Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

What: Latourell Falls
Where: Columbia River Gorge (Oregon side)

When: Year round
Why: Beautiful sights with or without a hike
Cost: FREE

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So funny story: on New Year’s Day of this year we thought we’d head to the Gorge. The weather was cold but the skies were clear and we wanted to get outside. We decided to hike Latourell Falls (based on our dear friend Becky’s recommendation). The lower falls are right by the parking lot—you can hop out of your car and see the falls in a minute. There’s a viewpoint if you walk up the stairs from the lot, and you can walk around the actual falls if you go down the stairs.

We were feeling eager to move so we decided to take the trail to the smaller-but-still-lovely upper falls. There is a 2.5-mile loop that takes you down to the other falls and back. The kids were happy and we were up for it—why not try it?

Well, it was January 1. Winter, folks. As we went along the trail following Henderson Creek, it got a bit narrow and covered with snow here and there. At first it was charming and beautiful, but then there was more and more snow and ice. When we reached the falls, it was truly breathtaking: the area was covered in ice. The falls were partially frozen, and the mist had coated everything with this incredible layer of ice. Every rock, every blade of grass, the bridge, the trail… everything!

I looked at our three kids, and thought, “Welp! That was cool. Let’s go back the way we came.” But no, my husband really, REALLY wanted to do the loop. So he went ahead and tried walking slowly down the trail, and he immediately fell down. Like, immediately (it’s okay to laugh, I sure did). Again, I thought that was it. But no, he somehow persuaded us all to scoot along down the icy trail and across the bridge sitting on our behinds. It was hilarious. We were all laughing, and my only regret is that there weren’t other hikers nearby at the time to enjoy the absurdity.

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We ended up completing the loop, but not without some cold, tired little hikers. We loved what we saw, but I thought, “I can’t recommend hiking this in the winter on my blog! Somebody will sue!” We decided we really needed to come back and try it in the summer.

I’m happy to report we did. At least the lower falls. We came with my husband’s family last month, took the stairs to the bottom of the falls, and walked behind the water and all around the amazing rock formations. It was peaceful and lush and green, and nobody had to scoot on their butts.

The rocks were so fascinating that I ended up asking my uncle/retired professor/botanist/scientist extraordinaire about them. He replied:

“Look up BASALT COLUMNS. They form if you allow basalt to cool—and, from looking at the photos you just sent, it looks like you may have become distracted, walked off and let it do just that. (Actually, the whole Gorge is basalt with some spectacular examples of columns.)”

A Good Gray: Latourell Falls

He’s smart. And hilarious.

So visit Latourell Falls for sure! But if you go in the winter, you didn’t hear it from me. ;)

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8 MORE Dessert Places to Love in the Portland Burbs

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A while back I came up with 8 dessert places to love on Portland’s west side. Well since then, I’ve sampled—and fallen for—some new ones. So without further adieu, here are 8 more sweet stops I’m happy to take my kids to:

  1. Momo’s Hawaiian Ice: Hillsboro
    This place is the real deal—the ice is perfectly shaved, the flavors are extensive, and you can go big with ice cream and authentic Hawaiian toppings. Big portions, fair prices. It’s tropically delicious.
  2. Beaverton Bakery: Beaverton
    This bakery turns 90 this year, and through the years they’ve been perfecting sugar cookies, cakes, and other specialty bakery creations. We got our wedding cake here, and we love coming back and grabbing a treat with our kids.
  3. The Pie Guy: North Plains
    We first fell in love with his pies at the Hillsboro Farmers’ Market, but my sister just informed me you can now go to his stand. Daily. Stop delaying that gratification! My favorites are Razzleberry and Coconut Cream. Mmmmm boy.
  4. Alotto Gelato: Orenco
    This new-ish spot in Orenco Station (next to La Provence) offers rich, creamy, gelato and Italian sodas in various flavors. It ain’t cheap, but it’s a great sometimes treat.
  5. Donut Day: Beaverton, Tigard
    These are sweet, rich donuts. My husband raves about their coconut, I love their regular glazed. Also try the buttermilk bar and their fritters. Tip: It’s easier to access their Beaverton shop by the side street instead of TV Highway.
  6. Nothing Bundt Cakes: Beaverton, Tualatin, Clackamas
    These little darlings look adorable and taste amazing. The frosting is sweet, but the cake is rich, moist, and just right. They are a great place to order treats for parties or special occasions!
  7. Dutch Bros Coffee: Various locations
    Yes, it’s a drive-thru coffee chain, but it’s headquartered in Oregon and feeeeels local-ish. Also, a junior menu with delicious smoothies, shakes, and hot chocolate? It just hits the spot sometimes.
  8. Sesame Donuts: Beaverton, Hillsboro, Tigard
    We first tried these donuts (oddly enough) at the cafe in the Hillsboro Main Library. You can buy a ton of donut holes for cheap, and I found them to be a traditional yet tasty donut. Their other locations are open 24/7. Try their trademark Sesame Donut.

