Trip Report: 3 Oregon Hotels + 1 Cool Restaurant

The Seattle-based Stuck at the Airport team took a short road trip to Oregon last week to join a special dinner hosted by Humble Spirit.

The new(ish) farm-to-table restaurant in historic downtown McMinnville celebrates the wonderful wines and seasonal bounty of the Willamette Valley.

On our winter tasting menu: Hazelnuts and Pork Belly, Whole Trout, Winter Braised Vegetables, as well as meatballs, burgers, and other dishes made with beef, chicken, and pork attentively raised and harvested on Tabula Rasa Farms in nearby Carlton, OR.

Farm products even make it into the restaurant’s version of Oreo cookies. Evidently, the recipe for the now-classic snack called for sweetened pork lard, an ingredient later replaced with hydrogenated cottonseed oil. The Humble Spirit chef has his own oreo cookie-like dessert (complete with milk for dipping) that puts sweetened pork lard from Tabula Rasa Farm hogs back into the mix.

Hotels That Embrace History With Wit and Charm. And Books

It’s a small town, but there’s plenty to do, see, and learn about in McMinnville and surrounding Yamhill County. There are oodles of wine-tasting rooms, plenty of charming restaurants, and a thriving art scene. And if you time it right, you can land in town during the annual UFO Fest, honoring a 1950 UFO sighting documented with some pretty believable photographs.

It’s impossible to take it all in during a quick visit. So we were delighted that our home for the night, the 36-room Atticus Hotel in historic downtown McMinnville, is filled with locally-made products, specially-commissioned artwork, lots of handmade furnishings, and Oregon-made products (including Pendleton bathrobes) at every turn.

We loved that each of the hotel’s 36 rooms has an antique door knocker, that guests are offered a complimentary glass of bubbly before they even check in, and that the front desk will make you an espresso drink any time of the day or night.

But what we truly loved about the Atticus Hotel is the history lesson front and center in the lobby.

In the early 1900s, McMinnville was known as Walnut City and walnuts galore were grown and shipped from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. A Columbus Day storm in 1963 took out almost all of the region’s walnut trees and now the region is known for its hazelnuts.

In 1908 McMinnville’s Walnut Club built a promotional archway of walnuts and in 1909 that charming display made its way to the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exhibition, the first World’s Fair held in Seattle. That archway has been recreated in the lobby of the Atticus, complete with constantly refilled bowls of walnuts and hazelnuts. (Each room has a bowl of nuts and a nutcracker as well.)

2 Choices to Stay in Portland, Oregon

The pandemic may have kept people from visiting Portland, OR, but it didn’t do much to slow down the construction of new hotels already underway. So if you head to the Rose City now, you’ll have an even wider choice of lodging options.

We stopped briefly in Portland on our way to and from McMinnville and did return visits to two of our favorite hotels.

The Sentinel

The Sentinel, which calls itself Portland’s ‘most storied’ hotel is made from two historic downtown buildings. The hotel’s east wing is the former Seward Hotel, built a few years after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. (That hotel later became The Governer Hotel).

The Sentinel’s west wing was once the very grand Elks Lodge.

We love the murals, the ornate lobby ceiling, the fitness center in the former ‘vault room’ complete with a punching bag in the safe, and the faux library and cozy touches in the “Room at the End of the Hall.”

The Heathman Hotel

Located smack dab in the middle of Portland’s cultural district, the Heathman Hotel, which opened in 1927, has been an iconic go-to spot for musicians, artists, celebrities, and other performers.

One of the key features of the hotel is the restored former Tea Court Lounge. It is surrounded by the hotel’s two-story library. Go ahead, take a book off a shelf. The collection is filled with close to 3000 signed editions of books by Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, U.S. Poet Laureates, a former U.S. President, and hundreds of other noted authors who have been guests of the hotel.

With the hotel’s permission, we made sure there is now a copy of our new guidebook, “111 Places in Seattle That You Must Not Miss,” on the shelves.

It looked like Stephen King’s book needed some company.

Little lodging at Caravan: the Tiny House Hotel

While some hotels trumpet the ample square footage of their guest rooms, others rely on quirky coziness to attract customers.

Yotel Room mockup, June 2010Designed by Rockwell group, NY

Yotel, for example, offers ship-cabin-inspired rooms at several European airports and operates a full-sized hotel filled with snug (170-square foot), extremely efficiently-designed rooms near Times Square in New York City. The chain plans to open another Yotel hotel on upscale Orchard Street in Singapore. Other pod hotel have been making big business in small spaces.

Last summer, in Portland, Ore., a couple inspired by the growing Tiny House movement—which celebrates downsizing and promotes housing affordability—opened Caravan, billed as the country’s first hotel comprised of tiny, self-contained houses.


Courtesy: Caravan


“We’re concerned with environmental impact of housing and are proponents of the alternative housing movement in Portland,” said Deb Delman, a part-time teacher who runs Caravan—The Tiny House Hotel with her husband, Kol Peterson, whose day job is with the U.S. Forest Service.

