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top five guide: willamette valley, oregon

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

Willamette Valley Oregon winery girl

Oregon's Willamette Valley is a laid back, underrated, and simply beautiful weekend destination. Often overshadowed by its posh California cousins to the south, Napa and Sonoma, Willamette takes on a decidedly more approachable (and more affordable) wine country tone. Fans of Pinot Noir will be particularly pleased with the many stunning wineries in the area, perched atop hills covered in manicured rows of vines. That said, you certainly you don't need to be a connoisseur to appreciate the many fruits of this picturesque region.

Tip: Though you may be tempted to add a French accent to the name, locals will be sure to remind you that it's actually pronounced like “WILL-AM-IT" (damnit).

Here are my top five tips for a trip to the WILLAMETTE VALLEY:

Atticus Hotel boutique hotel McMinnville Willamette Oregon

1: where to stay

The valley spans a large area that is dotted with several smaller towns and villages, but I recommend focusing on the towns of McMinnville and Dundee. These quaint towns are ideally located nearby some of the most beautiful wineries in the region, and are worth exploring on their own. Atticus Hotel (pictured) in McMinville is a lovely boutique hotel right off the main street and ideal for a couples retrest. If you have a larger group, I recommend a stay at a lovely vacation home rental named Pinot Vista." Our group really enjoyed our stay here as it is walkable to multiple wineries, and it’s literally on a vineyard!

Willamette Oregon pinot noir winery tasting Domaine Serene Winery cheers

2: the wineries

This region is world famous for its Pinot Noirs (they even have a specially shaped glass for them), but you’ll find many other varietals available as well, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Syrah, and more. For the most stunning views to go with your tasting, be sure to get a reservation at Domaine Serene or White Rose Estate. Winderlea had a wonderfully welcoming, laid back vibe - the owner even showed us around the vineyard himself - and I hope to visit the stunning Furioso Vineyards property on a future trip.

Downtown McMinnville street Willamette Oregon

3: mcminnville

Willamette Valley is dotted with charming towns that exude a friendly, relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. The town of McMinnville stood out in particular, whose historic downtown is filled with boutique shops, art galleries, and farm-to-table restaurants. It's the perfect place to spend a weekend morning, strolling the shops and grabbing brunch at Community Plate.

Red Hills Market Dundee Oregon food market restaurant

4: red hills market

For a delicious, casual meal and great vibes to match, grab lunch or dinner at Red Hills Market in the town of Dundee. They have pleasant outdoor dining that is tailor made for the mild Oregon summers, as well as a market inside that is filled with all kinds of local foods, wines and other culinary delights. This is a great spot to pick up some tasty souvenirs (assuming your bags aren't already filled with bottles of wine).

Chehalem Valley Brewing beers

5: breweries

Though wine may be the star of the show in this region, any beer drinker knows that Oregon is home to some of the nation's most incredible microbreweries as well. Chehalem Valley Brewing Co. (pictured) in Newberg was a fan favorite, particularly among the guys in our group, who at this point were pretty much over all the wine. They particularly liked their IPAs, which should probably come at a shock to no one.

Photo credit: Chehalem Valley Brewing

You can't always do it all, so one thing we didn’t do but wish we had:

More outdoors activities. While this quick trip was mainly about drinking wine and reconnecting with friends, it would have been wonderful to do a bit of hiking and biking around this beautiful region. That, and I wouldn't have minded visiting more wineries, either!


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