Valentine’s Day—it’s really just a chance to spend time with those you love. Whatever your romantic status, a day trip to the heart of Oregon wine country has all the right settings for romance, bromance, or a Galentine’s Day outing.
This year, for our annual holiday gift guide, the Tiny Travelers are showcasing the best gifts from local stores and producers to send to all of the far-flung friends and family you haven’t been able to visit during the past year.
On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me…
Wash your hands, yes. But with so many hand-washings every day, and travel difficult, let me propose something different: Soap Travel.
Think I’m nuts? There’s a little store in Carlton with a big social media presence behind it that makes it happen, and it might just be your new favorite scent shop. It’s called Rough Cut Soap Co. and is the real-life project of all-around maker extraordinaire Tanya Braukman, a firm believer in healthy self-care products.
The wines at Knudsen Vineyards were divine, the views resplendent with the bright light and rich colors of a late splash of Oregon Autumn, the guidance through our flight of estate Pinot noir convivial and charming. I can tell you these things even though my husband and I were joined at a table with two boys, eight and ten.
They were ours.
Yes, I’ve dragged my kids along while wine tasting before, but never with as much success as our recent visit to Knudsen, which only opened its tasting room in July and which just launched its brand new Kids’ Tasting Challenge.
Maybe you just like a nice walk in the landscape of one of the world’s most storied wine-producing eco-climates, but me, I am a person who is always looking for the exact replica of my traveler’s imagination, a place so close to perfection it hits all of my Oregon buttons: valley vistas, fern-swathed gullies, sun-toasted lavender fields, vineyard views, maybe something to smell and taste along the way.
Friends, it exists. And it is located at one of my favorite places, a picture-postcard-perfect nursery and olive mill you might know as the Oregon Olive Mill but which recently rebranded as the Durant Olive Mill at Red Ridge Farms.
The hike, just a mile long, is called Penny’s Path after Penny Durant, the grand dame of the Durant family enterprise. Penny’s hits all of the sensual notes a body can handle in one place, including aromas of lavender and stunning views of Mt. Hood and the Willamette Valley.
To get there:
Head out across the Olive Mill parking lot towards the Durant Vineyards tasting facility. Once you’ve passed it on your right you’ll be able to see the first sign of the trail, which heads down a winding path of crunchy hazelnut shells.
The hike meanders past a sheep pasture and a sign about beneficial bugs towards the lavender fields visible from the main olive mill, just a hazy line of lavender in the distance. You can’t make this stuff up: Just as we passed the vineyard birds of prey point of interest, a bald eagle circled overhead.
Visiting the olive mill has always been fun, but now you can walk past the olive groves without feeling like you’re trespassing. They’re a gorgeous tangle of the sweetest sage green. Then you’re headed down a steep embankment into the woods for a lesson on native plants before emerging near Stonycrest Vineyard and a Beatrix Potter-level tree (that’s an Oregon Big-Leaf Maple to you).
Afterwards, you’re headed up the hill towards the Olive Mill, past the production facility where the mill processes fruit from 17 acres of olive trees. You can stop in for a tasting there — I did it with my two boys, 6 and 9, and they loved it. Which did they like best? “Olive them,” my elder son said.
Tiny travelers, I cried on this walk, and I’ll probably cry again next time. It is such a generous gift the Durants have given to travelers to the area, to invite them into this patch of creation where you can experience so much of what makes Willamette Valley life distinct.
I’m never wanted to write a thank you note after hiking before, but I’m doing just that today.
You can only stay cooped up so long with your classroom of distance learners before it’s time for a breakout session. I’m talking about a trip out into the community where you can pair your children’s online learning with some real, hands-on education at a place not so far from home.
Field trips have so many benefits and are even an antidote to having to experience so much education in a digital space. With a field trip, children can touch, hear, smell, see and experience the content of their education in a powerful, memorable way. And with many Oregon public schools going online exclusively for the Fall season, it’s a great time to explore your tiny world in a safe way.
Here are the Tiny Travelers’ favorite go-to spots for a family-led field trip:
If you’ve never been to Third Street in McMinnville, you might not know that walking it has always been like floating through a love gauntlet. It’s a gustatory amble. A walk of food-filled ardor. A passion-fed promenade where you can let everything else fall away and be right here, now.
