All of southern Wisconsin is covered in a thick, beautiful blanket of snow right now. Snow has been falling on and off for the past week, and I know I probably shouldn’t be so excited about it because it’s making getting anywhere difficult for everyone but I’m pretty jazzed anyways. After coming home from two weeks somewhere incredibly lush and green this time of year, I wasn’t handling the late Wisconsin winter shades of brown as well as usual.
The beautiful shimmering layer of snow covering everything is helping me put distance between myself and the deep yearning to head back westward to the land of beaches, Redwoods and dynamite hiking trails around every corner. Not to even mention all the innovative, delicious, totally inspiring plates of food abundant in that part of the world: the elegant small plates, savory breakfast bowls, tiny donuts and loaded mashed potato waffle cones. I needed some snow to keep me from hopping on a plane.
Above are the highlights of a truly idyllic, rambling getaway. It was everything we needed to properly celebrate a successful 2017 as business owners, partners and friends. It can be seriously hard running a business with the same person you share your life with. It can be hard to talk about anything other than the thing you are building together and seriously easy to neglect each other. To me, travel is essential. Essential for my well-being. Essential for my creativity, for my soul. Essential for my marriage. It’s like pushing a big reset button on our lives in the very best way.
We had nearly two weeks of unplanned adventure beginning with four days visiting friends and exploring hidden gems in Northern California. The mornings were misty and eerie, the trees were humbling, the waves were massive, and the food was simple but perfect. I had bagels with lox every chance I got.
Then we headed north, following the winding 101 and even more winding 199 through Jebediah State Park and some truly magical redwood forests to the incredibly quaint little hot springs town of Ashland, Oregon. A few mineral soaks, a bottle of wine and some light antique shopping later, and we were ready to venture towards Crater Lake which we found some hours later. It was bright blue, surrounded by snow and truly magnificent succeeding effortlessly in making us feel tiny. Then we had a day chasing waterfalls and a day trying desperately to experience beauty despite snow, ice, a cracked windshield, and the aftermath of brutal wildfires followed by another day chasing waterfalls.
We visited a fishery and hydroelectric dam, drove a stunning but terrifying scenic highway, and took in breathtaking views of the Columbia River Gorge. We found the coast again, this time with even angrier waves. We hiked through mud. We laid on sand dunes. We argued about who’s version of relaxation was better. We spoiled ourselves at a farmhouse lounging in front of the woodstove, sampling from the tea bar, and flirting in the sauna.
And then at the end, we finally found ourselves back in a real city. We stayed in anyway, streaming playoff games at our rental home and ordering dinner (and then dessert) to our front door. We bought books. We accidentally visited a bikini barista coffee cart. We adventured through a massive urban park. We indulged on donuts and fried chicken, cocktails, pasta and ice cream. We met up with friends, we repacked, and we slept well.
It was a great vacation for two people who really needed a great vacation. Check out all our recommendations below and consider visiting a few if you are ever in the area. Let me know if you do.
P.S. This trip inspired so many new recipes but I simply ran out of room to share one here. Stay tuned. I’ll be sharing my recipe for the Savory Porridge Breakfast Bowl featured in my Instagram story and inspired by the adorable Sweedeedee soon!
In-and-Out Burger // I mean duh. It’d be a crime not to.
Beachcombers // We woke up on our first full day of vacation and drove straight here. My Carrot had great memories from earlier trips to Northern California. And this my friends was a hard place to top. Rustic ambiance, big window to sit in front of, amazing coffee, gluten-free pastries, a perfect healthy bagel for me, a perfect decadent bagel for my hubby, newspapers to read, a five-minute stroll to a secluded beach, and a quote in the bathroom that reads, “Get a clear sense of whether or not the choice you make many given moments will lead you towards or away from your sense of aliveness.” I’ll be back as soon as humanly possible.
Snack Shack // Weirdest little pit stop in the middle of no where on the way to the redwoods with open air seating and possibly the best fried chicken sandwich of my life.
The Lighthouse Grill // I don’t even know if they serve anything other than a savory waffle cone stuffed with mashed potatoes, cheese, bacon, and brisket, and I really don’t care. I’ll forever eat this one thing here. It’s that good.
Cypress Grove // Humboldt Fog. That’s all I have to say. And guess what, it’s usually available at Fromagination in Madison. Get your hands on some just as fast as you can.
Diggin’ Livin’ Natural Foods // Farm, apiary, natural food store and cafe with savory waffles topped with all kinds of crazy shit and Wendell Berry quotes all over the walls. Yes, please. We got the waffle with quinoa, pulled chicken, cheese, guacamole, sweet corn, butter, salsa and maple syrup. Expect a blog recipe if I can figure out how to rock these flavors.
River Daze Cafe // An outstanding sandwich stop that makes for a great mood lifter when you’ve recently had a rock hit the windshield of your rental car. Any food that can lift us out of a funk that fast is worthy of a recommendation. If I were you I would probably get the special salad no matter what it is.
pFriem Family Brewers // This place totally rocks. The space, the barn-wood decor, the riverfront location, the beers (and the fact that they do affordable flights of generous pours), the food, the service, the adorable flowers on the table, the kiddie area, the outdoor fire where hubby and I relaxed post-meal as we gasped over Madison Magazine’s latest cover story: it’s all done to perfection. Go here when you’re in Portland. The drive is scenic and its all worth the day-trip.
Bread & Ocean // The cutest little spot next to a bookstore in the quaintest little understated town that not that many people know about somehow. Keep our secret, okay? Oh, and get the cinnamon rolls.
Buttercup // Opened by the original owner of Bread & Ocean in the nearby town of Nehalem (aka the closest town to our adorable farm stay AirBnb), this sweet tiny place specializes in two things: ice cream and chowder. Both of which are done exceptionally well.
Poke Mon // I’m sure both my love of poke and delivery to my front door enhanced this meal but I loved it all. Especially the spicy cucumber salad which I put on absolutely everything.
Pip’s // Another place with an odd pairing that’s well worth the visit. Tucked into a beautiful sunny space on Portland’s Northeast side, this place does tiny donuts with awesome flavors and piping hot cups of chai. Also known as the perfect way to start any day.
Screendoor Restaurant // Supposedly this place has lines around the block most of the time but that’s the best part of our January travel schedule, nothing is ever too busy. The dish to get here is certainly the fried chicken & sweet potato waffles (and you will no doubt be surrounded by folks around you going crazy to Instagram their own plates) but we deviated with the brisket hash special (amazing!!!) and fried chicken biscuit with cheesy grits. Not disappointed one bit.
Ava Gene’s // Easily the swankiest meal of our trip. We went here with friends and shared just about every small plate we could fit in our bellies. Veggie small plates are what they do well here (though the Tuesday meatball special was also fab) and they certainly did not disappoint. Plus the Italian restaurant space is gorgeous.
Salt & Straw // Vegan ice cream. Crazy flavors. Unlimited samples. Ice cream flights. Just go.
Sweedeedee // We only had 36 hours in Portland so to get my fill of local eats, I convinced my Carrot that we had to grab a meal en route to the airport despite our 9 a.m. flight. The quick little breakfast savory grain bowl topped with scallions, onions, greens, mushrooms, homemade hot sauce, bacon and a jammy egg turned out to be endlessly inspiring. It was the first thing I made once back home and then continued to eat every day for the next week. Recipe coming soon.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove // Misty grove of massive redwoods with lovely trails. Beautiful place to wander around with some real giants.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park // We hopped on the no name trail that went straight down to the beach (and I mean straight down) and then followed the rocky beach for hours. Do that or something entirely different here. I doubt you be disappointed either way. This place is magic.
Trinidad Head Trail // A small loop trail cut into thick shrubs above the adorable town of Trinidad. You feel like you are part of a fairy tale. This town, this hike, it’s all utterly enchanting.
Strawberry Rock // Don’t tell the locals that I told you about this semi-secret spot (though now that I see it’s on All Trails I feel a little less bad about it). It’s a three-mile out-and-back hike that leads to a gorgeous pink rock formation that you can climb to the top of (if you’re brave) and get amazing views of the entire Humboldt area and the ocean. It was the only time in our Northern California adventure that the redwoods felt small.
Watson Falls // We visited probably a hundred waterfalls on this trip and there is no doubt you will see them everywhere if you go to similar areas so I’m only telling you about the ones with the best trails to get you there. This third highest waterfall in Oregon has a beautiful trail that follows a steep moss-covered stream amid giant trees ending at a platform where you can get close enough to the falls to feel the mist. It’s everything you thought Oregon would be.
Pacific Crest Trail // We didn’t hike any of the trail because there just wasn’t enough time to do it justice but we did pose for a picture where the trail approaches the Bridge of the Gods. It’s certainly slated for our next trip.
Upper Latourell Falls // If the wild fires that wiped out so much of the Columbia River Gorge area last fall hadn’t closed all of the Multnomah Falls trails I don’t think we would have found this off the beaten path spot. I’ll take that as a small silver lining to a truly terrible situation. This trail to a dramatic fall begins by hiking to the top of another fall and then following the creek deep into the woods. It’s a beautiful spot.
Cape Falcon // This trail, halfway between the dreamy seaside town of Manzanita and the bustling (and less dreamy) Cannon Beach, passes a serene surfer’s beach, a meandering creek and a small waterfall before ending at Cape Falcon with sweeping views of the coastline. We had to trek through some pretty series mud and barely made it back to our car by sunset but that all only enhanced the magic of this gorgeous trail.
Wildwood Trail // The trail that cuts across Portland’s largest park (and one of the “premiere urban forests in the whole country”). If you take it to the southeast you wind up at the Pittock Mansion with awesome views of the whole city. This park and trail inspired a whole book series. I can’t wait to dive in.
Lithia Springs Resort // Mineral spring-fed tubs to soak in, big comfy beds in cozy rooms with a fireplace, a giant complimentary breakfast and proximity to one of the cutest little Oregon towns, why yes, I would recommend this place.
Union Creek Resort // I’m sure some of the charm of our stay was the fact that we were the only guests. (Which also happened to be the thing that totally creeped me out). This adorable spot is as close as you can get to Crater Lake without staying in the park. The guide and map of the area they hand out to guests at check-in easily makes this place worth the stay. The location on a creek, adorable, very rustic diner across the street and absolute lack of cell service within 40 miles all add to the charm.
North Fork 53 // This place is a slice of heaven. It all began as an organic CSA farmer’s dream to open a farm-to-table retreat center and paradise for city folk to better connect with the local food system. What she found was a little farmhouse alongside a river fifteen miles from the coast with giant windows and a massive kitchen. She got to work with her husband renovating the space: adding two wood stoves, a sauna, dozens of raised beds and a full complimentary tea bar. Their hard work is our gift. Stay here if you can. Bring a big group and celebrate all that’s great about life. The energy here is magnetic.
Arborhouse // We were definitely two for two in the AirBnb department on this little vacation. Perfect home. Perfect neighborhood. Perfect hosts. Perfect everything. Check out this charming spot next time you are in Portland. You won’t regret it.