 

Banks-Vernonia State Trail

What: Banks-Vernonia State Trail
Where: 21 miles between the cities of Banks and Vernonia

When: Year round
Why: It’s easy biking and hiking for your family with breathtaking views
Cost: FREE

AGoodGray Banks Vernonia State Trail

Over the Memorial Day weekend we went on our first family bike ride since our eldest mastered ye ol’ training wheels. We’d heard great things about the Banks-Vernonia Trail, so we went to see for ourselves.

It was BEAUTIFUL. At the risk of sounding bossy, you simply MUST try it out this summer.

The trail is paved, clear, often shaded, and overall pretty darn flat (in a former life, this trail was a railroad track). You’ll pass pristine farms and gorgeous countryside. Cyclists, runners, hikers, and folks on horseback are all welcome on this trail. Dogs must be on a leash.

Park for free at one of six trailheads: Banks, Manning, Buxton, Tophill, Beaver Creek, and Vernonia. The trail also runs through L. L. Stub Stewart State Park.

We drove to Banks and parked in an overflow parking “lot” (this gravel strip across from the paved lot was gratefully legit); it was Memorial Day, after all. Although the lot was full, we were happy to see the trail wasn’t. We had our bike trailer and a young cyclist, so we just kept to the right when needed at our sloooow training-wheel pace, and we didn’t feel crowded at all.

We biked about 4 miles to the Manning parking lot to rest and relieve (most lots have some sort of bathroom or port-of-potty). The Manning stop is right off Highway 26, so Dad risked life and limb to run across and down it to get us Dilly Bars at Dairy Queen. They were cherry. I don’t recommend the life-risking or the cherry bars, but do what you like.

The 4 miles back were tough on our 6-year-old, but she did it and I couldn’t be prouder. She has informed me that next time 6 miles round trip would be better than 8, so we’ll consider that for our next adventure. We’ll definitely be back to try it again!

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Cape Lookout State Park

What: Cape Lookout State Park
Where: 13000 Whiskey Creek Rd, Tillamook

When: Year round
Why: Beautiful beach access with tree-shrouded campsites
Cost: $5/day for day use, $21 and up for campsites

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We yurted again last month (going back to a tent is going to be very difficult), but this time we checked out Cape Lookout State Park with some dear friends. We had great food, excellent company, and only a teensy bit of rain. It hit the spot, ya’ll.

Cape Lookout, just southwest of Tillamook, is a coastal forest on a stretch of beach between Netarts Bay and the Pacific. You can see capes, rock formations, and beauty galore from beach. The day use area and campsites are just over the dunes, so we spent a lot of time playing in the sand. Unlike other beach campsites, I love that Cape Lookout is full of massive trees, many freakishly warped by the wind. The trees offered extra privacy, protection from the wind, and entertainment for the kids.

The park offers 35 full-hookup sites, more than 170 tent sites, 13 yurts, and 6 deluxe cabins. There are also 2 group tent camping areas, a hiker/biker camp, and a meeting hall. As a state park it has the usual hot showers, restrooms, fire wood for sale, and the Junior Ranger program. We were happy with our yurt site (shout out to Yurt 44!), but our friend’s tent site was prettttty small; choose your tent site carefully.

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With so many little kids in tow, we decided against the 5-mile round trip hike to the cape (there are some steep cliffs). However, I’m told it’s lovely with breathtaking views and epic whale-watching opportunities. You’ll need to drive or hike to the trail head from the day use area and campsites.

One thing that really sealed my love for Cape Lookout was the fact that we were still close to plenty of other cool places. I recommend exploring:
– Netarts Bay for clamming and crabbing (15 minutes away)
Tillamook Cheese Factory (20 minutes away)
– Cape Meares Lighthouse and Octopus Tree (20 minutes away)

We’ll be back, Cape Lookout!

