It’s been a while but I am back writing our PNW road trip posts. It’s probably been our greatest adventure yet- a road trip around parts of the Pacific Northwest in the US. We started off in Vancouver Canada, headed down to Seattle, then Portland, then Lake Tahoe, lastly finishing off in San Francisco for a few hours before flying back to London. We were away 17 nights in total and it was without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life so far.
I’m finally getting round to writing up an itinerary and travel guide for each destination, then once I have finished that I will put together a planning and tips post too. After spending a few days in Vancouver, British Columbia (check out my Vancouver travel guide blog post), we crossed the border into the US and headed to Seattle (Seattle travel guide here). Then it was time to head to Portland, Oregon, a city I have always wanted to visit. Here is what we got up to during our four nights in Portland….
Portland and indeed Oregon as a whole is somewhere I have always wanted to visit. I recognise the backdrop from years of watching films and popular culture, and I follow a few travel instagrammers who live in the area. Portland, Oregon’s largest city, sits on the Columbia and Willamette rivers, in the shadow of snow-capped Mount Hood. It’s known for its parks, bridges and bicycle paths, as well as for its eco-friendliness and its microbreweries and coffeehouses.
There were a few places we knew we wanted to explore before we visited. We wanted to check out Cannon Beach (where the film The Goonies was mostly set), Multinomah Falls, and of course some of Portland’s impressive food cart scene. But mainly we wanted to relax for a few days and enjoy the vibe of what seemed to be quite a laid back and liberal city.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR – ARRIVING FROM SEATTLE
To give you a small idea of our journey and our route- we flew into Vancouver, Canada with British Airways and spent 5 days in Canada. We then picked up a hire car from Vancouver Airport (as this was the cheapest option) to drive over the border into the United States and into Seattle. The journey from Vancouver to Seattle should take around 2 hours 40 minutes, but be prepared to be held up at Customs for random spot checks.
We then dropped the hire car off at Seattle Airport as we decided not to have a car during our two days in Seattle. The reason for this was it was cheaper to hire a car from airport to airport and as we had driven into the US it was cheaper to give up the car and get a new one at a later date. We did look into different options but felt it was more convenient to drive the five of us into the US than it was to take a train, although we did look into this option as well. It was cheaper this way as well. As we were staying in the centre of Seattle we opted to pick up a car at the end of our stay to last us the remainder of the trip.
From Seattle it took nearly 3 hours to get to Portland.
WHERE WE STAYED
As we were staying in Portland for four nights, we decided to opt for an airbnb during our stay. We didn’t feel like we needed to be in the centre, as a lot of the places we wanted to explore weren’t in Portland centre itself. We stayed in a district in North Portland called the Mississippi Avenue District, a neighbourhood with a very hipster yet bohemian vibe, and full of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars.
The airbnb we stayed in was a handcrafted Japanese style home hosted by two guys called Jason and Doug. We only met Doug but they live above the home and were always on hand if we needed them. Doug was a very friendly host, and very knowledgable about Portland. We loved the property, it was built with traditional Japanese construction techniques, and our kids loved the little zen den hideaway in the middle of the apartment.
This bed complete with closing sliding door was literally the dream for our den mad children.
We would definitely recommend the airbnb, it was the perfect place from which to explore Portland and the surrounding area, there is on street parking for your hire car, and overall we felt very safe there.
I will be doing a detailed blog post once I have finished all the destination blog posts (similar to this Florida Road Trip Itinerary and Budget), outlining sample costs and budget for our trip, but we try to be as savvy as we can with our hotel bookings. We try to book them as far as we can in advance. If you use a site like booking.com then you can cancel free of charge usually up until a couple of days before you arrive, so if you keep an eye on the rates you can rebook if they drop in price or rebook somewhere else, which is something we tend to do a lot on trips like this.
Airbnb’s tend to have a stricter cancellation policy as more often than not you are staying in someone’s home, but on a road trip such as this we try and mix our accommodation up. For this particular airbnb we paid approx £157 a night alongside airbnb’s occupancy and service fees.
