Event venues in the Columbia Gorge, Part 1: West Gorge

The Columbia Gorge Hotel ballroom set with tables of white linen and golden plates and chairs.
The Columbia Gorge Hotel’s Benson Ballroom (from their website)

Hello folks! Today we are going to talk about event venues in the Columbia Gorge. The Columbia River Gorge is a canyon in the Cascade Mountains, running nearly eighty miles in length just east of Portland. It’s an area of unparalleled beauty, filled with epic vistas, tantalizing waterfalls, deep forests, vineyards and orchards, and lots of rock. It’s a playground to the Portland metro area and features numerous unique venues for weddings, meetings, family events, and more.

A view of the Columbia River with the forested cliffs in the foreground and the distance, and with a view of the historic Vista House.
Vista House at Crown Point, as seen from Women’s Forum

The Columbia River Gorge is a big place with lots to do and see, so we’ve divided up our round-up into two parts. This first part covers the western reach, from the end of the Portland metro area (Washougal, WA and Troutdale, OR) in the west to Hood River, OR and Bingen-White Salmon, WA in the east. This part of the Gorge features most of its famous attractions: Vista House/Crown Point, Cape Horn, Beacon Rock, Multnomah Falls. Part Two will feature the eastern reaches of the Gorge, from Hood River/Bingen-White Salmon eastward through The Dalles, OR to Maryhill, WA.

Venue Options

The Main Lodge building - a gray wooden building - at the Cape Horn Estate in Cape Horn, Washington State.
Cape Horn Estate (Main lodge building, or Greenhouse)
A view of a wedding dressing room featuring large mirrors with Hollywood-style makeup lights above, tufted furniture, and a sitting / dining area. At Cape Horn Estate.
Getting-Ready Suite
A view of a wooden building with cafe seating outside and decorated with cafe market lights above a concrete dance floor.
The Pour House at Cape Horn Estate
A view of an expansive lawn with a stone arch to mark a ceremony site, decorated with cafe lights above. Two wedding planners talk to each other in the background. An aisle path leads to the arch.
The grounds of Cape Horn Estate

Cape Horn Estate Right off WA 14, behind Skamania Store and a couple miles west of Beacon Rock, this venue is located in an old Grange hall. The interior of the hall can accommodate 150, the smaller Pour House can hold 70, and the beautifully groomed grounds can hold 300. And the Getting Ready Suite in the hall is something to behold! The best part? This property is owned and catered by the same people behind Hoda’s Lebanese Restaurant in SE Portland. You can have delicious Mediterranean food at your wedding!

Columbia Gorge Hotel (from their website)
Wah Gwin Gwin Falls

Columbia Gorge Hotel Up next on our list of event venues in the Columbia Gorge is this historic Mission style resort. Located just on the west side of Hood River, the hotel was built in 1921 to accommodate travelers on the then new (now Historic) Columbia River Highway. There are three outdoor lawns available for weddings, the largest can accommodate 250. The indoor Benson Ballroom can hold 150. There are 40 guest rooms located at the hotel, and catering, staffing, setup and breakdown that is all handled by their staff. While the building itself is impressive enough, the most impressive feature to me is the waterfall right on the property! Wah Gwin Gwin Falls drops 207 feet (63 m) from the back of the hotel to the Columbia River below. The area is renowned for its waterfalls, but this is the only one I know that’s adjacent to a hotel. If you have a wedding here, you don’t need to travel to another waterfall.

From Will and Erik’s wedding on Thunder Island.

Thunder Island How about a venue where the splendor of the Gorge serves as the backdrop? Just off the shore of Cascade Locks, Oregon, Thunder Island came into being in 1890 with the creation of the Cascade Lock and Canal. This lock/canal combo was built to get around the notorious Cascade Rapids, the last rapids of the Columbia River before the ocean. Bonneville Dam’s pool flooded the rapids, but the island remains. Now the island can be rented out for special events, including weddings. Island rental includes a wedding platform and 200 chairs. And destinations in Cascade Locks, like Thunder Island Brewing, are just a short walk away.

Skamania Lodge wedding planned by EJP Events. Photo credit: ©Evrim Icoz Photography

Skamania Lodge Want a spot where you can have a wedding or event and never need to leave the grounds? Across the river from Cascade Locks, this resort located outside of Stevenson, Washington features a hotel (including luxury treehouses), restaurants, a spa, and an adventure park complete with zip-lines. Weddings can be done in their amphitheater, and receptions can be held either in their Ballroom or the outdoor, covered Riverview Pavilion.