Taking Kids to Newport, OR

During our Kindergartener’s first Spring Break, our family spent a few fun-filled days in Oregon’s own city of Newport. Located along the central coast, this city and beach make for a kid-happy vacation. With options for playing indoors and outdoors, take your kids to Newport and you’re sure to find something fantastic for everyone in your crew.

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INDOOR PLAY:

  • Oregon Coast Aquarium: This is a small yet beautiful aquarium, with a variety of animals. A highlight is walking through their awesome tunneled tank, while fish and sharks swim all around you. Open daily 10 am to 5 or 6 pm, admission is pricey: in 2016 it ranges from $14.95 to $22.95 per person (kids 0 to 2 are free).
  • Hatfield Marine Science Center: If you want to see marine life without paying aquarium prices, this FREE visitor center from OSU is a great alternative. They have please-touch tidepools, a resident octopus, and several other fish varieties on display.
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  • Bay Boulevard/Bayfront: Technically this is both indoor and outdoor play, but I’d consider walking along the bayfront a must-do in Newport. The heart of the city is along Bay Boulevard, where you can see fisherman coming in, hear the relentless barking of the sea lions, and find local shops, artists, and restaurants.

 OUTDOOR PLAY:

  • Yaquina Head Lighthouse: We loved Yaquina Head so much we went twice during our short weekend. We didn’t tour the beautiful and historic lighthouse (small children can’t go up), but we walked around it and enjoyed the incredible views—it’s a great spot for whale watching. You’ll pay a fee to enter the area, but it lasts for a few days and gives you access to the interpretive center (which is worth a visit) and Cobble Beach (see below).
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  • Cobble Beach: Descend the stairs on the south side of Yaquina Head and you’ll find an unexpected treasure—Oregon’s only naturally-occurring cobble beach. It’s made up entirely of smooth black rocks that crackle as the waves come in at high tide. It offers views of harbor seals and tide pools galore at low tide. Park Rangers stand by to offer info on marine life.
  • Agate Beach: Our hotel was right off of Agate Beach, so we spent a lot of time here playing, kiting, bonfiring, etc. It’s a nice, flat sandy beach with a small river and great views of Yaquina Head. We saw whales from here with our binoculars (!!!!), but oddly enough we did not see agates (head closer to the state park and I think you’ll have success).
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  • Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and Recreation Site: This lighthouse lacks the wow factor of Yaquina Head, so we only drove by here quickly. Apparently the recreation site has a nice beach with beautiful views

FOOD

  • Mo’s on the Newport Bayfront: This is the original of the popular Oregon coast chain. Located on Newport’s busy Bay Boulevard, this place is extremely casual and welcoming to families. You’re not an Oregonian if you haven’t tried their chowder.
  • Pig ‘N Pancake: This is another Oregon coast chain that we like for their breakfast food. It’s not earth-shattering, but our kids are happy here. Interestingly, the Newport location is in the old city hall building built in the 1920s.
  • Georgie’s Beachside Grill: This is a very nice place that will require your kids to be in restaurant-mode. We enjoyed our food and the service, but the real winner of the night was the view. Ask to be seated by a window, and you’re sure to be dazzled.
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Well done, Newport. Well done.

Easter 2016: Portland & the West Side

What’s hoppin’ this Easter? Get some ideas on how to have some eggstra fun with your family this year.

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MARCH 12 (SATURDAY)
Peter Rabbit Pancake Breakfast and Carnival (West Linn): This 40-year tradition at West Linn High School is a treat. From 8:00 to 11:00 am, pay a small fee for breakfast, games, auction, and a visit with Peter Rabbit.
Egg Hunt for Hope (Sherwood): This fundraising egg hunt begins at 1:00 pm.

MARCH 18 (FRIDAY)
Underwater Egg Hunt (Beaverton): Hunt for eggs in the pool and other fun Easter activities at the Conestoga Recreation and Aquatic Center. $7, 6:00 to 8:30 pm.

MARCH 19 (SATURDAY)
Breakfast with the Easter Bunny at Bridgeport Village (Tigard): For $10 a ticket you can enjoy breakfast, crafts, music, prizes, and visits with the Easter Bunny and Mother Goose.
Extreme Egg Hunt for Teens (Beaverton): This is part egg hunt, part scavenger hunt, and all fun for anyone 13-17 years old at the Tualatin Hills Athletic Center. $20, 5:00 to 7:00 pm.

