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.

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!

Ten don’t-miss moments on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight

Northbound Coast Starlight crossing Stenner Creek Trestle, just north of San Luis Obispo CA. Photo: Loco Steve

As event planners, we’re always looking for more-sustainable options for our clients. Did you know that trains produce less than 15% of the CO2 per passenger kilometer as planes? With COP26 highlighting the need to decrease our CO2 burdens both individually and as a society, we recommend train travel anytime it’s feasible.

Practicing what we preach, we recently flew to Southern California to facilitate 7CTOs retreat in San Diego, with our Brompton folding bikes in tow. But for the return trip we decided to do something a bit different: Take the train home. We love using Amtrak for both short and long distance trips. Amtrak’s Coast Starlight is their premier West Coast long-distance train, running from Seattle to Los Angeles. We booked a “sleeper”, our own compartment that features actual beds, and spent a day and a half looking out the window. Train travel can be both climate-friendly and better than the plane in several respects – one of them being all of the sights you’ll see!

Here are ten different points of interest seen from the windows of the Coast Starlight as it plies the West Coast, from south to north:

Los Angeles Union Station, the departure point for northbound Coast Starlight trains.

Southern and Central California beaches. If you’ve looked at Amtrak’s promotional imagery, you may have seen an image of a train hugging a coastline with cerulean-blue ocean beneath. That’s where the Coast Starlight cruises along the edge of the Pacific from around Ventura to south of San Luis Obispo. Pro tip: Make sure you get a seat on the left side of the train to get the best views!

Point Conception. North of Santa Barbara the Coast Starlight travels through the private Hollister Ranch, an area of chapparal-covered hills with little development. The Starlight actually heads west through this area until it reaches Point Conception, a small cape with lighthouse. The train then turns northwards to pass through…

Vandenberg Air Space Force Base, the home of America’s West-Coast space launches. Keep your eye out for Space Launch Complex 6, which was modified for Space Shuttle launches. Alas, Vandenberg never saw the Shuttle launch (or land) here, but the base hosts regular NASA and SpaceX flights.

Horseshoe Curve. Just minutes from departing San Luis Obispo station, the Coast Starlight heads into a big horseshoe curve. It’s possible to see both the front and end of the train at the same time!

The Central California landscape, seen just north of San Luis Obispo

Jack London Square. The Coast Starlight’s Oakland depot is located in an entertainment district next to San Francisco Bay. For several blocks the tracks run right down the middle of a city street, The Embarcadero.

Mothball Fleet. About ten minutes outside of the Martinez station, the Coast Starlight crosses Carquinez Strait and hugs Suisun Bay on its way to Sacramento. On the right side of the train in the bay is Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet. where outdated Naval ships go to await their final fate. Note: This site is best observed southbound, it may be dark by the time the northbound train passes through here.

Odell Lake at Willamette Pass. The Coast Starlight has been cruising along a high plateau to the east of the Cascade Range since it climbed up the Sacramento River Canyon. After leaving Chemult station, the Starlight heads to the Cascades where it will cross it at Willamette Pass and then follow the Willamette to Portland. Before the summit is postcard-perfect Odell Lake, seen on the right side of the train.

Westfir (Office) Covered Bridge. The Coast Starlight spends a good hour or more descending from Willamette Pass to the mountain-bike crazy town of Oakridge. After a short tunnel the train passes through tiny Westfir. To the left, over the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River is the Office or Westir Covered Bridge. At 180 feet in length, it’s the longest covered bridge in Oregon!

Willamette Falls. On the Coast Starlight’s left side as it enters Oregon City is one of the mightiest waterfalls of the west! The Willamette descends 40 feet down to tidal level. The Falls have historically been a barrier for shipping traffic. Yet it was also major spot for fishing and trading for the tribes here before European settlement. The old Blue Heron Paper Mill is now owned by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and is being redeveloped for public use.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge(s)

Tacoma Narrows/Point Defiance. Now we are near the end of the journey. Closing in on Seattle, the sea comes into view again a short time after leaving the Olympia/Lacey (Washington) station. For several miles the tracks hug the shore of the Puget Sound, passing under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The Coast Starlight then passes through the Point Defiance tunnel. And the last few miles before entering downtown Tacoma cruise along the shore of Commencement Bay. (Please note: The other Amtrak route through this area, the Cascades, now uses the Point Defiance Bypass that cuts off this scenic section of track. The Coast Starlight route will remain along the waterfront for the time being.)

