Driving up Rt. 1 north from San Francisco toward the Oregon border is a daunting task. The route is slow going and curvy and the scenery flips back and forth between lush forest vegetation and short glimpses of ocean waves crashing into the cliff walls. Still, it is a rewarding drive, allowing the explorer some much-needed solitude after the madness of Rt. 1 north of Los Angeles.
With enough time, some patience and a small car, some amazing beaches can be reached at the Redwood National Park with perfect white sand and a few boulders sticking out in the water that calm the waves as they approach. Unlike its southern counterpart, the northern section of Rt. 1 (and later Rt. 101 and the Coastal Highway) allows for a more tranquil visit which can easily result in camping and bonfires on the beach. Best of all, it is all free!
As soon as the "Welcome to Oregon" sign comes into view, nothing changes at all. Except one thing: Drive-thru espresso shops suddenly pop up at each gas station. Little by little the scenery gets less dramatic and the route descends to sea level (where grows a vast forest which hides the ocean for about half of its length). It may just so happen that the sky is gray and the short instances where the ocean does come into view are completely covered by fog. This is apparently the case 300 days out of the year (which explains the overwhelming number of espresso places en route).
The Oregon route 101 finally ends at the small town of Astoria, where the Columbia River pours into the Pacific Ocean. This is where Luis and Clark arrived after a year and a half of crossing the recently acquired western portion of the United States. Come morning, the life of this town is awakened by calls of sea lions on the pier, and locals and travelers alike walk the riverside promenade, appreciating the countless art galleries.
Following the Columbia River east eventually leads to Portland. An interesting city in itself, it seems to be well-tailored to its local crowd. Many of the activities put on by the Portland tourism board are meant to entice residents of surrounding towns, like the Saturday Farmers' Market and the walking groups through the Rose Gardens. Places not to be missed in Portland are the Voodoo Donut shop where a line could stretch an entire city block just to see the famous voodoo-shaped donut and bacon and maple-glazed cake. The Powell City of Books is a perfect place in which to take refuge on cloudy days. And the PGE Baseball Park is a perfect place to enjoy a free outdoor show on sunny days.
Finally, the one thing that sets Oregon apart from the rest of the United States (aside for the espresso shops) is the Oregonians' love for the arts. Photography, textile crafts, theatrical performances, art galleries and flower festivals are only a few examples that can be seen at any small town along the road. Best of all is the love of the local residents to their towns and the pride that sparkles in their eyes for their great state of Oregon.