Visiting Oregon: Parks of Portland, Romantic Coastal Towns

By Rachel Puryear

Oregon is a beautiful state, and there’s plenty to see there – especially if you love nature and the outdoors.

We recently visited the Portland area, and explored much of this city, especially its parks.

In driving to and from Portland, we traveled most of the way along Oregon’s southern coastline. If you’re coming from California (as we were), you can stay on Highway 101 most of the way up, and then only need to switch to I-5 about a couple hours or so from Portland.

It’s longer this way than coming via I-5 all the way, but it’s also well worth it to take the scenic drive, if you have the time.

In any event, Oregon has plenty of natural beauty to see, and good times to be had. Here are some of the highlights of our trip:

Parks of Portland

If you love nature and the outdoors, but also enjoy city life; Portland, Oregon is an exciting place to visit. With hundreds of parks and green spaces within the city and its surrounding areas, it offers beautiful natural scenery within a thriving urban scene. Portland has plenty to offer, and a visit here would not be complete without seeing some of its many parks.

Here are just a few of them:

Washington Park, Including the Japanese Tea Garden and Rose Garden

Washington Park is not only one of the largest urban parks in Portland, or even in Oregon; but it’s one of the largest urban parks in the USA. You can hike lush, wooded trails; visit the serene and famously authentic Japanese Tea Garden, stop by the fragrant rose garden (in bloom during Summer months), take the kids to the playground, play tennis, shoot arrows at the archery range, and ride the free shuttle around the park and relax while you sightsee.

Washington Park in Portland, Oregon, big green meadow with lush, flowing trees.
Washington Park in Portland, Oregon, trees with bright, colorful flowers.
Washington Park in Portland, Oregon, trail with big green trees.
Washington Park in Portland, Oregon, flower bushes with brightly colored flowers.
The Japanese Tea Garden in Portland, Oregon, colorful trees over green pond.
The Japanese Tea Garden in Portland, Oregon, rock garden with lots of moss.
The Japanese Tea Garden in Portland, Oregon, zen garden, view from above.

Mt Tabor Park

Ever played in a volcano crater? This park includes a volcano crater, which now has a grassy playing field placed on it. The park also features many more paths to walk or drive, and many of the walking paths are paved and at least partially wheelchair-accessible. Some roads go enough uphill that you can get great views of the city from up there (including driving paths). You can also walk around a reservoir.

Mt. Tabor Park in Portland, Oregon, city view from a high hilltop.
Mt. Tabor Park in Portland, Oregon, green trail with lots of trees.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park, With Cherry Blossoms

A stroll by a nice waterfront is always great. But with rows of beautiful cherry blossoms lining the path? It’s fantastic. Such scenery can be enjoyed at this park (cherry blossoms tend to come into bloom in early Spring in Oregon, though this can vary from year to year). Since there are also paved paths, much of it is accessible by wheelchair.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland, Oregon, cherry blossom tree.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

In the heart of Portland’s Chinatown, this tranquil, traditional Chinese garden allows a walk through a gorgeous and intricately detailed garden with ponds. You can download a guide to listen to as you go through. The paths are paved, though some of the exhibits along the way have a step without a ramp.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, bridge over a pond and waterfalls, with lots of trees.
Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, Chinese-style buildings, ducks swimming on a pond, lots of colorful trees and flowers.

The Grotto

This outdoor church altar, with dense forest trails surrounding it, offers a peaceful and contemplative walk. A local Catholic church maintains the grounds, and holds mass there on Sundays – which are outside during the Summer. Whether you’re religious/Catholic or not, the altar built inside of a wet cave is a pretty unique sight, and the gardens are lovely.

The Grotto park in Portland, Oregon, outdoor altar carved into rock cave.
The Grotto park in Portland, Oregon, forest trail with dense trees.

There’s Plenty More…

Of course, while Portland’s parks are awesome, there’s plenty more to do in this city.

It’s also known for its many restaurants and breweries, and a diverse array of food trucks. Foodies and beer lovers will delight in Portland’s offerings.

If you enjoy reading, check out one of the multiple Powell’s Books locations for a huge selection of new and used books. We visited the downtown store on a weekend night, and it seems to be a popular date/pickup location, too! That speaks well of any city.

If you like, check out the many LGBTQ+ resources and events happening in Portland. Portland is a popular city for LGBTQ+ people and families, with a good reputation for being welcoming.

My husband and I also both found Portland to be more ethnically diverse than we expected, which was a pleasant surprise. We are an interracial couple (I’m white and he’s black), and we are based in the San Francisco Bay Area – it seems that Portland is gaining more of the diversity that we’ve seen disappearing from our hometown over recent years. It was nice to feel like much less of a rarity while visiting. Good for Portland.