Places to Stay

There are many lodging options in the Gorge. We’ve highlighted a few below:

Transportation to the Columbia Gorge

Most people arrive to the Gorge via car. Nevertheless, there are other options:

  • Train: Amtrak’s Empire Builder stops in Bingen, Washington (across the river from Hood River) twice daily. The eastbound train (from Portland to Spokane, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Chicago) calls on Bingen around 6:21 PM. The westbound train (from Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Spokane to Portland) calls on Bingen around 8:04 AM. (Times are subject to change)
  • Bus: There are multiple options that connect the Portland metro area to the Gorge, all of them have bike racks on the front and/or rear of the bus.
    • Oregon side: The Columbia Gorge Express travels from Gateway Transit Center in Portland to Hood River several times a day, making stops in Troutdale, Multnomah Falls, and Cascade Locks.
    • Washington side: Skamania County Transit travels from Fishers Landing Transit Center in Vancouver to Bingen several times a day (weekdays only), making stops in Washougal, Skamania (store), North Bonneville, Stevenson, and Carson.
  • Bike: Undeniably the Gorge is a great place to ride a bike, at least on the Oregon side. (Washington Route 14 has lots of traffic and often lacks a shoulder.) The Historic Columbia River Highway is the way to go. It’s a scenic route that winds its way from Troutdale, OR to Cascade Locks. You’ll share the western route (Troutdale east to Yeon State Park) with cars, east of there it’s a car-free path! (Note: There is one long staircase you will have to negotiate.) Bike maps for the route can be found here and here. East of Cascade Locks is tough, though, as parts of the old road are gone. Oregon Department of Transportation has been building back much of the disappeared route, including the legendary Mitchell Point Tunnel. However, this will take years to complete. Meanwhile, it is perfectly legal to ride the shoulder of I-84 here, but if you do not want to do this, you can take the Columbia Gorge Express bus (see above) for this segment.

One important note about driving through the Oregon side of the Gorge: Between May 24 and Sept. 5, 2022, a Timed Use Permit will be required for each personal vehicle accessing federal lands adjacent to the Waterfall Corridor between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. just east of the Bridal Veil off-ramp (Exit 28) to Ainsworth State Park (Exit 35). 

Waterfall Corridor permits will be available online for a $2 transaction fee and in person for a limited amount of same-day permits (no fee) at the Gateway to the Gorge Visitor Center in Troutdale and Cascade Locks Historical Museum. If you want to drive, Recreation.gov will release online permits approximately 2 weeks prior to the visit date. For more info, please see the website.

Hope this helps you find event venues in the Columbia Gorge!

Your guide to meeting and event venues in Tuscon, AZ

  • EJP Events coordinator Katherine O'Brien stands next to a desert cactus in Tuscon, Arizona.

We recently were able to visit Tuscon for a recent event. We’re excited to share our favorite reasons to visit this amazing oasis, and produce your guide to meeting and event venues in Tuscon.

What’s So Great About Tucson?

Tucson is in the aptly named, Sun Corridor, and enjoys, on average, 350 days of sun every year. (If you are like us and live somewhere with more cloudy days than sunny ones this alone may convince you to visit.)

Tucson is also home to the University of Arizona which brings a youthful vibe to this city and enriches the cultural options it provides.

Tucson has a rich history steeped in Native American traditions and culture that is worth exploring!

We also have to include the cacti in this list. They are everywhere you turn and possess the most amazingly beautiful contrast to the desert terrain. Hiking in this area is a treat! You can view these centurion giants along sandy paths that wind through the many impressive canyons. If you are lucky you may even come across a road runner or javelina (a small pig-like animal).

Tucson Activities

Tucson is a fantastic place to host an event with all of the unique activities offered there:

Try adding a trip to the Tucson Botanical Gardens, the Pima Air and Space Museum, the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum or the Mission San Xavier del Bac.

And don’t forget to make time for some fun with a group taco bike tour! Enjoying tacos together = team building in our book!

Where to host your event in Tucson?

Good Things Come in Small Packages at the Arizona Inn

If you are looking for an intimate venue for your next retreat, look no further than the Arizona Inn:

This historic boutique hotel is located in Midtown and offers a uniquely charming escape. With 5,000 square feet of meeting space and four meeting rooms to choose from, the team can gather comfortably and even step out onto the garden patio for breaks!

