Check out waterfalls and so much more on the Columbia River Gorge Tour with Oregon Tour Co.

Multnomah Falls
Hop aboard the Columbia River Gorge Tour to check out Multnomah Falls.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

I can’t tell you how many people said I HAD to go on a waterfall tour after telling them I was headed to Portland for a few days. Beyond the insane food scene (and ahem, stripper and weed activities), the city of Portland is absolutely dreamy. From the mountainous landscapes to the bodies of water, it’s definitely worth venturing out of the city to explore the great outdoors.

We had the absolute pleasure of checking out the Columbia River Gorge Tour with Peter Woodburn of Oregon Tour Co. While I thought this tour would just be a scenic drive to visit Portland’s most famous waterfalls, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the history of Portland, its unique geography, rivers, and local fish species, all while exploring some of the area’s beautiful sights.
Oregon Tour Co. is a father and son operated tour company that brings locals and visitors along for a scenic ride. Peter and Pete (too cute, right?!) offer tours of downtown Portland, local gardens, wine country, Mt. Hood and the Oregon Coast.
The Columbia River Gorge Tour is more than just a waterfall drive-by tour. On our trip, we learned about the formation of the Columbia River, salmon spawning and runs at Eagle Creek, the giant sturgeon population, a bit about the local inhabitants, and so much more.
Latourell Falls near Portland
Latourell Falls near Portland is definitely a must see while you’re traveling through town.

Obviously, the main attraction was the stunning waterfalls. Multnomah Falls is the most popular in the area, but Peter showed us a handful of other waterfalls that were less crowded and equally, if not more beautiful than Multnomah. Hop aboard the tour and you’ll see my favorite, Latourell Falls. Hidden off the path a bit, Latourell’s stunning patch of yellow fungus makes this destination totally unlike the others. If you don’t mind getting wet, I highly recommend walking down the path a bit to the base of the waterfall. It’s totally unreal and completely magical.

View from above at the Women's Forum Scenic Viewpoint.
View from above at the Vista House near the Women’s Forum Scenic Viewpoint.

Columbia River view

For one of the best vantage points of the day was from our trek up the mountain to the Vista House near the Portland Women’s Forum Memorial. This is definitely a spot I would have never even known about and offers amazing views of the Washington/Oregon border and Columbia River.
The guys behind Oregon Tour Co. are super friendly and have an insane amount of knowledge about the area. If you’re looking to discover your own Portland waterfall tour, book a date with these guys. For more information, visit http://www.oregontourco.com.

Oakland’s Casa Cubana is where you want to go for cocktails, dessert + Cuban-inspired fare

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

Cuban food is one of those cuisines that I have yet to tackle. There was never a huge Cuban population where I grew up, so finding out about a new Cuban restaurant in Oakland piqued my interest. I had the absolute pleasure of trying Casa Cubana in Downtown Oakland as their guest just a few months after they opened their doors. And this place is quickly becoming a staple in the neighborhood for bright and fresh cocktails, Cuban-inspired dishes, and delicious desserts.

Inside Casa Cubana in Oakland
Inside Casa Cubana in Oakland
Casa Cubana's Guacamole
Casa Cubana’s Guacamole

Walking inside Casa Cubana, you’ll be greeted by a massive bar, bright walls and colorful artwork by local artists. Start your night off with a Mojito and order some apps for the table. The Cuban Guacamole is served up with some plantain chips, or go with the Habana Cocktail, a mix of tiger prawns, cucumber, mango, avocado and tomato.

Casa Cubana's entrees

Main courses offer a little something for everyone. The Lechon Asado was a savory slab of pork shoulder, served with black rice and an orange, onion, fennel and garlic gastrique. So good. Seafood and chicken dishes are also plentiful so bring a friend for sharing.

Casa Cubana's Guava Cheesecake
Casa Cubana’s Guava Cheesecake

The standout for me was definitely the dessert. Our bartender and our server seriously would not stop talking about the Guava Cheesecake. Apparently diners come in specifically for this cheesecake and will even call ahead to make sure the dish in available. These guys are not messing around. Even if you’re not a guava fan, the creaminess of the cake pairs perfectly with the buttery crust and tart and sweet guava glaze. If you’re in downtown Oakland and need a sugary pick me up, you HAVE to try this dessert.

The service at Casa Cubana is warm and welcoming, the drinks are stellar and the vast menu will suit new Cuban diners and beyond. For more information, visit www.casacubanaoakland.com.