When a repossessed car lot came up for sale in the recently gentrified but still funky Alberta Arts District of Portland where Delman already owned a house, “we came up with the idea to showcase small housing designs by opening a tiny house hotel,” she said.

Licensed for up to six small structures, Caravan’s lot currently has four tiny guest houses, ranging in size from 100 to 160 square feet. (By contrast, typical hotel rooms range from 303 to 578 square feet, according to HVS International’s 2013 Hotel Cost Estimating Guide.)

Each tiny guest house is on wheels, with hot running water, showers, flush toilets, full-size beds, small kitchens and sitting areas that could be “as big as a table or as small as bench,” said Delman. Room service is provided by a restaurant across the street.

And while the words “caravan,” “wheels” and “tiny” might summon up images of recreational vehicles and weekend campers, “these are real homes that are connected to the city’s water and sewer system” with all the elements of fine, handcrafted larger homes, Delman said, “just smaller.”

“Rosebud is our smallest house and Skyline, with lots of reused and recycled items, is the most ‘Portland’ of them all and two more tiny houses should roll in this summer, “including a cute little one—Roly Poly—that should show up in July,” said Delman.

Leased from the growing pool of local tiny house builders, each small guest house sleeps two to four people and is parked around a courtyard with a central fire pit that, along with unlimited ingredients for s’mores (including Fair Trade chocolate, of course) is designed to encourage socializing.

“We were a little worried that it was going to be in a noisy area full of bars and hipsters,” said Grace Decker of Missoula, Mont., whose mother-in-law booked two side-by-side tiny houses for a family gathering earlier this month. “But we made a fire, roasted marshmallows, sat around chatting with our neighbors, played music and had a great time. It was like camping in the city.”

Decker said she and husband, who is over six feet tall, were also worried that “tiny house” meant tiny bed. “But the loft area in our tiny house had a bed bigger than our bed at home and the space had plenty of creature comforts,” she said.

Rates at the Caravan are $125 a night and are equal to the starting rates at Portland’s Kennedy School, another offbeat—but much larger—neighborhood hotel located in a former elementary school that’s also home to a movie theater, music venue, soaking pool, brewery and restaurant.

“Some people are looking for a downtown hotel property and others are looking to stay in the heart of one of our neighborhoods,” said Megan Conway of marketing group Travel Portland. “Unique lodging options like these offer one more element of Portland’s unique character.”

Of course, tiny or “boutique” lodging isn’t for everyone.

The most important factors for hotel selection are location and price, according to Douglas Quinby, vice president of research at market research firm PhoCusWright. About 60 percent of travelers put those criteria first, he said, while 30 percent say brand and amenities are the most important factors.

(My story about Caravan: The Tiny House Hotel first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

Love the layover: at play in Portland, Oregon


It’s always a bit strange for me to spend time in Portland, Oregon.

It’s the first city I lived in when I moved out west and it’s the city now portrayed in a fun and fractured way in the IFC show Portlandia and in Portlandia: A Guide for Visitors, a book that claims to describe “all that this magical, dreamy city has to offer.”

This visit I was a guest of Travel Portland – and most definitely a tourist.

I stayed one night in the Hotel deLuxe, which offers a Pilgrimage to Portlandia package, and two nights at the Heathman Hotel, which won my heart by sending someone to my room within five minutes of my arrival with a copy of my Oregon Curiosities book for me to sign so it could be added to the on-site library filled with books by authors – many of them really, really famous – who have stayed at the hotel.

Most of the weekend was spent racing around the city – on foot and on public transportation – visiting hot spots such as Powell’s Books, the Peculiarium and the Lan Su Chinese Garden, and trying to find all the venues offering the free treats that come with the Portland Passport visitors receive when they book a room through the Travel Portland site before March 31st.

PDX Voodoo

The somewhat Porlandia-ish list of treats includes a doughnut from Voodoo Doughnut (where the far-out offerings include a doughnut covered in Fruit Loops and one covered in bubble gum dust and decorated with a wrapped piece of gum), a tour of Widmer Brothers Brewing (free anyway, but passport holders get a free full-sized souvenir glass), a scoop of ice cream at Salt & Straw (sorbet at 10:30 in the morning? Why not?) and five other items, some of which were inspired by the ‘what-to-do-in-Portland-in-the-winter‘ tips gathered from Portland insiders.

The most puzzling place on the passport is the 10-piece meatball plate: a reward for visitors who make the trek out to IKEA.

“Pacific Northwesterners love IKEA, especially when it’s tax-free,” is the way Courtney Ries, consumer marketing manager for Travel Portland explained it. “And since we can’t give everyone a bookshelf or a new kitchen, we thought it would be something fun for the people that make IKEA a must-visit place when they come to town – or for those that have a special hankering for meatballs.”

Fair enough. But IKEA is just one stop on the MAX light rail line before my favorite place in the city – Portland International Airport – and there are plenty of fun and unique shops and restaurants there – along with art and entertainment. And, while I arrived in town on the train, it might be fun for visitors coming to town by plane to get their last passport stamp – and tasty treat – as they head home.