Guests will be refreshed and ready to go after a relaxing night in their well appointed casita-style rooms and some time by the pool. *Tip: Keep an eye out for the bunnies that hop about the grounds!

  • Entrance of the Arizona Inn, a meeting and event venue in Tuscon, AZ
  • Image of a table set in rustic desert color tones at the Arizona Inn in Tuscon.

Casino del Sol Shows us that Bigger can be done Better

Looking for a property that you don’t ever have to leave? Casino del Sol is a four-star luxury resort and casino that is Native American-owned. This resort has something for everyone.

Casino del Sol hosts more than 100,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor/outdoor meeting space and even offers unique meeting settings like their conference center terrace or a picturesque pool deck and gazebo.

Immerse yourself in Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s history through original artwork and cultural expressions throughout the property.

Casino del Sol also has on site – 10 restaurants, 6 bars, 3 pools, a spa and golf course, 5 event venues (where you can catch acts like Patti LaBelle or even Smashing Pumpkins) and thousands of games to choose from in their state-of-the-art casino.

  • Aerial photos of the Casino Del Sol resort complex in Tuscon, Arizona

Break All the Rules at Culinary Dropout

Culinary Dropout is a great option for group dining out! Snack on their famous honey drizzled fried chicken or pretzel bites and provolone fondue while you sample from their extensive beer, wine and cocktail list.

With 5 different private venue options, it’s easy to find the right fit for your group here. There’s plenty of different options for smaller groups, but it can also hold up to 250! Plus, they also have bar games and live music most nights.

Do you need a guide to meeting and event venues in Tuscon?

We hope after reading your guide to meeting and event venues in Tuscon, you get a sense that this special place can handle a meeting, wedding, or event of any size — and that you’ll be as excited as we are to explore this beautiful and culture-rich area of the United States. Please contact us for more info.

Best Portland Wedding Planners – Featured on Katy Weaver Photography

We were recently featured on the popular Portland wedding photography blog by Katy Weaver in an article entitled “Best Portland Wedding Planners”. We were really flattered to be included; thanks so much, Katy! I’m reprinting my portion of the interview below, because it was so fun to answer these questions. I hope you find this background about our wedding planning services useful! And, included here are a few photos of some the fun weddings we’ve had the pleasure of working on with Katy.

Photo: Katy Weaver Photography

What makes EJP Events unique?

Our team approach with 3 planners on staff (employees not contractors); over 45 years of combined event and hospitality experience in the business; and a “heart and head” approach that speaks to both the data side and the emotional side of weddings helps everyone in your weddings mix feel included, comfortable, and secure that you’re making educated decisions.

Why should couples hire a wedding planner?

Simply because: it’s a lot of legwork that you do not have time to do. Of course you could create your own wedding design brief; write a wedding budget; and research the best vendor choices to fit that design and criteria. (This is just the first part of planning!) However. If you’ve never done this before, it’s a huge learning curve to figure out all the industry terms, conventions, and insider knowledge to get all your planning systems up and running. Why not work with a planner who has already created and tested and used successful systems over and over and over; that way you can focus on the fun things like picking colors, decor, and clothing — rather on trying to figure out in what order you should do your huge wedding planning to-do list.

What advice do you have for couples choosing a wedding planner?

Check out their websites and social media! Do you see your wedding or the possibility of your wedding style, in what they offer? Do you see people like you having weddings like yours in their portfolio? Is there a variety of work and clientele, or do they pretty much do just one type of design and look? The latter is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you have non-traditional ideas, or want to work with someone who is flexible with a wide experience of various cultures, traditions, and styles — make sure to look for that int the planner’s work. If so, it’s a good sign that you might want to meet with them and do that interview next step!

Photo: Katy Weaver Photography

What type of weddings and couples are the best fit for you and your business?

We love to work with people who are willing to invest time and thoughtfulness into the process. Most of our wedding clients are working with us starting 6-18 months before the wedding, envisioning everything from the best location to the emotions they want themselves and their guests to feel at different timepoints of the wedding experience.

What do you love most about your job as a coordinator/planner?

I love standing in the back of the room when the party is in full swing, knowing that the crowd is joyfully celebrating, and that they are completely unaware of what went into producing the day. They are only present in the moment.

What’s the best way to contact you?

