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Life in Hood River, Oregon revolves around water and mountains. With the Columbia River bordering the city to the north and Mount Hood, a stratovolcano in the Cascades, to the south, the small city is a playground for people who like to be active outside year-round. The destination has all the hiking, biking, and skiing you could want, but it may be best known for a sport that’s a bit more niche: windsurfing. Thanks to the winds that funnel up the Columbia River Gorge, Hood River has been nicknamed the “windsurfing capital of the world,” and windsurfers and kiteboarders come from all over to play in the wind, especially between June and September. But travelers with other interests are sure to enjoy Hood River as well.
“Known as Portland’s backyard, Hood River is not just for skiers, mountain bikers, hikers, and kiteboarders, but also for art lovers, beer and wine enthusiasts, and foodies,” says Ashley Huckaby, a Hood River local and account manager with DVA Advertising & Public Relations who spoke with Travel + Leisure via email.
The rich, volcanic soil of Mount Hood make the Hood River Valley a paradise for farmers and locavores, too. This region is the largest producer of pears in the U.S., and local growers also produce award-winning apples, cherries, and grapes. The latter crop has made the Hood River Valley home to some of the best wineries in the Pacific Northwest, and locally made beer is just as prevalent. In fact, Huckaby notes that there are “more than 20 wineries, 13 cideries, and the most craft breweries per capita in the nation” here. Many can be visited by traveling the area’s iconic Hood River Fruit Loop (more on that below).
To help you explore this rich destination, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to the Hood River community (which has a friendly population of under 10,000 people), including what to do, where to eat, and how to get around.
Related: This Little-known Trio of Towns in the Pacific Northwest is My New Favorite Girls Trip Destination — With a Gorgeous River, Mountains, and a Chic Schoolhouse Hotel
Best Hotels & Resorts
Hood River Hotel
The Hood River Hotel is as central as it gets. This historic property is the town’s oldest hotel, and its location gives guests easy access to Hood River’s best food, coffee, breweries, and shops. There’s a room type for everyone, including a 10-bed, hostel-style bunkhouse and spacious suites with full kitchens and windows overlooking downtown.
“As the only hotel in downtown Hood River, [guests] are a short walk from award-winning restaurants and breweries, galleries, wine tasting, and nightlife,” said Huckaby. “A stay at the Hood River Hotel wouldn’t be complete without a Nordic-inspired brunch at Broder Øst (adjacent to the lobby), [nor] an [e-bike] rental and a ride from Sol Rides two doors down.”
The Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa
The Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa is just 5 minutes from downtown Hood River by car, but it feels hours away. The property sits right on the Columbia River and is surrounded by lush gardens. Rooms have an Art Deco feel, with some perched on the cliffs overlooking the gorge and others outfitted with fireplaces.
Best Things to Do
Windsurfing & Kiteboarding
The town isn’t called the “windsurfing capital of the world” for nothing. The winds here are consistent, and the Hood River Waterfront Park makes launching into the water easy for even novice windsurfers and kiteboarders. You can book a lesson or just rent windsurfing gear through Big Winds at “The Hook,” a recreational area at the west end of the park. At Hood River Event Site, situated in the center of the park, Brian’s Kiteboarding, Windsurfing & SUP also rents out all you’ll need for windsurfing, in addition to kiteboards and stand-up paddleboards.
Hood River Fruit Loop
If you want to eat your way through Hood River, hop on the Hood River Fruit Loop, a 35-mile, self-guided driving tour that passes by 28 fruit stands, wineries, breweries, cideries, and fields of flowers. It is hands-down the best way to see the valley and to partake in the food and drink the region is known for.
“It goes from rainforest to desert in only about 25 miles,” explains Jonathan Cohen, co-owner of The Society Hotel in Bingen and Portland, who spoke with T+L via email. “We can grow apples to cherries to nuts to wheat to wine grapes all within a few miles of each other, when they’re usually much further apart.”
Less than an hour from Hood River, skiers and boarders will find two great ski areas — Timberline and Mt. Hood Meadows. The former is perched near the top of the Mount Hood volcano and boasts the longest ski season in North America (typically November to May), and that’s welcome news for multi-sport athletes who want to kayak or windsurf in the gorge before making turns in the snow up at Timberline.
The landscape created by the Columbia River Gorge and Cascade Range is perfect for hiking. The Coyote Wall Trail on the Washington side of the river is a great place to start, especially if you want sweeping views of the gorge. And if you time your visit right, it’s a great place for spotting wildflowers.
Back on the Oregon side of the river, hikers head to Mt. Hood Meadows to enjoy the ski-runs-turned-hiking-trails that abound in the area. There’s also a scenic chairlift, and Huckaby notes that “the resort hosts starlight dinners on the patio, live music, and other family-friendly events throughout the summer.”
Hood River Harvest Fest
Remember when we said Hood River was a locavore’s dream destination? The valley’s fresh food is celebrated in October during the annual Hood River Harvest Fest. The multi-day event is all about local food, and festival attendees can enjoy the bounty of the valley’s best farms and orchards right in the heart of Hood River. There’s also live music, arts and crafts, and — thanks to the festival’s location on the water — plenty of water sports.
