Oregon’s Willamette Valley was named 2016 Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast. With over 675 wineries, Willamette Valley extends for over 100 miles between the forests of the Coast Range and the peaks of the Cascade Mountains, ranging from just south of Eugene to north of Portland. Enjoy sipping award-winning wines, enjoying fine dining, strolling along historic buildings, visiting beautiful waterfalls, bird-watching, cycling, and visiting a nationally recognized aviation and space museum; this is the Central Willamette Valley in Oregon.
My visit was sponsored by Visit Willamette Valley Visitors Association, Tualatin Valley Visitors Association, and many of the businesses listed below. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I recommend visiting the Willamette Valley in three parts and spending at least 2 to 3 days in each section: Northern, Central, and Southern sections. This article focuses on the Central Willamette Valley. I chose the historic city of McMinnville as my base for exploring the central Willamette Valley. Although located only 38 miles from Portland, it is like being a world away from a big city.
Here are my choices for 17 wonderful experiences in Willamette Valley, Oregon.
1. Sip Award-Winning Wines At Youngberg Hill Inn & Winery
Youngberg Hill is the closest vineyard to McMinnville, a mere 6-mile drive. The inn and tasting rooms are located on a 50-acre hilltop surrounded by vineyards and sweeping countryside views. The 30-year old vineyard is organically farmed with the belief that “our wines are made in the vineyard, not the winery.” Youngberg Hill has received recognition from Wine Spectator and Country Living. Youngberg Hill is the only McMinnville Winery open year-round.
2. Stroll Historic Downtown McMinnville
Stroll Historic Downtown McMinnville with more than a dozen historic buildings along 3rd Street. Named “The West’s Best Main Street” by Sunset Magazine, many of the buildings date back to between 1885 and 1912. The entire historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Stop at Hotel Oregon, the 1905 four-story building restored by McMenamins. Visit the bistro-style Cellar Bar, which showcases photos from yesteryear. The 1905 historic Wortman House is one block over, a two-story Craftsman house now a vacation rental. With four bedrooms and tastefully decorated art and antiques, Wortman House is located on 4th Street.
There is ample free parking downtown available along with electric vehicle parking.
3. Visit Cascading Waterfalls
Did you know that there is a Niagara Falls in Oregon? You can hike the Pheasant Creek and Niagara Falls Trail, located about 1 hour south of McMillville. I prefer Silver Falls State Park, also about a 1-hour drive from McMinnville, with its Trail of Ten Falls. One can choose from various trails over a 7-mile loop; four of the trails allow you to walk behind a waterfall. The South Falls Day Use Area has picnic shelters, barbecue pits, a playground, horseshoe pits, and wide-open lawns.
Pro Tip: Silver Falls has a daily fee, or you can purchase a yearly state parks permit.
Oregon has more than 80 waterfalls worthy of a visit. Check out the Oregon Trail of Waterfalls for a free map showing locations, where to stay, and what to eat.
4. Savor Finely-Crafted Wines At Troon Biodynamic Wine Bar
Troon Biodynamic Tasting Bar is one of the newest tasting rooms on 3rd Street in downtown McMinnville. They feature wines from their winery in the Applegate Valley, located in the Southern Willamette Valley. Troon is proud to have earned both a Demeter Biodynamic Certification and a Regenerative Organic Certification. As such, Troon believes in continually rebuilding and nurturing the soil and plants on their farm. They continue to “build vineyard biodiversity to combat climate emergency.” Another highlight of the Troon Vineyard is their attention to social issues, both for their workers and the community.
Two tasting flights are available: the Tasting Room Reservation and the Private Tasting With A Wine Educator. A charcuterie board is available for purchase, or you are welcome to bring in your food. The site is wheelchair accessible.
5. Dine At Pizza Capo
A local favorite on 3rd Street, Pizza Capo, is the place to go for Neopolitan-style wood-fired pizza, salads, and small plates. The Winter Chicory Salad is a delight.
Pro Tip: It is large enough for two.
The classic arancini, the Sicilian snack and street food is perfectly spiced with saffron and tomato butter. But the pizza! Wow! Pizza is taken to a new height! Check out the Valley Special Pizza with pork belly, Yukon gold potatoes, and kale, all adding a Pacific Northwest flavor. Delicious!
6. Admire The Public Art Collections
Admire the outdoor public art sculptures and murals in historic McMillville. Look for sculptures, murals, old ghost signs, and vintage photos on walls, in alleys, on lawns, and in local businesses. With more than 30 outdoor sculptures and murals and 12 art galleries and studios, the Art Walk is a delightful way to stroll the streets. Click on the link for a walking tour and further information.
7. Sip Delicious Pinot Noir At Coeur de Terre Vineyard
Coeur de Terre translates into Heart of the Earth. The family-owned vineyard and winery focus on Oregon Pinot Noir and uses regenerative viticulture practices. Three types of winetastings are offered: 1. Taste of Place; 2. Library Tour, which includes a charcuterie board; and 3. The Winemaker Tour. Also available are wine and cheese pairing events. Coeur de Terre also has several events throughout the year. The Beatles night held each fall is very popular. Check the website for additional information.