Best Restaurants in Portland – We check out PDX restaurants with serious Instagram fame

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

Lately, my trips have been centered around food, with just a sprinkling of history and city tours. When I traveled before, I’d always search out the best shopping districts, find a cute little pastry shop, and manage to sneak in a massage or a manicure with my travel mates. But these days, it’s all about the food and booze.

When I started planning this trip, the top priority was to seek out and eat at the best restaurants in Portland. I researched on my own, got some tips from friends and screened through pages of Yelp. But this might be the first time that I leveraged Instagram to lead the way.

After just minutes of going down an Instagram black hole, I came across dozens of restaurants that looked absolutely amazing. From waffles and pastries to French food and famous chicken wings, I was salivating and bookmarking everything. And honestly, what better platform to go hunting for food in foreign territory than with Instagram?

Here are some of the restaurants I found using my favorite PDX food hashtags and some other gems we found along the way.

Instagram-Famous Joints You Need to Check Out

Pok Pok

People freak out over Pok Pok and its creative Northern Thai street food fare. I HAD to go to their original location on SE Division St. and try their fish-sauce wings for myself. I was told a number of times to go for lunch as the line can be much more manageable. The second that I step foot inside Pok Pok, I immediately felt like I was back at the food stalls in Jakarta and Bali. Servers are super enthusiastic about all of the menu items and specials and the casual, outdoor vibe might be just what you need after a long day of exploring.

The dishes at Pok Pok Portland are meant to be shared so either come incredibly hungry or with your food adventurous friends. Between the three of us, we ordered a little something of everything.

Pok Pok chicken wings
Always order the wings at Pok Pok.

You MUST order Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings. These wings are marinated in fish sauce and sugar before being deep friend and tossed in a caramelized fish sauce and garlic sauce. Great on their own or with a side of coconut rice, these wings are definitely a standout.

We also ordered the Kung Op Wun Sen, a noodle dish with gulf prawns and pork belly baked with soy, ginger, black pepper and other Thai ingredients. The Neua Naam Tok was another favorite. This flank steak “salad” is served up with a bunch of fish sauce, lime, chili powder, cilantro, lemongrass and toasted rice powder. The grilled fiddlehead special of the day was amazing and off the menu. Make sure to ask about the specials of the day as Pok Pok focuses on seasonal dishes whenever possible.

Pine State Biscuits

For whatever reason, soul food is a major player in the Portland food scene. You’ll find chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy and meat and three specialties all across the city. If you have a long day ahead of you and need a serious start to your morning, you must try Pine State Biscuits.

This locally famous joint has four locations across the area and will likely have a line outside the door whenever you go. Trust me when I say this place is worth the wait. Stop by for breakfast or lunch and you’ll be in awe of the biscuits piled high with bacon or fried chicken and a healthy serving of gravy.

Reggie Deluxe from Pine State Biscuits
The Reggie Deluxe…I can’t even.

The Reggie Deluxe seems to be everyone’s favorite with fried chicken, bacon, cheese, egg and gravy. Adventurous diners will love the Pine State Fried Club, a trio of fried grit cakes each topped with a slab of fried chicken drizzled with spiced honey, pimento cheese, country ham and white cheddar. Check the specials board whenever you arrive and you might find some fancy waffles or homemade pop tarts.

Lardo

Lardo's Pork Meatball Bahn Mi
Lardo’s Pork Meatball Bahn Mi. OMG.

Nothing makes me happier than a well-executed, no frills, locally-inspired sandwich place. I found out about Lardo during one of my late night Instagram black hole benders and I’m so happy I did. If you don’t order something porky at Lardo, you’ll still find something on the menu to dream about weeks after you leave PDX. The restaurant’s showstopper is the Pork Meatball Banh Mi and it’s f*cking unbelievable. Giant pork meatballs are stacked with pickled vegetables, cilantro, cucumber and sriracha mayo on a fresh baguette.

I had to show some form of restraint and ordered the Lardo Fries which were tossed with fried herbs and parmesan. But the heathen in me was definitely eyeing everyone else’s Dirty Fries, which are topped with pork scraps (!!!) and marinated peppers. Once again, this place is great to go to with friends so order some beers and snag bites from each other’s sandwiches, while you sit outside and watch all of the kooks walk and bike by.

