Upon moving to Portland, I soon learned that the Pacific Ocean in Oregon is not “the beach” but rather, “the coast”. Herein lies the difference. The “beach” evokes thoughts of sunshine and swimming in the water. The “coast” provides natural wonders like tide pools and hiking trails that overlook the ocean. It also provides water so cold it requires a wetsuit for prolonged exposure in any season.
At first, I was disappointed by the coast. Being an hour from the beach was a big selling point for me moving to Portland. I’m a girl who loves to make a day of laying in warm sand in a swimsuit, alternating paddle boarding and reading a good book. I was surprised the first time we went to the coast in the heat of summer to find the air cool and the water cold.
Over the last few years I’ve reset my expectations and learned to love the coast. I still largely thought of it as somewhere to go in the summer but a Veteran’s Day trip changed all of that.
Autumn at the coast is beautiful. The moody coloring of the Pacific Ocean served as a backdrop for a weekend cooking with friends and playing board games. Simple pleasures that my self-induced hustle and bustle hadn’t allowed in a long time.
How to enjoy Autumn at the Oregon Coast:
Trade in your flip flops for rain boots- The kids let the tide chase them & it felt good to put my feet in the water even though I didn’t want to get wet.
Bring a good raincoat, hat and gloves- It seems to mist even when it’s not raining. Being warm and dry made it so much more enjoyable.
Grab a cup of hot cocoa or coffee – For me there is nothing better than a hot drink to warm me from the inside while taking in the vastness of the ocean. We were in Oceanside which is a pretty sleepy town but managed to find a hot cup at the Blue Agate Cafe just above the entry to the beach.
Take a walk down the beach & stop to play – The Fall brings a different kind of beach play. The kids used washed up sticks and seaweed to build a structure on the beach. No sand toys required. We even broke open a few rocks to find Agates.
Reflect-there is nothing like the ocean to remind me that life ebbs and flows. This served as a wonderful message right before the busy holiday season.
The weather seems to break even on rainy days. If the rain stops, stop what you are doing and run to the beach!
Labor Day weekend, we decided to try a family backpacking trip. There are many who can’t wait to share their backpacking skills with their children. My knowledge consisted of reading Wild a few years ago and perusing REI eblasts.
Earlier in the summer, a 19-year old relative who was living with us decided he was going to attempt the Timberline Trail alone. Since it seemed like a terrible idea to let someone in my charge do this alone, my husband went with him and was hooked. Mix that with my son’s desire to go camping and my desire to attend the Timberline Labor Day Music Festival and our plan was set in motion.
We cobbled together what we had for packs and supplies and borrowed the rest from friends. Having never even car camped (which I have learned is not sleeping in your car) we were really starting from scratch for anything beyond our day hiking supplies. Here is what we took for one night on the trail.
Tent– Mountain Hardware Shifter 4. We borrowed it this time but I’ve already scouted them out at the Columbia Employee Store and intend to get one the next time I’m lucky enough to score a pass. Set up took minutes and the footprint and rain fly are included. It weighs about 8 lbs. which was manageable to carry while being roomy enough for all of us.
Sleeping pads– We had one which I had scored at the REI Garage Sale. It was pretty bulky but definitely the most comfortable. I bought simple foam pads for my kids as they were a low cost, low weight option. At 1/2 lb. each they were fantastic. We invested in a light weight, higher quality pad for my husband who seems to be sold on the backpacking life.
Sleeping bags– The night we went was only getting down to the high 50s so we were able to get by with the one warm bag we have, the kid’s sleepover bags and a legit backpacking one borrowed from a friend.
Trail snacks– We brought a few bars and dried bananas as well as nuts. Our trek in was under 4 miles but I was really skeptical about how the trail food was going to taste and wanted backup.
Food– Beyond snacks we needed dinner once we made camp and breakfast to get us back in the morning. We found freeze dried food at both Freddie’s and REI. REI has a much larger selection but Freddie’s definitely had the basics. Most of the options contained meat but there were a few pescatarian and vegetarian options. Here is what we tried:
Alpine Air smoothies– My kid’s really wanted these at REI and being novices we wanted to try all manner of trail food so we grabbed a couple. We used water bottles and shook it vs. the the recommended slow stirring. The flavor was good but they ended up a bit thinner than expected and lumpy.
Backpacker’s Pantry Creme Brûlée– My husband and I are pretty big Creme Brûlée fans and it just seemed fun to have a fancy dessert in the woods. It was more like pudding with burnt sugar topping but delicious nonetheless.
Oatmeal- For breakfast we brought oatmeal in those little cups like I kept in my dorm room. It worked perfectly and we were able to pack out our light weight paper cartons instead of washing out dishes in the morning.
Coffee- I can’t face morning without a hot cup of coffee. We brought the Stanley coffee press and some Stumptown. If you are willing to rough it some Via from Starbucks would be a smaller/lighter solution for backpacking but this was my first time out and I wasn’t ready to be that rugged.
