After over two months of putting it off, I am *finally* getting around to my recent trip this summer. Back in June, my family and I did a road trip to the states of Oregon and Washington. Aside from visiting the popular cities like Portland and Seattle, we also sprinkled some day trips to a few national parks, which were absolutely beautiful, to say the least.
Compared with previous summers during which we’d spent two or three weeks outside of the United States (last year being in Japan and Taiwan), this past summer was different as we pulled back and decided to travel domestically, as well as for only a week. Although not as “epic,” the trip turned out to be a refreshing getaway from home, all the while an enjoyable first time in the Pacific Northwest.
We would begin our adventure in Portland, first taking a plane over from Los Angeles. That said, we woke up at the crack of dawn (rather, the “dark” of dawn, since it was still dark out) to head over to the airport, where we checked in and boarded our 6:00 flight. The plane took off 40 minutes late, which was mildly annoying, but otherwise the ride went smoothly. Plus, one of our flight attendants was really cute, which made the flight just a bit more exciting, if you know what I mean!
Two hours later, we landed in Portland International Airport (PDX). After retrieving our luggage, we made our way to the rental car agency just a bit outside of the airport. We would first make a trip to the coast of Cannon Beach, where we would spend the morning and afternoon, before returning to Portland to explore it properly, check into our hotel, and stay the night. We got our rental car, which was a smaller-than-expected red Hyundai, but all the same, we piled our belongings into the trunk, buckled up, and hit the wide, open road to begin our first day in the Pacific Northwest.
During the two-hour ride to Cannon Beach, we passed along scores of pine and spruce trees on the freeway. What surprised me first about Oregon was just how green it was– seriously, there were so many trees! At least compared to the dry, barren landscape of California, the scenery in the U.S. Northwest was certainly a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively.
Around 11:30, we arrived in Cannon Beach. However, we spent a good 30 minutes trying to find parking, since it’s a small beach resort town popular among locals and tourists, especially during the summer. Eventually, we found parking alongside a curb in the residential streets, and we set off towards the beach.
What makes Cannon Beach popular is that, historically, it was one of the stops from the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805, during which the eponymous American explorers discovered a huge chunk of the present-day United States, particularly west of the Mississippi River. Aside from that, it has been a well-known filming location for movies like The Goonies (1985) and Twilight (2008). Cannon Beach is also known for its iconic Haystack Rock, situated not too far from shore and is accessible during low-tide (which reminds me a bit of le Mont St. Michel in France).
My family and I were surprised to find crowds of people along the shoreline– we even saw dozens of cars parked on the sand! Apparently, we’d happened to witness Cannon Beach’s annual “sandcastle building contest,” so it was no wonder that the town was packed that day. We merely observed the event, in the meantime taking photos of the beach, the Haystack Rock, and everything in between. We’d been hoping for a quiet, therapeutic beach retreat, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be!
We left the beach to venture into town for lunch; we ate at a hotel cafe which served “gourmet” burgers and sandwiches, although I found them to be quite bland and overpriced. As someone who’s lived near the beach most of her life, I wasn’t too surprised by the relationship between cost and location. We left Cannon Beach around 14:00 to return to Portland, which would be another two-hour drive (give or take traffic).
Personally, I found Cannon Beach to be a bit lackluster: besides the over-touristy vibe, it was overcast that day, which made our visit not as enjoyable as it could’ve been. It did, however, have the same quaint, small-town coastal charm as that of Cambria, which is located in central California and is one of my favorite vacation getaways. Maybe it was the circumstances that day in Cannon Beach which made it underwhelming– perhaps on a sunnier, less-crowded day, our experiences would’ve been different.
Around 16:00, we made it back to Portland. Our first stop was at our hotel to check in, but we spent the longest time trying to access the street on which our hotel was. The street happened to be completely under-construction, but eventually we made it to the entrance, dropped our car off with valet, and checked into our room. Upon dropping our belongings off inside, we headed out to see as much as we could since we only had that afternoon to take it all in.
With its *unofficial* motto, “Keep Portland Weird,” it’s no wonder that the city has an uber-progressive culture (rather, “counterculture”). Stereotyped as being the “hipster capital of the country,” Portland certainly lives up to that reputation. Prior to visiting, I had assumptions of the city from shows like Portlandia, but I was still surprised to discover that the city was actually like how it is in the media. From thickly-bearded, heavily-tattooed individuals to gangling college students with a multitude of body piercings in unconventional places, I saw a diverse population while walking through downtown, which coming from an equally-progressive city like Los Angeles, made me feel strangely conservative.
First stop was at the Pioneer Courthouse Square, located in the heart of the city. Nicknamed as “Portland’s living room,” it is where everything comes together: from the small, eponymous courthouse to the milepost sign which read off destinations like “Vancouver” and “Great Wall of China,” this distinctive square is very much the “ground zero” of Portland.
Our next destination was Voodoo Doughnut, the iconic doughnut shop in all of Portland, let alone the United States. I’d seen it featured on a television food program several years ago, and I’d vow to go there someday to give it a try– good thing the opportunity arose! As expected, there was a long line out the door, but it moved fairly quickly. At the counter, we ordered a variety of interestingly-named doughnuts, including the famous “Voodoo Doll,” as well as “Captain, My Captain” and “the Old Dirty Bastard” (not kidding!). I admit, we ended up buying too many doughnuts, just because we were only in Portland that one day and wanted to try them all. Consequently, we spent three days finishing off the dozen or so we bought. The doughnuts were incredibly sweet and heavy, but worth satisfying my sweet tooth (and food bucket list!).
Just around the corner of Voodoo Doughnut, we came across downtown’s historic Saturday markets. Located near and along the waterfront of the Columbia River, the outdoor market sold just about everything from handmade jewelry to ethnic food (e.g. Chinese, Mexican, Polish). We took a look around, as well as views from the waterfront, before turning to the other side of town. That weekend also happened to be Portland’s Pride Week celebrations, so we saw a plenty of rainbow flags waving about, including on this random food truck stand!
The last stop of the day was at Powell’s City of Books, considered the largest independent bookstore in the world. Spanning about five floors, it’s divided into different-colored sections of genres, which all together represent a rainbow. At that point in the day, we were getting rather tired, so we took a quick tour around the bookstore before returning to our hotel. We actually ate some of the Voodoo doughnuts for dinner that night, since we didn’t feel like eating out– all we wanted to do was rest after a long day of traveling and exploring.
Overall, I have to be honest and say that I found our first day in the Pacific Northwest rather underwhelming. I attribute it to the fact that it was an overcast, drizzling day which I suspect is characteristic of the region, but all the same, I found Cannon Beach to be too crowded and Portland somewhat gritty. Perhaps it was because we spent our time downtown in the latter, but I didn’t feel so safe walking the streets even with my family. Admittedly, I had expectations of Portland, which sadly didn’t live up. This isn’t to say, however, that I wouldn’t return someday, as I can imagine it being a hip, lively place for a friend’s week getaway. I’ve heard that the bar-party culture is pretty good, which I wouldn’t mind trying, should I come back!
More adventures in the Pacific Northwest to come soon. Next up: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon!