Oregon City just might be one of the prettiest little cities within a stone’s throw of Portland.
Just 13 miles south of the big city, a day trip to historic Oregon City — the state’s first capital and the end of the Oregon Trail — can feel like a trip back in time. You can still see the remnants of the 1800s, when it was the heart of the region’s lumber, flour, wool and paper mill industries. But there’s a lot of revitalization underway.
Here are a few of our top choices for old-meets-new things to eat, drink and do.
Eat: Classic Pub Grub
Weinhard Grill — a brand-new made-from-scratch restaurant with a bar, outdoor dining area and family-friendly menu — is part of Oregon City’s latest boom. Order up a dish of Mom’s Pot Roast or the Weinhard burger, which is a fresh local grind of brisket, short rib and sirloin topped with fixins and served with hand-tossed garlic fries.
Andy and Nancy Busch, who also run a furniture store in town, opened the grill in fall 2015 to fill a niche in the local dining scene as well as honor their family roots. Andy’s great-great-grandfather, Frank Busch, ran a homestead shop in this very space in the early 1900s after buying it from the man who built the building in 1895 — none other than Oregon craft brewing pioneer Henry Weinhard.
Drink: History-Inspired Brews
The taproom at Coin Toss Brewing Co. opened its doors in February 2016, shoring up Oregon City as a true craft beer destination (also home to Feckin Brewery, The Highland Stillhouse, The Growler Run and Oregon City Brewing Company).
Longtime homebrewer and radio personality Tim Hohl named the taproom for the fateful coin toss that determined Portland’s name.
Stop by for a pint of George’s Honest Ale — a recipe based on one brewed by George Washington at Mount Vernon, made with sweet molasses — or something more exotic like the Pie Hohl, a cherry ginger stout made with 44 pounds of sour cherries.
Do: Ride the Elevator
At 130 feet high, the Oregon City Municipal Elevator offers the best view in town. The town built the marvel in 1915 as an easier way to reach the bluff than climbing the 722 steps from the base of the cliff, then modernized it in 1955. (One of the key renovations was replacing hydraulic power with electricity, which reduced the ride from five minutes to just 30 seconds.) The elevator is one of only four municipal elevators in the world and the only “vertical street” in North America. Locals call it “Elevator Street.”
Kids will love walking through the 35-foot-long tunnel under the train tracks to get to the elevator itself, then zipping to top in 15 seconds flat. An elevator attendant will greet you, and signs and artwork detailing the site’s history are a fun way to explore at your leisure. With free admission and no crowds, it’s a must-do in Oregon City.
See: River Excursions
At the confluence of the Willamette and Clackamas rivers, Willamette Falls is a sight to behold. It’s the second most powerful waterfall in North America and considered one of state’s most important historic sites, as a longtime cultural, fishing and gathering place for Native American tribes.
As development looms, the Willamette Falls Legacy Project is looking to preserve the old while welcoming the new, and river education is a big part of that. A group called Rediscover the Falls is offering Friday group tours by reservation this spring and summer to help visitors learn more about the future and history of the site.
Tour companies like eNRG Kayaking offer breathtaking trips to the falls by kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Or for a more low-key day, the Oregon City Visitor’s Center has maps to parks, shops, museums, skate parks, boating and fishing opportunities, public art and other historic and cultural attractions, as well as walking and biking trails.