Category Archives: Oregon

Oregon: Portland and Environs

August 24, 2013 (Saturday, cont’d) – An hour or so after leaving the Red Hills Market, we parked in Portland’s Pearl District and made a quick stop at REI to grab a head lamp (we forgot one at home, and they make camping so much better) and some bear spray for our upcoming time in Glacier National Park and surrounding areas.  Fun fact: in Oregon, the speed limit signs omit the word “limit.”

The Pearl District is Portland’s most upscale, nearby downtown and loaded with fine dining, bars and shopping.  We walked South and then East to the riverside park for a bit before circling back to the full block of food trucks between 9th and 10th Avenues and Washington and Alder Streets.  Portland is famous for food trucks, many organized in pods and seeming a bit more permanent than those in LA which truly move around constantly.  There is another cluster we saw at 3rd and Washington and across the river on the Eastside they are everywhere, often found in little parking lots and at times accompanied by live music.  Though it was tough, we passed up the panoply of options covering lots of Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern, Fijian, waffles, BBQ, Mexican, Georgian (the country), etc.  Instead, I ordered a sandwich at Lardo and brought it to Jenni’s table around the corner at Grassa (same owner).  My pork belly with heirloom tomato, arugula and caper mayo on ciabatta was delicious and very reasonable at $8, and Jenni loved her rigatoni with braised pork and an iced tea for $10.

We grabbed our laptops from the car and fit in a little session at Starbucks on 11th and Lovejoy before driving up to Nob Hill and walking around 23rd Street.  This is another fairly upscale area with some yuppies and good dining options.  Salt & Straw, an ice cream shop, was packed.  We left this area and took the Ross Island Bridge to our first-ever airbnb home in Woodstock.  The multitude of strip clubs we passed did little to reassure us we had made the right call, nor did our hosts’ admonition to remove all valuables from the car because there are prowlers in the neighborhood.  Despite this shaky start, we stayed in a beautiful, brand new home and it was a great experience.  Ours was one of the rooms in the finished basement, with an air mattress (the fancy kind that is as high as a low bed) and good WiFi.  The half bath was on the main floor and the shower another flight up.  Everything worked well, the water pressure was strong and they provided towels and bath products.  Brian and Shannon are superb hosts.  They are warm and welcoming yet mellow, offering a printed few pages on the house and the area and a wealth of recommendations on request.  Brian makes excellent coffee in the morning and even shared some Morimoto Soba Ale and Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar (tastes like candy, in a good way) before our dinner the following night.  Which reminds me, Jay and Erin told us about sour beer which evidently is popular in Portland and perhaps elsewhere.  It is evident that our hosts love Portland, and they are eager to ensure you will, too.

At 7:15 pm we tried to go to Khun Pic’s Bahn Thai but it was closed today, so instead we ate at Chiang Mai on Hawthorne.  It is a small, unassuming place with some sidewalk seats and prompt service.  Jenni enjoyed her shrimp pad thai and I my yum jeen gai.  There are Thai restaurants everywhere in Portland, and while tasty this type of ethnic food may not represent the best value in Portland, at least relative to what is on offer in other cities.  I can get better Thai food at the same price in LA, but would be hard pressed to find delicious hand made pasta like Jenni had at Grassa for under $10.

I am struck by how quickly we (in the broad sense) are able to adapt.  At first it felt slightly odd to be sleeping in a stranger’s house that is not a proper lodging establishment.  The next morning it seemed entirely normal.

August 25, 2013 (Sunday) – Plans to hike Dog Mountain in Washington were quickly abandoned when we slept in a bit and saw the forecast was spotty.  It is supposed to be a challenging day hike with glorious views, be sure to get a Northwest Forest Pass for parking if you go.  Instead, we zipped over to the Yolk food truck at 48th and Woodstock for breakfast egg sandwiches.  I think we are all grown-ups and can agree that huge, calorie-laden sandwiches are interchangeable with strenuous hikes.  Jenni got the Sunshine and High Clouds with sautéed spring vegetables, chives, shallots, goat cheese, and saba on an English muffin.  I got the Brother Badass with maple glazed pork belly, aged white cheddar, and Dijon tossed greens on a baguette with a little hot sauce.  It was excellent.  I have been impressed with the bread in Oregon, which most sandwich aficionados will confirm is the most important ingredient.  After, we visited the farmer’s market in the Key Bank parking lot at 47th and Woodstock, open part-year 10 am to 2 pm on Sunday.  The usual fare was available, including tomatoes, berries, peppers, honey, fish (including Columbia River wild sturgeon), meats, hazelnuts, jams, etc.

