Monday, March 29, 2010

Day trip to Vancouver, WA

We recently took a day trip from Portland to Vancouver, Washington. It was a fairly effortless excursion, as Vancouver is only 7 miles north of Portland on I-5. We rented a car from the Dollar location on NW Broadway. Got another "City Deal" so the rental was only $19.95/day. Instead of getting directly on I-5 after crossing the Broadway Bridge, we decided to take NE 15th Ave and go through Irvington, primarily so we could stop by the Albina library and pick up a book that Greg had requested. Irvington is such a beautiful neighborhood, filled with unique & historic homes, which we explored on foot in February. Of course, it is much more scenic if you detour off the main through-fares like NE 15th. We got lucky and it was a beautiful, sunny day with temps quickly approaching the mid-60's. We started our sightseeing with a stop at the Ft Vancouver visitor's center. It has a small, free museum with exhibits on the history of the area and we also watched a short movie (approx 12 minutes, probably filmed in the mid-80's) about Fort Vancouver. From the visitor's center, it's a short drive or long walk through the park to the fort. Admission was $3 per person or $5 per family. All of the restored buildings were open, and while some were very simply furnished, they did have descriptive displays about the original inhabitants or purpose. We also saw two blacksmiths at work as well as a cooking demonstration. The Chief Factor's residence was nicely presented with period furnishings. We left the park via Officer's Row, which features 22 restored homes built for the Army officers who served at Vancouver Barracks. As it was Saturday, the Esther Park Farmers Market was in full swing, so after taking a short drive through Uptown Village and the Hough neighborhood, we found a free parking spot on the square and had a leisurely stroll through the park. It seemed like the whole town was out enjoying the lovely weather, including the babies & dogs. My only comment about the market is that it had very few produce or other fresh food vendors. Instead it was dominated by hot food stalls and craft vendors. Having been on our feet all morning, we were ready to sit in the sun somewhere and have a beer. There are a number of restaurants along the Columbia River (on SE Columbia Way and SE Columbia River Drive), so it was just a matter of picking one. We opted for the McMenamins (see my review on, primarily because they brew their own beer. The location was perfect and we only had to wait 10 minutes for a patio table overlooking the river. There we enjoyed a couple of leisurely hours of beer drinking and people watching and also had a light lunch as we were making plans for dinner just a few hours later. Wanting to try another local brewery, Salmon Creek Brew Pub was our next stop. However they didn't open until 4pm, so we killed about 15 minutes by driving out to the Port of Vancouver where we eventually came to a park with excellent, unobstructed views of both Mt St Helens & Mt Adams. Then a short drive back into downtown Vancouver, which, with the exception of the Farmers Market crowds, seemed deserted. We had no trouble finding street parking directly across from the pub and snagged a table in their open air beer garden (which is really more like a patio between two brick buildings). They did have wonderful beer, however, and pints are discounted during happy hour (4-6pm on Saturdays; other hours during the week). Our final stop of the day was on the Oregon side of the river, at Salty's (review on Yelp). This restaurant is in a fairly remote location, but easy enough to find if you just follow the river heading east. We had an excellent fresh seafood meal and enjoyed the 180 degree view of the river from the restaurant's 2nd floor dining area. We avoided the interstate on the way home, preferring the more scenic route along Martin Luther King Blvd. We again detoured back to NE 15th Ave, this time to stop at the Whole Foods Market for some groceries. I didn't have to drop the car off until the following morning, and since the Dollar location is near Chinatown, we decided to have dim sum at Fong Chong (review on Yelp). We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food as Portland's Chinatown is a bit desolate, especially on Sunday mornings. This was a nice, easy & cheap weekend excursion. We only drove a total of 50 miles ($3/1 gallon of gas to refill the tank of our Toyota Corolla) and our only expenses were the rental car ($23 including tax), park entrance ($5), and beer & food.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The North Coast in 2 days

