Recently my wife and I took an amazing trip to Portland Oregon and Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast. It was such a fun journey I wanted to share some of our experiences and great places we visited while there! Our main reason for the trip was a good friend’s wedding however I had been looking for an excuse to get back to Portland for years. I first started vacationing in Oregon with my family when I was about 7 years old and over the years we either drove (road trip!) or flew out several times. Our final trip was when I was 15 and my parents, grandparents and I all drove out and met up with my Aunt, Uncle and two cousins in a house we rented just a couple blocks from the sand in Cannon Beach. Needless to say I have been in love with Oregon/Washington ever since those trips and couldn’t wait to bring my wife Beth up there for her first time! I have a ton of great memories from those family excursions but a few of my favorites are when I saw guys surfing for the first time ever, experiencing amazing tide pools pulsing with sea life and mountain biking in the beautiful wooded hills just off the coast, among countless others. These trips are what made me fall madly in love with the West coast and majority of the reason I moved to California and became a surfer myself.
DAY 1 December 31st 2014
I decided the easiest way to write about this trip would be to take it day by day. Day 1 was New Year’s Eve 2014 and we landed in Portland around 6 that night. Our first hotel was the Crowne Plaza which is right near the Portland Convention Center. Since we’d only be staying in that hotel for one quick night we didn’t feel like we needed anything special and I was able to find a pretty reasonable rate (around $170) for the room which really isn’t too bad for the city on New Year’s Eve. The hotel was nice and we had a good experience overall there. Staff was very helpful, breakfast was good and I’d recommend staying there if you need a place near the Convention Center.
Once we unpacked our stuff my buddy Jarret came by to pick us up to head downtown as we had tickets to see The Motet, a killer funk band at The Crystal Ballroom which is one of Portland’s oldest and coolest venues. Per their website the Ballroom is currently celebrating their 100 year anniversary! Also it’s the only building I’ve ever been in that has a “floating dance floor”, and it may be the last one left in the US. I couldn’t find exactly what causes the dance floor to move however a friend mentioned he believes there are ball bearings under the floor. The website for the Crystal Ballroom states its “mechanical” dance floor has been fully restored to its original condition and is like “dancing on clouds.” I’m not sure I’d go that far but it was an extremely interesting feeling dancing on a wooden floor that moved underneath you. It almost felt like a wooden trampoline if that makes any sense.
When we arrived at the Ballroom there was a huge line around the block and even though we had tickets decided to wait out the line in the bar below the Crystal called Ringlers Pub, which we ended up really liking a lot. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like an oversized maritime style dive bar. There were pool tables, shuffleboard and plenty of seating which we all appreciated as it was about 10 degrees outside that night. We hung out and had a couple good local brews in the bar and headed up to catch some of the Motet as they had already started. By the time we got in the place was jam packed and as with any large NYE party it seemed like getting a drink was going to be impossible. We were able to hear one full song before the band went on a break and they definitely sounded great! We stayed for a while walking around checking out the ballroom and around quarter to midnight my wife (who is pregnant) and I decided to head back downstairs and ring in the New Year at Ringlers together where it wasn’t so crazy. The Ballroom was beautiful though and you could feel the 100 year history as you walked around it, plus the people watching was second to none! After we celebrated the New Year with a glass of good scotch for me and an NA beer for Beth we headed back to our hotel to get a good night’s sleep as we wanted to be on the road to Cannon Beach fairly early.
Day 2 January 1st 2015
Early ended up being about 9 which we were fine with as we weren’t in a rush but definitely didn’t want to waste any time heading to the coast. I was so unbelievably excited on the drive out to see this beautiful little community of Cannon Beach that I have so many great memories of! The drive out is gorgeous and prepare to go around 55 the whole time as once you get a ways out the city it’s 2 lanes with very little passing room the whole way. No worries though, just cruise it and enjoy the beautiful scenery. One of the things we noticed right away (especially having come from San Diego) was all the fresh water and rivers everywhere. Living in San Diego where there is nearly no fresh water or rivers and then coming to this area that is so intensely saturated most of the year was almost shocking to our systems. It was really nice driving through an area that isn’t suffering from extreme drought and seeing landscapes more like what Beth and I grew up with in the Midwest. Also there is a really cool tunnel you’ll go through!
Cannon Beach is located nearly straight East of Portland and takes about an hour and a half to drive to from Portland on Highway 26. According to Wikipedia, William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame was the 2nd European known to have visited the area that became known as Cannon Beach in early 1806. Clark later explored much of this region himself and near an area that eventually became Ecola State Park he saw, “…the grandest and most pleasing prospects which my eyes have every surveyed, in front of a boundless ocean…” That viewpoint where Clark stood was later named “Clarks Point of View” and can be accessed by a hiking trail from Indian Beach which is in Ecola State Park and I’ll talk about a little later. The actual town of Cannon Beach is named after… well, a cannon (makes sense) that washed up from a sunken US Navy ship in 1846 just a few miles South of what is now known as Cannon Beach. Another interesting fact is that during William Clark’s first journey to the area he traded/bartered with local Native Americans and one of his companions was Sacagawea.