We headed East and grabbed the 205 North to the 84 East to exit 17 (Troutdale) for the Historic Columbia River Highway.  This is not the quickest path to Multnomah, but perhaps the best compromise of speed and scenery.  We caught some nice glimpses of Mount Saint Helens (I believe) to the North as we drove.  The waterfalls begin several miles East of Troutdale and we parked beyond at the Wahkeena picnic area and did a loop hike from there over to Multnomah Falls Lodge.  It took about 2 hours 15 minutes from trailhead to lodge and then another 10 minutes or so for the half mile back to the car.  Our luck with flawless weather ran out as it rained most of the time.  This did not detract much as we had raincoats and were hiking through verdant forest with rushing streams and magnificent waterfalls.  It occurred to me how spoiled we are in LA; I think the last time I recall hiking in the rain was Peru in August 2009!

Back in the City of Roses we had a late lunch at Little Big Burger on SE Division Street.  This is a local mini-chain with $3.75 quarter pound burgers that are diminutive in diameter but fairly thick.  A choice of cheddar, swiss, goat or blue cheese is complimentary and I added bacon for $0.50.  The burger was tasty though slightly overcooked, and the truffle fries ($2.75) were pretty good.  Everything is locally sourced and compostable.  Up the road we visited Stumptown Coffee for a strong cup of jo and a chai latte, and next door is the Woodsman Market which crams a lot of delicious looking fare into a small space.

Back at the house we worked a while and then met Samir and Mae at Nostrana at 9 pm.  Apparently many Portland restaurants offer late night happy hour menus, so we got Insalata Nostrana, olives, nuts and a margarita pizza with a couple of draught beers for $31 total.  The menu offers a lot of delicious sounding options and this place is very well-reviewed, but we kept it simple and cheap.  It was great to catch up and we went home after Samir and I bored the ladies to tears with an obviously riveting conversation about Detroit and municipal insolvency.

Brief observations and additional information on Portland: There are semi-permanent food trucks in little parking areas all over the city.  Everything is compostable.  Major emphasis on locally sourced ingredients…grass-fed beef, antibiotic and GMO free, etc.  The Pearl is the upscale/trendy district with more high-end shopping and restaurants.  Nob Hill seems to be more yuppy-like.  The Eastside has more hipsters and is grittier.  There are clusters of bars and restaurants on Hawthorne, Division and Belmont.  There are lots of bicycles and dogs.  Smoking is more prevalent than in LA.  Beer and coffee are religion.

We initially tried to stay at the Portland Hawthorne Hostel but it was full and they recommended the Bluebird Guesthouse, which also was full though it opened up after we had booked airbnb.  For inexpensive accommodation, you might try those places.  If money is not an issue, you probably ought to stay downtown.  We heard the art museum there is quite nice.

Food and beverage joints not mentioned above that were recommended to us include the following: Tasty and Sons; Ken’s Artisan Pizza; Little Bird; Le Pigeon; Bunk; Olympic Provisions; Ava Genes; Toro Bravo; Secret Society (above Toro Bravo) for cocktails; The Ox; Pok Pok (I believe there is a Brooklyn location, too); Porque No (the Hawthorne location was bangin’ when we drove by on Saturday night)

August 26, 2013 (Monday) – Eager to get started on the four hour drive to Walla Walla, breakfast was an apple and Saturday night’s pad thai.  It is rather scenic following the Columbia River gorge much of the way.  Folks drive pretty slowly in these parts; on the 84 East I was doing 71 in a 65 and passing almost everyone.  Fairly quickly the landscape changes from the wet, green scenery of Portland and its environs to barren and rocky, reminiscent of parts of Utah or Wyoming.


Wine and Food : Willamette and Portland

So my overall impression of Oregon’s wine country was underwhelming. It was beautiful for sure, but for a region that is widely renowned for its pinot noir, one of Alan’s and my favorite wines, we were somewhat disappointed by the quality (and price) of the Willamette Valley wines.