Doug’s Hood River
Hood River style is fairly specific, and if you want to emulate the effortless, outdoorsy look of locals, your best bet is to head to Doug’s, which has been outfitting Hood River in surfy, mountain duds since 1984. You’ll find cool beach wear, hiking gear, sunglasses, shoes, hats, and more here, from brands like Olukai, Patagonia, Brixton, and Roxy.
The unique gifts, delicate jewelry, and home goods at Twiggs all fit an aesthetic that is both pleasing and creative. It’s a great place to find that one-of-a-kind ring or piece of pottery to remind you of your time in Hood River. They run sales regularly and even set up meet-the-maker events, during which artists share the stories behind their work.
G. Willikers Toy Shoppe
G. Willikers Toy Shoppe is a local gem, with a huge selection of Lego, stuffies, board games, puzzles, and arts and craft supplies. G. Willikers’ team of toy-centric employees love to play as much as kids do, and they will happily point the way to cool gift ideas, specific brands, and age-appropriate toys.
Waucoma Bookstore is one of the oldest businesses still in operation in downtown Hood River, selling books of all kinds since 1976. The shop continues to promote local authors through book-release celebrations, book signings, and readings.
We’ve already established that Hood River a great place for foodies; if you’re a culinary traveler, be sure to step inside Arome. This downtown shop is packed with kitchenware, from aprons and napkins to spices and oils. Tasting events are often held here and the staff is always up for sharing a favorite product or recipe if you’re looking for inspiration.
Wineries and Breweries
Evoke Winery is set in the heart of Hood River. Using fruit sourced from Pacific Northwest vineyards, this winery comes up with its own concoctions, and it recently won accolades at the 2023 Seattle Wine Awards (check out their 2019 tempranillo and sangiovese). In addition to a long wine list, you’ll find outdoor, dog-friendly seating and a great variety of cheese plates and snacks on the menu here.
Pfriem Family Brewers
Enjoy the beautiful and modern tasting room at this brewpub, or grab a beer-to-go and head to the edge of the river. It’s hard to beat sipping a beer on the riverfront beach while windsurfers zip by.
Hiyu Wine Farm
Unlike the downtown Evoke Winery, Hiyu Wine Farm is located in a river valley far from the buzz of the city. In fact, they’ve gone to great lengths to create an experience that is immersed in nature, with farm animals and wild gardens adding to the ambiance. Huckaby calls it an “almost entirely locally sourced experience,” and notes that the winery received a James Beard nomination.
Celilo Restaurant & Bar
Both Huckaby and Cohen are quick to give Celilo Restaurant & Bar a shoutout. Cohen says it’s the place to go for a “fine, locally-sourced meal” in the area. The menu is heavy on veggies and fresh fish, and there’s plenty of Oregon-made wine and beer to choose from as well.
Solstice Wood Fire Cafe & Bar
For a casual bite, Huckaby recommends the “beloved pizza” at Solstice Wood Fire Pizza, Cafe & Bar, which doles out whole wood-fired pizzas, slices, and soft serve ice cream along the Hood River waterfront. You can also take your pizza to go and head to the river’s shoreline for a picnic-style meal.
You wouldn’t think that a restaurant at a Best Western hotel would be a local favorite, but Riverside has been breaking norms and challenging expectations since it opened. If you can snag a table on the patio overlooking the gorge, you’re in luck, but no matter where you sit, you won’t be disappointed with the food. Huckaby says the restaurant “is committed to supporting the local food economy and has cultivated relationships with local farmers, creameries, vintners, brewers, fermenters, and fisher men and women to create dynamic dishes that speak of the region. The restaurant is proud to serve the freshest ingredients grown and harvested by thoughtful and intentional growers.”
Best Time To Visit
Hood River is a true year-round destination, but for most people, summer is the sweet spot, with temperatures staying relatively low and a regular breeze coming off the water. Most people spend their days lounging by the river or playing in the water during this season, and they dip in and out of the restaurants, breweries, and wineries that dot the shoreline and downtown Hood River, too.
If you aim to ski and board, plan your trip in January, February, or March. If you’re here for the food, consider booking a trip over the Hood River Harvest Fest in October.
How to Get There
If you’re traveling to Hood River from out of state, your best bet is to fly into Portland International Airport (PDX) and then make the 1-hour scenic drive to Hood River. If you don’t want to rent a car, the Columbia Gorge Express runs between Portland and Hood River every 1 to 2 hours.
Those coming from another city in Oregon or Washington can simply make their way to Interstate 84, which runs along the Oregon-Washington state line before dropping down to Boise, Idaho and Ogden, Utah.
How to Get Around
Through parking and traffic can be a pain, most travelers will find that renting a car is worthwhile, especially if you want to hike, drive the Fruit Loop, or explore the valley. For those willing to give up convenience in order to save a buck, Hood River has a great bus system that serves the entire area 7 days a week.