5 Oregon Regions to Visit as a Family
Looking to travel to a new place, enjoy nature and spend time outdoors? Consider planning your next family vacation to Oregon. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and have great memories of exploring the Columbia River Gorge, walking on the beautiful beaches, and hiking in Central Oregon. If you plan to visit the Pacific Northwest, here are my top 5 Oregon regions to visit as a family.
1. Keep Portland Weird
Yes, that’s the city’s slogan and since I grew up there my husband loves to tease “Well you’re weird; you’re from Portland.”
There are many amazing restaurants including my favorites Por Que No for the best Mexican food, Salt and Straw (this reminds me of Black Cat Ice Cream in Des Moines), and Pizza Thief with a delicious sourdough crust.
While driving through the city you can see several mountains, including Mt. Hood National Forest. Fun fact: you aren’t allowed to pump your own gas here if you rent a car, as they have attendants that do it for you. When I first moved to Iowa I didn’t even know how to pump my own gas! If you prefer not to rent a car, hop on the MAX Light Rail Service which has stops downtown and around the metro.
Take the kids to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) to explore the planetarium, hands-on exhibits, educational videos on the big screen, and even go inside a retired USS Blueback submarine that was part of the United States Navy.
You can’t go to Portland without visiting Powell’s Books, which is the largest new/used bookstore in the nation spanning 68,000 square feet and a landmark in the city.
There are also many beautiful places to go hiking such as Washington Park, which includes the 5.5 acres of Portland Japanese Garden with views of Mt. Hood and the International Rose Test Garden. There you can also explore Hoyt Arboretum featuring miles of trails and over 2,300 species of trees. One of my best friends got married at the Hoyt Arboretum and it was so beautiful.
2. Columbia River Gorge
Columbia River Gorge is the largest National Scenic Area in the US and a river canyon featuring over 90 gorgeous waterfalls and views of the Columbia River as it cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range. It is truly breathtaking! There are lots of hiking trails as well as water activities such as kayaking. Don’t miss seeing Multnomah Falls, the largest waterfall in Oregon at 620 feet. My initials may or may not be carved into one of the benches on the trail.
3. Cannon Beach: Calling all Goonies fans
Ever watched the movie The Goonies? It was set in Astoria, OR, along the coastline, including Cannon Beach. Cannon Beach is home to Haystack Rock, rising 235 feet, and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Oregon. At low tide, you can view starfish, sea slugs, mussels, anemones, and many other sea creatures. I’m not sure who was more excited by these tide pools- me or my 4-year-old son when we visited in March.
If you love fresh seafood, check out Ecola Seafood Restaurant and Market. Here you will find the best clam chowder, halibut fish and chips, and bay shrimp and Dungeness crab boats. The seafood is all freshly caught on the Washington and Oregon coast. My oldest son just ate the garlic bread, but hey more for me! The last time we ate here we spotted an entire herd of elk grazing in the park across the street. This is the most beautiful beach and a nice coastal town with all the local shops and restaurants.
4. Newport, Oregon
Located 2 1/2 hours south of Cannon Beach, Newport, Oregon is popular for fishing salmon, trout, halibut, and steelhead. It’s home to the Hatfield Visitor Center through Oregon State University, which acts as both a research lab and education center. This free museum features marine exhibits, a touch tide pool, and aquariums.
Another must-see is the Oregon Coast Aquarium where you can view birds, fish, and marine life. The outdoor exhibits include sea otters, harbor seals, and even an octopus. This aquarium has the largest seabird aviary (enclosure) in the US where you can view puffins, common murre, and other birds.
The largest exhibit, Passages of the Deep, has three different underwater walkways to view sharks, different species of fish, and reefs. Passages of the Deep used to be home to orca whale Keiko, from the movie Free Willy, until he was released back into the wild. When I first started dating my husband I told him how I had seen Keiko at the aquarium. He was impressed so then I embellished that I also received Keiko’s autograph which he signed with his nose on a piece of rubber. He believed me and I still don’t let him live that down!
My favorite restaurant in Newport is called Local Ocean Seafood and features some of the best seafood dishes I’ve ever had. I love the grilled calamari and the local pan-fried oysters are fresh and perfectly breaded in panko crumbs.
5. Central Oregon
(Yes, Oregonians will literally say “I’m going to Central Oregon” instead of naming the town).
Located about 3 hours east of Portland, Central Oregon is a high desert area surrounded by mountains. There are many fun family resorts including Black Butte, Sunriver, and Eagle Crest. They include swimming, white water rafting, hiking, and golf in the spring/summer as well as skiing and ice skating in the winter.
I loved going white water rafting every year as a kid and riding my favorite horse, Ben, until he “retired” as my dad said. If you enjoy hiking, visit Smith Rock State Park in Bend. It spans over 650 acres and the major rock was formed from volcanic ash. There are great hiking trails through the canyons and even a kids climbing wall.
For a relaxing day float the beautiful Deschutes River with views of the mountains and visit the fish hatchery for sea trout and steelhead. Eat dinner at Pine Tavern, a tradition for my family growing up. They are famous for their warm scones with honey butter and did I mention there’s an actual Ponderosa pine tree growing through the middle of the restaurant?
These are just a few of my favorite places to visit. The beautiful views, great local restaurants, and many outdoor activities make Oregon a wonderful vacation spot.