Spring break close to home

Your guide to a week off in the PNW

By Chiara Profenna | February 22, 2022 10:49pm

Photos by Emma Sells and Ryan Reynolds

Canva By Haviland Stewart

Are you stuck in Portland for spring break? Maybe you’re limited by travel restrictions, you’re local or you’re just a last-minute type of person.

Whatever the case, our one week of solace is approaching fast. Those with no plans — I’m talking about myself here — might be scrambling for ideas on short notice. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ve scoured the internet for things to do and places to see. But since not everyone has time for this, I'll be generous and share my top picks.

Here are 10 nearby destinations for the curious or adventurous (and procrastinating) students left with no plans this break.

Salem, OR

Less than an hour south of Portland looms the Oregon State Capitol. If you’re looking for a quick trip that can be done in a day and includes some fun history and architecture, Salem is the stop for you. With bus passes priced below $15 from Portland, it’s also inexpensive and easily accessible. Start your day with a visit to the Oregon State Capitol, then stroll through Schreiner's Iris Gardens or Riverfront City Park for a ride on the Riverfront Carousel. Finish off with a show at the 1926 original Elsinore Theatre. With plenty of sights and attractions reasonably priced, Salem is the perfect stop for anybody that needs a quick and budget-friendly getaway.

Bend, OR

A sunny day in Bend, OR.
by Emma Sells / The Beacon

In the dead center of Oregon, Bend is full of activities to experience the outdoors. Plan to do some hiking while you’re there on one of the hundreds of trails in the area. Visit the Newberry National Volcanic Monument showcasing the Cascade mountains, or scale them yourself with Skiing at Mt. Bachelor, only 22 miles away. Smith Rock State Park is another hiking opportunity in the High Desert, contributing with some splendid rocky views. If you’re looking for a more creative outlet, Bend even has surfing options at the Bend Whitewater Park. End your day with some time in the city, checking out the Old Mill District for shopping and food options and Drake Park’s mirror pond at sunset. A little over three hours away, Bend is exactly the place for anyone who loves to connect with nature and step away from the hectic city life. 

McMinnville, OR

For all my legal wine drinkers out there, McMinnville might just strike your fancy. Take a deep dive into the heart of Oregon’s wine country, located just over an hour away. Known for its expanse of wineries and vineyards, this spot is perfect for wine-tasting and charming eateries. To experience the city, check out historic downtown McMinnville, complete with its very own classic main street. And for any art appreciators out there, venture a few miles south to the Mason-Rivera Sculpture Garden & Art Gallery. If you’re looking for a different form of entertainment, check out the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum or the indoor Wings and Waves Waterpark. As a more laid-back option, this day trip will be a bit pricier, but worth every penny for the small-town atmosphere and beautiful sights.

Mt. St Helens, WA

Moonrise over Mt. St. Helens.
by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

Skip the generic Mt. Hood trip for a chance to see Washington’s notorious Mt. St Helens. Just an hour and a half to the north, cross state-lines for this immersive and historic landmark. Stop at the Mt. St Helens Visitor Center before you take the mile-long trek to the lookout point. Or opt for any of the longer hikes in the area. If you’re not a hiker, check out the Johnston Ridge Observatory for an unbeatable view of the mountain. After you check out the mountain, enjoy some enrichment at any of the educational centers that pique your interest. They include Mt. St Helens Science and Learning Center, the Lelooska Foundation and Cultural Center and the Cowlitz County Historical Museum. One trip to Mt. St Helens and you’ll be positively erupting with apt volcanic knowledge — it’s truly the perfect trip for the science-loving college students out there.  

Eugene, OR

As Oregon’s second largest city and home to the University of Oregon, Eugene has plenty to see. The scenic Owen Rose Garden is the perfect spot to snap a few pictures, while Skinner Butte Park offers a wide array of hiking trails and sights. If you’re craving a quick bite, Eugene also boasts some adorable eateries like the vintage-styled Cornbread Cafe and French-inspired Sweet Life Patisserie. Feeling adventurous? Journey to the McKenzie River for hiking, fishing, white-water boating and hot springs. Feeling less adventurous? Opt for a museum instead. The Museum of Natural and Cultural History, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and the Oregon Air and Space Museum are all great options. Just under a two hour drive, Eugene is closing out the day-trip options with a it’s charm and welcoming college atmosphere.

