36 Hours On the Oregon Coast + Portland: 9 Free (or Almost Free!) Family-Friendly Activities

Oregon, let me start by saying this: I’m madly in love with your drive-thru espresso kiosks.

I’m all for perking coffee at camp or brewing a cup at a motel, but if you’re visiting the Pacific Northwest, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to one of the indie espresso kiosks you see on every corner. They’re everywhere–weirdly (perhaps especially), in the most rural of areas. And when you’re in a coffee mecca like Oregon? Every cup is guaranteed smooth and delicious. We loved the quirky vibe of these kiosks; we even saw a combo espresso/haircut drive-thru shop. Talk about multitasking! Once you’ve got your caffeine buzz on, it might be fun to consider any or all of the following:

  1. Three Capes Scenic Drive: Instead of taking the 101 inland, veer west and follow the 40-mile coastline for picturesque coastal views that just keep getting better and better. A timeline of an entire day would be ideal, but this scenic drive can also be squeezed into as little as two to three hours with shorter stops. From Newport, we traveled north to Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, home to Haystack Rock–a less famous but larger iteration of its Cannon Beach counterpart. Cape Lookout State Park brought us to Anderson’s Viewpoint and a view of mysterious Netart’s Bay, framed by old-growth trees and shrouded in fog. Just a few miles away, nearby Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge offered blue skies and common murre sightings. It’s my understanding that you can even see tufted puffins here.
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    Haystack Rock, Cape Kiwanda
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    Anderson’s View Point of Netart’s Bay along Three Capes Scenic Drive
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    Three Arch Rocks–it’s amazing how much the weather changed along the coast in just a few short miles!
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    Cool and blustery morning on the OR coast, 2013
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    When in Oregon, give these espresso kiosks a try–so rich and delicious (and convenient!)

    Cape Meares completes the capes trio, affording stunning ocean views, a front-row seat to the state’s largest Sitka spruce–the Octopus Tree, and an historic lighthouse, which brings us to…

  2. Cape Meares Lighthouse: Located just 10 miles west of Tillamook, Cape Meares Lighthouse offers free daily tours between April and October, making for a satisfying conclusion to any Three Capes drive. Unfortunately,the lighthouse was closed for restoration when we visited. We were disappointed, as the 0.2 mile asphalt “trail” was perfect for little ones, and the kids were looking forward to touring the lighthouse. Still, we enjoyed wandering the mile-long scenic trail through old-growth spruce trees that eventually led us to the Octopus Tree. Barking sea lions provided the perfect soundtrack to this Oregon Coast experience.
  3. Tillamook Cheese Factory: As a family that eats our weight in Tillamook cheddar loaves annually (thank you, Costco!), a stop at Tillamook Cheese Factory was a must. What we didn’t expect was to have so much fun! With free admission, the tour itself was self-guided and family-friendly. There were cheesy (I hear you groaning!) cardboard cutouts, vantage points overlooking the entire production, and even a classic VW bus Loaf Love Tour display to goof around on. Our favorite part of the factory tour was the eating–Tillamook provides tons of delectable cheese samples, including cheese curds (a first for us…maybe an acquired texture?), aged white cheddar, and spicy jalapeno varieties, all undeniably delicious. Our favorite, favorite part, however, was the rich and luscious Tillamook ice cream. Almost free, and worth every penny.
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    Adventures of Five, coming straight to you from the Loaf Love Tour!

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    Mint chip, pecan praline, and strawberry ice cream at Tillamook Cheese Factory
  4. Astoria Riverfront Trolley: From Tillamook, we drove an hour and a half through rolling hills and bucolic pastures to reach Astoria, a quaint little town on the northern reaches of the Oregon Coast. You may remember Astoria as the memorable town featured in the classic ‘80’s flick “The Goonies;” it’s also home to the Astoria-Megler Bridge, a 5-mile engineering marvel that spans the Columbia River, connecting Astoria to Point Ellice, Washington. While you could easily devote a day or more to exploration here, for those pressed for time, an Astoria Riverfront Trolley tour can’t be beat. For only $1 per person, you can hop on a trolley at any number of locations and see all of Astoria’s major sights in an hour, stress-free. Our conductor relayed fun Goonies trivia, elaborated on Astoria’s colorful maritime history, and entertained and educated us for the better part of an hour. Unfortunately, the younger two were wiped out from all of the day’s earlier fun and fell asleep, but that wasn’t such a bad way to spend an hour, either!
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    Astoria-Megler Bridge
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    Astoria Riverfront Trolley–at only $1 per person, there’s no better deal in Astoria

