Portland, it’s more than rain and donuts

It rained today, and it made me think of our trip to Portland this past summer.  I thought about Portland not because it actually rained while we were there, but because I expected it to.  In fact, Portland was not at all what I expected and that made for a fun and adventurous weekend.

We knew going into the weekend that we were going to eat. I read enough travel media to know that much.  We met up with with my sister-in-law, her husband and two kids (11 and 14) and my mother-in-law, and so with a larger group, we knew we needed to plan out food a bit in advance.  We relied on tripadvisor and Yelp and they served us well, for the most part.  But as far as major foodie adventures, we will have to make an adult trip to Portland another time.  Our desire to hang out (and cater to our kids’ palates) overrode our desire to explore Portland’s outstanding restaurants.

DONUTS.  We literally planned our walks and events around two icons, Voodoo Donuts and Blue Star Donuts.  The short version of this story is that Voodoo wins if we are comparing the two.  The longer version of the story is that we don’t really like fancy donuts, and that ultimately, Sidecar Donuts of Southern California is better than Voodoo and Blue Star combined.  I know that is blasphemy for Pacific Northwest foodies, but I’m just being honest.  As far as any recommendations at all, I think my older daughter got it right at both Voodoo and Blue Star by sticking with the classics and ordering the plain old fashioned/buttermilk variety.

BEER AND WINE.  They were good.  Oh, do you need more?  Buy local.  Still more?  Ok, I will say that we went with the touristy option in the beer department and ate/drank at Deschutes Brewery.  I think it worked out really well because it was during World Cup soccer, and there was something for everyone in the family.  The vibe was fun and friendly.  No complaints on the food either.  The beer tastings look interesting, but I just went straight for something light because it was hot outside, and it was delish.  As far as wine goes, I was disappointed not to visit wine bars and do tastings in Portland (do not dispair…see the separate blog about our excursions).  However, we had a beautiful rooftop hangout area at our hotel (see below) and a great gourmet store across the street. One thing that I found in Portland is that there is Oregon wine for sale that I had NEVER seen before (and will be hard pressed to find) in my non-Oregonian wine shopping locations.  I really had a fun time buying multiple bottles to try and share with my sister and brother-in-law.  Ultimately what I learned is that most of the Oregonian Pinot Noir that I can buy at my California grocery store is crap.  That is probably because the California wine industry doesn’t want the competition. 🙂

PIZZA.  Portland is not known for it’s Pizza necessarily, but given we were a larger group with teens and tweens, it’s not surprising and we went on the lookout for a pizza option. Sizzle Pie was as much of a cultural experience as it was a culinary one.  Go into a store and grab a slice, and you will see what I mean.  There is one location very close to Powells Books, so you could combine pizza and book browsing, which is a winning combination.  Afterwards, you could get some very strong coffee at Stumptown Roasters nearby.  Did I mention it is very strong?  Yes, they are not messing around.

One of the most pleasant surprises of our trip was our hotel.  We stayed in the Hampton Inn and Suites in the Pearl District.  This place is newly renovated with an excellent location, nice (not fancy, but surprising) rooms, plentiful free breakfast and a plethora of gathering space both in the lobby and on the rooftop for groups of people traveling together.  It was ideal for our multi-family vacation.  I would stay there again in a heartbeat.


Because we traveled with teens, we wanted to find a creative way to get them engaged in the sightseeing.  In the spirit of, “if you can’t beat them, join them,” I took the advice of a friend and introduced the kids to “The 10 Most Instagrammable Spots in Portland.”  We used this to plan out our city exploration and give us some objectives for the day.  Having a plan is so critical when traveling with a group.  But having buy-in for the plan is even MORE important to help ensure harmony on the trip.  And, by following the recommendations in the post, we had several memorable experiences.  We risked our lives standing in the middle of the street posing in the smallest park in the world.  But we also discovered beautiful views of Mount Hood from Pittock Mansion that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.  Overall, having these objectives for our day added to the enjoyment.  Try it!

Portland is a fun, walkable city.  My recommendation for a Saturday in town is to walk to Voodoo on Burnside, snap a photo at Dante’s “Keep Portland Weird,” and buy a donut (remember the old fashioned).  Then take a short walk to the riverfront and sit and eat your donut with a view.  The riverfront is beautiful, and the Saturday Market there is a fun place to wander.  Then, walk south along the river to find Mills End Park.  After that, you can walk toward the Courthouse and do some shopping or eating in that area…there are so many options!  Enjoy!