We arrived in Cannon Beach around 11 and hit a small local grocery store to grab some supplies for a hike and beach picnic we were planning on. Luckily for us the one day we had picked to spend on the coast ended up being absolutely perfect weather wise! Literally 50 and sunny! For January 1st that is as good as it gets in this area. As we were driving into Cannon Beach I didn’t recognize much on the outskirts however as we got into the main area of town everything came rushing back and I recognized all kinds of stuff. Not much had appeared to change since I was last there in the summer of 1995! It’s still the quintessential little Oregon beach town with no buildings above 2 stories or so and amazing views of Haystack rock from just about everywhere you look.
Our first excursion was to head South down the 101 a few miles from Cannon Beach to Oswald West State Park which is one of the most beautiful coastal parks I’ve ever been to. You can park in a handy lot right at the trailhead that takes you down to a perfect half-moon shaped stretch of coastline named Short Sand Beach and referred to by locals as “Shorty’s”. This area is very popular with surfers, hikers and just about anyone who wants to experience a beautiful area as the hike is only about ½ mile max to the beach and very mellow with an easy trail. There are also many other hiking trails that run through this area and branch off the main trail. Do some exploring you’ll never know what you might find! I originally had remembered a rickety single lane walking bridge from being here when I was a kid but we were disappointed to find what we thought was a newer wood bridge in the same spot. Come to find out we just had to take a different trail that ended at the far South end of Shorty’s as the same exact bridge was over the river on this trail. Needless to say I was super stoked to find it and walk across feeling like a kid again!
Short Sand Beach is such a beautiful spot with towering cliffs at either end of it and a picture perfect waterfall at the far North end of the beach. There were a lot of people being that it was the first day of 2015 and nearly everyone had the day off work, however it never even came close to feeling crowded and there were plenty of areas to find your own space. Being from an area of California that doesn’t allow fires directly on the sand we were pretty excited to see people simply gathering up some driftwood (of which there was plenty) and starting up a fire anywhere they wanted to right on the beach. I must admit I was pretty jealous of the guys getting fun little waist high waves who then got to come in and warm up around a driftwood fire in that beautiful setting. After we ate our lunch on the beach and explored around we hiked some more trails (finding the old bridge) and a few times just stopped to soak in the musty green smell of the forest mixed with the pungent (yet delicious) smell of wood smoke that was floating through the trees. If I could bottle that smell I’d take it with me everywhere I go, although I’d probably get some weird looks. One last note on Oswald West State Park I wanted to make was just how friendly everyone was on the trail. I met and talked with several surfers who were more than happy to discuss water temp, waves, etc. with me. Depending on where you surf you probably deal with a lot of “localism” as we do here in San Diego. I didn’t get a “locals only” vibe from this area at all which is cool. I’m sure the fact it’s a highly visited State Park helps but it was nice to feel welcome to a surf spot as opposed to getting the evil eye. Although I wasn’t surfing and didn’t have a board (unfortunately) so maybe that had something to do with it.
Once we were done thoroughly enjoying Oswald West State Park we made our way back up to the car and headed back towards Cannon Beach to check into our hotel, The Surfsand Resort. It’s a great spot that has a building right on the sand and another we stayed in just off the sand. Our room came with a breathtaking view of Haystock Rock and was only about 40 steps to the beach. Overall I would say we were very happy with our stay at the Surfsand as the room was really nice and modern yet didn’t feel sanitary and the staff was very friendly when we checked in. After we got settled into our room we headed out to walk along Cannon Beach and luckily for us the tide was extremely low and we got to do some amazing tide pooling. Beth had yet to experience really active tide pools that are teaming with life as these are so she was nearly in shock at all there was to see! Beautiful Starfish in all kinds of colors and all sizes of bright neon green anemones as far as you could see. The rocks are also nearly covered every square inch in barnacles and mussels which is really fun to see but can be dangerous if you lose your footing as they are very sharp. According to Wikipedia Haystack Rock is a 235 foot “Sea Stack’” which is defined as a geological land formation consisting of a steep and often vertical column or columns of rock in the sea or near a coast, formed by erosion. Haystack Rock is said to be claimed locally as the 3rd tallest such “intertidal” (meaning it can be reached by land) structure in the world. However there are no official references to support this. Haystack Rock is also known as a “Monolith” which is a geological feature consisting of a single massive stone or rock. Another well-known Monolith is Ayers Rock in Australia. Walking up to and around Haystack Rock is an experience in itself. Just the sheer size and how it abruptly rises right up out of the ocean/sand out of nowhere is breathtaking. Including the people and all the activity in the tide pools as well as the gulls and other seabirds everywhere it was quite the busy yet still serene scene. We eventually grabbed a bottle of wine (for me the non-pregnant one) and settled down to watch the sunset on a log just in front of our hotel. It was cool to watch people setting up fire pits and bringing chairs down during this time. Beth and I are both huge campers and grew up with wood heating our homes so the smell brings back nothing but great childhood memories. As the sun set on such a perfect beginning to 2015 I couldn’t help but count my blessings to be in such a beautiful place with the woman I love and our future child.