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    Ocean view from the trolley
  5. Fly a balsa airplane from Astoria Column: While in Astoria, we visited Astoria Column, a 125-foot light tower that overlooks the Columbia River and occupies a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The spiral frieze on the exterior pays tribute to Oregon’s early history and Astoria’s role therein; the interior features a steep spiral staircase to the top of the column. I’m already on record as being an acrophobe, but I’m thinking I should amend that to include a fear of falling–especially through stair holes! Neurotic but true. Still, the view at the top made it all worthwhile, though the descent was another story entirely (ie: freezing on a flight of stairs while kind strangers literally talked me down). Once at the top, the kids flew simple $2 balsa airplanes we’d purchased and assembled from the gift shop. Watching their planes sail on the wind was a thrill!
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    Ready to fly planes from Astoria Column
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    View of Astoria-Megler Bridge from the Column
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    $2 balsa planes worth their weight in gold

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    Astoria Column–don’t let a fear of stair holes hold you back. Wait, what do you mean, ‘that’s just me?’ 😀
  6. Doughnuts, Coffee, and Books: From Astoria, we drove 2 hours inland to our first City of Roses stop: Voodoo Doughnut. For anyone who watches shows on Food Network or Travel Channel, this doughnut institution needs no introduction. With a quirky and fun array of doughnut shapes, flavors, and toppings (Captain Crunch doughnuts, anyone? How about a Voodoo doll-shaped pastry with raspberry blood filling?), Voodoo Doughnut is sure to satisfy any craving. We enjoyed a box of bubble gum, lemon curd, and maple bacon offerings and were lucky to walk right in without any lines. I’ve heard the wait can sometimes span entire city blocks and several hours!

    Energized by sugar, we made the half-mile trek to Powell’s Books on foot. As a YA novelist, pilgrimaging to this book mecca was a must, and we happily wandered the aisles for several hours. The return trek to our car was made heavier by impulse book purchases (impossible to avoid at Powell’s!), but a stop at iconic Stumptown Coffee Roasters for afternoon espresso and hot chocolate fueled the walk back. I’m a huge fan of Seattle’s Storyville Coffee, but this rich and smooth espresso rivals the best. While the clientele here was younger and far hipper than we could ever hope to be, the set-up made for a very family-friendly stop.

  7. International Rose Test Garden: After an action-packed day, our final stop for the evening was the International Rose Test Garden for a beautiful and fragrant sunset stroll. Admission was free, but I would’ve gladly paid to see these rose beauties in a city renown for them. Lovely gazebos, pathways, and benches enhanced the experience, and the kids enjoyed the sheer variety of blooms, from jumbo-sized varieties to the smallest miniatures in every color of the rainbow. Plus, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to stop and smell the roses. 🙂
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    International Rose Test Garden Portland, OR
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    Stopping to smell the roses after a long day

  8. Historic Columbia River Highway and Multnomah Falls: The next morning, we drove half an hour from Portland along Historic Columbia River Highway to spectacular Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in Oregon. At a height of 620 feet, the falls are divided into an upper and lower section, with a footbridge spanning the lower cascade. Unfortunately, we were pressed for time and had to stop at the footbridge overlook, where we reveled in the falls’ powerful spray and the lush greenery of the gorge. A return trip is in order to venture to the top of the falls for a bird’s eye view.
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    Spectacular Multnomah Falls
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    I wish my little camera phone could do Multnomah justice, but it just doesn’t

    A previous winter solo trip to the Columbia Gorge led me to 2.4-mile Lautorell Falls Loop and half-mile Bridal Veil Falls loop, another stunner in a region of exquisite beauty. Combining Lautorell and Bridal Veil Falls with Multnomah would make for a particularly lovely morning of waterfall exploration.

  9. U-Pick Strawberries at Bella Organic Farm: We ended our time in Portland picking strawberries at Bella Organic Farm on Sauvie Island. Living in the tropics, pineapples and sugarcane mark the extent of our fruit experience, so picking strawberries at Bella Organic Farm was a treat for all of us! There’s no cost for admission, and all seasonal u-pick fruit is sold by the pound. We foraged for the brightest, juiciest sun-ripened strawberries we could find, quickly filling three buckets and then some. We devoured 6 pounds of berries on the drive over to Seattle, and though there were several “Pull over, I’m going to puke!” false alarms, everyone kept their cookies (and berries) in check. We absolutely loved picking our own fruit and can’t recommend the experience enough.
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They picked 8 pounds of strawberries…
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…and ate 6 pounds en route to Seattle…
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Between carsickness and berry-sickness, it was quite a memorable ride!

