72 Hours in Willamette Valley
Located less than an hour from Portland, Oregon, the Willamette Valley beckons with its lush, pastoral beauty. This 110-mile expanse, stretching south to Eugene, nestles between two mountain ranges: the low, thickly wooded Coast Range that stands to the west and the lofty peaks of the Cascade Range to the east. The protective cradle formed by these mountain ranges provides the distinctive temperate climate and rich soil that defines the Willamette Valley, where vineyards thrive and hundreds of wineries make a living. From boutique producers to world-renowned Pinot Noir growers, the Willamette Valley is a slice of heaven for anyone with a thirst for the grape.
For suggestions on places to stay, there are several bed-and-breakfasts in the area worth noting. A Tuscan Estate combines modern conveniences with Old World charm and the European-style inn has gorgeous grounds. Those who want to immerse themselves completely in the Oregon wine experience can stay on an actual working vineyard. The Joseph Mattey House Bed & Breakfast is an 1892 Queen Anne Victorian-style house located in a bucolic orchard and vineyard. The Youngberg Hill Vineyard and Inn sits on a 50-acre estate with expansive views of the valley.
WILLAMETTE VALLEY DAY
1: McMinnville and Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum
For lunch, duck into the Community Plate for homemade sandwiches and Stumptown coffee served in an attractive, wood-filled space, or check out Sage Restaurant for steaming bowls of homemade soup and hearty sandwiches. A visit to Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum will have you gazing in wonder at Howard Hughes' immense Spruce Goose, a "flying boat" with a wingspan wider than a football field. The museum also offers a variety of aviation displays, along with a separate museum devoted to space exploration, plus an IMAX theater. If you are inclined, a waterpark featuring a gigantic slide descending from a suspended plane is another afternoon option.
Dinner awaits you at one of McMinnville's outstanding restaurants celebrating the sustainable agriculture movement. The menu at the elegant and lively La Rambla features a vast array of Spanish tapas prepared from regional ingredients, or you may order their huge platter of paella. Another option: The Bistro Maison specializes in authentic French bistro fare such as steak au poivre or coq au vin. Thistle is another spot to make foodies salivate. Its small menu focuses on what's freshest and what's local — and it doesn't get more Pacific Northwest than elk, winter squash, kale and huckleberry.
Since the area is focused on the rural sensibility of "early-to-bed, early-to-rise," nightlife is nearly non-existent in the valley. However, there are a few spots with occasional live music, such as The Rooftop Bar at Hotel Oregon.
* Willamette Valley images courtesy of the Willamette Valley Visitors Association.