Greg & I decided to celebrate our one year anniversary by taking a quick trip to Oregon's North Coast. We picked up our rental car Saturday morning at the Dollar location in downtown Portland (they often have "city specials" in their downtown locations nationwide with a compact car costing around $20/day taxes included). We drove up I-5 to Kelso where we eventually connected to Route 30 which would take us all the way to the coast. It was a nice, scenic drive after we crossed the Lewis & Clark Bridge, although as expected it did start raining when we reached the higher elevations. It was disappointing to see so much logging in this area and the barren hillsides that remain. Before long we were in Astoria where we first stopped at the visitor's center to get a local map. We had lunch at Baked Alaska right on the Columbia River (see all of my restaurant reviews on Yelp, nickname: asmartt1). We climbed the Astoria Column and were rewarded with 360 degree views of the area during a respite in the rainy weather. I particularly enjoyed driving around downtown Astoria and looking at the late 1800's buildings & houses. We stopped for a quick look at the Goonies house, which is privately owned and not open for tours. From way up on the hill, we were able to hear sea lions barking down by the piers so we headed there next to check them out. Apparently there is a colony that hangs out near the commercial fishing boats and it was fun to walk out on the dock and get as close to the massive animals as we dared. They seem to enjoy being photographed and were quite happy to strike poses for us. We also drove across the 6,545 m long "bridge to nowhere" (Astoria-Megler Bridge) which offered scenic views of downtown Astoria and the mouth of the Columbia River. Finally it was time for a beer at Fort George Brewery, where our favorite beverage is served in quart jars. As it was then already late afternoon, our next stop was Fort Clatsop, the recreation of Lewis & Clark's winter encampment in 1805-06. We almost had the place to ourselves and enjoyed a short walk around the park and took deep breaths of the clean, green air. We continued on Route 101 to Seaside, which was crowded with families on vacation. This small town has a very Gatlinburg-ish feel to it, with candy & souvenir shops everywhere, arcades, and numerous cheap hotels. It does offer an enormous swath of sandy beach and good people watching on the beach-front promenade. We did not stay long as we wanted to reach our destination for the night, the Inn at Cannon Beach, before dark. Soon, we spotted the famous Haystack Rock and could not resist stopping to snap pictures just as the sun was beginning to set. It was just another couple of miles to the hotel, where we quickly checked in and snagged a couple of freshly made cookies from reception. While I had requested an upgrade to a room with a Jacuzzi (which was not available when I booked), they were not able to accommodate that request but the manager had taken it upon herself to make a small anniversary balloon bouquet for our room. Our room did have a gas fireplace which turned on with the flip of a switch and which we thoroughly enjoyed later in the evening. After a brief look around, we went around the corner to Warren's Pub for a beer and some "drunken clams." Then on to our 7pm dinner reservation at The Wayfarer. After a tasty meal of snapper & whole Dungeness crab, we had one last beer at The Lumberyard before calling it a night. After a good night's sleep on the comfy mattress (something that's lacking at our apartment), we got ready and went down to the dining room for the complimentary breakfast. There were plenty of good food choices (fresh fruit, assorted breads & pastries, hot & cold cereals, waffles, yogurt, boiled eggs, juice & hot beverages) and knowing that we planned to only eat one more meal that day, we filled our stomachs. Then it was time to hit the road again, but not before taking a nice walk on the beach where the sea mist clung to Haystack Rock and the nearby houses & hills. We also lucked out in that it was a beautiful day with temps in the low 50's and light clouds in the sky. We took our time driving south, stopping at Hug Point, Manzanita & Rockaway Beach. We turned off the main road to follow the Three Capes Scenic Route and were rewarded with miles and miles of beautiful scenery. We stopped at Cape Meares and ended up having to hike to the lighthouse as the park service had closed the access road due to recent vandalism. But it was worth our time & effort to walk as the lighthouse sits on a promontory overlooking the ocean and there were great views up & down the coast. We continued on to Cape Lookout where we stopped for another look around, and then to Cape Kiwanda where we had lunch at Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City. What an awesome location to drink good beer & eat good food! Sadly, it was then time to head inland, so we drove to Tillamook for a self-guided tour of the cheese factory. We also lucked out and got to see a huge herd of elk grazing on farmland just outside of Tillamook. After sampling the cheeses it was already getting dark, so we took Route 6 back towards Portland and were home by 7:30PM. All in all a wonderful way to spend a weekend and I hope to be able to spend more time on the North Coast in the future as well as to explore the Central & South Coasts.