Where to eat, drink, and play for two days in wine country
By Andrew Collins
In the Columbia Gorge AVA, vineyards showcase a dizzying range of grapes—more than 50 varieties in all, from cooler-climate Pinot noir and Chardonnay to sun-loving varieties like Syrah, Cabernet, and Zinfandel. Enjoy any of them with views of rolling slopes lined with orchards of cherry and pear trees. Visitors can also find an array of adventures like biking, kiteboarding, and windsurfing in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area along with the chance to tour picturesque river towns filled with galleries, inns, and restaurants, all within an hour of Portland.
Head to The Dalles for French toast and a latte in the courtyard of the Riv Cafe, which sits in an old stone masonry in a historic neighborhood. Nearby, Fort Dalles, a 19th-century military encampment, serves as an engaging, artifact-filled museum. At the east edge of downtown, the Sunshine Mill Winery occupies a restored flour mill. To the west of town, along US 30, the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center catalogs the natural history of the region. Just up the road, Rowena Crest sits atop a soaring cliff with spectacular views of the Columbia River. In spring, don’t miss the 3-mile round-trip hike through the wildflower-strewn meadows of Tom McCall Nature Preserve. A few miles west, sample wines at Idiot’s Grace, which farms organic grapes from vineyard plots overlooking the Columbia River.
Head west to Hood River to taste local bounty at the Gorge White House, with try-and-buy wines from many local producers, U-pick flower and berry fields, and garden-fresh salads and sandwiches. If the Columbia Gorge’s famous winds are blowing, consider an adventurous lesson in windsurfing or kiteboarding from the amiable instructors at Big Winds.
Soak up the late afternoon rays at Viento Wines, whose light-filled contemporary tasting room offers pours of crisp, dry Riesling and Pinot gris. Or, join the bustle along the Hood River Waterfront, home to a string of casual eateries and a river-hugging park. Solstice Wood Fire Pizza is a must for slices of the house specialty pie, “Country Girl Cherry,” with chorizo, goat cheese, and local cherries. On warm summer evenings, end the day with a walk to the Spit, a sandy beach jutting into the Columbia River.
For a relaxed tour of the Gorge’s iconic scenery, exit Interstate 84 in favor of the Historic Columbia River Highway. First opened in 1913 (and dubbed the King of Roads), this two-lane path is a treasure in its own right, with graceful, cliff-hugging curves. Stunning waterfalls, such as 250-foot Latourell Falls and 176-foot Horsetail Falls, can be seen right off the historic highway. Stop by Vista House at Crown Point, an octagonal marvel opened in 1918 complete with an observation deck and powerful views of the Gorge.
In the hamlet of Cascade Locks, break for lunch and a pint of IPA or stout on the riverfront patio of Thunder Island Brewing. Adjacent Cascade Locks Marine Park is a departure point for popular cruises on the vintage sternwheeler Columbia Gorge, which runs two-hour sightseeing, dinner, and brunch cruises offering spectacular vistas of both sides of the river, including an up-close view of historic Bonneville Dam and Locks and 620-foot Multnomah Falls. Wrap up the day with a scoop of classic Americana flavor at the East Wind Drive-In, where burgers and swirls of ice cream are served from a walk-up window.