We tasted at Cristom (a bit of a ways from the McMinnville/Dundee/Dayton area where the majority of the wineries are located) and ate a fresh tasty lunch at the Blue Goat. The Turkish figs with blue cheese and bacon are divine. From there we meandered up to Eyrie and White Rose tasting rooms and we finished the day at Four Graces. All the tastings were $10-15 a person. As we would later discover, the tastings in Walla Walla, WA average on the cheaper side (most $5 a person), along with the wine prices. While the surrounding valley afforded more picturesque views, we both preferred the Washington wines (more to come on that later).

After we closed down the tasting rooms we mozied over to our B&B – the Wine Country Farm B&B, which I’d found in the 1000 Places to See Before You Die book. For $200 a night we got a complimentary tasting (mediocre wines), a lovely room that was quite large and a superb breakfast (all about the bomb breakfasts on this trip so far!). There were 3 dogs on the property as well as a rather fat cat. Surprisingly though, my favorite animals on the grounds were the very friendly horses. Maybe it wa the 5 tastings, maybe it was the romantic setting, but I was really feeling the horse nuzzling. So much so that one horse gave me a little love nibble and left a bruise on my face. Horse hickey – HA!

While enjoying our last tasting of the day we met a couple who was there celebrating their wedding anniversary, having wed at the Wine Country B&B 5 years ago. We got to talking in the lobby for a while and our new Oregonian friends ended up joining us for dinner at the Joel Palmer House – a place which is known for their truffle oil. The menu boasts several choices for each of three courses, nearly all with mushrooms as the main attraction. Alan and I shared a mushroom soup and mushroom tarte to begin, the filet mignon with foie gras (an add-on – and still legal in Oregon!) and lamb for our mains, and wrapped it up with a rose water pistachio rice pudding and mushroom s’more. The verdict: good, but not incredible. I thought the filet was superb and I also really enjoyed the rice pudding. The lamb was very disappointing. And the mushroom s’more tasted like neither mushrooms nor s’mores to me. More of a dry, chocolatey layer bar if you ask me.

Since we missed the cut off for Domaine Drouhin (recommended by many) we stopped by before hitting the road the next morning, but just to see the view. It was right across the way from our B&B, which by the way had some really stunning views.

Having tasted the wine, we went off to Portland to savor the food. I don’t have many pictures of Portland… We were too busy eating!

We tried AirBnB for the first time in Portland. A bit unnerved by the warning against leaving anything in the car and then having no lock on bedroom door, I was skeptical. But for about $50 a night we had a perfectly comfortable room in the home of two super cool, generous and friendly Portlanders (and they’re even cuter 2 year old son). The one downside – we were in a basement room and had to go up two floors to use shower and wound up waiting almost an hour when I needed it. But so far I am super impressed with AirBnB, what a genius idea. Why didn’t I think of that?!

We spent the better part of our first day in Portland exploring the downtown area and Pearl District. We ate lunch at Grassa and Lardo – both delicious and super cheap (same owners, next door from eachother, so we each got a plate from one and sat outside. Can you guess which one of us choose pasta and which one chose pig?? ;). We debated the food trucks, as Portland is big on these and an early pioneer of the bomb-food-out-of-moving-vehicles trend, but held out on those until breakfast. After lunch we worked on the blogs and a coffee shop and headed over to check out Nob Hill. Very lovely neighborhood and so many places to eat that smelled great and came highly recommended. Not enough time! We imagined that if we moved to Portland we’d live in that area.

For dinner we ate thai food at Chiang Mai  over on the east side and closer to where we stayed- very good, but our sense was that ethnic food was slightly pricier in the Portland scene compared to the very reasonable prices of many other quality restaurants.

The next morning we grabbed breakkie at the Yolk food truck. It was relatively pricey – $9 a pop for some sammies! Alan had something called the Brother Bad Ass (pork belly and other goodness) , I had Sunshine & High Clouds (goat, sautéed veggies and an egg). They were worth the hefty pricetag. Holy yum, and that bread!! We stopped quickly to check out the farmer’s market in Woodstock. It was nice, on the smaller side and surprisingly pricier that what I was used to in LA’s Brentwood farmer’s market.

From there we went up to the Columbia River gorges and did a nice, albeit rainy, hike around Multnomah Falls. Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with some Little Big Burger (pretty good, but definitely not in the same ballpark as In’N’Out). Almost obligatorily, we stopped for coffee at Stumptown. I got a delicious chai (so hot on tea right now).

We wrapped our Portland eating tour up at Nostrata for late night happy hour with some friends who are now Portlanders themselves. The meal was super cheap, clocking in at $31 TOTAL for both of us! And it’s apparently one of best restaurants in the city. We stuck to the happy hour menu, foregoing some other more exciting sounding options, but it was a solid meal nonetheless.

The final verdict: Portland – come for the food, not the wine. Then go to Walla Walla! Comin up next!!!

::the end of Oregon::

Oregonian College Tour

Next stop: Corvallis. Lovely collegetown. Like so many of the spots we’re visiting I was reminded a bit of Ithaca. We drove with the top down and it was perfect weather – just the right kind of dry heat and as we drove through fields of fresh mint the enticing smell wafted through the air whipping by our faces. Bonus: I stopped in Powell’s bookstore and exchanged mine for a few new ones.

A bit later we arrived in the hippie town of Eugene, OR. We were a little wary at first as we pulled up to our $65/night motel that was right next to the bus station (Timbers Motel), but it was a solid little place. Nice quiet room, nothing fancy or special, but it had a mattress and a roof and a shower and a/c, so it was luxury for us 😉 We set out on foot to explore Eugene, walked over to U of Oregon (I kept confusing this and Oregon State, Alan thought I was going to get us shot) and wandered around the campus for a bit, then took Pearl St. down to the downtown area where we got a delicious meal at a Vietnamese place. This was the best meal of the trip so far! Alan got the banh mi and I got the spicy beef pho. Oh my oh my.. both were delicious. The bread on the banh mi was superb – not too crusty, not too soft – and we decided that Oregon does their bread right.

We stopped in at Voodoo Donuts and split a Cap’n Crunch donut for dessert. They had some mean flavors in there. While the donut was easily devoured, I’d say the desserts paled in comparison to the decor and experience. Take out boxes are pink boxes labeled “good things come in pink boxes.” Ha.. Ha.. Naughty, clever Oregonians.

We were beat and headed back to Timbers for some more trip planning and a good night’s rest.

Observations on Oregon so far:

  • Treat names for coffee shops and TONS of these tiny little coffee shops that are the size of a room just standing alone. Best name: Brewed Awakenings. Close runner up: the Human Bean. Also lots of Dairy Queens and Dutch Brothers coffee chains.
  • You can’t pump your own gas. Pretty sure Oregon and New Jersey are the only two states left. Curious what the rationale is behind that…
  • Oregonian men have beards. So. much. facial hair. I’m pretty sure they won’t let you get your OR driver’s license if your photo is facial hair free. I was so tempted to snap photos of some of the more stellar bearded men of Orgon, but alas, I left without many shots of the not-so-elusive bearded Oregonian.
  • Oregonians bear their bodies with pride. I noticed a number of guts that were worn proudly, even some women with little tellitubbies wearing middrift tops. The contrast strikes me more coming from LA where the people are so beautiful and put so much effort into their appearances. I’d been saying for a while that every time I went home to the Northeast I’d walk around the grocery store for the first time and think, “Why did all the ugly people come into the store at the exact same time?” I imagine that sounds pretty vain. But live in LA for a few years, then leave and trust me.. you will notice the scale of attractiveness of the folks around you has skewed dramatically towards HOT. This is not to say there aren’t beautiful people in Oregon or New England or elsewhere – I’ve got some beauties from all these spots! But outside LA, and especially in Oregon there is way less emphasis put into clothing, shoes, makeup, even bodies. No silicone here folks. No frozen faces either.