In terms of spending money we try and budget for around £50 to £150 a day. Obviously this varies as some days we might be doing activities that cost more. As a family we enjoy being outdoors so we try and do as many ‘free’ activities as we can. Food wise, we tend to eat out once a day, as food can soon mount up your costs. Therefore we will eat snacky meals we have got from supermarkets etc, and only really eat out for one of our meals a day- it doesn’t matter which one. Portland was a great place eating wise and we ate the entire time in food carts which kept the cost down- we didn’t eat in a restaurant once while we were there. Like I mentioned I will talk more about budgets in my final post.
THINGS TO DO
We managed to pack a lot into our four days in Portland. Here are some of our highlights that I recommend….
MULTNOMAH FALLS/LATOURELL FALLS
I had seen other travel blogs and photos of Multnomah Falls before we travelled to Portland and I knew it was somewhere we wanted to visit.
The website Oregon.com describles Multnomah Falls as… “A waterfall as magnificent and memorable as any in the country is located just a 30 minute drive outside of Portland. Visiting Multnomah Falls, a 611-foot-tall roaring, awe-inspiring cascade of icy water, lets you experience the power and beauty of nature up close and with ease. From the parking area off of I-84, a 5-minute walk is all that separates you from the exhilarating spray at the base of the falls.
According to Native American lore, Multnomah Falls was created to win the heart of a young princess who wanted a hidden place to bathe. Although you can see the top portion of the falls from the highway, to view both tiers you have to walk to the viewing area located in a carved-out opening in the rock face. Tilting your head up in the narrow rocky confines of the steep cliffs, you get a mind-boggling perspective on the sheer magnitude of the falls.”
We arrived at Multnomah early as we had heard that the car park filled up quickly. Even early it was almost full by the time we got there. It was busy but not unbearably so (but I don’t know if I would have wanted to go any later so my tip is to get there early!), but it was well worth it. The waterfall was spectacular to witness.
The kids were absolutely fascinated and you can walk several hundred feet up and reach Benson Bridge for an even more interesting view.
If you head just around 20 minutes down the road, near a place called Corbett, you will find Latourell Falls. We actually preferred it here. Firstly it wasn’t as busy, and secondly you could actually go to the base of one of the waterfalls. There is a car park on site and it is around a 3.4k loop walk all around.
We were one of the only ones who stood at the base, but honestly standing there getting wet and feeling the power of the waterfall behind us, was genuinely up there with one of the best experiences I have had. It sounds random, but in that moment I just felt so grateful for being there on a trip we had always dreamed of doing.
Cannon Beach was a must have experience that we knew we wanted to do while we were in Oregon. Situated about 80 miles away from Portland (about 2 hours drive), this sandy beach is unmissable, with the incredible Haystack Rock an Oregon icon being something we recognised so vividly from films and TV growing up. It was named one of the world’s 100 most beautiful places by National Geographic, and you can definitely see why.
We decided to get up at 4.30am in order to catch the sunrise… great idea in theory until we got there and realised the sun rose in a different direction. It was also really foggy so as we were driving so we wondered if we would see anything at all. Actually it ended up turning out good in the end, as although we didn’t see a sun rise, the sun did turn some pretty colours and we were one of the only people on the entire beach.
I adore this photo of Wren running around. Again it was up there with one of our trip highlights, it was just lovely to see the kids so carefree and paddling in the ocean, even though it was freezing!
After getting thoroughly wet and cold we headed back to the car, before stopping at a random little American diner type place called Pig N Pancake for some… you guessed it pancakes ( a bit of a family holiday tradition).
We then spent some time driving around, checking out the incredible Oregon coastline and scenery, while the kids had a sleep in the car after our early start.
You could easily spend longer at Cannon Beach, the town itself was pretty with cafes and shops, and you could even stay here a couple of days to make the most of the coastline. But for us the morning spent paddling was just enough to at least get a glimpse of what this lovely little town has to offer.