Voodoo Doughnuts vs. Blue Star Donuts

These guys need very minimal introduction. One is known for its colorful and quirky, available-at-all-times-of-day, donuts and the other takes an artisanal and seasonal approach to its flavors.

We stopped by Voodoo Doughnut super late at night and had our pick of freshly fried doughnuts. (Go for the Portland Cream doughnut!) This place is a hot tourist destination so don’t get trapped in a humongous line at peak times.

Blue Star Donuts
Just a small sampling of flavors at Blue Star Donuts.

Blue Star Donuts uses local and seasonal ingredients in their brioche-based donuts. I brought home all kinds of flavors ranging from Blueberry Bourbon Basil to Lemon Poppy Seed. It’s nearly impossible to buy just one of these bad boys unless you give zero f*cks about your waistline.

Salt & Straw

I’m pretty sure Portlanders, Portlandia-folk?, have made it their goal to keep the secret that Portland actually gets really amazing weather in spring and early summer. We visited in March and it must have been 75 degrees outside. So it’s no surprise that fancy ice cream is a thing in PDX and that there was a huge line nearly every hour and day at Salt & Straw.

Salt and Straw's ice cream flight
Salt and Straw’s ice cream flight

In proper form of a sweet tooth addict, we went for an ice cream flight so we could try a little bit of everything. The Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper flavors was one of my faves, as well as the Honey Lavender and Pear & Blue Cheese. It’s pretty easy to see that Salt & Straw is known for its unconventional flavors. Make sure you ask about all of their seasonal flavors as they are plentiful.

Amazing Portland Restaurants and Eateries We Found Along the Way

Huber’s Café

Huber's Cafe Portland
Coffee and a show at Huber’s Cafe

I was directed by a number of friends and strangers that a Spanish Coffee at Huber’s Café is a must. The place is cozy and intimate, but you can also belly up the bar at chat it up with bartenders, locals and passersby.

Don’t ask any questions; just go directly to Huber’s at any time of day or night. These things are seriously strong so you’ve been warned.

Bollywood Theater

We stumbled on Bollywood Theater after killing sometime in the Alberta Arts District and I’m so glad we did. The appeal behind Bollywood Theater is the fact that Bollywood videos are projected on the restaurant’s beautiful wooden walls and that everything is served on authentic Indian dishes and cups. But the street food dishes and small plates are what really lures people in and to visit again.

The Kati Roll at the beautifully designed Bollywood Theate
The Kati Roll at the beautifully designed Bollywood Theater.

The Kati Roll was such a good afternoon snack. Inspired by Indian street food stalls, the Kati Roll is a piece of flatbread with egg, your choice of meat, pickled onion and green chutney. The Lamb Samosas were another favorite and were filled with lamb, spiced potatoes, mint, onion, ginger and peas. Do yourself a favor and order an extra side of Tomato Raisin Chutney; you’re going to love it.

The Screen Door

If you’re looking for down-home Southern food in a hip atmosphere, The Screen Door is where you need to be. I heard about this place a while ago, looked for  their social media presence, and found out that these guys seems to be doing it old school via word-of-mouth marketing. The restaurant is nestled on a quaint part of East Burnside, but rest assured that the crazy lines will lead you the way to their front door.

You’ll find a little of everything on the menu. People seemed to love the Fried Chicken and Waffle stack and Po’Boys. We ordered essentially everything. but you MUST order a side of the Screen Door Praline Bacon, which is coated with pecans and cayenne brown sugar. I seriously could have just eaten that for breakfast. We ordered items like Shrimp & Grits, Huevos Rancheros and Eggs Benedict and they were all amazing. The brunch cocktails here are money so when in doubt, order a couple rounds of The Ramos Gin Fizz. Who knew gin, cream, egg whites, citrus and orange flower water could be so delicious?

When You Want to Try it All in a Single Day

My man and I had the absolute pleasure of going on the Best of Portland Food Tour with Eat Adventures Food Tours. Co-owner Angie Johnson graciously allowed us to join a trip and she somehow managed to show us a glimpse of nearly every type of PDX cuisine in a single afternoon. This tour is perfect if you’re not in town too long but still want a slice of everything.

You might think that Portland is just about their food carts and craft breweries, but there are so many things happening in between. In a matter of just three hours, we visited five different spots. Our marathon of eating and drinking began with appetizers at Southpark Seafood as we got to nibble on a board of house-made smoked fish, crackers and mortadella.

