqueria
Mount Tabor Park
Ken's Artisan Pizza
Salt & Straw Ice Cream
Newberg: Red Hills Market, Coffee Cottage, Pulp & Circumstance, Recipe
Cannon Beach: Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters