I’m here to toot my horn for the Tualatin Valley. After spending a few days in the countryside of Oregon this past fall, I can’t wait to share this hidden treasure with you.
I didn’t know what to expect when the Washington County Visitors Association invited me for a visit. Between the wine and food and hiking and biking, they made the Tualatin Valley sound so appealing that I was smitten and packed my suitcase for an adventure in the Pacific Northwest.
So many things to do in the Tualatin Valley
There are plenty of things to do in the Tualatin Valley, located about 30-40 minutes outside of the city of Portland, Oregon.
The Tualatin Valley is a destination filled with vineyards and wineries, u-pick farms and farmers markets, golf courses, quaint shops, homespun and multi-cultural dining establishments, eclectic lodging options and places to enjoy the great outdoors.
The best part is that all the proprietors and locals are welcoming and eager to show off what makes the Tualatin Valley such a great vacation spot.
An evening of wine tasting and yoga
Since the Tualatin Valley is situated in the northern tip of the Willamette Valley, the state’s largest wine growing region, it was fitting to spend my first evening at Raptor Ridge Winery. Even better, it was a Tuesday night when the winery hosts yoga classes.
It was a beautiful setting for yoga. Looking out over the vineyards at sunset helped soothe my soul. After a round of asanas (Hatha postures), co-owner Annie, who is studying meditation and runs the winery with her husband Scott, brought out a Raptor Ridge Gruner Vetliner 2016 white wine and a Pinot Noir red to sample.
The latitude of the Oregon wine country is the same as Burgundy, France, enabling this region to produce excellent Pinot Noirs.
A morning of touring and tasting
The next day, I tasted more wines and toured the Ponzi Winery, one of the six founding wineries in the Tualatin Valley.
Ponzi has won many accolades for its wines, including having them selected by former First Lady Michelle Obama for the Obama’s farewell dinner at the White House.
Founded by Dick and Nancy Ponzi, the Ponzi Winery is quite impressive with a large tasting room overlooking the Valley and an event space being built to accommodate weddings, corporate functions and other festivities. The Ponzi Winery is a true family affair, with daughter Luisa considered one of the top winemakers in the world, daughter Anna its president, and son Michael, who spent 20 years working in the business.
The wines in Oregon’s wine region (available across the country) are much more affordably priced than similar varieties you would find in California’s Napa Valley. For example, Ponzi Pinot Noir Reserve sells for $65 a bottle.
Hometown cooking and heirloom apples
A highlight of my trip was sampling some of the Tualatin Valley’s best hometown fare.
For breakfast, Maggie’s Buns in Forest Grove near Pacific University (one of the oldest universities in Oregon), was a treat. Maggie brought out a plate of assorted homemade scones, muffins and a warm cinnamon bun.
Believe me, these baked goods are worth the calories!
The South Store Café, another beloved establishment, is a perfect place for lunch. Supposedly, it’s everyone’s go-to spot in the wine country. After drinking wine all morning, it’s nice to sit back, order a turkey sandwich and relax.
Once fed and rested, you’ll want to cross the road and mosey around Smith Berry Barn Farm and Garden Market. They sell heirloom apples and tomatoes, Oregon berries, clover and raspberry honey (pure and raw made by local beekeepers), and kitchenware and culinary gifts. It’s a fitting place for a foodie.
Not having had a milkshake in years, I couldn’t pass up ordering one of their famous Blackberry Lavender shakes. Be prepared, if you visit during the summer, the line for one of these amazing milkshakes can wind out the door, but you have to try one.
Like the city of Portland, the town of Forest Grove in the Tualatin Valley, hosts a Farmers Market on weekdays and weekends. We went to the Tuesday evening market where farmers sell fresh flowers, homemade sweet and savory pies, and a selection of artisan and organic produce. Walking around the farmers market made me wish I had a reason to buy some of these delicious foods to cook for dinner.
Instead, we had reservations at Yellow Llama, one of Forest Grove’s hot spots for authentic Peruvian cuisine. We dined on empanadas, fried plantain chips, lomo saltado (tender strips of marinated sirloin, aji amarillo [yellow pepper], tomatoes and red onions in a tangy sauce) served atop French fries with a side of rice, and arroz con mariscos (a colorful, flavorful rice with seafood dish). I adore Peruvian food and this culinary treasure is not to be missed.
Hiking and cycling in the great outdoors
Whenever I take a vacation, I like to exercise outdoors. It’s a great way to work off calories from all the eating and to explore the surroundings.
The Tualatin Valley offers wonderful places for hiking and cycling.
For example, Fernhill Wetlands nature preserve is a world-class destination for birders who want to see rare migratory birds and waterfowl. The site encompasses more than 700 acres and is a peaceful venue for a long morning or afternoon walk across its beautiful landscape.
Cycling on the Banks-Vernonia State Trail is another hidden treasure to explore.
The trail, one of Oregon’s regional trails, runs 21 miles through open glades of green and pine-scented forests. This activity requires several hours or longer depending on how far you want to ride. The trail is accessible to all ages. If you don’t like to ride, you can walk on the beside the trail.
To get the full experience, I suggest waking up early and having breakfast at Trailhead Café, a cute eatery near the Trail that boasts a selection of pastries, eggs and coffees for breakfast.
Next, drive over to Banks Bike Shop run by an entertaining couple, Len and Diane. They restore, rent and sell bicycles for all ages, and are experts when it comes to properly fitting people for their bikes. They are superb storytellers too, so don’t be surprised if it takes a bit longer for your fitting.
Once on the trail, let your mind wander. Just pedal along and unwind. You’ll get a chance to view some of the prettiest wildflowers in the open meadows and see wildlife, cows, and pigs. Watch out for the roosters – sometimes they like to cross the road! We biked about seven miles to the trestle bridge and turned around.
Home of the Jumbo Burger
Finally, once you’ve worked up a good appetite, head over to Helvetia Tavern.
Helvetia is a small farming community with strong roots and a quirky tavern known for its burgers. The tavern is the “home of the jumbo burger.” Not quite a hidden treasure, the Tourism team told me “the secret is out as people from all over the state come to the small watering hole for their legendary burgers.”
Go ahead and order the fries and onion rings. You’ve earned the eats after that ride!
There are so many more things to do in the Tualatin Valley. Be sure to check out the Washington County Visitors Association website for other lodging and seasonal events.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- The Tualatin Valley is easy to get around by car and close to the city of Portland if you want to do a day trip.
- High on the list of things to do in the Tualatin Valley is wine tasting. Many great wineries offer wine tastings, and wines are less expensive than Napa Valley, California. So is the lodging.
- The culinary scene is diverse, with regional and ethnic cuisines. There are lots of good restaurants to choose from and farmers markets if you’re renting an apartment and want to cook.
- The scenery is magnificent, and this part of the Pacific Northwest is truly a hidden treasure without any noticeable crowds.
- I liked my stay at the eclectic McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove; you probably will too.
- Check the winery websites in advance to book wine tastings and see what special events are going on when you plan to visit.
IF YOU GO
*All photo credits: Judy Freedman
The author was a guest of the Washington County Visitors Association.