Personalize your Travel: Oregon Wine Country Add-ons Part 1


Wine Country Oregon

Willamette Valley Wine Country Oregon

I’ve had a thing for Disneyland since I was a kid. Topiary in fantastical animal shapes, the Matterhorn bobsleds, It’s a Small World (After All), the virgin Mint Juleps in New Orleans Square, the Electric Parade with all Mickey’s friends, the Mad Tea Party’s whirling teacups… I loved the possibility and excitement of racing from Tomorrowland to Frontierland to Adventureland and back.

Well, last year I found my adult Disneyland, where everything is fun and wonderful and the possibilities seem unlimited.

It’s Oregon. Specifically, the lovely city of Portland sandwiched between two great wine regions: the Willamette Valley to the west, and the Columbia Gorge to the east.

Great wine is reason enough for any trip, but in this post I’ll highlight some ‘add-ons’: extra adventures, outings, and delightful finds that will add another layer of interest and fun to your Oregon wine-country trip.

First recommended add-on: time your trip so it coincides with one of Portland’s many wonderful music festivals. Our first exploration of the region begins in Portland with the Waterfront Blues Festival. Having spent a few years in Chicago, I’m always looking for a way to get my blues fix. How delightful to discover that the Festival is the Oregon Food Bank’s largest fundraiser! After handing over our cans of food, the tunes and blue skies and locally crafted beverages we enjoy atop the rolling golden bank of the Columbia River seem just a little bit more special. But we can’t leave Portland just yet. Inside the tiny Lan Su Chinese Garden lurks a powerhouse of tea – the Tao of Tea – in a beautiful teahouse. This is an opportunity to taste some extraordinary old growth and high mountain teas. Too many to try? Don’t worry, you can always bring some home with you. We did. Then we kept ordering online… Next up – wine country. But wine isn’t all we find…

McMenamins Grand Lodge

McMenamins Grand Lodge

We discover McMenamins hotels, which are historic old schoolhouses and poor farms and such that have been restored and lovingly filled with art and artifacts by two brothers with a passion for design and history and great food and drink. Their hotels are loaded with extras: the lovely food and libations can be ordered and enjoyed all over the extensive grounds; there is a written guide to the historic rooms and original commissioned artwork on the walls; and in the case of The Grand Lodge (which was originally built in 1922 as a Masonic home), a small movie theatre showing two movies daily, live music on the lawn as well as in the basement Garage Door venue, disc golf on the extensive grounds and a spa and soaking pool. As difficult as it is to tear ourselves away, Willamette Valley Wine Country is beckoning nearby. Marvelous wines, beautiful wineries and grounds… and then we find something really special.




SakeOne Brewery

SakeOne is the only sake brewery found in the US. It was started as a joint partnership with Momokawa Brewing Japan, and was built here in the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s because of the purity and quality of the spring water nearby. They offer a great tour of the facility, craft a lovely sake they make for a Jinja Shinto Shrine located near Seattle that is only available at their showroom, and have cool stuff for sale in the tasting room.

A quick jaunt to Astoria on the coast brings another welcome dimension to our trip. We are transported back to the time of Lewis and Clark and the days of the big salmon runs in the early 1900s when Astoria was the center of the West Coast fishing industry and workers from Scandinavia and China flocked to work in the canneries that lined the mouth of the Columbia.¬†Hungry after hearing about Lewis and Clark’s arduous journey at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, we stop at¬†Josephson’s Smokehouse for the most amazing canned smoked tuna and salmon we’ve ever tasted. After, we immerse ourselves in the tales and exhibits of the Columbia River Maritime Museum. This place, where giant river meets giant ocean, is called the Columbia River Bar and is one of the most dangerous bar crossings in the world, requiring the skills of superheroes – the Columbia River Bar Pilots, who are ferried out to giant cargo ships in speedboats (perhaps soon to be helicopters) in extremely perilous conditions – to take the helm and pilot the ships through the treacherous Bar.

Mouth of Columbia River, Oregon

Columbia River Meets The Pacific Ocean has a great article on the Columbia River Bar here. So many ships and lives lost over the years… The melancholy and the rain make me a bit peckish for a snack and I immediately think of the Blue Scorcher in the center of town. The Blue Scorcher Bakery Cafe is a haven in damp weather and an oasis for those who’ve spent just a bit too long in history’s embrace. I’m convinced the cardamom cinnamon rolls should be declared a national treasure.

In Part 2, we’ll explore fun add-ons east of Portland in the Columbia River Gorge wine region.



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