Land of the Bearded Oregonians (aka Oregon)

::our first new state of the trip! woohoo!::

On our quest to find the campsite worthy of two nights, we first stopped to check out Cape Blanco. Remote as can be, we saw the cutest little doe on the drive in, who was truly a deer in headlights. I almost said literally, and then I remembered reading somewhere that the non-literal definition of literally has now beed added to the definition. Literally. So how would you know? 😉 To get to the Cape Blanco campground you have to drive a ways off the highway, past the westernmost lighthouse in the US, and into this neat homey feeling circle. Each site had electricity and water. There were also showers, a fair bit of privacy between sites, and it was near the water! We decided to continue North to make a bit more progress up the winding roads and get to an area where there was more to do for a few days (basically, cover more ground, and get up to the sand dunes). Also it was crazy windy which didn’t sound super relaxing.

We made it to Eel Creek campground, but there was no ranger or anyone to talk to, no showers, and no place nearby to pick up groceries so we kept on going.

Finally we arrived at Honeyman State Park, and while far far less remote and special feeling than Cape Blanco or Eel Creek (think 400 camp sites, kids EVERYWHERE, campsites more or less on top of eachother), it had access to a lake we could swim in, was close to the sand dunes, and only 3 miles from the town of Florence which boasted a Safeway and a Starbucks (wifi!! We can blog! Except the Starbucks is in the Safeway and it doesn’t have wifi. BOO [hence all these posts coming to you from the great coffee shop of Calypsos in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho!]). We pitched our tent, having arrived too late for a spot with electric hookup, drove to Safeway for food and more firewood, came back and cooked some BBQ grilled chicken sammies with corn on the cob. The cutest little boy and girl at the campground next to us came over with fresh s’mores and offered them up. So, OK, I guess a campground crawling with kids isn’t that bad. The bathrooms there are pretty clean, flush! and have soap and paper towels! What luxury.

::we’ve entered gun country::

I finished my book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” while at Honeyman. Very interesting read, it’s written from the point of view of a young boy with autism.  Highly recommend as it’s a fascinating insight to the way the mind works.


We spent the better part of our full day in Florence at the Siuslaw River Coffee Roasters enjoying the free wifi (along with coffee and a banana chocolate chip bread). To be honest, I don’t know if “enjoy” is the proper word, as we spent 6 hours planning out rest of trip through Big Sky with Internet that wasn’t working properly at first. I think we were going to tear our hair out. The internet productivity finally picked up, and ours along with it, and we booked lots of spots (Eugene, OR Wine Country, Portland, Walla Walla and Idaho). Felt so accomplished after that!

Back at our campsite we ate some salami and crackers and (local!) Tillamook smoked cheddar, then headed out to the Sand Dunes. HOW COOL! I absolutely love the sand dunes. You’re in this giant forest and then boom, you’re in the desert… so neat. Totally unlike anything I’ve seen before. We watched a bunch of motorbike and 4 wheeler type vehicles tear by, some people also rented sand boards and boarded the hills. We just went on foot, which is tough going uphill! I avoided death by sand spiders, those little buggers are creepy though. Alan went swimming in Cleawox lake, which was nice, like a little beach since its surrounded in sand dunes. Quick drop off, decent temperature.

::sand dunes! yippee!::
::if you look closely there are some sand-boarders up top there::
::selfie in the sand dunes::

Afterwards we headed back to camp and made BBQ chicken sammies for dinner again. I read by the fire and Alan worked on his computer. During the course of the afternoon and evening I read the Alchemist in its entirety. My former boss gave this to me as a gift when I left work, and it was so fitting. I won’t go on about it, as it seems like everyone and their mother has already read this, but I definitely recommend it to those who haven’t yet! It’s a bit fantastical which is normally out of my comfort zone, but it works in this case, and its totally inspiring, especially having read it at the exact right time in my life 🙂 Thanks Sanije!

::macbook, the essential camping accessory::

Waking up to thunder while you’re in a tent and have to stuff everything into a convertible is a bit disconcerting. I’d stayed up late finishing the Alchemist and Alan had a bit of a cold, so we somehow slept in til 8, waking only after I finally admitted to myself that the continual rumblings I’d been hearing were not just cars passing by, but threats of an imminent rainstorm. We packed quickly as we could, deciding that since it wasn’t prudent to hang out and try to boil water for our oatmeal that we’d stop at McDonald’s in Florence and consummate this road trip with some proper fast food. Mmmm, McDonald’s breakfast. 😉 From there we continued up the coast, stopping at some vista points, and checking out the Sea Lion Caves about 11 miles north of Florence. There were no sea lions out so we got in for the discounted price of $8 a person (down from $14). Steep price, but very cool, especially given that we actually saw zero sea lions. Claims to be the largest sea cave in the world. Can also sometimes sight gray whales off the coast, but no luck for us today. Decent views of the lighthouse when the fog wore off for a bit.

