In these hard times that have come to be known as the Great Recession, many Americans have been scaling back their travel plans. The staycation, or vacationing near or even at home, has steadily gained in popularity. It may not be as glamorous as a traditional vacation, but there’s no reason it can’t be a blast, especially if you have young children who are often game for anything.
Oregon is replete with destinations that beckon travelers from around the globe, so why not take advantage of the beauty and wonder right here in our own backyard? Throw a little local Jewish history into the mix, and as Bill Cosby used to say, “If you’re not careful, you may learn something before it’s done.” If you live in the Portland Metro area, you might want to beat the high price of gas and pay a visit to the many hidden (and not so hidden) jewels that bless the Rose City. Two places that spring to mind immediately are the Portland Children’s Museum and the Portland Aquarium.
The Portland Children’s Museum, located on 4015 SW Canyon Road right next to the Oregon Zoo, is one of the oldest children’s museums in the United States. PCM is the perfect environment for young explorers. The Building Bridgetown exhibit will inspire your budding architect or future construction worker to build the city of tomorrow, today! The Pet Hospital is perfect for your little animal lover. Afte rall that hard work, why not head over to the Grasshopper Grocery and Bistro to do the grocery shopping and cook a meal for mommy or daddy? The current exhibit is “Storyland,” which promotes
If you want to show your kids the Jewish Portland of yesteryear, pick up a copy of Polina Olsen’s A Walking Tour of Historic Jewish Portland. This slim booklet is usually available at Annie Bloom’s Books or Powell’s City of Books. Unplug your kid’s brains from all their screens and gadgets, get a little fresh air and exercise, and step back in time to visit the surviving remnants of the old South Portland Jewish community. Toward the end of your stroll, you can break for lunch at the Ross Island Grocery Café. If you’re near Beaverton, why not visit the only certified kosher donut shop in town, the one and only Krispy Kreme, and enjoy a sweet treat with the kids? They’ll thrill to the sight of donuts being made before their eyes. Krispy Kreme is even running a staycation promotion this spring through late June! Be sure to fill out an entry form for your chance to win a staycation prize pack.
If you’re bored with your neighborhood parks, throw the kids in the car and head up the Gorge. Hood River Waterfront Park is perhaps the most kid-friendly park ever designed. There are climbing rocks that are just the right size for kids, fun tunnels, bridges and slides – even a giant xylophone! The land itself seems contoured for fun, with dips and rises that are perfect for exploring. There is a small beach providing access to the river for kayaking, windsurfing or just playing. While you’re in town grab a bite at Sixth Street Bistro, then stroll through town and browse at Waucoma Bookstore or Artifacts which features good books and bad art.
If you’re visiting around a Jewish holiday, contact the Columbia Gorge Havurah (coordinator Emilykohner@mail.com), as they celebrate all the major Jewish holidays and do some Shabbat events, as well. They are always welcoming to wandering Jews. If you wish to stay in town overnight, your best bet is the Hood River Hotel. In the morning head over to Hood River Bagels for some boiled and baked goodness.
On the way back to Portland, you can visit the Bonneville Dam, Multnomah Falls or hike up to Wahclella Falls, an easy day hike even with kids. Or why not head toward the Dalles and visit the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center? Discover the rich history of the ColumbiaRiver Gorge in a museum almost as epic as the Gorge itself. Prepare to be amazed at the rich pageant of an area that has been continuously inhabited for more than 11,000 years. Explore this dynamic region and embark on a voyage of discovery right along with Lewis and Clark. Learn about the struggles of pioneer families who traveled the Oregon Trail by covered wagon with nothing but pluck, perseverance and faith to keep them alive. Visit the kid’s explorer room or check out the raptor experience. This educational program, available on weekdays, allows children to view raptors such as bald eagles up close. In addition to the easy access to hiking trails such as the Lewis and Clark and Oregon Trail, the Discovery Center offers handicap-accessible paved interpretive
trails on the museum grounds.
If you can’t wait for summer to end, take advantage of the only ski resort in the United States featuring year-round
lift-service skiing and snowboarding: Timberline Lodge and Ski Resort. Between May and September come ski or ride on the Palmer Glacier, an epic river of snow and ice located on the south face of Mount Hood and a remnant of the last ice age. If you want a truly unique mountain experience, spend the night at the Silcox Hut. Perched at 6,950 feet and built in 1939, this rustic lodge has a charm all its own. With room for 24 the hut is a great way to have a real adventure.
The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville houses the mighty Spruce Goose, designed and piloted by none other than Howard Hughes himself. This testament to modern engineering and one man’s vision has been completely refurbished and restored from nose to tail and is waiting for you to climb aboard. The second exhibit hall houses a treasure trove of NASA and military artifacts. For a long, strange staycation, take your kids back to the ’60s and tune in, turn on, and teach your children well at the Oregon Country Fair – three days of peace and love are held in July in Veneta. With face painting, puppet shows, live music and hippies galore, your kids will experience a freedom that only the Oregon Country Fair can provide. Camping is available.
If you’re feeling patriotic on Independence Day, head up the Oregon coast for the Fourth of July parade in Gearhart. If you stay overnight, watching the fireworks from the beach will be a memory that will last a lifetime. From Gearhart, head south to Tillamook to visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Tour the factory, enjoy an ice cream cone and don’t forget to pick up some Tillamook Kosher Cheddar in the gift shop. From there head south down the coast to Newport, nestled on beautiful Yaquina Bay. Be sure to visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium, one of Oregon’s top tourist attractions. Exhibits
include sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions, wave-crashed tide pools, a coastal cave featuring a giant Pacific octopus and a nature trail. The aquarium’s undersea adventure, Passages of the Deep, includes three large ocean habitats that are home to 3,500 sea creatures connected by a 200-foot underwater tunnel through which visitors can journey safely through shark-filled waters.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, be sure to keep Shabbat on the road. Shabbat away from home can be a very special experience for your children. Be sure to invest in some windproof Neronim candles. Freeze a few Challah ahead of time so they’re ready to grab on the way out of Dodge. Stash a pocket-size prayerbook or Torah in your backpack.
Bruce Springsteen astutely notes on his latest album, Wrecking Ball, that “hard times come, and hard times go.” Is the staycation here to stay? All I know is some of the best times I’ve had with my family have been right in my backyard. You don’t need to schlep to the farthest corners of the Earth when you live in a state like Oregon. With so many sights to see in the Beaver State, it’s best to remember the old adage, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
Richard Geller is a freelance writer and staycationista extraordinaire living in Portland with his wife and three children.