MARCH 26 (SATURDAY)
Underwater EGGstravaganza at SHARC (Hillsboro): Bring your kids to hunt for eggs and prizes, and even visit with the Easter Bunny. $10/resident, $15/non-resident.
Rabbit Romp at the Oregon Zoo (Portland): Free with zoo admission, children 10 and under can hunt for candy eggs every 15 minutes from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.
Hippity Hop Bunny Hop Through the Pearl District (Portland): Come to the Pearl for fun activities, treats, and a hug and picture with the Easter Bunny. 10:30 am to 3:00 pm.
Spring Egg Hunt (Portland): This egg hunt—rain or shine—will have candy and prize eggs, as well as hot chocolate and donuts at Garden Home Recreation Center. $7, 11:00 am to noon.
Great Westside Easter Egg Hunt (Hillsboro): At the Washington County Fair Complex you can enjoy egg hunts and visits with the Easter Bunny. (Additional activities are available for an extra fee.) 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, $5/family.
Egg Hunt at Lee Farms (Tualatin): Each child 12 and under gets to hunt for eggs, decorate a cookie, see the Easter Bunny, and make crafts. 9:00 am to 12:30 pm. Tickets are $6 and are selling out fast.
Alpenrose Dairy Egg-stravaganza (Portland): Come for egg hunts (with prizes!), the Easter Bunny, and more, starting at 10:30 am.
Egg Hunt at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm (Woodburn): Bring your little ones to hunt at one of the most beautiful places in Oregon. Come early for the hunts at 10:00 am and noon.

MARCH 27 (SUNDAY)
Sunrise Easter Service at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm (Woodburn): What a beautiful place to start Easter Sunday! This 7:00 am Sunrise Easter Service in the tulip fields will be run by WAMA, Woodburn Area Ministerial Association.

Anything I missed? Please let me know in the comments below!

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St. Patrick’s 2016: Portland & the West Side

Whether you’re Irish to the core or just for the day, there’s plenty o’ fun for your family in our area this week.

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MARCH 12 (SATURDAY)
Murphy’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade (Hillsboro): Participate in this beloved 40-year tradition—parade, food, and children’s activities. Parade at 11:00 am, lunch at noon.
St. Agatha’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Festival (Portland): This Catholic school’s yearly celebration features a parade, carnival, 5k fun run, and live entertainment, all starting at 11:00 am.
Luckython (Aloha): Bring the whole family to the Reserve Vineyards and Golf Club for fun runs for kids, competitive races for adults, and a potato bar for all.

MARCH 13 (SUNDAY)
Shamrock Run (Portland): With all sorts of races, ranging from stroller-friendly runs to a half marathon, this event has something for everybody.

MARCH 17 (THURSDAY)
Paddy’s St. Patrick’s Celebration (Portland): This tented street party is family-friendly from 11:00 am to 9:30 pm. Come for a Irish feast and exciting entertainment—bagpipes, dancers, bands, and more.
St. Patrick’s Day Celebration by the Oregon Irish Club (Portland): From 4:00 to 9:00 pm at the Ambridge Event Center you can see Irish dancers and bands, visit the children’s area, and enjoy Irish food. See site for admission prices.
McMenamins (several locations): This Portland chain invites all ages to come for delicious food and special Irish entertainment.
St. Patrick’s Day Dinner (Hillsboro): Enjoy corn beef and cabbage, boiled potatoes, and more at the senior center. $6/person.

 

Anything I missed?? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

Marvelous List of Seuss Books You Missed

Did you know March 2 is the birthday of beloved author Theodor Geisel, a/k/a Dr. Seuss? (And Read Across America Day!) To celebrate this year, we’ve already started curling up with a bunch of our favorite Seuss books—just what the doctor ordered.

The good doctor wrote so many witty and charming books (over 40 just for children) that you may not have read them all. Besides the classics like “Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham,” our favorites also come from a lesser-known crowd.
A Good Gray: Marvelous List of Dr. Seuss Books You Missed

So without further adieu, here is a marvelous list of Seuss books you may have missed:

“The Sneetches and Other Stories”
The_Sneetches_and_Other_StoriesThis book is a foundation of my husband’s childhood. Besides those fickle Sneetches, we oft quote the other stories—”Mrs. McCave who had 23 sons and named them all Dave” and those dear “pale green pants with nobody inside them.”

“Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!”
MarvinKMooneyWillYouPleaseGoNowBookCoverThis was the first “big” book I ever read by myself as a wee first grader, so it has a special place in my heart. I can vouch for it being good for early readers, and it has that dependable Seuss sense of humor.

