McMinnville, Oregon, in the heart of Yamhill County wine country is at the top of the day-trip love list. It has a walkable, quaint downtown, charming and kid-friendly places to eat, and enough family adventure to make a special visit really worth it. Just an hour southwest of most places in the Portland area via 99W, McMinnville is perfect for a Saturday away. It’s also a great stop off if heading to Newport and the central coast, or as the end to a day of family-friendly wine tasting.
Timing: The downtown is adorable but won’t fill your whole day. If McMinnville is your only destination, consider pairing some exploring on 3rd Street (the main drag) with a trip to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, the water park, or a family movie at 3rd Street Pizza Company.
Getting There: Coming from Portland, traveling via Highway 99W (through Durham off of I-5, or directly off of I-217) is by far the easiest. Watch out for backup in Dundee heading toward McMinnville during weekday rush hour (commuters coming back from the Portland area), and backup heading back in to Portland on Sunday afternoons (vacationers returning from the coast). If you are coming from Beaverton or Hillsboro, consider taking Highway 219 to catch up with 99W in Newberg, or jump on the Tualatin Valley Highway through to Carlton, catching up with 99W just outside McMinnville (bonus: you’ll discover that TV Highway is more than just urban sprawl). Both alternate routes are beautiful and pair well with a stop or two at a winery, but on foggy days these roads can be harder to navigate.
Loading Up The Wagon: Make sure to bring plenty of snacks for the car. Extra snacks—and a few toys—will also come in handy if you decide to stop off at the Yamhill County Museum or a winery along the route. Downtown McMinnville is very pedestrian friendly and most things are within walking distance. Even toddlers can easily stretch their legs up and down 3rd Street, but pack a small stroller or baby carrier for when little legs get tired. And you may want a stroller or carrier at the aviation museum, as well, because of the distance between buildings. If you’re new to the Northwest, then it’s worth a reminder to pack rain coats and layers because you just never know when the rain might start.
What to Do:
Downtown McMinnville has a book store, art and quilting supply shops, wine tasting, novelties, and more. Just walk up and down 3rd Street to see for yourself. For kids, venture down to Hopscotch Toys on Baker Street. Although toy shops can be both irresistible and dangerous for children, Hopscotch is definitely worth both the glory and the risk. Look for the funky dory-boat-mounted sign and spray-painted hopscotch game in front. Inside, kids will love the chance to play dress up or host a puppet show. Insider Tip: The finger puppets are quirky and won’t break the bank.
If you’re a long-time Oregonian you’ll remember the gigantic airplane the Spruce Goose’s epic journey from Long Beach, California, up to its current home at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, but you may not have visited yet. Admission is a bit steep ($20 for adults, $18 for youth five-and-up), but it’s worth it. (Plus, Costco members receive $5 off each ticket, and AAA members receive $4 off). Kids and adults will be dazzled by the amazing collection of planes and rockets—not to mention antique cars and other collectibles. Admission includes both the aviation and space buildings, plus a ride on the bi-plane carousel for kids. A big outdoor playground and tables are perfect for a snack and recharge break (plus, no admission required for outdoor fun). Note: The aviation and space museum are closed March 9-12.
The Evergreen Wings & Waves Water Park is right next door and gives winter-weary Oregonians the chance to swim even while the weather is still grey. The water park is worth a trip of its own and would be hard to combine with the museum without facing family burn-out. Pricing for the water park is based on height, and kids under age three are free.
Where to Nosh:
We suggest 3rd Street Pizza Company. This New York-style pizza joint boasts wood-fired pies and original combos that include toppings like jalapeños and Thai chicken. The staff are very friendly and will even let you place an order before you are ready to sit down (if the kids are still asleep in the car, for example). Plus, there’s a movie theater. Check what’s playing online—it’s often family-friendly. You can enjoy a pie before the show and then pop in to the movie a couple minutes beforehand.
Just down the street is Community Plate, which has a locavore vibe and lots of casual, open seating. Community Plate features “old-school cookery” and practically any dish will make your mouth water. If you can get your crew going early, get there for breakfast (served 7:30 am – 11:30 am).
If you need a cup of coffee and a treat, try Union Block Coffee, or Cornerstone Coffee Roasters. And for ice cream (every cute downtown need an ice cream parlor, right?), go to Serendipity Ice Cream. Get a hand-spun shake or a regular scoop, but don’t overlook the delicious cookies. Plus the cake bites will entice little ones and are just the right size.
Keep Your Eye Out for Festivals: McMinnville offers many special events throughout the year. You might dine at the McMinnville Wine and Food Classic March 9–11, stop by Farm Fest 2012 at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center April 14, try the Discover Spring Run April 21, or go eclectic at the annual UFO Fest May 18 and 19.
McMinnville Dinner-Party Fact: Although Evergreen Aviation only paid $1.00 for the world’s largest plane, it cost over $4 million to transport the Spruce Goose and about another $17 million to build the plane’s hangar in McMinnville.
— Evelyn Shoop