When we were invited to spend two weeks in Oregon exploring the state’s 7 Wonders (Mt. Hood, Columbia River Gorge, The Oregon Coast, The Painted Hills, Wallowas, Crater Lake and Smith Rock), our first thought was, “They want us to do all this in the middle of winter?!” We'd later come to find out that winter weather would be the reason this particular trip would end up being so fun.

We were in the Midwest when we got the call to come on this adventure. We'd left Southern California four months earlier in our built-out Dodge Sprinter van (Shaquille) with plans to spend the year road-tripping across U.S. and Canada.

Night one of 14 started off at Portland's Hotel Deluxe. Photo: Clark

Night one of 14 started off at Portland’s Hotel Deluxe. Photo: Clark

This Vanventure, as we've dubbed it, is all about seeing and experiencing the amazingness that exists in our own backyard. So this 7 Wonders trip would serve as a perfect extension of that — an in-depth adventure into the beauty of the Beaver State.

We arrived in Portland to a downpour, with much more rain and snowfall in the forecast. We'd expected some weather, but even locals were saying they hadn't seen a storm like this in years.

So what do you do when it's pouring rain and you're in a town known for it's foodie culture? You eat. And drink. And that we did.

Blue Star Donuts

Donuts at Blue Star. Which one would you grab? Photo: Clark

Donuts at Blue Star. Which one would you grab? Photo: Clark

We picked all of the above. Photo: Clark

We picked all of the above. Photo: Clark

Known for their unique flavors, like Blueberry-Bourbon-Basil, Marionberry Pepper Jam-Peanut Butter and Maple Bacon, Blue Star Donuts is a great way to kick off any trip to the city.

Heart Coffee Roasters

Heart 3

We heart Heart.

In a city known for great coffee, it's hard to go wrong. We love the rich taste of a Heart espresso and the warm, minimalist vibe of their coffee shops.

Fun fact: Heart is founded by pro snowboarder Wille Yli-Luoma, who migrated to Portland from Finland since the 600,000 city reminded him of Europe.

Tin Shed

Located on Alberta Street in the Northeast neighborhood, this soulful, cozy establishment is your best bet for a delicious breakfast, brunch or lunch.

Try the Heartless Artichoke sandwich on a sourdough roll or the Fungus Amongus if you're a vegetarian or just love deliciousness.

Alder Food Cart Pod

So many choices! We went with Thai... and had no regrets. Photo: Clark

So many choices! We went with Thai… and had no regrets. Photo: Clark

Located centrally downtown, this food cart pod is one of the largest in the city, offering up nearly any type of food you can imagine — for cheap!

Tasty n Alder

A spendier dinner option, this is small-plate, foodie heaven. They don't take reservations, so it's a good idea to get there right when they open at 5:30 and put your name in to avoid a multiple-hour wait. (And if you're on a budget, we'd recommend getting an appetizer somewhere else first; portions are little. Be sure try the Bone Marrow. It's mind-blowing.)


Located across the street from Tasty and Alder, Kask's unique craft cocktails and a cozy ambiance make it the perfect place to spend the hour waiting to get the call that your table is ready.

Pine State Biscuits

Delicious heart attack, anyone?

Delicious heart attack, anyone?

Your cholesterol might spike just looking at these buttery, gravy-covered, meat-filled biscuit sandwiches, but your taste buds will thank you. Try the Reggie Deluxe with fried chicken, bacon and cheese, topped with an egg and gravy, and wash it down with a Stumptown nitro cold-brew coffee.

Oven and Shaker

Looking for a great top-shelf cocktail and gourmet pizza with fun ingredients like maple mascarpone and aged balsamic? This is your place.

Aside from the great eating (which, in our opinion, is one of the most wonderful things to do in the city), Portland is filled with numerous neighborhoods worth exploring.

Here are just a few of the great places we discovered:

Washington Park

Just blocks from downtown, Washington Park is a massive public urban park with miles of trails for hiking or running, as well as a zoo, forestry museum, arboretum, rose garden, Japanese garden and more.

If you can make it there in the fall, we hear the colors are stunning.

Shopping/Wandering/Art Gallery-ing

Alberta St.

A vibrant, 20-block arts district filled with shops, restaurants and art galleries (home to Tin Shed and Pine State Biscuits listed above).

Mississippi Avenue

Apparently this area used to be quite grungy, but today it's home to an artsy collection of shops, eateries, and bars that capture the unique and eccentric nature of Portland. Go to Liberty Glass for a fine cocktail in a converted pink house.

Downtown/Pearl District

We'll put these together since it's all walkable and both are filled with great breweries, distilleries, boutiques, galleries, and Portland-made artisan goods. We loved wandering around here—even in the rain. We especially loved the awe-inspiring Powell's Books, with over over four million books in their 68,000-square-foot downtown establishment. It's definitely a place worth getting lost in for an hour — or more.

Tillamook Forest Center

Outside Portland, the landscape quickly changes to country farmland and then just as quickly to dense forest. Though not technically on the coast, the Tillamook Forest and Coast Range Mountains act as a great intro to the lush climate of the coast.

On our stop at the Tillamook Forest Center along the Wilson River Highway 6, we learned that this 364,000-acre forest was burned to the ground in a series of fires that began in the early '30s then was replanted by hand by thousands of local volunteers.

Today, it's hard to believe this thick, beautiful forest wouldn't exist if not for those efforts. With its enthusiastic staff, modern exhibits, and miles of hiking trails, the Tillamook Forest Center is definitely worth a stop if you're in or around the Greater Portland area.

Janna Irons and Johnny Stifter, @vanventures

To win an Oregon Winter Wonders getaway …

Learn more about John and Janna’s trip through Oregon’s 7 Wonders and plan your own adventure at TravelOregon.com

Stay tuned as we explore the first of the 7 Wonders of Oregon: The Oregon Coast.