When I first read the invite—Hood River Gals’ Winter Getaway—my mind conjured up the usual suspects: spa treatments, mani-pedis, Pinot Grigio, furry slippers, mojitos, and salads topped with boneless, skinless grilled chicken breast slices (dear lord, please not The Bachelor). Talk about tearing down stereotypes! Hood River’s feminine contingent busted through that dam and carved a whole new meaning to “Girls’ Weekend,” which, thankfully, still included spa treatments.
Located about 60 miles east of Portland along the Columbia River, Hood River stretches from the banks of the Columbia, where windsurfers take advantage of the substantial summer breezes, to Mount Hood’s pointy pinnacle some 35 miles to the south. In between lie pear orchards, vineyards and a vibrant little town bursting with art, dining gems, breweries and boutiques. Someone once described Hood River as “the place where Olympic athletes go to retire” and, indeed, there are more than a few rugged athletes around town.
There are several great hotel options along the Columbia River, including the modern suites at Columbia Cliff Villas, the historic (maybe haunted) Columbia Gorge Hotel and probably the best-situated Best Western on the planet called the Hood River Inn. But we opted for Hood River Hotel up the hill in town. From the black-and-white tiles in the lobby to the plaid carpeting in the hallways, this place has personality. And the rooms continued with the eclectic charm—small sinks in the room instead of a bathroom, large black-and-white movie stills adorning the wall, vintage velvet furniture, radiators ticking away in the corner.
Two of us arrived a night early; the rest of the women would be joining us the next day. Needing a bite to eat before bed, we walked less than a block to Whiskey Tango for a cocktail and tasty calamari salad. Allegedly, the place packs out on the weekends with live music and is standing room only, but that night it was so peaceful you could hear crickets.
The next morning, we connected up with our girl crew and experienced Hood River through the lady lens. Women are showing strong in Hood River’s entrepreneurial sphere. Three blocks west, we stopped in at Melika Swimwear. Hawaiian-born owner Melissa Tokstad (her Hawaiian name is Melika) took us through her Bikini Bar menu—style options include 10 tops and 10 bottoms with an assortment of fabric choices and several reversible. These custom-made suits are constructed locally and shipped free of charge about three weeks from ordering. I picked up some other great clothing items while I waited for the girls to finish ordering and sipping Naked Winery bubbles. The winery is just down the street and caters to a playful wine crowd. Just consider the wine names: Frisky, Vixen, Cougar, Booty Call Blush, Pounce. This lady crew was probably more inclined toward Wanderlust White than Dominatrix Red, but you never know.
High-energy Ali McLaughlin founded MountNbarreL in 2015, and it has quickly become one of the best wine country tour-experience packages. Guests visiting in May through October can choose a bike or e-bike tour, though the chaser shuttle is always an option for anyone needing to take a break or relax. The Girls Gorge Getaway package includes a two-night hotel stay, private yoga, mini pamper sessions and the MountNbarreL all-inclusive four-hour wine tour with private tastings and lunch. In addition to wineries, McLaughlin pointed out other notable stops including Wilinda Blueberry U-Pick farm.
Women winemakers and winery owners abound. With a gorgeous new tasting room on vineyard property that has been in Jill House’s family for more than 100 years, Stave & Stone is a must-stop winery destination. Their tasting experience includes small-bite pairings for each wine—my favorite was the Pinot Gris paired with goat cheese and lavender-pear jam made from estate lavender plants.
Down the hill, owner and winemaker Tess Barr of Hood Crest Winery is doing life her way. The wood-beam tasting room exterior feels country rustic, but the glitzy crystal chandeliers strike another tone. Barr plays guitar and sings in her own blues band (the Tess Barr Band)—the gear is set up in the corner, ready for action. Buxom with a throaty voice, a mane of white hair and a string of oversized pearls, Barr has a list of accomplishments that goes well beyond the tasting room. She is a scientist by trade and has filed 125 formula patents (many for skin-care products)—she currently holds 26 patents that have been made into actual products. Oh, and she makes big red wines (because this woman doesn’t do things in a small way).
The next morning, we headed up to Mt. Hood Meadows for some snowy recreation. Half the group snowshoed through the silent winter woods. The other half strapped on some performance skis and carved up a little pow. This girl-power contingent was made up of mothers—a business development director, an experienced climber and all-around outdoor recreation goddess in her 60s, a tourism specialist, and me. The snow was soft that day, the sky blue, and the skiing excellent from the top, where the summit seemed close enough to touch.
Two meals stood above the rest. Celilo Restaurant and Bar’s ingredient-driven menu focuses on local farms. “The menu doesn’t dictate what we need in the kitchen,” says Chef Ben Stenn. “We tell the menu what to do.” I was stunned by the perfect bowl of mushroom broth encasing delicate house-made chanterelle ravioli. Up the street and of a much lower brow, Bette’s Place looks like just another greasy spoon diner, yet the breakfasts are anything but ho-hum. From the cinnamon roll to the crab Benedict, everything tasted amazing even if it wasn’t dressed up with fancy plating. I ordered the lemon French toast special, which turned out to be lemon pound cake cooked French-toast style served with lemon curd—it had all the ladies swooning.
No girls’ getaway would be complete without a spa treatment. Our final act before heading home were facials and massages at Spa Remedease located in the Columbia Gorge Hotel (guests receive discount pricing). Owned independently by Martina Rizzo—self-proclaimed body nerd, health aficionado, movement junkie and farm girl—Spa Remedease offered the perfect ways to ease sore muscles, brighten our complexions, and treat ourselves with that elusive self-care mantra.
Before I left town, I made one more stop. We had toured both the Gallery 301, where I looked longingly at paintings by Cathleen Rehfeld and Ted Olson, and the Columbia Center for the Arts, where I decided to treat the women in my life to a set of encaustic bird paintings by artist Janel Pahl. With birthday and Mother’s Day gifts in hand, I left Hood River with an empowering sense of solidarity, connection and inspiration from a group of remarkable women who are directing life in the Columbia Gorge.