Hip and cosmopolitan Portland continues to emerge as a popular urban vacation destination for gay and lesbian travelers, thanks in part to its stellar restaurant scene, liberal social climate, and artsy personality. But another major draw of this charmed city is its proximity to so many breathtakingly beautiful places that make perfect two- to three-day getaways. In an afternoon’s drive, you can explore the rugged Oregon Coast, the lush Willamette Valley wine country, or the high desert outdoor recreation mecca of Bend.
Here’s a look at three ideal weekend getaways from the Portland area, all of them centered on communities with an increasing number of gay-owned or gay-friendly accommodations and restaurants.
Cannon Beach and Manzanita (a 90-minute drive via U.S. 26)
From downtown Portland, U.S. 26 leads west over the dramatic Coast Mountains to northern Oregon’s spectacular and relatively uncrowded coast, a highlight of which is dapper Cannon Beach, a low-key community set along a striking stretch of beach. Quite a few gays and lesbians (including Portland-based filmmaker Gus Van Zant) own or rent summer homes here or in nearby beach towns, such as funky Manzanita and upscale Gearhart.
The quieter south end of Cannon Beach, known as Tolovana Park, has a slightly more artsy feel. Here you might spend the night at the delightful Inn at Cannon Beach, a tasteful complex of contemporary, two-story cottages that open around a central courtyard with fragrant flower gardens and Adirondack chairs. It’s steps from the beach, and next door to the Warren House Pub, a casual, gay-friendly spot that brews its own excellent beer and serves tasty comfort food, such as grilled panko-crusted oysters, and house-smoked-salmon salad with a marionberry vinaigrette. For more sophisticated fare, book a table at the Gower Street Bistro, which presents creative regional dishes, such as pan-seared sea scallops with roasted-cream corn, eggplant, and pancetta.
You might spend the mornings in Cannon Beach strolling along the sand, admiring the many geological formations just offshore, such as the famous, 237-foot-tall Haystack Rock. Do as locals do and grab a cup of delicious java at Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters (along with a thick slice of chocolate-chip pumpkin bread) before you set out. Venture south of Cannon Beach and you’ll pass through Oswald West State Park, which is laced with hiking trails that weave through old-growth forest, leading down to the beach.
End your day in funky Manzanita, with its quirky cafés and galleries, perhaps enjoying a glass of Oregon wine at Vino, a snazzy little wine bar that also serves plates of delicious charcuterie and cheese. Between Manzanita and Cannon Beach in tiny Arch Cape, the gay-owned Ocean Point Inn comprises three oceanfront suites with chic, contemporary furnishings, flat-screen TVs, and gas fireplaces. Guests can enjoy a wide range of treatments at the inn’s spa. It’s one of the most romantic accommodations along the coast.
The Willamette Valley Wine Country (a 45-minute drive via Hwy. 99W to Dundee/Yamhill area, and two-hour drive to Eugene via I-5)
Within 30 miles of Portland, in Oregon’s verdant Willamette Valley, you’ll find some of the leading wineries in the United States—the area has become especially renowned for its pinot noirs. If you have only a day to tour the region, focus your efforts around the rural, hilly Yamhill area, home to such esteemed vineyards as Willakenzie, Penner-Ash, and Adelsheim. Just a short drive south, in the Dundee Hills, standouts include Archery Summit, Sokol Blosser, and Domaine Serene. These are among dozens of wineries with tasting rooms open to the public.
This part of the valley abounds with excellent restaurants, too. An intimate spot serving relatively affordable French fare, Cuvee sits along the quiet main drag of tiny Carlton and is a fine place to end a day of wine-tasting. Among the several stellar restaurants in Dundee, check out Tina’s, a bustling bistro that features creative American fare emphasizing ingredients from local farms and suppliers. A typically delicious dish is the seared halibut cheeks with diced yams, roasted potatoes, and a caper-lemon-olive oil sauce. There are several inns and hotels in the area, among them the ultra-romantic and gay-owned Dundee Manor, a grand Edwardian home with four rooms, each with a decorative theme that reflects a different continent.