Enso Urban Winery Portland
Enso is absolutely adorable outside and is a perfect spot for wine tasting.

Other stops along the way included Ecliptic Brewing for some locally-made brews and delicious bar bites; an urban winery called Enso for AMAZING Rosé and some of the best bread and olive oil I’ve ever nibbled on; the Hapa PDX Ramen food cart on SE Division, which is also home to a handful of other adorable and delicious carts; and Ruby Jewel for some delicious ice cream sandwiches.

Hapa Ramen in Portland
Hapa Ramen in Portland
Ecliptic Brewery bites
Portland Breweries are plentiful and offer some amazing, non-conventional bar snacks. Order a few things from Ecliptic and you’ll be set.

The Best of Portland Food Tour is a fantastic way to learn about the history of Portland and how chefs and food trends have shaped the area to what it is today. Take this trip at the beginning of your stay as you’ll travel through several different parts of Portland with Eat Adventures. If you want to eat off of the beaten path and be among locals, book a tour with these guys immediately. You’ll be in good hands and with good company and Angie will definitely take care of you and your appetite.

 

 

 

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What to do and where to stay in Hawaii

Written by and photos by Michael A.

Are you figuring out what to do and where to stay in Hawaii? Here’s the perfect guide to your Hawaiian adventure for both the thrillseeker and the maxin’ and relaxin’ type of vacationer.

Exploring the Hilo Side of Big Island

Where to stay while Visiting Volcanoes National Park: Volcano Mist Cottage

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Beautiful and comfortable private outdoor seating area with easy to start fireplace while you listen to the beautiful calls of the rainforest
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Outdoor seating
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Outdoor Shower
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Your view as you wake up to the peaceful sounds of the rainforest
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Indoor electric fireplace in your living room
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Full kitchen for those of you who like to cook
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Bathrobes for that true vacation feel

Look at these pictures!!!! Talk about three perfect days in Volcano Village! Volcano Mist Cottage makes you feel like you’re in a private massage and spa treatment sanctuary for your entire stay. Volcano Mist Cottage is one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed. Situated a mere seven minute drive from Volcanoes National Park and only five minutes from local restaurants, this is the perfect place to stay when visiting this side of the island. Although many of you are familiar with both Kona and Hilo on the Big Island, the main reason people go to the “Hilo side” is to check out Volcanoes National Park because there really isn’t all that much to do in Hilo itself. If you were to stay in Hilo, the national park is about an hour away. You won’t want to spend the time driving each day so try to stay closer to the park. With that being said, there really aren’t too many hotels near the park (I mean very slim pickings). So, you’ll end up at a B&B or something on the smaller side. Read more

Rad hotels in Portland — Take a peek at my favorites

Written by Nadia Ibanez

Portland is one of those cities that I’ve been so eager to learn more about, especially since it’s only two hours away by plane. From what I’ve seen on that silly Portlandia show, to all of the amazing shots coming from the #eatPDX Instagram feed, Portland has been on my mind for months. I finally got the chance to explore the city and made it my job to eat everything in sight and stay at the coolest spots. If you’re planning a trip to PDX, I highly suggest you check out my guide to some of coolest hotels in Portland.

Before you even start planning all of your meals or make reservations at all of the restaurants you’ve been salivating over, lock down your hotel reservations. There are pockets of trendy restaurants, food carts, arts districts and shopping scattered all across the city of Portland so find a hotel in the middle of everything you want to see.

For a hip, party vibe with a dash of live music

Jupiter Hotel
This place is SO Instagram worthy. Photo courtesy of the Jupiter Hotel.

The Jupiter Hotel is located on the Eastside of PDX, walking distance from amazing restaurants, shopping, strip clubs, coffee shops and so much more. The Jupiter offers everything that I could want from a boutique hotels in Portland: Locals working the front desk who can give you the inside scoop on restaurant and entertainment recommendations; quirky decor in all of the rooms, a super rad music venue next door, and a perfect location.

And not to mention their extremely affordable rates. If you’re partying in the area and need a place to stay, available rooms are only $99 if you try and book after midnight.

Centrally located on East Burnside Ave., the Jupiter is a party in itself. You can stay at the Jupiter and within the blocks around the property and have the best time ever. From breweries, highly acclaimed restaurants, strip clubs and everything in between, I guarantee you’ll find a way to occupy yourself.