A little travel goes a long way

I just booked us a last minute trip to Dallas for a West Point bowl game.  We are leaving three days before Christmas and coming home Christmas Eve day.  It’s insane and spontaneous, and I am giddy with excitement!  We need to do something a little crazy to get away from what is making us crazy.

On my Instagram I use a hashtag sometimes when I post non-travel items: #lifebetweentrips.  Lately, life between trips has been pretty mundane.  Don’t get me wrong, these are first-world issues.  We are blessed indeed.  We are all healthy, have everything we need, have wonderful friends and family…the works.  We have nothing to complain about.  But it’s your typical life in suburban America, and we have become consumed by the routine.

This routine is the very reason I am so passionate about family travel.  Our family needs to physically leave our home in order to mentally leave our bad 21st century habits.  The moment we board a plane or even drive away in a packed-up car, we transform.  There’s excitement and anticipation; there’s so much to talk about that doesn’t involve school, sports, friend-drama, work, etc. We are relying on each other and looking out for each other in ways that we don’t at home.

Now, for a long time, I thought I was the only one who recognized this phenomenon.  But recently my husband acknowledged it as well.  My kids feel the difference when we travel and enjoy the time together, but they are becoming more reluctant to leave the bad home habits.  This reluctance is precisely the reason we need to continue to leave.

I had been having a minor tantrum for much of September and October because I could not get the family to commit to a winter-break trip. We had just returned from a fantastic time in Costa Rica, so I assumed that I was striking while the iron was hot!  However, as the girls transitioned into the new school schedules and sports demands, they told me that Christmas break was for resting…and they were “soooooo tired.” Yes, I get the tired issue. But travel for me is exhilarating!  Travel for me is rejuvenating!  Travel is my cure for tired! But, the whining won out, and I agreed not to book a trip that involved walking enough miles to break a Fitbit or traveling in coach for ten hours. They were lucky that the Catalonians voted for independence, because I had been eyeing flights to Barcelona for months! I acquiesced when I thought we may end up in the middle of a civil war. Even I have limits.

Now, I’m sure there is all kinds of judgement out there waiting to pounce on the statements I have made. For starters, Funtrip lady, you LIVE in a vacation area.  People come to Southern California to take a vacation.  Why can’t you stay home and enjoy a “staycation” with all of the wonderful things around you? Or even better, why isn’t being at home with your beloved family playing board games and baking cookies enough for you? My answer: because, because, because, because because.  Enough said.  And, did you ever notice that the heart-warming Norman Rockwell family scenes involved young children and not teenagers? Life with teenagers if no longer “easy, peasy, lemon squeezy;” instead it’s “difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.” (cred: @thedailydad and reposted by my fabulously funny friend @thenewstepford)  Bottom line, we need to reconnect as a family, and that doesn’t happen as often when we are at home.  Maybe it’s just us, but it is what it is.

Now, we HAD actually booked a long weekend. over winter break, in Brian Head, Utah, to do some skiing and snow time. My girls threw a fit when they found out basically because it wasn’t their idea.  It was actually my husband’s idea to go to the mountains as he likes the mountains, and we skipped the ski season last year.  Since we rarely do what my husband wants to do, I figured it was his turn to decide. In fact, it was going to make a good blogpost as we were using AirBnb for the first time, and the condo we chose was super cozy.  I’m sure we could have played a LOT of board games there. However, with the lack of snow in Brian Head right now, we are waning in out motivation to make the trek. So we may still be in the market for a little jaunt after Christmas, once we recover from our whirlwind Christmas football extravaganza!

And why won’t I just let my kids stay home for the rest of break and lounge around? Because they are teenagers, and the clock is ticking. There are only a few more years left, and then our family travel will change forever.  Perhaps we will still be The Funtrips, but it will be different:  we will have to work around their careers, they ask to bring their boyfriends (or eventually their own families) or they will fly in to meet us since they are living in another city (or country). I don’t know what the future will bring.  So until then, we travel!

(Featured image photo cred: Ross Parmly)