You can feel it coming at you from all sides: The particular pleasures of slow, wine country living, and the gentle affection of people making food in a place Bon Appetit once called 2nd Foodiest Small Town in America.
Now McMinnville is engaged in a battle testing whether this town, or any town conceived and dedicated to the proposition that food equals love, can long endure. Forgive me, Abraham Lincoln, but if you love McMinnville as the Tiny Travelers do, it’s impossible not to understand that the very heart of this place is at stake right now.
Every spring, I break out my all-time favorite picnic cookbook, The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket, and I do it up in style: Tiny foods. Finger-sized bites. Flavorful tidbits.
Picnics are the tiny traveler’s dream since they represent everything good about the tiny traveling lifestyle: Easy moments drawn out for maximum momentous pleasure.
Want a real fool’s errand? Try choosing the best picnic spots in and around McMinnville. This place might claim its fame through wine and restaurants and UFO festivals, but its real bliss is synonymous with the art of lingering, in place, all of life’s pleasures spread out around, the rest of the world goes all afritter. With easy food options nearby, it should probably be a tradition to stop, drop, and find a grassy knoll.
So here goes. I’m sharing my best places to lay a quilt, organized by categories so you can figure out the best fit for you.
Why: You don’t need hearts to be in love, but you do need privacy and great views. This vineyard and winery has all of those things, plus award-winning Pinot and a generous porch to hang out on.
Get there: From 99W south of McMinnville, take a right (drive west) on SW Masonville Road. Follow it as it winds for four miles, and the winery is on your right.
Bring: One perfect blanket for two people.
Food: Pick up a basket of pint-sized food at Roth’s upscale grocery on the way there. Try the olive bar, a sumptuous cheese counter (they can help you pick to pair with wines), fresh bread and seasonal berries.
Why: Baskett Slough is perfect in every season, but if you catch it in June, you might meet some wildflowers and the Fender’s Blue Butterfly, which is found only in prairie remnants of the Willamette Valley.
Get there: Head towards Corvallis on 99W; Turn right on Coville Road. It will curve to the left, go up a small hill, and the parking lot is on your right.
Bring: Binoculars, an Oregon wildflower guide, and good walking shoes
Food: Stop by Amity Bakery & Cafe for house sandwich specials and any special baked goods for your trip.
Why: Get lost and found on the 130 acres of this private nature preserve just minutes from McMinnville.
Get there: Plan ahead: reservations are required, and you can book your visit on their website. From 99W, head West on NW Baker Creek Road. As Baker Creek bears left stay straight onto NW Orchard View Road. At the stop sign, turn right to stay on NW Orchard View Road. Proceed 1.8 miles, look for Miller Woods drive entrance on Right. Proceed down driveway 0.2 mi. Stay to the right to enter the parking area.
Bring: Good shoes for rain or shine, water bottles.
Food: Stop in at Harvest Fresh Grocery for deli sandwiches — the crew can accommodate any and all of you and your friend’s dietary needs.
Comfort me with cinnamon rolls. Or brownies. Or maybe just one great, single loaf. In an age when so many restaurants and food purveyors have had to close shop temporarily, McMinnville’s artisan bakeries are still at it, finding ways to get you some creature comforts in tough times.
McMinnville’s newest bakery, the all gluten-free Flour & Fern shop at Mac Market, moved rapidly from pickup only to delivery only and is still pulling GF goodies from the oven while most of McMinnville is in quarantine. All of its deliveries get dropped off directly on doorsteps. “Cinnamon rolls are hard to beat!” says owner Mary Wenrich. “But if you want some bread to pair with a meal or snack on, I suggest the Focaccia. And if you’re looking for dessert, brownies and carmelitas (oats, pecans, chocolate and coconut caramel) are always popular.”
Get it: DELIVERY ONLY Fan Favorites: Sandwich bread Comfort Choice: Cinnamon rolls Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Instagram: @flourandfern Menu:Check FB and the website for daily specials
Family-owned Bierly serves the GF community not just with its beer but with its fresh and frozen GF baked goods, made in-house by Amelia Bierly. “For someone who really needs some baked goods love, I would suggest our baguette dipped in some yummy soup or paired with your favorite cheese,” Bierly says. Also: They will deliver beer in bottles and growlers to the over 21 crowd.