Pro Tip: Watch for deer while driving along the countryside roads.
8. Cycle Oregon Wine Country Bike Routes
Cyclists can choose from five routes around the McMinnville area:
- Muddy Valley: 26 miles — moderately difficult
- Riverside: 7 miles — easiest route
- Abbey Road: 42 miles — for experienced cyclists
- Latham Loop: 32 miles — steep climbs
- Woodland Loop: 20 miles — also steep hills.
If you want to rent a bike, check this link for the 10 Best Bike Rentals Near McMinnville.
9. Team Delicious Wines With Music At The Hi-Fi Wine Bar
Another new tasting room in downtown McMinnville is the Hi-Fi Wine Bar, where wine and music lovers become part of a welcoming community. The wine list is extensive, with over 1000 bottles worldwide. Martin & Woods Wines are featured.
The interior celebrates the Oregon forests and soil with large oak rounds decorating the walls and a unique coffee table made from a huge bedrock of basalt.
During the day, soft music flows from the extensive vinyl collection while folks experience the tasing. Friday and Saturday evenings, a DJ entertains.
10. Enjoy Equestrian Wine Tours
You can sip, saddle, and ride with Equestrian Wine Tours, who offer horseback and carriage tours in Oregon Wine Country. Tours are through the Red Hills of Dundee and feature comfortable rides on trained Tennessee Walking Horses.
11. Enjoy Fine Dining At La Rambla
Ask a local for dining recommendations, and a typical response is La Rambla. With award-winning dining and superior service, La Ramla is located on 3rd Street in the historic 1884 Shilling Building. The extensive menu features a selection of tapas, paella, seafood, pork, chicken, and beef dishes. I also recommend the delightful salads and the sauteed green beans served with blue cheese and hazelnut.
Pro Tip: Salads are large. You might want to share.
12. Fly Away With The Birds At Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge Center
Visit Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge Center, part of The Willamette Valley Birding Trail, along the Pacific Flyway, the migratory bird route stretching from Alaska to Argentina. Enjoy the 3-mile nature trail and look for more than 200 species of birds, 50 species of mammals, and 25 species of reptiles and amphibians. Open year-round.
13. Team Delicious Wines With Breathtaking Views of Mt. Hood At Hawkes View Cellars
Hawks View Winery is nestled on a 50-acre site in the Chehalem Mountains of the Willamette Valley. Enjoy world-class pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay, and lovely views of Mt. Hood. Team your tasting with delicious bites such as rustic flatbreads, paninis, cheese fondue, and charcuterie boards. Hawks View Winery is proud to be certified sustainable by the International Organization for Biological Control (IOBC). They provide healthcare and fair wages for workers, implement healthy land management practices, and practice natural resource reduction.
14. Sip Superior Wines At Yamhill Valley Vineyards
Yamhill Valley Vineyards is the oldest winery and second oldest vineyard in the McMinnville AVA. Begun in 1983, the vineyard specializes in estate-grown pinot noir. Another winner in my books is their 2020 Rose of Pinot Noir. This light wine is delicious with crab and turkey.
Both indoor and outdoor seating are available. Two tasting flights are offered: 1. Signature Flight (a mixture of red, white, and rose), and 2. Reserve Flight (three red varietals). A charcuterie board is available for purchase, or you are welcome to bring outside food.
Hike YVW: Hikers will enjoy two hiking trails. The first, at 1.5 miles if a more accessible and flatter trail. The second is a moderate uphill hike of one mile. You can combine both trails if you like. Trails are open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursdays through Mondays. Note that the trails are not available from September 15 through spring. Click this link for a virtual tour.
Bilingual tastings are available.
15. Explore Aviation and Space History At The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum
The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum is truly a hidden gem just three miles northeast of McMinnville. Two 120,000-square-foot hangars house more than 200 historic aircraft, spacecraft, and exhibits, including The Aviation Museum and The Space Museum. One of the gems is Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose.” You can even step inside and marvel at the belly of the Spruce Goose. Informed docents offer great insight into history.
A separate 3-D Theater shows daily films.
I recommend at least 3-4 hours here. I could have spent all day!
16. Dine At Nick’s Italian Cafe, A James Beard Winner
Another local favorite is Nick’s Cafe, serving McMinnville since 1977. They were honored as a James Beard American Heritage Winner for recognition as a long-standing icon in the community. Nick’s serves authentic Italian food prepared from passed-down family recipes. The handmade pasta is a local favorite, as is the Oregon Dungeness Crab Lasagna. Also available are to-go items such as a pasta kit, a pizza kit, minestrone, and ravioli.
17. Enjoy Accommodations At A’Tuscan Estate Bed & Breakfast
Located just five blocks from the historic downtown, A’Tuscan Estate Bed & Breakfast is THE place to stay. Enjoy the delightful 1928 home with original Honduras Mahogany woodwork, oak hardwood, and formal dining and living room furnished with beautiful antiques and artwork. The three-course breakfasts are to die for! Be ready to be treated like a king or queen.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a fascinating destination with sites for all to enjoy. Plan a 2- or 3-night stay; you will be glad you did!