OXBOW STATE PARK
On the way back from Cannon Beach we were all feeling a little tired and not really up for anymore exploring that day. So while Jon drove I googled places to just chill out and enjoy the Oregon scenery. I found a place called Oxbow State Park, which promised lovely scenery and a place to swim in the Sandy River. We ended up staying for the rest of the day, just relaxing, playing in the river and reading a book. I definitely recommend it as a place if you want a day or afternoon of unwinding after all your exploring.
PORTLAND ROSE GARDEN
On one of the days we headed more into Portland itself. One place we visited was the Portland Rose Garden. It’s apparently the oldest continuously operated public rose garden in the United States and is home to more than 10,000 roses. It is free to get in, a safe place for kids to explore and let off some steam, and then once you are done there there is a fantastic huge kids playground nearby as well in Washington Park. We spent a good couple of hours here in the sunshine letting the kids run about.
POWELLS BOOK STORE
Being a family of bookworms we couldn’t visit Portland and not go to Powell’s Book Store which is a huge independent book store. They have a huge range of new and second hand books and we let the kids choose a special book with their pocket money. We also bought a couple of second hand books as well to take home to the UK.
EATING AND DRINKING
We were really looking forward to trying out and experiencing Portland’s food cart scene. With hundreds of tiny kitchens throughout the city, Portland’s food-cart scene is legendary. CNN has declared Portland home to the world’s best street food, and what makes it even better is that most Portland carts stay put in groups dubbed “pods,” making it easy to sample a few at a time.
We went to a few different ones during our time in Portland, and we also didn’t eat in a restaurant the whole time we were there. Two of the ones we liked were ‘The Bite on the Belmont‘ and Cartopia, where we were able to sample a large range of different foods and cuisines.
I really recommend googling and trying a few out during your stay, the food is so delicious, cooked fresh and perfect to pick a few different dishes to just enjoy together.
It’s making me hungry just thinking about them…
Lastly a couple of shout outs for two local Portland legends that we really enjoyed as well. Blue Star Donuts is well worth a visit if you are a family like us who love a donut or two, and Salt & Straw make delicious ice creams with a great story about how they started up. They do crazy flavours such as Pear and Blue Cheese, Honey Lavender, and Freckled Woodblock Chocolate. We enjoyed both as a lovely holiday treat (always seeking out the sweet food treats!).
And that is it, the main things we did in Portland. We loved our time in Oregon and it is definitely a place we would like to go back and explore again one day in more detail.
I have made a video about our time in Portland which I have shared below which gives a little more insight into our trip…
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ONE LAST THING…
The next stop on our trip was meant to be four nights (plus a one night stopover) in San Jose, California, but at this point in our trip we had already done ten nights of travel and exploring. While we were in Portland we decided to completely change our plans, and instead of heading to San Jose (we had already visited San Francisco on our last US trip and there wasn’t a huge great deal we were planning on doing there anyway), we decided to head inland east towards Lake Tahoe. I am not sure I remember why we decided to do this, but I am SO glad we did.
It was a huge drive (the distance from Portland to Lake Tahoe is 565 miles and it would take 9 and half hours in total), but we got up very early on our last morning in Portland and drove halfway, stopping for a night’s stopover in a funny little roadside motel in a town called Klamath Falls. It was quite bizarre but also a very funny experience, because nothing was open and the motel carpet was so dirty that our socks were black. We also realised that we didn’t have a plug for the bath and we were all feeling a bit grubby from a five hour drive, but when we rang reception we were told we couldn’t have a plug as people kept using them to flood the rooms deliberately. Still it was a cheap stopover and perfect after a long drive.
On that particular day before arriving in Klamath Falls, we stopped at the most beautiful spot called Crater Lake which is still in Oregon (approx 244 miles and 4 hours 20 minutes drive from Portland) as we had heard it was beautiful. It was definitely worth a stop and we wish we could have stayed there longer to explore. It is the deepest lake in the US and famous for it’s crystal blue water and water clarity.
It really was so beautiful and an incredible place to get out and stretch our legs.
After our motel stopover at Klamath Falls, we headed on on to the final journey of our trip – Lake Tahoe. Blog post coming soon 🙂