::lighthouse at the sea lion caves::


Oregonian coastlines are nothing to snuff at.

::running out of room there::

I’ll leave this post with one observation about the Oregonians. They are really into regulations. Every bathroom I entered had detailed information on how to wash your hands (twice), and the beaches are rife with notes, warnings and instructions. Not too mention the hundreds of “entering tsunami zone” and “exiting tsunami zone” signs as you go up and down the hilly coastlines.

Oregon: Dunes to Dundee

August 20, 2013 (Tuesday, cont’d) –We waved goodbye to California and boldly went where many have gone before: the alluring Oregon coast. The offshore rocks grow even larger and more impressive, often covered in green, some resembling small islands more than large boulders. We took the turn off for Cape Blanco and saw a young deer in the road on our way to the lighthouse and nearby campground. After much debate, we passed on staying here. It is rustic and remote-feeling with good privacy and electricity at each site, all for $20/night. There are cabins available to rent, but all were taken. Detractions included persistent strong wind and poor light, plus we preferred to get further up the coast today. The jury is still out whether we made the right call. We also declined Eel Creek Campground and continued up to Honeyman State Park.


Honeyman has roughly 400 sites and was packed with families and dogs. Privacy was non-existent. Nonetheless, the facilities were nice, everyone was very friendly (neighbors gave us s’mores, another camper took our trash to the dumpster, the host offered a homemade egg carton device as a fire starter) and the location served us well. We got a first-come site (#222) for $21/night and there were free hot showers and bathrooms with soap dispensers and paper towels. Yes, less than a year ago I was staying in overwater bungalows in the Maldives and now I’m amped about complimentary paper towels. We drove three miles to Florence and bought provisions at a mediocre Safeway. I grilled some corn and boneless chicken thighs marinated in Sweet Baby Ray’s original BBQ sauce. I think boneless chicken thighs may be the most underrated cut of protein out there. (If any of you have connections at Tyson Foods, I’m available for a marketing position.) We also bought ear plugs which helped at a crowded campground, though I was astonished at how quiet the place was each morning until about 8 am.

August 21, 2013 (Wednesday) – We rose a little after 7 am, had yogurt for breakfast and headed into Florence to Siuslaw River Coffee Roasters by the bridge. This is a nice coffee shop, but the WiFi was weak and that paired poorly with our goal of planning our next several nights. Striking the right balance between flexibility and plans is a work in progress. It is nice to wing it, less so to worry about where you are sleeping each night. The fact that it is peak tourist season exacerbates the difficulty of finding last-minute accommodation. Six hours later (seriously), we had booked all our nights through Big Sky, MT and felt good. Florence seems moderately charming with its blend of chains and small coastal town vibe.

Lunch back at the campsite was Triscuits, salami and Tillamook smoked cheddar. We walked about 50 feet over a dirt trail and emerged in another world. Honeyman sits at the Northern end of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, and the sand dunes are expansive and spectacular. They span roughly two miles to the ocean. It is possible to walk all the way, but I’ve been under the weather and walking up and down large hills of sand is exhausting.


Side note: There is a good chance that all the jumping pictures you see will be of Jenni.  She has not mastered the photo timing, so the ones of me just look like I am stretching.  And as many of you know, that just looks like me anywhere in the world.  Also, after several pure barre classes it appears her vertical leap has surpassed mine.

We traveled parallel to the coast perhaps one-third of a mile to Cleawox Lake. The dunes closest to the campground are off-limits to vehicles, but a little farther out is a huge area with ATVs, dirt bikes and guided tours on dune buggies holding 10+ passengers. I went for a dip in Cleawox, which was cool but surprisingly nice and refreshing. They may rent canoes/kayaks etc. at Cleawox, but if not they certainly do across the highway at Woahink Lake. The showers were empty at 5 pm, after which we BBQ’d and made another campfire.

