As if it builds anticipation throughout the workweek, the city of Portland lights up a little brighter on Friday evenings. On one recent weekend, that urban energy inspired my exploration of downtown Portland and the Columbia River Gorge.
After listening to an outdoor photographer give a powerful talk on finding inspiration in the natural world, I worked up an appetite for both adventure and my next meal. Luckily Paragon Restaurant & Bar was just a few blocks away, and I’d had the foresight to make a reservation. After enjoying delicious flank steak and radicchio salad, we topped off a spectacular meal with house-made crème-brulee.
But the night was far from over. After paying our tab, we walked to the nearby Roseland Theater where the music was blasting into the street. Punch Brothers did more than impress. With perfect acoustics, incredible harmonies and a unique rendition of Moonlight Sonata, they left me half-singing, half-dancing back home.
Breakfast on Saturday morning came with much anticipation. As we walked into Cafe Nell in Northwest Portland, we were greeted with the smell of their famous breakfast hash before we even took our seats. From huevos rancheros to a vegan hash to fresh-squeezed orange juice and hand-ground coffee, this was the best meal of the day.
Troutdale and Waterfalls
After breakfast, we drove to Troutdale — the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge. We walked the historic shopping district, stopping for a tea tasting at A Shot in the Dark Espresso Bar before discovering an adorable farmers market at the end of the road. Filled with local art, delicious mushrooms and local produce, it was a foodie’s dream complete with dandelion root and fresh, handpicked flowers.
From Troutdale, we took the Historic Columbia River Highway east in search of waterfalls. With the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America located along this stretch of highway, we didn’t have to search for long. Plunging glacial runoff greeted us around every corner. From Latourell Falls to Shepperd’s Dell all the way to Multnomah Falls and every hidden, cascading shower in between, this highway is a tunnel filled with a thousand shades of emerald offset by slivers of light and aquamarine pools laying still beneath basalt cliffs. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were only a 45-minute drive from downtown Portland.
Cascade Locks to Hood River
What locals know about Cascade Locks is that there’s a delicious gem of a drive-thru at the end of Wanapa Street called East Wind Drive-In. We devoured burgers, chicken sandwiches, tator tots and ice cream cones that were as big as our heads. It was awesome.
With relieved appetites, we headed back into the forest, this time taking on a longer hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from the Bridge of the Gods to Dry Creek Falls, an obvious oxymoron filled with even more green tunnels and ended in one secluded waterfall. Just a 4-mile roundtrip hike makes this jaunt across the PCT the perfect day hike for anyone looking for some peace and not-so-quiet.
Not long after finishing our hike, there was a silent moment of clarity.
“We should get some more ice cream,” I finally said.
And we did.
With full stomachs and a day filled with waterfalls, we took off for our final destination, Hood River, where we enjoyed dinner at Pfriem Family Brewers and a relaxing stay at the Oak Street Hotel, a pet-friendly bed and breakfast with the most amazing smorgasbord of freshly-made baked goods and gluten-free quiche. I was in heaven.
Accepting the early sunset on Sunday afternoon was difficult for me to do. But with such an awesome weekend, I couldn’t hide the grin on my face or my fascination with Oregon.
Are we lucky or what?