Water– We each brought 2 larger water bottles and our Steripen so we could refill from the river before heading back. The Steripen has been in our day hiking bag for a few years in case of emergency. It worked great but I would buy a filter to remove fine particulates if we find ourselves drinking backcountry water very often.
Camp Stove Set– This was the latest addition to our camping/emergency preparedness purchases. The MSR stove kit was light and packed up small.
Backpacks– We cobbled together a larger backpacking pack I bought some years ago, one I scored from REI Garage recently when it looked like a family trip was inevitable, our day hiking pack for my daughter and an old school bag for my son. Any backpack can become a hiking backpack with some mini bungee cords.
Clothes– Everyone but my husband packed sleepover style. Bathing suits for the river, pjs and a change of clothes to hike out in. We could probably pack the same amount of clothes for a 3 day trip and be fine but can you ever be too safe when peeing in the woods? We skipped the water shoes because we were not going to be fording any rivers this trip but going any further they would’ve been necessary.
Paper– We packed bio-degradable toilet paper and some much needed small sheets of paper towel.
Food bag & rope– My research showed that although bears are not a huge concern on Mt. Hood it’s important to hang your food away from your tent to avoid rodents and squirrels bunking with you.
Zip-lock bags– I packed a handful of things like playing cards and toothbrushes in ziplock bags to keep them clean. By the end of the trip we had repurposed a few for messy bits that needed to be packed out.
Poop shovel– Thank goodness we never had to use this but I was able to pick up a lightweight plastic one at Freddie’s for about $5.
Things I wish we would’ve brought: Trekking poles
Things we didn’t need: Swim suits
Weight we could shed: If we became more avid backpackers I would upgrade our sleeping bags to more compact, lighter ones like the one we borrowed. I would also reduce the size and weight of my sleeping pad.
The beautiful thing about moving across the country is that we can drive to numerous places we have never seen. My family and I are still trying to find our perfect coastal spot in the PNW but the search is proving to be a lot of fun.
For Labor Day we decided to try the Long Beach Peninsula, again. We drove up there about a year ago and stayed at a quaint little inn in Ilwaco but since that trip, I read about other spots that made me want to give this beautiful beach another try.
This beach is famous for kite flying. We got our kite going and anchored it in the sand where it flew itself for the next 2 hours. When it comes to dining there are plenty of choices but most are mediocre quality and overpriced. I learned my lesson after the first trip and made reservations at some of the places with better reviews.
Here are my favorites from both trips:
Buoy Beer Company (Astoria) – A perfect place to stop for lunch on your way to the Long Beach Peninsula. There is almost always a wait but you can wait with a delicious beer and my kids love the glass floor where sea lions laze the day away. The views of the Columbia River and surrounding landscape are breathtaking.
Adrift Hotel– I saw the Adrift from the beach on our first trip to the Peninsula. I knew that is where I wanted to stay if we returned. It did not disappoint. The perfect blend of laid back beach fun and urban chic. We took the complimentary bikes for a couple of rides along the the beachfront trail. The second floor common area provided some lively games of fusball and shuffleboard. You can pick up some local wine or beer and a DVD in the lobby too.
Horseback Riding– We rode horses down the beach with Back Country. This was a highlight for my daughter who loves all animals. This place is a bit odd and you might end up with a donkey, like a few people in our group, but at $30 per person for a 1-hour ride it was well worth it.
Cranberry Museum– I am perennially sucked in by a good roadside attraction. When I read about the Pacific Coast Cranberry Museum I had to check it out. This is a demonstration farm and museum. It’s free but if you ask my husband he’ll tell you it costs $15. I had read about Starvation Alley juice in Sunset and had to try it. Turns out the bottle from the Cranberry Museum gift shop costs $15. I discovered they also sell it in the lobby of the Adrift for $10.
The Depot– We went for happy hour which we discovered is only honored in the off season. Regardless, we stayed for a drink and some food. I’m glad we did. Everything we ordered was delicious. I especially liked the chowder which was fresh and light. Make a reservation as this place is small.
Pickled Fish– This restaurant on the 4th floor of the Adrift has a spectacular view of the ocean. The food and drinks are well thought out and I liked everything from the pizza to seafood dishes. We made late reservations so we could check out the bands which start at 8:00 or 9:00 depending on the day of the week.
Shelbourne Inn Restaurant– This pub in a quiet little inn has good food. We stopped in for lunch. The service was slow but friendly.
Cape Disappointment– Great hiking trails to a secret beach, lighthouses and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. We hiked then headed back across the parking lot to the interpretive center which has exhibits about the expedition west as well as the evolution of the Coast Guard in the area.
Discovery Trail– We rode bikes along this beautiful wooden path that runs beside the beach. If you go South from downtown you can ride all the way up to Cape Disappointment.
Cottage Bakery– This is an unfussy, old fashioned bakery. There are plenty of donuts and classic pies to choose from. Although it’s right along the main drag this place feels like it’s there for the community and not a tourist trap.
Kite Shops– There are some interesting kite shops to check out along Pacific Ave but I found them largely overpriced. Who could blame them? You don’t want to be caught at this beach without a kite. The second time we went I got this kite ahead of time from Amazon and it was a hit.
