I love exploring Oregon. And I love having company. Getting to explore Oregon with company? Maybe one of my favorite things. When my parents visited over the summer, I took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a couple of nearby attractions.
The first is literally just down the road in the small town of Winston. Wildlife Safari began in 1972 as a conservation facility and has grown into that and more. The major attraction is the drive-through wild animal park, featuring dozens of species that can be seen from the car.
We saw zebras, giraffes, hippos, bears, and elephants, many of which get to roam completely free throughout their area of the park.
There is a spot to feed some of the animals (buying feed is an additional charge and the vehicular line is even slower than the drive through the rest of the park).
Wildlife Safari is especially known for their cheetah conservation and breeding program.
An adult ticket is $17.99 and kids up to 12 years old are $11.99 per ticket. However, I’ve noticed that there are usually specials available, so you may check out Groupon before you go. In addition to the drive through portion, there is the Safari Village, which houses additional animal displays. There are special events throughout the year, as well. It was a fun way to spend a sunny, summery morning.
The other, super fun, thing that I did with my parents was Hellgate Jetboat Excursions. This was seriously one of the most fun things I have done in a while. We chose to do the dinner tour. With our $66 tickets booked in advance (I would recommend this – our tour was completely full), we arrived at Hellgate’s check-in desk (which not so subtly requires one to walk through a rather large gift shop) and then to the line to get onto the boats.
We started the tour with a lovely, relatively tame, mostly dry trip down the river.
The scenery along the Rogue River was spectacular. We went all the way to Hellgate Canyon, with a few exciting spins and minor splashes thrown in.
We then turned around and stopped by Hellgate’s own restaurant, The Ok Corral, on the river for dinner. Despite the fact that there were almost 300 people present, dinner in the open-air restaurant was delicious and well paced.
The family style dinner included barbecue, salad, and delicious sides. I had preordered the vegetarian option, which was a surprisingly edible vegetarian lasagna.
And let’s not forget the classic Oregon summer dessert – berry crumble.
After dinner, there was time to wander around as the evening began to cool. Relaxed with the content feeling that only comes after dinner with good friends, little did we know what was in store.
The real fun began with the ride back. What had been lively spins on the first part of the tour became wildly fun spins and splashes, sometimes in conjunction with another one of the boats that had everyone soaked and laughing by the time we arrived back in Grants Pass.
There was literally no way to stay dry, even if you tried to use your child as a human shield, not to name names. My mom did her best to hide behind my dad. That too was unsuccessful. We had an absolute blast. As we pulled up to the dock to disembark from the tour, I felt a mix of disappointment that it was over and a strong desire to put on dry clothes. Too bad I hadn’t thought of that beforehand…
If you are looking for a delightful summer activity in southern Oregon I highly recommend Hellgate. They have a number of tours, including one that goes further into the canyon and a brunch tour that probably needs to be a part of my plans next summer.
And with that, another successful weekend with out of town guests was completed.
After coming up with my Oregon Bucket List, I of course couldn’t wait to start checking things off the list. Basically, I had created the ideal excuse to travel all over Oregon as often as I can.
Fortunately, I have the perfect partner in crime with whom to travel. In January, Brandon and I spent a weekend in the lovely coastal town of Florence, Oregon. And checking two things off of my list – ATVing through the Oregon Dunes and visiting the Sea Lion Caves. And doing other fun stuff. And eating too much delicious food.
I know that there are (theoretically) people out there who do not care about where they stay when they travel. Any old hostel with a bunk bed and a shared bathroom will do. I, however, am most certainly not one of those people. I don’t need 5 star hotels to be happy (although they don’t exactly make me sad), but I do prefer a certain level of style and cleanliness. Add to that wanting to bring Sydney along for the weekend and it was beginning to feel that I was asking for too much. That despite my regular assertions to the contrary I was, in fact, kind of high maintenance. For a while, it seemed as if my pet-friendly options were going to be choosing between a hotel that was the probable scene of a serial murder or sleeping in my car. VRBO to the rescue. Thanks to the magic of VRBO, we found a perfectly cozy, pet friendly cottage that met my (apparently high) expectations.
At $70 a night, the price was right, too.
The simple, tastefully decorated cottage contained a single room, with the bed tucked back into an alcove. Ideal for two people, there was a small sitting area adjacent to a pseudo-kitchen outfitted with small appliances, such as a coffee maker and toaster oven.
My only complaint was the bathroom (and yet again I’m forced to consider that perhaps I’m underestimating my level of pickiness). It was teeny, tiny with the toilet right next to the small shower that even I found cramped.
The cottage was perfect for a weekend, but I was tired of that bathroom after a night or two. But then again, our weekend was all about exploring, so we did not spend too much time there anyway. Plus, our cottage was within walking distance of the beach.
We spent the weekend walking hand in hand along the beach and checking things off my bucket list. Despite the cold and windy days, the beach was lovely. As Sydney chased the white foam down the beach, Brandon looked for sea shells and driftwood forts. I made an effort to notice and capture the beauty of the moment in memory and photographs.
As romantic as strolling down the beach was, we needed a bit more variety mixed into the weekend. A short and scenic drive up the coast brought us to the Sea Lion Caves. Tickets to access the viewing site are $14 for adults.