August 22, 2013 (Thursday) – Thunder frightened us into packing quickly and hitting the road for some McDonald’s breakfast meals. These never disappoint. The coast was shrouded in fog but we decided to continue anyway (out of the way) for what we had heard was lovely scenery up to Newport. Eleven miles North of Florence we visited the Sea Lion Caves, billed as the largest sea cave in the US. Admission is typically $14 but today it was $8 because the sea lions recently unionized and negotiated four-day weekends. An elevator descends 200 feet through the rocks to a cave viewing area with some educational displays and a short video. It would have been nice to see the famed inhabitants, but we still enjoyed the experience and views of nearby Heceta Head Lighthouse. Continuing North, the coast stays rugged and lovely. There are several places to camp and many vista points. We stopped at Seal Rock then cruised through Newport’s historic bay front with its overwhelming smell of fish. At the petrol station, I learned that Oregon is the only state aside from New Jersey where it is still illegal to pump one’s own gas. This must be a defense mechanism when overshadowed by your neighbor.

We headed East on Route 20 (somewhat windy and hilly but it moves pretty fast) and 50s and foggy turned into 80s and sunny by the time we hit Corvallis. The seemingly infinite forests of evergreen made it abundantly clear why the Douglas fir is on Oregon license plates. The Oregon State campus looks pretty nice. Monroe Avenue has some bars and restaurants while 2nd to 4th streets seem more of a “downtown” area with many commercial establishments.


We ate PB&J sandwiches at our parking spot and walked around a little. Jenni traded in a book she had finished and bought two new ones at The Book Bin. We popped into Avalon Wine for some recommendations on wine country and Andy delivered this and countless tips for Portland (which he declared one of the best food scenes in the country right now, not a terribly controversial statement), plus a recommendation that we drive over the Cascades to Smith Rock State Park. Our itinerary was too full, but the pictures suggest this is regrettable.

Route 99W is the more scenic route to Eugene, and we checked into the Timbers Motel around 3:45 pm. We got a basic room with queen bed for $69. Luxurious it was not, but the WiFi worked and the water pressure was good. I have two general rules when it comes to real estate. You want to be near the gay community and not near the bus station. Despite being across from Greyhound, the Timbers is well-located. We ambled East on 13th Street to the University of Oregon campus, then down to 18th Street, back to Pearl and up to Broadway. We considered buying a $20 ticket to join the monthly  chamber of commerce networking event, held this month by Summit Bank with several food and beer stations. This is not to be confused with the daily hippy and weed-smoking networking event, held everywhere else in Eugene.

The menu and space at Belly were appealing, but we settled at Bon Mi. Good choice! Jenni got a delicious spicy noodle pho with beef and my red hot pork ban mi was superb. The baguette was just perfect. Together with a Radiant Ale seasonal brew and an Oatis oatmeal stout, each from local Ninkasi Brewing, dinner cost $20. Dessert was a captain crunch donut at Voodoo Doughnuts, just the sort of 24-hour place you’d expect to find in Stonerton. Check out the selection and the incredible tag line on their donut-holding devices.

We passed a couple more beggars and schizos and were back in the room by 7:30 pm for some more planning and blogging. Had we been in Eugene a day later, we could have enjoyed the Eugene Celebration.

August 23, 2013 (Friday) – Willamette wine country, here we come. Around 10:45 am we headed Northwest and 75 minutes later arrived at a $10 tasting at Cristom Vineyards. This winery (with a small cluster of others) is in the Eola-Amity Hills American Viticultural Area (AVA), where it benefits from cool breezes off the coast that blow through the Van Duzer Corridor. I have now shared everything I know about wine. The refined palate and erudition of my wife and father-in-law have yet to reach my upper region. Though technically located in Salem, it is very quiet here; much less crowded than the McMinnville/Dayton/Dundee area. We enjoyed the wines then continued on Zena Road to 99W heading North. At Cristom’s recommendation, we ate lunch at the Blue Goat in Amity. It is a lovely space with high ceilings, exposed pipe and brick, and a wood-fired oven. We sat at a large curved counter though there are several tables and booths. As would be common over the next few days, the menu lists the local farms from which the restaurant sources its products. We split a very good smoked chicken salad sandwich with honey-balsamic slaw on the side, and a phenomenal dish of fresh Turkish figs with blue cheese and bacon. The figs were so fresh and delicious that they beat back my disdain for bacon and blue cheese. The damage was $23 including tip. We were also tempted by Uncle Jack’s BBQ, a door or two down.