36 hours on the Oregon Coast and Portland was not nearly enough, but it was certainly long enough to whet our appetite for more! With an abundance of outdoor and city-centric attractions, the coast and Portland offer so many budget and family-friendly opportunities that we’d love to try someday, especially now that the kids are older. Even so, we loved that these nine activities were accessible to the littlest of littles, making our 2013 road trip memorable for both the grownups and little ones enjoying the ride–a special and gratifying mix, courtesy of Oregon.

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19 thoughts on “36 Hours On the Oregon Coast + Portland: 9 Free (or Almost Free!) Family-Friendly Activities”

  1. Great tips! I love the Oregon coast. Depoe Bay is a really cute tiny town between Newport and Lincoln City where you can get super cheap whale watching tours. It starts at $20 per adult which is the cheapest I’ve seen it anywhere. The sea lion cave in Florence was pretty cool too and I think the admission was cheap.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the awesome whale watching tip–$20 is an incredible price! I don’t think I’ve ever seen it below $45; I’m so bummed we missed that at Depoe Bay. Next time for sure! We passed the Sea Lion Cave but didn’t have time to stop, unfortunately. My list is definitely growing for a return trip, though! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh wow, I want to do ALL of it!! We haven’t been to Oregon yet and it looks like somewhere we would really enjoy. Especially now that we have plenty of good ideas for places to visit! Voodoo Doughnuts has been on my bucket list ever since I saw it on TV, I didn’t know they had a store in Oregon as well. We love Tillamook cheese, the factory visit looks like a must do! Beautiful waterfalls to visit also, Oregon has it all. So much great info, love this post! Omg, 6 lbs of strawberries is quite a lot!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Oregon coast is so much fun–I bet you guys would have a blast! There are so many cute boardwalk shops and eateries, and the scenery is amazing. Coast camping is supposed to be incredible, too; so bummed we didn’t get to camp or hike much. Next time for sure! And holy cow, yes, 6 lbs of strawberries was waaay too much. The kids wouldn’t touch strawberry jam for months after that, lol!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! Can’t wait to see some of these places myself. There’s some great info we can access on our NW USA road trip this summer.

    Kathleen

    On Thu, Mar 23, 2017 at 4:00 AM, Adventures of Five wrote:

    > adventuresoffiveblog posted: “Oregon, let me start by saying this: I’m > madly in love with your drive-thru espresso kiosks. I’m all for perking > coffee at camp or brewing a cup at a motel, but if you’re visiting the > Pacific Northwest, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to one of th” >

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Awesome post! We plan to spend lots of time in Oregon this summer and fall so I really appreciate this, it will be so helpful as we plan our activities. I never heard about all the espresso kiosks but I’m looking forward to trying those. And we are all looking forward to the cheese factory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Heather! How awesome that you’ll be spending so much time in OR! I didn’t know about the kiosks either–not sure if it’s just a PNW thing, but they were a fun find. There were so many great spots we didn’t get to explore–next time for sure! Looking forward to reading all about your trip! PS: the grilled cheese at Tillamook is supposed to be amazing. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for reminding me about the beautiful Oregon Coast. We spent a totally awesome week in a rental cabin on the beach at Pacific City. Everyday we went for long walks and our son had a ball on the huge dune at the north end of the beach. The Three Capes Scenic Drive is amazing and our visit to the Tillamook Cheese Factory was fun (we are huge cheese eaters too). Too bad we missed Voodoo Doughnuts. Those beautiful photos in the strawberry field are making me impatient for summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I’m envious–a week on the coast definitely sounds like the way to go! Thank you for mentioning the rental cabin, too; I didn’t realize that was an option, and it sounds like something we’d love to try. That Pelican Pub in Pacific City looked like a perfect cocktail/sunset spot, too! Fruit orchards and berry fields are a fun novelty for us. We have mango and lychee, but it’s just not the same–no strong seasonal association like summer berries, fall apples, etc. (Though I wouldn’t trade pickled mango season for the world!) 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We got our cabin through AirB&B. It was about 5/6 years ago and not sure if I still have the contact info, but I’ll take a look. The Pelican Pub was absolutely a great place for sunset cocktails! I love mango..second to raspberries!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you so much for checking! AirB&B is fantastic–I don’t know why it doesn’t occur to me as an option more often. Mango’s one of my favorites, too, though it’d be fun to exchange a few pounds for some fresh-picked raspberries! (Too bad that wasn’t a real thing!)

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  6. My wife is a huge fan of “The Goonies.” She has always wanted to visit that area. I bookmarked yet another of your posts for our eventual trip to Oregon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If your wife likes “The Goonies,” she’ll love Astoria! They offer all kinds of Goonies tours and souvenirs–kitschy and fun. You can even drive up to the house it was filmed in! Reminds me a lot of the Forks and “Twilight” connection.

      Like

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