After the sunset we went back to the room to change and clean up before dinner. We had heard about some good places and checked Yelp and some other sites for recommendations on good places to eat in Cannon Beach. A couple we had met in the airport mentioned the Ecola Seafood Company which we almost went to but ended up deciding on a restaurant called the Wayfarer instead. It was only about 30 yards from our hotel which was handy and also right on the sand. It was busy of course so we just took a seat at the bar which nearly always works out well. The bartender was great and helped us pick our courses all of which were delicious! The crab cake appetizer was exceptionally good and was made with only crab and shrimp mousse as opposed to bread crumbs which made them extra creamy and very tasty. I also had the pinot noir cedar plank salmon which was just as good as it sounds! After eating an amazing dinner and enjoying a couple glasses of 18 year old Oban Scotch (for me) we were more than ready for a good night’s sleep.
Day 3 January 2nd 2015
When we woke up the next day unfortunately the weather had remembered that we were in Oregon and it was January so the temp had dropped to probably around 40 for a high and the nearly ever present Oregon winter clouds were back. We weren’t going to let it ruin our good time though and after grabbing a surprisingly delicious pair of crepes at a local hole in the wall called Crepe Neptune we set out for our next hike at Ecola state Park and Indian Beach. Per the Oregon State Parks website; “Wrapping around Tillamook Head, between Seaside and Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park stretches along 9 miles of coastline and offers outstanding sightseeing and recreation opportunities combined with a storied past”. That is quite the description but it still doesn’t come close to living up to the unrivaled beauty this park holds. The road into Ecola State Park leaves from the far North end of Cannon Beach and it’s only a few miles drive through a beautifully thick Sitka Spruce forest dripping with Spanish Moss to Indian Beach.
Indian Beach is a secluded sandy beach that is said to be popular with surfers and beachgoers alike. The views are striking as the small (about 200 yards long) beach is capped on either end by beautiful sheer cliffs and intertidal outcroppings. There are also some great hiking trails that leave from this area that we explored a bit but we were mostly there for the beach. There were several people surfing, all long boarders it appeared and the waves looked fun if nothing special. Probably waist high and a little sectiony but not crowded. The coolest thing we saw while there was a surfing seal! We literally watched this little guy (or girl) surf a perfect little peeling right hand wave in, turn around and look for the next set wave, then swim back out as fast as possible to catch the next wave. We saw him surf at least 4 waves just like this and you could tell he was having the time of his life! And getting much better rides than anyone else was that day. You know what they say, respect the locals.
After leaving Indian Beach we headed back towards the entrance to the park to a spot called Ecola point where you get breathtaking views of the Oregon coast, Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock along with Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. There was some information here about how a wealthy family had owned all this land and donated it to the state of Oregon so it could be used and enjoyed by all people indefinitely which is pretty amazing if you think about it. We had a good laugh considering how unhappy with his/her relatives someone must be if they gave all that amazing land away! We’re all glad they did though. After exploring this area it was time to leave the beauty of the coast and head back towards Portland to get prepared for our friend’s wedding.
We got back into Portland late that afternoon and checked into our hotel for the next couple nights the Hotel Lucia, which is right in downtown Portland. Overall we were very pleased with our stay at this hotel. Staff was friendly and attentive, rooms were nice if somewhat small and there was an excellent restaurant right next door we ate at a few times called Imperial. I’d highly recommend stopping in here for a drink and some of their small plates or brunch, both of which were delicious! Also this restaurant does all the room service for the hotel which we didn’t utilize but may on another trip. A little personal note on this place, try the crispy pigs tail.
