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Oregon Wine Country: A Taste of Williamette Valley

A Rand McNally Destination of the Month

Portland and Eugene serve as bookend cities on a trip through central Oregon’s scenic Willamette Valley, the state’s premiere wine-growing region. Although there are stunning views of lush rolling hills from the driver’s seat, don’t let that stop you from pulling over. There’s a lot to see on foot.

Urban Activity

Several bridges cross the Willamette and Columbia Rivers to connect Portland’s vibrant neighborhoods. They’re also linked by myriad bike paths and lanes—this city is a cyclist’s dream. It’s also got very active arts and culinary scenes and terrific views of Mt. Hood. If you have finite time to explore, head to the Pearl District, a neighborhood with plenty of restaurants, microbreweries, galleries, and shops.

Edging downtown and the Pearl District is Powell’s City of Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore. Although Portland is known for its microbrews, it can still serve up a good cru. Try one at Hip Chicks do Wine, http://www.bestoftheroad.com/place.do?poiId=142915 a boutique tasting room and winery founded by two women who add fun to serious wines. Fresh, healthful fare is the norm in the city’s restaurants. For a decadent break, head to Voodoo Doughnuts, which rocks 24/7 with hand-rolled, yeast-raised doughnuts in creative shapes—for instance, a chocolate-covered voodoo doll with its own pretzel stick for poking.

Work off those calories with a hike in Mt. Hood National Forest, some 25 miles east of Portland. The upper slopes are wilderness, but the rest of the million-plus acres are accessible. They’re also home to the WPA-constructed Timberline Lodge. It looks like a movie set and, indeed, was one—for the classic thriller, The Shining. If it’s too spooky for you, check into a cabin or a yurt or park your RV at the Mount Hood Village RV Resort in Welches, 45 miles from Portland.

Heading to Wine Country

About 30 miles southwest of Portland, you can take in a living-history program in a forest of Oregon oak and ash trees at the Champoeg State Heritage Area. Although there’s a campground here, for an authentic wine country experience, check in to the Youngberg Hill Vineyards & Inn in McMinnville. From your guestroom, you can walk out onto covered decks overlooking 20-acres of organic vineyards and beyond to Mt. Hood.

McMinnville is also home to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, where you can check out the legendary Spruce Goose seaplane owned by Howard Hughes. After touring the museum, head to La Rambla, named after the colorful Barcelona street, for a meal of tapas paired with wine from Oregon or Spain.

Garden City

Along the road outside Silverton, about an hour southeast of McMinnville, are rows of hops. It’s just one of many crops that flourish around Oregon’s Garden City. Silverton is also known for its active arts community whose members use the sides of buildings as canvases for colorful murals.

At the Oregon Garden, you can see a Signature (white) oak tree that took root nearly 400 years ago—about the time the pilgrims landed back east. The Hanson Vineyards in nearby Woodburn has small batch wines that make the off-the-beaten-path drive to get here well worth your while.

A Capital Idea

Not only is Salem at the epicenter of both the Willamette Valley wine-growing region and state politics, it’s a key shopping area with a bonus: no sales tax. The Art Deco Oregon State Capitol is the first in the country to produce solar power. Walk the grounds to find the Douglas-fir tree grown from a seedling that was carried to the Moon on Apollo 14 in 1971.

You can sample sustainable wines from Willamette Valley Vineyards at the vineyard itself or at the Travel Salem Visitor Center. Stay overnight in a tent, cabin, yurt, or your own RV at Silver Falls State Park, amid a temperate rain forest in the Cascade Mountains. A hike along the Canyon Trail leads to 10 waterfalls.

Small Town, Big History

There are roughly 700 historic homes—from the mid-1800 pioneer days through the later Victorian period—in the town of Albany, 30 miles southwest of Salem. Its visitors association has free self-guided tours, and you can visit the beautifully restored pioneer-era Monteith Home. For an entirely different perspective, soar high over Willamette Valley with Albany Hot Air Balloon Rides. Patrons like the chicken paprikas at Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant so much, the owners hand out copies of the recipe.

On a side trip to Corvallis, 10 miles southwest of Albany, you can take in Alley Art, an outdoor art display on Madison Avenue between Eighth Street and the riverfront. You can also hike in hazelnut orchards, then picnic and sample estate wines at Tyee Wine Cellars, a relatively new addition to a century-old farm. Or head 30 miles southeast of Albany to the mountaintop Marks Ridge Winery, which hosts weekly concerts in summer and a variety of other seasonal events.

Clean, Green…

…Eugene. The home of the University of Oregon has five bicycle/pedestrian-only bridges spanning the Willamette River. What’s more, electric-vehicle drivers can park and charge vehicles in three downtown lots. It’s this kind innovation that long ago gave Eugene a reputation as a place of non-conformists.

You can stay in the eco-friendly groove with a bite to eat at the Wandering Goat Coffee Company & Café, which monitors its coffee beans from seed to cup, bakes only vegan goods, and serves organic bottled beer. Glamping (a.k.a. glamorous camping) at the Tipi Village Retreat, 30 minutes northeast of town, means spending your night under the stars inside a zen-inspired tipi.

Alternatively, check into the C’est la Vie Inn, a Queen Anne–style painted lady. At this posh B&B, it’s hard to say what’s more elegant: the gardens or the interiors. The nearby Noble Estate Vineyard & Winery produces handcrafted wines from two appellations, Willamette Valley and Rogue Valley.

Interested in exploring more of the Pacific Northwest? Try one of our other regional road trips, including A Pacific Northwest Passage and Oregon/Washington Scenic Coast.