“Oh the Thinks You Can Think”
Oh,_the_Thinks_You_Can_Think_coverThis is Dr. Seuss quirkiness and creativity set to max. I really wish I could say, “Dear Ted, oh the thinks YOU can think!!!” (Where did he dream up this stuff??)

“Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?”
A Good Gray: Marvelous List of Dr. Seuss Books You MissedLike many of his other books, this one teaches a lesson: appreciation and gratitude. And of course his hilarious rhymes and illustrations make you love the ride.

“If I Ran the Circus”
IfIRantheCircusThis book about the Circus McGurkus is another favorite from my husband’s family. And we love it so much we accidentally ended up with two copies. (Want one?)

“The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories”
10678780I love this one more for the history: these are stories Ted printed in various magazines from 1948 to 1959, and they were pretty much forgotten until a Seuss scholar tracked them down. Lucky us, we get to easily read them now!

“My Book About Me”
Book About MeMy sister was given this book when we were little, and I always coveted it. You get to fill in each page with information about yourself. Dr. Seuss wrote but didn’t illustrate it, and it’s quite fun.

“Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!”
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This one is unique: author Jack Prelutsky and illustrator Lane Smith built off verses and sketches that Ted wrote before his death in 1991 to create this story. It’s the tale of some eccentric teachers and their students.

So what Dr. Seuss books are your top-of-the-list books?

Tillamook Cheese Factory

What: Tillamook Cheese Factory
Where: 4175 Highway 101 North, Tillamook, OR
Who: All Ages
When: Daily 8 am to 6 pm (Labor Day to mid-June) or 8 pm (Mid-June to Labor Day)
Cost: FREE
Why: It’s a fun family outing at a proud Oregon institution

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Growing up when my mom would want us to smile for a picture, she’d say “Tillamook” and we’d say “CHEESE!” It’s just hard to talk about cheese and not bring up Tillamook, especially here in Oregon.

Tillamook Cheese is headquartered in green and gorgeous Tillamook County, Oregon. They make delicious cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and more with milk from dozens of local dairy farmers.

The cheese factory is located just off Highway 101 on the coast. It’s open daily for free self-guided tours. With a birds-eye view you get to watch the actual factory floor where they mix, age, and package the cheese. (We went with friends today and one of the employees waved up to our kids. They went wild.)

Downstairs your kids can play around with the photo spots in the lobby. The informative posters and signs may be lost on them, but the orange VW van is a HIT.

You can also sample the squeaky cheese curds and some of their popular flavors. Then you can shop for Tillamook products and merchandise, and grab a bite to eat. The food at the cafe is tasty yet a bit overpriced, but we simply must stop at the ice cream counter for a cone. (Tillamook Mudslide? Hazelnut and Salted Caramel?? Oh baby.)

Weekends and holidays will be busy, so prepare yourself for long food lanes and slow-moving traffic. The drive there is breathtaking and it’s close to other great stops on the coast like Cape Lookout and Rockaway Beach.

So next time you’re cruising the coast, make time to stop at Tillamook. You (and your tastebuds!) won’t regret it.

Big Al’s

What: Big Al’s at Progress Ridge
Where: 14950 SW Barrows Road, Beaverton, OR 97007
Who: All Ages
When: Usually 11:00 am to 11:00 pm, weekend times extended
Why: It’s a family-friendly play place with great grown-up touches

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A few weeks ago we went to Big Al’s at Progress Ridge for my niece’s birthday party. We’d never been there before and we didn’t quite know what to expect.

First thought: The name is no joke. It’s BIG! As in grandiose. It includes a sports bar, arcade, bowling alley, and swanky VIP bowling alley. It’s sleek, clean, and well-designed.

My second thought: Should our kids be here?? I wondered if someone was going to card us and send us, our snotty noses, and our stroller packing. It just seemed too grown-up and too nice of a place to bring children.

But good news! While children probably aren’t the target demographic, Big Al’s still makes families very, very welcome. We were there on a Saturday morning, and the place was full to the brim with kids. The staff was friendly and patient with all the chaos.

There are discounts for kids 12 and under too—like Eat2Play (a meal + arcade deal) and $2 bowling before 5:00 pm. They offers fun birthday packages (including party rooms), arcade options just for small kids, and a rewards shop that caused my girls’ hearts to soar. They also participate in the Kids Bowl Free summer program.

We thought the arcade was pricey (about $1.25 a game), but that was our only complaint. Big Al’s is a great place for your snot-nosed little darlings on a rainy afternoon, or your main squeeze on a date night. Give it a try sometime.