Astoria, OR

The city of Astoria is filled with historic landmarks such as a memorial to the Chinook tribe located on the Astoria Column site.
by Emma Sells / The Beacon

Nestled where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, Astoria is the perfect coastal town to visit. Less than a two hour drive from campus, the picturesque town offers a number of sights and attractions. Start your trip walking along the riverwalk for the best views of the Astoria-Megler Bridge. The Columbia River Maritime Museum, Oregon Film Museum and Flavel House Museum all offer a unique museum experience for any of those interested. And for all the nature lovers, choose from an assortment of parks and hiking trails with beautiful scenery. For a final stop, the Astoria Column, a monument overlooking the city, is the perfect way to end the day. Astoria is a great option for anyone interested in the Oregon coast this spring.

Tacoma, WA

A smaller city, south of Seattle, Tacoma is just over two hours away and has plenty of attractions to fill a multiple-day itinerary. Go off one of the existing itineraries on the Travel Tacoma website, complete with dining options and stays, or forge your own path. With plenty to choose from, you can’t go wrong. The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is a two-for-one if you love animals and sealife, while America’s Car Museum can occupy the automobile enthusiasts, or anyone for that matter. The Museum of Glass gives you the classic Chihuly experience, connected to the Tacoma Art Museum by a glass bridge. There’s also the classic history museums: Harbor History Museum, Washington State History Museum, Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. Besides museums, Tacoma is full of exciting eateries and plenty of seafood-themed restaurants like The Tides Tavern or the more expensive Duke's Seafood. Lastly, if you’re visiting the last few days of break, Imagine Van Gogh: The Immersive Exhibition, opens on March 5 at the Tacoma Armory. If you’re looking for an entertaining city-experience that isn’t too overwhelming, consider Tacoma for a few days.

Seattle, WA

Pike Place Market located in Seattle, Washington.
by Emma Sells / The Beacon

Another destination with an abundance of activities: Seattle — no surprise there. Just under three hours away, Seattle is accessible by bus for under $30 and offers plenty of cheap stays for travelers with a budget. Start at the renowned Pike Place Market for rows of retail stands, flying fish and The Gum Wall. Learn about Seattle’s hidden underground with the Beneath the Streets Tour or ride the thrilling Seattle Great Wheel overlooking the Puget Sound. Splurge on a ticket to the top of the Space Needle, or stay at the base to check out the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. If you have any extra day in town, take a ferry out to one of the many islands; Bainbridge Island offers a quaint city experience only an hour away. A few more ideas include the Seattle Aquarium, Museum of Pop Culture and the Wing Luke Museum. And if you’re looking for more low-cost activities, just walking through the city will give you plenty to see and do. If you’re planning for a longer trip, Seattle is a great city that every UP student should experience at least once.

Bellingham, WA

Only 20 miles south of Canada, Bellingham is a four hour drive directly north of Portland. Another beautiful coastal town offering an abundance of outdoor entertainment, it’s a popular destination for mountain biking and scenic trails. Larrabee State Park overlooks the Samish Bay and is known for stellar camping and the unique pastime of train-spotting. But if you’re looking for a great view, Chuckanut Drive, a route along the southern shoreline, will take your breath away. Not far from the coast, Historic Fairhaven is home to shops and dining options galore. Another downtown alternative is the Bellingham Arts District for a more modern feel. For anyone who loves seeing an assortment of beautiful sights, wander north for a laid-back change of pace.

Leavenworth, WA

And finally, the best for any Bavarian architecture lovers: Leavenworth. A personal favorite of mine, this small town is right in the middle of Washington state, nestled in the Cascade mountains. Five hours from Portland makes it the farthest on this list, but for good reason. Leavenworth offers a completely immersive experience that’ll take you as far away from the PNW as you can get. You’ll feel like you’re walking into Germany when you first see the stylized homes and store-fronts. Lined with specialty shops and eateries, the main street can entertain you for hours. Step into the year-round Christmas store, Kris Kringl, or Schocolat, for, you guessed it, Chocolate. Try some traditional German cuisine at one of the many restaurants in the town and finish off your day with the ever-fascinating Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum. Make the trip out to Leavenworth if you’re especially craving an out-of-this country experience.

With plenty of choices nearby, make the most of your time off this break. Just get out there and experience the best that the PNW has to offer — no excuses. You’ll thank me later.

Chiara Profenna is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at profenna23@up.edu.