Published on Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Talking Trump, food carts and tattoos

Dinah Hatch and family get a taste of trendy Portland and fall for beach life in the Beaver state.

Portland, Oregon, is not used to high temperatures but the two days we arrived in town record temperatures of 109 degrees were making front page news. This is a city well-known for its hipster outlook, from its hyper locally-sourced restaurant food to its microbreweries to its ultra eco-friendliness and the joke on Twitter was that emergency beard-cooling centres were being set up everywhere to deal with the rare heatwave. Attempting similar grooviness, we had booked into the city's Tiny House Hotel, a cluster of very hip little caravan houses in the artsy Alberta district that semi-circled around a fire pit where folk singers perform and people mingle over s'mores and talk Trump, tattoos and the best food carts (there are hundreds of them all over the city, selling everything from pastrami burgers to Hawaiian fish tacos).

Clutching the Portland VIP pass, we tackled the city centre traffic to get to Washington Park in the west hills as I needed a bit of zen after almost a month on the road and the renowned Japanese Garden sounded perfect. It was. How is it the lay-out of a garden and the positioning of ponds and streams can have such a calming effect? While I was at it, I nipped across the road to the International Rose Test Gardens. The park was created in 1917 to grow species of European roses which local horticulturalists were concerned would die out during the mud churning of World War 1. That is so Portland. Roses for as far as you can see, of every colour, with benches and fountains to sit and stare. I adored it.

As payback for my girly wanderings, the kids demanded we check out Oregon Museum of Science and Industry where we toured Cold War submarine USS Blueback guided by an ex-spook (genuinely fantastic) and spent HOURS in the exhibit halls cracking codes, building bridges and launching rockets. Us adults got our revenge though - two hours in the utterly brilliant and rightly famous new and used bookstore, Powell's, which takes up a whole block and claims to be the biggest book shop in the world.

Two days on, and we took off for Astoria on the Oregon coast, the most northerly part of the road trip and known as the arrival point for Lewis and Clark who led the first expedition to cross the western section of the US in 1804. What a blessed relief to escape the heat (the mercury dropped about 20 degrees) and indulge in a spot of kayaking at the mouth of the Columbia River. Astoria, a pretty coastal town, seems surprised by its own touristic success (the world and his wife were arriving to escape the inland heat like us) and the owner of Astoria scuba and kayak, Floyd, reported as he loaded us into our crafts that the mayor had been on his mobile reporting record numbers. I wasn't surprised. Besides its historic significance, it's packed with cute antique shops and great little restaurants, and a 20-minute car ride takes you to Fort Stevens State Park where the mighty river gushes into the Pacific. We drove out after dinner and sat in the dunes eating ice cream and 10-year-old Charlie paddled in the warm and cold spots created by conflicting currents.

With just over a week to go, we had to start heading south towards Oakland airport and this meant getting to know the stunning 101 coastal highway very well indeed. Pretty, quirky Newport was our next port of call and its vast, often empty beach was too tempting to miss. A few blocks away from the sands, Bike Oregon had the perfect vehicles for us to navigate it with - fat bikes. Please tell me they have fat bikes in the UK because they are AWESOME. Their wide tyres mean you can ride for miles right where the waves lap the shore and get to see way more than you would on foot. Charlie and Phoebe pegged off, of course, and left Ben and I to swoop and swerve along the shoreline like big kids ourselves. As a Brighton resident, I am seriously thinking of franchising this idea.

We parked up and watched the children swirling and racing as the sun started to set over the soaring jagged rocks that seem like ancient monolithic giants marching in the ocean. Before this trip, I had never heard of anyone who holidayed on the Oregon coast yet it must be one of the most beautiful areas I have ever visited. Maybe I just wasn't listening hard enough...

Dinah Hatch used the website to work out the family's route down the Oregon coast.

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