The natural sea cave was discovered in 1880 by a local seaman who later purchased the property. Ownership later changed hands and the cave has been open to the public since 1932. Today’s modern elevator makes for much easier (and safer) access than the original stairs. Then again, the price has “improved,” as well. When it opened, access to the caves cost a mere 25 cents. The cave is home to Stellar sea lions. Winter is a great time to visit because the sea lions are often out of the cave during the spring and summer.
Fair warning: the cave is loud and smelly! Despite that, it is definitely a unique spot worth the price of admission. I was mesmerized by the sea lions, watching as they gracefully jumped into the water or much more clumsily worked their giant bodies back onto the rocks.
The trail to the cave offers a fantastic view of the rugged Oregon coastline and there is also a viewing point for the iconic Heceta Lighthouse.
To add in a bit more adventure, we spent an afternoon among the Oregon Dunes. The dunes were incredible. Stretching as far as you can see along the coast, it was an almost unbelievable sight, the desert juxtaposed against the sea with an unexpected backdrop of evergreen trees.
After first seeing the dunes by foot, we (and by we I mean Brandon) decided renting an ATV would be fun. And it was. It was also simultaneously and equally terrifying.
The entire time, every single moment, I was equal parts enthralled and in fear of my life. Probably because Brandon was driving. Brandon who, from the moment the employee safety briefing ended, did pretty much everything we were told not to. Stay in the boundaries? That’s just boring. Don’t get within 50 feet of the water? But then you would miss the cool close up view. Whatever you do, don’t go sideways up the hill? Obviously we’re going to do that because it’s way more fun.
My own personal addendum to the safety briefing: whatever you do, do not leave your cell phone in an unzipped pocket. If you do, you could potentially experience a moment of sheer panic when said phone is no longer in your pocket. After wildly signaling to stop the vehicle, you might then frantically, and hopelessly, look for the phone in the firm knowledge it is now irrevocably buried somewhere in the sand, lost forever along with the pictures you hoped to later post on Instagram to make people believe that you’re cool and adventurous and not at all terrified of taking an ATV up and down sheer cliffs of sand. If you’re lucky, your boyfriend might find your slightly melted yet still functional phone in a small crevice of the engine, where it somehow just happened to land. This is all hypothetical, of course. What kind of person would leave their cell phone in an unzipped pocket while riding in an ATV across sand dunes?
Hypothetical cell phone catastrophe aside, it was an incredibly fun (and scary) afternoon.
Along with checking two items off my bucket list, walking along the beach, and staying in an adorable cottage, we also, unsurprisingly, found the best places to eat.
Mo’s Restaurant in Florence is a satellite of the original restaurant in Newport. Famous for their clam chowder, I also ate the very yummy popcorn scallops.
We enjoyed our lunch with an unparalleled view of the river. Great food, great company, and a great view – there’s nothing better!
An unexpected find was Homegrown Pub. Featuring Northwest brews and dishes made from locally sourced and organic ingredients, this place was incredible.
There was even live music the Friday evening that we were there.
We started our meal with the steamer clams – local clams steamed in a fennel, thyme, and chile cider broth.
Brandon ordered even more mussels in the form of a cioppino and there was absolutely no way I was missing out on the special, a black truffle pasta – homemade pappardelle mixed with local mushrooms and an alfredo sauce topped with a generous serving of shaved black truffle.
And because we had obviously not had enough to eat, we ended our meal with dessert – a homemade brownie topped with ice cream and abundant caramel.
Another not-to-be-missed find was Boxed Lunch, a local food cart parked in front of the cinema.
We enjoyed our picnic lunch with a view of the dunes.
The food was seriously delicious.
Our fancy dinner out while in Florence was at Waterfront Depot. The restaurant is a Florence icon, and for good reason. Located in a repurposed and relocated train depot, one almost always needs reservations to get a table, even during the less busy winter months.
It was the ideal spot for a romantic dinner.
Most importantly, the food was excellent. After sharing the calamari, I tried the restaurant’s most popular dish, the crab encrusted halibut. There is also the crab encrusted cod. However, as my boyfriend, who might be slightly obsessive about where his seafood comes from, pointed out, it is possible to know exactly where the Alaskan halibut came from, but the term “cod” was not nearly specific enough to determine the exact kind of fish or from whence it came. Thus, I ordered the halibut to shorten his lecture and to prevent him from exhaustively questioning the waitress about the fish.
That evening, we forewent the many delicious desserts offered at the Waterfront Depot in favor of a fire and s’mores.
When Sunday morning came around, I was certainly not ready to come home, for Brandon to leave for Alaska, or to return to work the following day. We comforted ourselves over a hearty breakfast at the roadside Morgan’s Country Kitchen.
A fluffy veggie-packed omelet and a good cup of coffee went a long way toward making me feel better.
We headed home with memories of another great weekend, this time on the Oregon coast. And, I am able to mark two more spots off of my Oregon Bucket List. My next trip will most definitely not be somewhere in Oregon – I’m taking a wintery trip to Iceland! I can’t wait to share more about my next adventure.