After lunch, we continued a short distance to McMinnville and walked around Third Street, the main thoroughfare. This is where McMenamins Hotel Oregon is located. It was full, but we heard it is a nice play to stay and a great place for a roof-top beverage. As with most of Oregon, there is ample free street parking. We poked our heads into Honest Chocolates and came away with a few treats, including a yummy piece of honey caramel milk chocolate with French sea salt.

Walking distance from here is the Eyrie tasting room where we sampled six wines and had a nice conversation with the pourer, an East coast transplant who formerly worked in financial PR. Next up was White Rose located in the Dundee Hills. The tasting room is beautiful with great views from the property, but we were not fans of the $15 tasting of three pinot noirs.

We headed back down the hill and up 99W to Four Graces. Set in a charming white building with a gravel yard and several wrought iron tables and chairs, we enjoyed our $10 tasting of five wines. The staff was very friendly and we purchased the Willamette Valley Pinot Gris 2012 for $20. Nearby was a roadside stand called Bert’s Chuckwagon that we heard serves good BBQ. Some tasting rooms close at 4 pm while others, like Four Graces, close at 5 pm. We shut it down and drove back up the Dundee Hills to Wine Country Farm, our B&B for the evening. We were greeted with a multi-course complimentary tasting of the house Armonéa wines before being shown our room: the Courtyard Suite. We paid $200 for a very large room with king bed and a couch facing the fireplace. There was another room available with a queen bed but a balcony, and we might have chosen that one had we realized the views from the property would be so nice. At the tasting we met Jay and Erin, a nice couple celebrating their 5th anniversary in the same place where they married. They joined us for an 8 pm dinner at Joel Palmer House, a ten minute drive away. As the name suggests, it is set in a quaint house and the restaurant specializes in mushrooms and homemade truffle oil. The standard option is a three-course $49 menu. We split a mushroom soup and a tart to start, the filet mignon with foie gras supplement ($15) and lamb for the entrée course, and a mushroom s’more and rice pudding for dessert. Even the unemployed must take advantage of foie gras outside the totalitarian regime of California.  The meal was very good but I was not impressed.

I was, however, very impressed by Jay and Erin’s description of the legendary Pig-N-Ford Races at the Tillamook County Fair.  Since I was hours-deep in wine and beer tasting and have never been myself, I paste below the description from Wikipedia:

Drivers use stripped Model T Fords with stock mechanicals. Five cars are lined up with the engines off at the start line of the Averill Arena horse racing track. Drivers stand next to the grandstands. When the starter pistol fires, the drivers run to the opposite side of the front straight, grab a live 20-pound pig from a bin, then must hand-crank their car and drive it one lap. They then stop, kill the engine, get a different pig, and race another lap. The first driver to complete three laps in this manner without losing their pig is the winner.

The race was first run in 1925. The official story is that two local farmers were chasing a runaway pig in their Model Ts and were having so much fun, they decided it should be a race at the next county fair. The Pig-N-Ford Races have been run every year since 1925. Drivers belong to the Tillamook County Model T Pig-N-Ford Association, and membership is often a lifelong affair. Cars and memberships are often passed down through families or sold to close friends. Some of the cars that first ran in 1925 are still on the track today.

August 24, 2013 (Saturday) – Breakfast at the Wine Country Farm was excellent.  It was a veritable feast of fresh biscuits and homemade jam, an egg casserole dish, sausage, bacon, and hash browns.  On our way out of town to Portland, we stopped at the Red Hills Market in Dundee.  This is your typical, classy wine country market with food to order, gourmet salts and sauces, charcuterie, cheese, wine, recipe books, etc.

We had a great time in the Willamette Valley but I was underwhelmed (at best) by the wine.  I did not love the product and disliked the value.  The wines we tasted at White Rose cost $60-80/bottle.  There are far better pinots available from California’s central coast, and for less money.  On to Portland…