Later that night we made our way to the rehearsal dinner which was a small affair just for family and friends from out of town at a funky little restaurant called the Brooklyn House. It’s a really cool little place that has the Portland feel built right into it and is basically just a little main dining room area set up in a small house. If you didn’t know it from the outside it would be hard to tell this place was a restaurant. Before I get to the food there though we had arrived a little early so we walked a block for a beer (NA for Beth of course) to a picture perfect dive bar called The Lamp. Dimly lit with strings of old Christmas lights and smelling of nachos and craft beer it was definitely our kind of place. I’d highly recommend stopping in for one (or 3) if you’re in the area. It’s also right next door to a live music venue that I’m sure brings in the crowds when there is good entertainment so close. After getting settled in at Brooklyn House and catching up with some of our friends it was time to dive into their delicious food. Beth had the pork Goulash which was easily the best I’d ever had and I got the turkey dinner which is just as it sounds, roasted turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, etc. Take the best homemade turkey dinner you’ve had and you’ll have a good idea of this one. Wow was the food tasty! After eating all this food (especially the turkey) we were close to calling it a night but we hadn’t seen our good friends Bobby and Lindsay in a while and they had heard about a cool place called The Rum Club so we all decided to go check it out. Very glad we did because it was a really interesting, quirky and fun place! Their specialty is rum based drinks in case the title didn’t tip you off so we all ordered some fun fruit/rum drinks (not the pregnant lady though) and caught up while enjoying some really great cocktails. I am not a big fruity drink kind of guy and most of my experience with rum was in Nicaragua and Antigua and usually left me with a massive headache the next day! Although the Nicaraguan 18 year old Flor De Cana rum I had was in a class by itself, right up there with a great scotch or whiskey. It was definitely an excellent ending to really fun day in true Portland style.
Day 4 January 3rd 2015
Today our plan was to get up and grab brunch early (at Imperial, yum!) with our friends Bobby and Lindsay and head out to Multnomah Falls before we had to get ready for the wedding. Multnomah falls is about a 30 minute drive from Portland and is a 611 foot tall waterfall that drops a massive 542 feet before smashing into a medium sized pool and then dropping another 69 feet! This place feels like something out of a magical storybook you read when you were 10. The old stone bridge that stands in stark contrast directly in front of the falls as you walk up is simply amazing to behold. It was pretty cold this day and that was causing the spray coming off the waterfall to freeze all over everything it touched which made getting across the bridge fairly difficult especially with my pregnant wife in tow. We didn’t go up the trail much past the bridge as it was just crazy icy and dangerous although if you made it past the ice I heard the trail got much easier. I had hiked this trail to the top once about 7 years ago on a snowboarding trip to the area and it’s well worth making the walk as you get a beautiful yet dizzying view nearly right down the falls from the very top. After we left Multnomah Falls we walked about ¼ mile up the road and hiked up another trail to a different, smaller but still amazing waterfall known as Wahkeena Falls. Definitely worth the 5-10 minute walk!
After we had filled our souls up to the brim with the beauty of this area it was time to hop in the car, head back to Portland and start preparing for our buddies wedding. We got back early enough that it seemed like a good idea to grab a quick late lunch so we weren’t starving during the ceremony. After wandering around for a while and almost going back to Imperial next to our hotel we ended up stopping at a place called Red Star Tavern which turned out to be a solid choice as we split a delicious burger there.
The wedding was just outside of Portland at a place called the World Forestry Center which per their website was founded in 1964 and their “mission is to educate and inform people about the world’s forests and trees, and environmental stability”. Which is a pretty great thing to be involved in if you love trees and forests as much as we do. It was a beautiful place for the wedding and the building (Miller Hall) that the ceremony and reception were in was understated yet beautiful. It was a wonderful and intimate ceremony followed by delicious food and a great jazz band that made for some fun (and funny) dancing!
Once the wedding was over there was an after party at the Hotel Lucia we were all staying at but before heading back for that Beth and I had worked up some late night appetites with all our dancing and decided we’d take one last late night walk around Portland and see what we could find. Being the smarties we are we asked the front desk where some good late night eats were and right away got a recommendation for pizza at a place called Sizzle Pie. Sounded good to us and was only 4 blocks away! Basically I’ll say this about Sizzle Pie, go there. If you like pizza and you’re in Portland I am highly recommending this place. Deliciously thin crust, New York style slices (and pies) that were cheap and awesome! Plus they had a solid selection of local brews that helped wash down the pizza nicely. After eating our fill we walked back to the hotel and checked out the after party for a while. We actually figured it would be pretty mellow but it was a classic hotel room rager! As Beth is pregnant we weren’t partying too hard and hung out for half hour or so before heading back to our room. Our flight was the next morning and we wanted to get a good night sleep before re-entering the real world.
In finishing I would just like to encourage anyone and everyone to visit the beautiful area of our amazing country that is the Pacific North West. Whether you’ve never been there, visited a hundred times or are just planning your first trip it’s hard to go wrong visiting anywhere in Oregon or Washington for that matter. Both states are filled with jaw dropping jagged coastlines that seem to stretch forever, vibrantly green forests that have that intoxicating mix of musty and fresh green smells weaving through them and in my experience, very friendly people that welcome any and all with the right respectful attitude towards them and the natural beauty of the area. Cheers and travel on!
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