As you continue down the Willamette Valley toward Oregon’s capital, Salem, you’ll reach the Eola-Amity Hills, known for such vineyards as Bethel Heights and Amity. The drive south through the charming college town of Corvallis leads to another top vineyard, Benton Lane. Still more worthwhile wine-tasting awaits you in the hills outside Oregon’s second-largest city, Eugene. Here you can enjoy a memorable meal at King Estate winery, which crowns a dramatic hilltop about a 15-minute drive south of the city. The restaurant here serves first-rate French-inspired Pacific Northwestern fare.
The Willamette Valley offers far more to see and do than sample wines. Eugene is home to the University of Oregon and has the most visible gay scene of any Oregon city outside Portland. It’s also a handsome city dotted with parks and rife with opportunities for recreation. A popular downtown attraction is the Owen Rose Garden, where more than 4,500 varieties grow. Nearby, a former chicken-processing plant houses the Fifth Street Public Market, now a complex of fascinating shops and enticing restaurants, including one of the region’s best dining choices, Marche. Here you can try such memorable fare as oven-roasted local mussels with a saffron-cream, and smoked pork chops with rhubarb chutney. From April through December, check out the nearby Saturday Market, where entertainers perform and close to 200 artisans, farmers, and cooks sell their wares.
Several blocks east of downtown is the verdant, eminently walkable campus of the University of Oregon, known for its University of Oregon Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History. The university’s main commercial drag, 13th Avenue, is loaded with cheap restaurants and engaging shops. It’s also the site of one of two excellent and gay-friendly Eugene accommodations, the intimate Excelsior Inn, whose 14 rooms are named for classical composers. The city’s other highly recommended lodging, the Campbell House Inn, contains 20 sumptuously furnished rooms and lies within walking distance of downtown restaurants and shops.
Bend and the Cascades (about a three-hour drive, either via U.S. 26 and U.S. 97 past Mt. Hood; or via I-5, Hwy. 22, and U.S. 20 past Detroit Lake)
Portlanders love traveling to Bend, in part because of the area’s generally dry and sunny climate—it’s perfect for skiing at nearby Mt. Bachelor, hiking and mountain biking year-round, and pursuing any number of enjoyable outdoorsy activities, from fly-fishing to golfing to kayaking. The superb High Desert Museum is the city’s must-see attraction, with its well-crafted exhibits on the region’s natural and social history. The frothy Deschutes River cuts right through the downtown of this fast-growing city (the population has gone from about 50,000 to 80,000 since 2000).
This part of the state tends toward the conservative, but Bend has become the exception, attracting increasing numbers of progressive-minded residents, including plenty of gays and lesbians. There’s a small but growing Pride festival held in McKay Park each June, and downtown is rife with hip, sophisticated restaurants, bars, and boutiques with a welcoming vibe. For dinner, don’t miss Merenda Restaurant and Wine Bar for country French and Italian fare. Trendy types favor Deep, a swish Pan-Asian spot. And Deschutes Brewery Public House is a festive option for well-prepared comfort food.
Excellent places to stay include the distinctive McMenamins Old St. Francis School Hotel, which is set inside an old schoolhouse and has a movie theater and a cool pub and restaurant on-site, and the elegant Lara House Lodge, a handsomely decorated 1910 Arts and Crafts house known for its superb gourmet breakfast.
If heading to Bend from Portland, consider driving there one way and returning a different route. For the perfect scenic loop, you can drive east of Portland, up over the magnificent and snowy slopes of the iconic Mt. Hood. Coming back, you’ll pass through the charming town of Sisters as you pass over the Cascade Mountains, and eventually drive by scenic Detroit Lake. If you’re visiting in winter, just keep in mind that highways over the Cascade Mountains can be treacherous at this time, so check weather reports before you plan your journey. And make sure your digital camera is charged up and ready to go—this drive provides shutterbugs with an endless supply of photo ops.
Andrew Collins is the author of Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA and eight additional travel guides. He can be reached care of this publication or at [email protected]