Less than a half-hour from the grind of downtown Portland is the serenity of Tualatin Valley. The tranquil oasis is free of urban chaos and cacophony. Wineries, hiking and biking trails and unique museums and arcades make for an ideal weekend escape.
There are an array of wineries in the Valley. Amaterra Winery, which is perched high in the slopes of the hills, is Tualatin Valley’s first and only wine-led restaurant. It’s a perfect sundown spot since Amaterra Winery overlooks the Valley.
After starting with the delicious Swede Hill Meatballs – with white wine-leek cream, red currant and crispy sunchokes, and dill – and the Pacific Northwest Oysters, it was on to the main course. The flavorful oven-roasted salmon with roasted red pepper and mixed bean minestrone, smoky bacon broth and fresh thyme is paired with a 2019 Willamette Valley pinot noir.
The wild mushroom risotto with fire-roasted squash, leek relish, shaved market greens and sesame squash crisps, is also an inspired choice. The risotto goes down best with a 2019 Gregory Ranch pinot noir.
The rieslings are refreshingly dry at Sidereus Vineyard and Winery. The 2022 riesling is especially crisp and tangy, with an aroma that combines lemon custard and tart apple. Fans of dark fruit will enjoy the 2021 cabernet sauvignon, which possesses subtle earth tones. If you love cherry, there’s the 2020 Yamhill-Carlton pinot noir, which has a bright cherry aroma and taste combined with a touch of French oak.
The pinots are outstanding, since the grapes are grown in the perfect climate for cultivation, harvested between the Cascade Mountains and Pacific Coast Range. Terrific fruit makes the best wine.
The only issue when visiting Ponzi Vineyards , which opened in 1970, is the pinot to order. There’s the spicy 2019 Ponzi Wahle pinot noir. The silky smooth 2020 Ponzi Avellana pinot noir and the vibrant 2021 Ponzi Laurelwood pinot noir are well worth experiencing.
You can relax and gaze upon the vineyard as time stands still or experience a round of bocce ball.
Biking the Banks-Vernonia State Trail is tranquil and lovely. Oregon’s first rails-to-trails park is a 21-mile, car-free zone. The Banks-Veronia State Trail started as a railway but was handed back to nature. Joggers, horseback riders and cyclists navigate through the splendor of a scenic park.
We were off after renting bikes from Banks Bicycle.
The highlight for my daughter Jane, 14, and I was crossing the 733-foot span of Buxton Trestle. We stopped midway to gaze down 80-feet over the valley. We pedaled through seemingly endless agriculture before reaching the thickly forested foothills of the Coast Range, which ended in Veronia, a small town comprised of farms. The grades are gentle for most of the trail enabling cyclists of all levels the opportunity to enjoy the scenery. The trails can be slick during winter, but it’s idyllic throughout summer when it’s as dry as the finest rieslings in the Valley.
Chehalem Ridge Nature Park, which opened in 2022, is the place to hike in the Valley. The 1,250-acre park has 10 miles of trails, including 3 miles of accessible trails for walking, off-road cycling and horseback riding. The park is home to upland forests, oak woodlands and wetlands.
We strolled by wildflowers, which are ubiquitous, while listening to birds during a crystal-clear day. We spotted a black-tailed deer, but there’s much more wildlife lurking, such as coyotes, alligator lizards and bobcats.
Our favorite place for a bite is the quaint South Street Cafe. Jane opted for the hearty meatloaf sandwich, which is made up of house-made Italian-style meatloaf with marinara, provolone, grilled onion and mayo on a ciabatta roll. The South Street sandwich, turkey, bacon, Swiss, avocado, mayo, tomato and greens on toast, is substantial. The setting, a cafe that has the mellow vibe of a bistro from a bygone era, was comforting as the food.
After lunch we hit Smith Berry Barn to handle a variety of berries. After selecting some raspberries and strawberries, we indulged in a fantastic boysenberry shake.
“I can’t believe how good that shake was,” Jane said, as she gazed at the clear blue sky. “I don’t know if the shake was that amazing or if it’s a combination of how relaxing and beautiful it is here.”
The Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals left an indelible mark. We were never at a museum quite like it and were blown away by the rainbow gallery. The exhibit is filled with rocks with natural minerals that emit brilliant colors when energized with ultraviolet black light. We were taken aback watching shortwave and longwave fluorescent lighting, which revealed bright, beautiful colors demonstrating that raw minerals can look normal in daylight but have an otherworldly glow underneath UV light.
The Fossil Gallery is worth the price of admission with dinosaur eggs and prehistoric relics of land, air and sea. The highlight is Tucker, a 3D baby psittacosaurus.
The current exhibit is “Destination Moon,” which includes rocks from the Apollo 11 mission. The exhibit looks back at the mission and the NASA program through the trials, tragedies and triumphs of the 20 missions from 1961 to 1969.
After being edified at the Rice Northwest Museum, we ventured to Next Level Pinball Shop, Arcade and Museum. It’s $22 for all-day admission with an in and out option for 475 free-play games, which range from vintage pinball to Ms. Pacman to Asteroids. The retro pop culture goes well beyond the games. There are old-school lunch boxes, movie posters and albums that fill the largest pinball and retro gaming arcade in the Pacific Northwest.
The appeal of Tualatin Valley is wide. It’s prime wine country with great restaurants, fascinating museums and some fun outdoor activities. It’s a five-and-half hour drive and an hour flight to Portland, which is as low as $177 roundtrip, courtesy of Alaska Airlines.