King Street Station in Seattle, the final station on the northbound Coast Starlight.

We hope this gives you a snapshot of the pleasures of traveling by train, and of the climate benefits. If you’re interested in setting up a group travel excursion for your next meeting or gathering, or in using a train for an event, please contact us.

Long Beach, Washington Peninsula Weddings and Events

Beards Hollow, Cape Disappointment

Thinking about a wedding by the sea? Consider a Long Beach Peninsula Wedding in Washington State! Located in the far southwestern corner of the state, the peninsula is across the Columbia River from Astoria. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Portland. Close enough that a weekend can be made out of it, far enough to feel like a getaway.

The exterior of the Adrift Hotel, showing the Pickled Fish restaurant in its top-floor setting. It’s a great place to view the ocean!

Adrift and Shelburne Hotels

The Adrift Hotel in the town of Long Beach is a good landing spot. Many rooms have a view of the ocean. And the view and proximity to beach are not the only selling factors here. A guest can borrow a free balloon-tire bike to cruise the beach and the Discovery Trail path that runs parallel to it. The Adrift also contains a modest spa facility as well as the Pickled Fish Restaurant. The dining room sits on the top floor of their west building, with an expansive view of the beach and the ocean. Pickled Fish offers a variety of locally-sourced Pacific Northwest starters and entrées. But our favorite are their New Haven-style pizzas –thin crusts with just the right amount of char.

Event space at Adrift, from their website.

Because they have both an indoor and outdoor gathering space that can fit about 100 people, The Adrift Hotel would be a great spot for a small beach wedding! Pickled Fish would cater, a delicious choice. And best of all, it’s less than five minutes to walk to the beach. The “sister” hotel to Adrift, the Shelburne Hotel, can also host weddings. The late-Victorian era Shelburne was built in 1896, making it the longest continually operating hotel in Washington State.

Sou’wester Lodge

The Sou’wester Lodge is a lodging facility featuring a mix of cabins, vintage travel trailers (like Airstream) and campsites. They are located in Seaview, a community between Long Beach and Ilwaco. The Sou’wester can lodge 70 to 100 people, and accommodate 250 guests for a ceremony. It’s a good spot for a unique wedding! Plus, They offer extras, like a wellness package and a beach bonfire package.

Cape Disappointment State Park

Cape Disappointment State Park, a state park located south of Long Beach, is a great destination in itself. Located on a peninsula where the Columbia River meets the Pacific, the park features beaches, hiking trails through coastal rainforests, and a wide variety of camping options, including yurts and cabins. The North Head Lighthouse* and surrounding grounds are available for wedding ceremonies only. You must hold receptions elsewhere. The North Head Lighthouse Keepers’ Residence is available nearby for honeymoon or other overnight rental.

Keepers Residence at North Head Lighthouse
Oysterville Church
Oysterville School

Oysterville on the Peninsula’s North End

We also want to give a quick mention to the picture-perfect village of Oysterville, located on the north end of the peninsula. Founded in the nineteenth century when this area was dominated by (what else!) oyster fishing, Oysterville consists of a couple dozen Victorian houses on the edge of Willapa Bay. There is one cute (but small) venue available if you want something different for a wedding: The Oysterville Church. This historic church, can hold around 100 people. The nearby Oysterville School can be used for the reception. There are no lodging options in Oysterville itself, however there are in the community of Ocean Shores, just a ten-minute drive away. (The city of Long Beach is about a half-hour drive from Oysterville.)

The Long Beach Peninsula is filled with nice vistas, abundant nature, good food, and a great beach. Maybe you’ll consider a Long Beach Peninsula Wedding or holding your small meeting or conference there?

Bonfire on the beach.

*The other lighthouse at the park, simply named “Cape Disappointment Lighthouse”, does not allow weddings.