Portland: Highlights from a Local

We get visitors all the time to our humble city – and who can blame them?  It’s a popular destination.  There are certain spots to which all the guides will point tourists, and those are nice… but there’s so much more to offer.  After we’ve given our guests the preliminary tour, we hit up a few of our favorite spots.  Here are some things we like to do – as locals – when visitors come to town.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Columbia Gorge Historic Highway

Yeah, ok, I’m going to start with one that’s in the guidebooks.  But it’s there for good reason!  It’s a beautiful scenic drive only a half hour outside the city, and we take anyone new through the mossy trees.  In fact, it was this very highway that made me fall in love with the Pacific Northwest.

Along the way, we’ll hit up the renowned Crown Point and Multnomah Falls, but we get out there early – well before the mobs of people.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

We also go beyond the simple tourist stops.  We spend some time at a few of the other nearby sites – Horsetail Falls, Angel’s Rest Trail – and we leave the tourists behind by going beyond the Multnomah Falls bridge, ascending to its upper falls, then circling back to Wakeenah Falls.

There are so many amazing hikes around, it’s a shame to not fit at least one into a trip to Portland.

Cannon Beach


This one’s also quite popular, but it’s still our favorite beach.  It’s not quite Portland, but at a little over an hour outside of town, it makes for an excellent day trip.  It has fewer kids than Seaside, yet it has a lot to do in its quaint town.  The shops are fun to peruse, especially during an event weekend (kite festivals, sand castle contests…), and there’s a glass-blowing workshop that allows public viewing.  We also make a point to spend some time at the wine shop for an afternoon tasting.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

The beach itself offers miles of strolling space, along with plenty of little caves, waterfalls, tide pools, and other curiosities to explore.  Ecola State Park has a network of trails – for both bikes and feet – and it rises to elevations that afford a spectacular view of the coastline.

We love this beach in the summertime and during the winter when the storms roll in.  We never leave town without either saltwater taffy, dark chocolate fudge, or both.

Timberline Lodge

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

About an hour in the other direction, and you’ll wind up on Mt. Hood.  Mountains and oceans, we have them both!

This historic lodge was made famous by the outside shots in the movie, The Shining.  The inside looks nothing like the movie, however (after all, that was filmed elsewhere), and you won’t find a hedge maze anywhere nearby (trust me, we looked.. before we realized that, too, was filmed elsewhere).  And fortunately, the only crazy people you’re apt to run into are ski bums fresh from cruising down the mountain’s glacier in the middle of June.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

The inside does boast massive timber architecture and beautiful woodwork sadly not featured in the movie, as well as a cozy fireplace for the snowy days.  Any season, this is a cool place to visit, whether you want to hit the slopes, hike the trails in the summer, or just grab a warm drink.  The views are amazing.

Depending on the season, we’ll also stop by a farm along the way for some wonderfully fresh fruit along the “Fruit Loop” that circles Hood, or we’ll pop into one of the several lavender farms.

Kennedy School

The Portland and surrounding areas have a lot of restaurants owned by McMennamins.  The service is often somewhat lackluster, but we return to their many establishments for the unique atmospheres.  They buy old buildings and convert them into restaurants.

We think Kennedy School is the coolest one, because – as the name suggests – it was once an elementary school.  Now, you can walk the halls and see quirky artwork, have a burger and some cajun tots in the courtyard, see a movie in the auditorium, and grab a drink in “Detention.”

The Boiler Room is also really unique; old pipes wind their way throughout the bar, forming railings and decor, giving the place a really industrial feel.  It’s a great place to hang with friends, as it also offers bar games like shuffleboard.

The Aerial Tram

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

As the day’s winding down, we love the simple activity of taking the aerial tram up to OHSU.  As we rise up into the hills, the view of the city becomes more spectacular.  And on a nice evening, the platform at the top of the hill is a pleasant ledge upon which to soak in the cooling northwest air.

The price for a ride is a bit steep ($4.70 per person for a single ride), but if you’re up for a bit of exercise, you can hike the hill and ride down for free; fees are only charged for going up.

There’s so much to do and see in Portland; this only scratches the surface.  As locals, we have the luxury of avoiding the really hot spots – at least during peak hours.  And even though we’ve lived here for many years, we’re always discovering new things.

Have you been to Portland?  What were some of your favorite activities?  Stay tuned to hear about some of our favorite local restaurants!

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