Make reservations for dining
Buy your kite before you go
Call ahead as we found several websites for area businesses to have inaccurate or out of date hours and information.
We had lived in Portland for just over a year when we took our first road trip to Seattle. When leaving Chicago, my kids were very concerned about the lack of an American Girl Place and adjacent Lego Store in Portland. I promised we were only a few hours away from Seattle and they had both. This promise, which I was reminded of often, mixed with my need for a big city speed and directness fix finally made us plan the trip.
As we loaded the car, my 19 year old self was in heaven thinking of the all the bands and concert venues I had read about in Rolling Stone during my college years. I could almost smell the weed and Doc Martians while the Singles soundtrack played in my head. Fast forward a couple of decades, a husband and 2 kids and this was my new playlist…
The Gum Wall– The famous gum wall had just been steamed down a week earlier and I had every intention of adding to a new generation of candy graffiti. Once we located the wall in Post Alley we found a Target nearby and bought our gum. I chose Hubba Bubba and my husband grabbed Big League Chew. Back at the gum wall his choice emerged the clear winner. Big League Chew is the best for gum art on brick walls. It’s stretchier and stickier. We took a few pics, then my daughter stood in the glow of the Alabi Room sign and asked for some hand sanitizer.
Pike Place Market– Pike Place did not disappoint. Touristy? Hell yeah but the fish mongers are a must see and they have fun with the crowd. They even have a little fish on a stick that they move when people get up close. The bathrooms were surprisingly clean if you need one while in that area.
On the way back from the bathroom we spotted a barber on one of the many underground layers of Pike Place. My son desperately needed a haircut so we went in. He got a great haircut and I learned that old barbershops don’t have InStyle and People, they have Playboy and Penthouse.
The Original Starbucks– We walked by the Original Starbucks and the line to get a drink there. It was cool to see but being Portlanders now we had already gotten coffee at a micro-roaster.
The Waterfall Garden Park– The waterfall garden was between the above mentioned micro-roaster and our hotel and is a beautiful place to enjoy a morning or afternoon or evening cup of coffee.
Ivar’s Seafood– Ivar’s was put on the must-eat list by my friend who is a Seattle native. It was kitchy and serves some delicious chowder. We just hit the walk up counter on Pier 54 for a quick lunch.
The Curiousity Shoppe– Right by Ivar’s was an old fashioned curiosity shoppe with plenty of souvenirs and some old world creepy stuff.
Amazon Store– Up in the University District is the only Amazon storefront in the country. All of the books are whatever price they are on Amazon that day. It was like a dream come true to a girl like me who wants Amazon prices but loves an actual bookstore. If you want some coffee with that book the Amazon store is only steps from this Starbucks which features Reserve brews, beer and wine.
Voula’s– While in the University District we were hungry so I shot a text to a University of Washington alum who pointed us to this classic greasy spoon that did not disappoint.
We also walked around by the Space Needle, Chihuly Gardens, etc. but we were soaked and ready for dry clothes and a hot meal by that point. As promised, the trip included a stop at the American Girl Place and Lego Store. They are much smaller than Chicago and not even in Seattle but rather in the North Suburbs. My kids didn’t care. It had been worth the wait.
I was never one to wander the flat paths of the Midwest where my allergies ran roughshod. That said, I am a top 10 list adventurer and Multnomah Falls almost always makes the list in Portland. What started as a trip to a tourist attraction taught me that Portland offers more than a path through the woods and I was hooked.
Here is my list of favorite (mostly family friendly) hikes so far.
This place is a tourist trap for sure. If you are glass half-full that means there’s coffee and a nice bathroom. The people who come to see the falls vs. hike them drop off quickly and you are left with a less crowded path the higher you go. We took a picnic and played in the water at the top mid-summer. It was glorious.
This is a lazy Sunday hike because it’s mid-gorge (exit 40) so there is a little more drive time than the Western Gorge hikes. You can see some beautiful scenery from the car though and the hike offers amazing views in less than a 2 mile jaunt.
Although there are several shorter hikes in Forrest Park my favorite is Lower Macleay trail to the Pittock Mansion. It’s 5 miles round trip but even my kids can tackle this one. Best of all, when you are finished you’re already in Portland and minutes from a delicious brunch.
Runner up: Mt. Tabor– You can take a fully paved path or mix in some trails. I like to run these urban paths for beautiful views of the west hills.
This is a great one for tired kids or less physically fit guests who want to do a waterfall hike. The first mini-waterfall is close to the start of the hike and wets their whistle to keep them going to the larger payoff less than a mile further.
This is a 5 mile hike close to the city that gives you over 1,000 ft. of elevation gain and amazing views of the Gorge from the top. There is a large rocky area where many people stop to have a snack and visit with the chipmunks. The summit is breathtaking.
Put on your ugly water shoes because this one is a hike in water, over logs submerged in water, to a larger bit of water where you can amble up some rocks and dive in to the cheers of onlookers. It’s cold and can get pretty deep for kids in parts but it’s well worth it. Note: there is no bathroom or porta-potty at the trailhead.