Get it: PICKUP and HOME DELIVERY, $20 minimum Fan Favorites: Fresh fried donuts Comfort Choice: GF, dairy-free, vegan soft pretzels Contact: 971-237-3632 Instagram: @bierlybrewing Menu: See website
McMinnville’s first artisan bakery is still at it making its usual selection of pastries, breads and sandwiches. “We have some loyal customers for sure,” says owner Christy Buck.
Get it: CURBSIDE PICKUP and PICKUP ONLY Fan Favorites: Buckwheat cakes, croissants, full breakfast and lunch Comfort Choice: Red Fox Macaroons Contact: 503-434-5098 Instagram: Red Fox BakeryMenu: See website.
A family-run operation, this bakery generally runs full breakfast and lunch in its cafe alongside a cute artisan market. During the pandemic its been keeping up with to-go orders, custom baked goods and in-store pickup.
Get it: PICKUP ONLY Fan Favorites: House-made sandwiches Comfort Choice: Almond raspberry scones, blueberry white chocolate scones Contact: (503) 583-5049 Facebook: Amity Bakery & CafeMenu: See website.
I’ve never been much for a meander. I prefer a walk with purpose. But the purpose of most of our family walks these days has more to do with preserving our sanity than anything else. Lately, instead of our regular basic loop through the same old neighborhoods, we’ve been walking to visit the new public art sculpture by Travis Stewart, “Coyote,” which has taken up permanent residence in the roundabout where Northwest Baker Creek Road meets Northwest Hill Road.
If you’re looking to get out of the house and experience something without endangering anyone, I can think of nothing better right now. Constructed in cedar and steel, “Coyote” is a 14-foot figure of forged steel with a stoic, carved cedar face. Its filigreed arms are raised high. A second smaller face, possibly the moon, sits at its navel. A giant red hand print covers its mouth. It is a work that the artist says makes reference to the many myths of the trickster coyote figure prominent among many Native American cultures in North America, one that draws on stories we might know at the same time that it presents ideas we have yet to decipher.
The Tiny Travelers got to meet Travis Stewart a couple of months ago when we visited the Chachalu Museum of Art in Grande Ronde, where he has his studio and is an interpretive coordinator. There, in a large space filled with video production equipment and tools used for forging and shaping metal, he showed us a prototype of the sculpture he would later call “Coyote” and install in the space in the roundabout. It was small and wouldn’t achieve the kind of grand statement as the artwork, but it had the air of trickster wisdom about it, like it was challenging us to find the meaning in it.
When we visit the sculpture, I always ask my children why the artist put a handprint over the mouth.
“Maybe people didn’t like what he had to say,” said my 7-year-old, Griffin.
“Maybe he couldn’t figure out how to do the mouth so he just put red paint on his hand and made it that way,” said my 10-year-old, Dashiell.
We already loved Coyote before this pandemic. My children loved it for the surprise of something so big rising incongruously in an area of sculpted yards, lush valley, and rows of hazelnuts. They like the way it has become a directional marker — turn left at the sculpture. They like the way it makes tangible their home’s connection to its Native American past, something they have mostly encountered only at school.
But now that we are all inside, the world out there spinning and changing against the challenges of our time, and a trip to visit “Coyote” is more than just a walk around the block. We remember that once Hill Road was just an old two-lane farm road with a 175-year-old oak tree as the only inhabitant. We remember a time before sidewalks. It all changed so fast — the roundabout came, the homes springing up in the area where geese overwinter. Honestly, we were ambivalent about all of this change until the art came.
We are stuck at home and are the lucky ones who have nothing but time on our hands, but time might be the true trickster. You thought you knew the world and its challenges. You thought you knew the path, that your story was just your own. Maybe you even thought you could just go about your business and remain unchanged.
But this moment requires fresh eyes. What are you afraid to voice right now? What are the ideas that we haven’t, today or anytime, dared to speak? What are you doing today to find meaning in all of this?
Some have noted that people driving in the roundabout sometimes miss their exit because they want to take a look at “Coyote” again. Maybe we are just getting used to the roundabout but I think it’s a pretty great thrill to be rapt in a cheeky little art vortex for a moment before you go on your way.