We have a contact page on our website: https://ejpevents.com/contact-a-portland-event-planner/ or of course you can always call us at (503) 284-6756 or email emee@ejpevents.com

Anything else you’d like to add?

Remember WHY you’re having your wedding and the love will guide you. Also – we travel!

5 important factors to consider when planning a destination wedding in Mexico

Planning a destination wedding is at the top of many of our clients’ to-do lists, so we make sure to attend many conferences and trainings on the subject. One of them we remember fondly is Love Mexico, which was held in Playa del Carmen some years back. Weddings are cautiously returning to travel for 2022 and 2023. Here are five important factors we took away from this experience:

Mexico destinations aren’t just for casual weddings

A beach wedding doesn’t have to be a casual, barefoot affair if you don’t want it to be. The availability of vendors in Mexico beach destinations is such that you can create the wedding vision, theme and color story of your wishes, including ones with high style and custom designs.

Planning a destination wedding in Mexico? Check out this image of an altar and ceremony chairs lined up on the beachfront in Cancun, Mexico.
Photo courtesy Westin Resort and Spa, Cancun

Not just the beach

Mexico isn’t just about beach weddings, either! The strong Spanish and European influence during colonial times means that old-world palaces and piazzas are just as available as palm trees and sand for a wedding backdrop — and without the 16-hour flights or Euro exchange rate.

Image of a white limestone mansion in Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico
By Matthew T Rader, CC BY-SA 4.0

Research the volume of weddings at your chosen destination wedding venue

Check to see how many weddings may be held at the resort of your choice. We talked to some in-house resort wedding planners who handle anywhere from 5 to 20 weddings per day. If you have chosen a larger resort, consider bringing your own personal wedding coordinator along with you so that you can get personal service on this most important of days. Or, consider working with a personal wedding coordinator who is familiar with the area during site selection, who can direct you to smaller, more exclusive properties and venues that might be off the beaten path.

A wedding banquet table covered in colorful flowers; with lanterns hanging above. A great idea for planning a destination wedding.
Photo courtesy Rosewood Mayakoba

Is it private?

Find out if the site or beach you have selected is a private location. If you picture exchanging vows in a secluded setting, you don’t want any surprises. Visit the location beforehand, or make sure you’re working with your personal wedding planner who has been there.

Wedding chairs set up in front of a white pavilion overlooking the ocean at Barcelo Maya Palace Hotel. One of the locations we've traveled to for planning a destination wedding.
Photo courtesy Barcelo Maya Palace Weddings

Destination wedding budgets can be competitive with local weddings

Planning a destination wedding can be just as affordable as a wedding you might plan in your home location. We’ve seen all-inclusive affairs in Mexico at excellent resorts for the same budget as a 100-person wedding locally. Many resorts offer perks based on your guest count. If you’re having a hard time finding a location you love at home, and most people are flying in anyway, consider a Mexico destination wedding for something wonderful and affordable.

The Portland Wedding Coordinator Blog is supported by affiliate links such as this one from Palace Resorts, or this one from Experiencias Xcaret. EJP Events may receive a payment, should you choose to purchase anything after visiting a link. Thank you for supporting our blog!

Planning events in Seaside: From Family Reunions to Conventions

Image via flickr user Robert Rynerson. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you’ll know that we love both visiting and facilitating events on the Oregon and Washington Coasts. We’ve talked about the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington and Astoria, Oregon. Now it’s time to give attention to Seaside, Oregon. Seaside is the closest beach city to Portland, which means it’s a very popular destination. It’s got a wealth of venues for hosting small gatherings, business meetings, and weddings. It also hosts the only true convention center on the North Oregon Coast! So let’s take a visit and see what this bustling town can offer.

Let’s start the tour with the Seaside Civic and Convention Center. This newly renovated convention center overlooking the Necanicum River has 24,600 square feet of usable meeting and event space, with an additional 8,900 square feet in the Prefunction and Mezzanine areas. Catering is exclusively provided by Oregon Fine Foods.

Seaside Civic and Convention Center

Planning on staying near the Convention Center? There are several hotels nearby. The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Seaside-Convention Center is just on the other side of the Necanicum River from the Convention Center, just requiring a short walk across a bridge. The Inn at Seaside is just across the street. Another block away is The SaltLine, a freshly built hotel with a saltwater pool and 600 feet of meeting space for small events.