Jupiter Hotel condoms
Props to the Jupiter Hotel for thinking of everything…

During our stay, an art show featuring local artists was held in the lobby while live music played nearly every night at the neighboring Doug Fir Lounge. Rooms are spacious, uniquely decorated and you can even personalize your space with the chalkboard-painted door. Cheeky additions to the nightstand include ear plugs and condoms (because rumor has it that the Jupiter is where, let’s stay, the sex positive come and play).

If you’re looking for a super quiet place to rest your head while traveling through PDX, this might not be your best choice. Although, ask the front desk for a “chill” room when you book as these books are slightly away from the hotel lobby and bar hi jinx. But when you’re in Portland for the weekend, who has time to sleep anyway?

For a beautiful place to treat yourself and your honey

I absolutely love all of the Kimpton Hotel properties I’ve ever stayed at or visited. They’re always beautifully designed yet somehow have their own distinct styles. There are three Kimpton properties in Portland and we had the absolute pleasure of spending an evening at Hotel Vintage in downtown Portland.

If you’re looking for a hotel in Portland with spacious and luxurious guestrooms, a full bar, game room, a nightly hosted wine hour, live music, bike rentals, and restaurant, the Hotel Vintage is your one-stop shop. We checked in on a Saturday afternoon and missed the hosted wine hour by a hair. The front desk graciously gave us drink tickets to use at the bar, so keep this in mind if you’re planning on a late check in.

Hotel Vintage PDX
Stick around the lobby at the Hotel Vintage in downtown Portland for a hosted wine hour and live music on the weekends.

If we didn’t have dinner reservations, I’m fairly certain we would have spent our entire night at the hotel. Live music was playing from the lobby bar from 6-8 p.m., guests were tapping into their inner child at  the game room, and the entire hotel was bustling with energy. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, this spot is such a fun place to check out.

Our room was AMAZING. Make sure you sign up for the Kimpton rewards program, Karma, for some extra perks. Our King Suite was enormous and was so warm and cozy that we had some serious problems leaving our room. We could have seriously hosted our own party with the amount of square footage in our suite.

Hotel Vintage Portland lobby
You might just find that you’ll check into Hotel Vintage Portland and then never actually leave the property. There’s so much fun to be discovered here. Photo courtesy of Hotel Vintage.

If you do find yourself leaving the bed, spend some time at the hotel bar, Bacchus Bar. Our bartender poured us some stiff drinks and he proudly took our drink vouchers from earlier. If you get hungry, the hotel’s Pazzo Ristorante will satisfy your pasta and pizza needs.

There are some great bars and restaurants that are walking distance from the Vintage, not to mention Mary’s and Voodoo Doughnut. Once you get your fair share of vices and sin, Hotel Vintage will be a wonderful refuge.

For a history lesson in Portland rock and roll

Portland is no stranger to great musicians and music venues and the Crystal Hotel perfectly glorifies rock and roll from generations before us and today. The McMenamin brothers, Mike and Brian, started their business in the brewing industry before trying their hands at transforming historic buildings into amazing hotels. The Crystal Hotel, located across the street from the legendary Crystal Ballroom, is in a rad flatiron building with 51 guestrooms inspired by previous bands who’ve played at the Ballroom.

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If these walls could talk…at McMenamins Crystal Hotel in Downtown Portland.

We stayed in the Flogging Molly room, which was beautifully decorated in their music lyrics, but if you’re lucky, you’ll score a night in the Grateful Dead or Marvin Gaye rooms. There’s a bit of a hip hostel vibe here and most rooms share communal bathrooms on each floor so keep this in mind while you’re looking for hotels in Portland.

Crystal Hotel pool
Grab a robe from your closet and bring a local brew down to the underground soaking pool at the Crystal Hotel.

The Crystal Hotel is definitely something you need to see in person. They’ve got all kinds of amenities like their own restaurant, Zeus Cafe; their own line of coffee, which is brewed every morning; a rad below ground bar and music venue called Al’s Den; and an underground, saltwater soaking pool. (Say what?! Don’t forget your bathing suits!)

If you’re looking for a totally off-the-grid place to rest your head while you’re visiting, you have to check this place out. And if you find out that you absolutely love this place, ask about the McMenamins Passport where you’ll be awarded handsomely for visiting all of the McMenamins properties and pubs.

There’s seriously something for everything when it comes to looking for hotels in Portland. Whether you’re looking for a luxe place to lavish with your babe, a trendy place in the middle of everything, or a property with a cool story, Portland has got it all.