Portland is also a popular destination for young families, unsurprisingly, as housing prices are more affordable there than in most West Coast cities – a quick browse of listings suggests that homes go for a fraction there of what they do in the Bay Area.

If you’re visiting the Pacific northwest, or looking for a West coast city to consider moving to that has a lot of nature and friendly vibes to offer, Portland, Oregon is definitely worth checking out.

Romantic Beach Towns Along Oregon’s Southern Coastline:

If you’re driving through Oregon and you have time to take the scenic route, you’d be in for quite a treat to explore Oregon’s wonderful coastal towns. Here are a few we visited: Brookings, Gold Beach, and Coos Bay.

To explore Oregon’s coast, you’ll want to travel along Highway 101. Highway 101 runs up most of the USA’s Pacific coastline, including all of Oregon’s coastline. In Pacific metro regions like the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles metro area, 101 runs through some of the heaviest urban traffic in those cities – but along Oregon’s coastline; it’s a peaceful, less-traveled route with lots of redwood forests, beautiful beach views, stunning sunsets over the water (when the sun’s out); and when it’s cloudy, the treetops are shrouded in a tranquil, misty fog.

It’s known for being one of the most scenic drives in the Western USA.

There are lots of small beach towns along the way to enjoy, including:

Brookings, Oregon

Brookings is a relaxed, unpretentious beach town just on the Oregon side of the California-Oregon border. There is a marina if you have a boat, and plenty of RV parks if you’re looking for glamping. There are plenty of delicious food choices in the local restaurants. There are long, romantic walks on the beach, and the beaches were low-key and not crowded while we were there.

If you’re looking for a hotel on the beach in this town, the Beachfront Inn offers a beachfront view from every room, and a nice warm outdoor pool and hot tub. From your room, you can listen to the sounds of the ocean lull you to sleep at night! The hotel isn’t cheap, but actually delivers on its name. Accessibility note: Be sure to ask for an accessible/ground floor room if stairs are a problem for you, as there is no elevator.

View of the beach from a balcony in Brookings, Oregon.

Gold Beach, Oregon

Less than an hour north of Brookings is Gold Beach. Although you might think it’s named for the golden glow of the sunsets over the ocean water – and certainly, that would be fitting, too – it’s actually named for its history of gold mining. You probably won’t strike it rich panning for gold there today, but you can enjoy a small, laid-back beach town with some pretty gorgeous beach views, and dramatic topography out at sea.

Sea Stacks at sunset near Gold Beach, Oregon.

Coos Bay, Oregon

Coos Bay is gorgeous and fun, and a must-see for this road trip!

Coos Bay is larger than Brookings and Gold Beach, and is more of a small city than a town. So while it’s not quite as slow and quiet as the other two, there are far more amenities in terms of libraries, restaurants, shops, and also local parks.

While you’re in Coos Bay, be sure to check out Mingus Park:

Mingus Park

Mingus Park is a must-see if you’re visiting Coos Bay. It’s large with plenty of walking and hiking trails, plus a Japanese garden. It also features a skateboarding area. There are fountains on the lake which light up with different colors at night. There are lots of lily pads on the water, where you can watch birds and frogs and other creatures enjoy a little place to sit and rest.

Me and Kwame at Mingus Park in Coos Bay, Oregon, with a lake and fountains in the background.
Lily pads on the water in Mingus Park, in Coos Bay, Oregon.
A Japanese-style red bridge in Mingus Park, in Coos Bay, Oregon.

Beautiful Highway Views

Even while you’re on the road between cities and towns, you can enjoy beautiful views while you drive. It’s a scenic route all the way up the coast. If your goal is to drive through Oregon as quickly as possible, I-5 will be faster – right along with every truck also driving through the state. I-5 is more utilitarian than pretty, just like in the rest of the Pacific region. So if you’re passing through, and can take the scenic route along Oregon, I highly recommend it – or, the Oregon coast is worthy of its own road trip, as well.

A view of the coast from Highway 101 near the California-Oregon border.
Forested highway along Highway 101 near the California-Oregon border.

Note: The climate along this region tends to be cool, is frequently overcast, and is often rainy. Therefore, plan accordingly for a trip here – bring warm layers, umbrellas, and shoes that will hold up in wet weather. Happy and safe travels, my friends!

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to beautifying urban spaces with plentiful parks, as well as to relaxation and romance in small coastal towns.

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Check out my other blog, too – Free Range Life, at It’s about personal finance, freelancing and remote work, current events and political commentary, and traveling and the RV life.

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