Mural on the side of SaltLine Hotel, Seaside OR

Looking for something smaller than a convention center? The Beacon on Broadway events venue is in a hundred year old building a half block west of US 101 and just four blocks from the beach. The Beacon can hold up to 150 people. This makes it a great spot for a retreat, meeting, or small wedding.

Beacon on Broadway (from their website)

Renting a house in or near Seaside is a great idea if you want a whole place to yourself for a family reunion or special occasion. You can find many choices through Airbnb and Vacasa. You can also check out listings from some rental agencies specific to the North Oregon Coast like Beachhouse Vacation Rentals, Seaside Vacation Homes, and Oregon Beach Vacations.

Do you need help with feeding your guests? Niblack Events catering can help. They can do both buffet and plated style meals. And they don’t even need a venue! They can drop off prepared food where you need to be, even if it’s a picnic!

We hope this gives you a snapshot of what’s available for events in Seaside, Oregon. If you’re interested in setting up an event here, want to plan a wedding on the coast, or need help with a gathering, please contact us.

Unique Event Venues in Los Angeles

Los Angeles City Hall

As event planners, we’re always looking for unique and interesting venue options for our clients. Our recent trip to Southern California gave us the opportunity to explore what Los Angeles has in store. L.A. is a humongous city, with just about four million people within its city limits and a further ten million people in the surrounding metro area, so we barely scratched the surface of what is available. Hopefully these four options will give you something to start your search with!

We love train stations! They make great event venues. And LA is is the home of what is considered to be the “Last of the Great Railway Stations” built in the United States! Opened in 1939, Los Angeles Union Station is a mix of Art Deco, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne architectural styles. You can rent out the gorgeous Ticket Concourse for an indoor event, or either the South or North Patios for outdoor events. The various event spaces in the station can accommodate anywhere from 100 to 1,000 people. Pricing can range from $6,000 – $20,000 depending on the size and scope of the event. The best part? Union Station is still an active train station and transportation hub, serving over 110,000 passengers a day! Metro Rail, L.A.s local rail-transit system and Metrolink, the region’s commuter rail service serve Union Station. And several Amtrak lines, both California regional (Pacific Surfliner), and long-distance (Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited) call on the depot. And you know we are definitely fans of Amtrak. So your guests can get there without driving!

Los Angeles Union Station

How about an event in a former Catholic cathedral? Built in 1876, The Cathedral of Saint Vibiana served as Los Angeles’s main Roman Catholic Church until the 1994 Northridge Earthquake severely damaged the structure. After a battle with preservationists, the Church built a new cathedral, leaving St. Vibiana to the city. It eventually got sold and transformed into the event space now known as Vibiana. In 2012 Chef Neal Fraser and Amy Knoll Fraser, who own the adjacent Redbird Restaurant, took over operations. They can accommodate corporate gatherings in the 18,000 square foot Main Hall, and/or the 15,000 square feet outdoor courtyard. Food and beverage service is provided in-house. And Vibiana also offers full-service weddings!

Vibiana (from their website)

Getting out of downtown, LA River Studios is located in the growing LA River Arts Corridor. This building was a former toy truck factory built in 1931 that was abandoned for decades until it was restored as a premier event space. LA River Studios has 15,000 feet of flexible space (including outdoor space) and can fit up to 400 people. The space is supported by on-site VOX Productions.

LA River Studios (from their website)

Looking for a spot for a corporate party or even a wedding? Candela La Brea is located in a historic 1920’s building in the Miracle Mile neighborhood. They feature a Mexican restaurant, bar, and a flexible16,000 foot space that could be great for your next event!

Candela La Brea. (from their website)

And finally we’ll end with a grand and historic event venue that is also a place you can stay! When opened in 1923, the Millennium Biltmore Hotel was the largest hotel west of Chicago. This storied hostelry, located downtown across from Pershing Square, had hosted the annual Academy Awards eight times in the early part of the twentieth century. (It is rumored that the design of the “Oscar” statue was sketched on a napkin during the founding ceremony in 1927!) Now the Biltmore has 70,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space and 683 guest rooms. You can have an event in the main Crystal Ballroom (6,300 sq. ft., up to 800 people), the same room where those early Academy Awards were hosted, or in one of the other four ballrooms. The charm of the Golden Age of Cinema can still be found at the Biltmore, yet with modern amenities.

Millennium Biltmore’s Crystal Ballroom (from their website)

We hope this gives you a snapshot of what’s available for events in Los Angeles. If you’re interested in setting up an event in LA, please contact us.