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!

Alternatives to the “bouncy” wedding font, Part 1: Script Fonts

A good example of a script font that isn’t the “wedding font”

You’ve seen it by now, the default “wedding” font. It’s usually cursive (or cursive adjacent) and features a “bouncy” baseline–the bottoms of the letters don’t sit on a line, but rather go up or down as if by whim. Head over to a “create your own invitation” service like Zazzle, and you’ll see a bunch of these fonts. It’s very of the moment.

The issue of using anything in the moment is that it may become dated and not age well. And if you are striving to be unique with your wedding, it’s hard to be unique when you’re using the same font that everyone else is using.

We asked designer Meagan Ghorashian, founder of Brolly Design, for ideas for some alternative fonts–fonts that capture the same spirit but are not the same-old, same-old. Here are a few of her picks:

The above fonts do cost a nominal fee to use. Perhaps you are on a tight budget and can’t afford the expense. If so, check out some of these free fonts Meagan found on 1001freefonts.com:

And if you do have the cash, consider getting an artist to hand-letter for you! It will add a very unique touch to your invitations and other decor, a touch that you can’t get from a computer typeface.

Hand lettering is always a nice touch!

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!

Unique Event Venues in San Diego

El Cortez

Winter is definitely here in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t mind it as much as some people do (it helps that I was raised in a colder and snowier climate), but there are times when damp and gloomy days can get to me. That’s when I think of places where summer seems to be all year long. These type of places make great meeting and event destinations in the dead of winter. And if this locale has a Mediterranean climate, it can be good any time of the year! So let’s head to sunny Southern California and explore unique event venues in and around San Diego.

Let’s start with a venue that’s in what was once San Diego’s tallest building and most prestigious hotel. The El Cortez* opened in 1927 and for years was “the place” where big names like presidents or The Beatles stayed while in town. After a period of neglect, the El Cortez is mostly condominiums, but retains some of that old luster in the Don Room at El Capitan. The 3,300 square foot octagonal shaped ballroom can accommodate 250 people seated or 300 standing. There is also an outdoor terrace with fireplace that can be rented separately or along with the Don Room.

The Don Room at El Cortez (from their website)

The Lodge at Torrey Pines is a resort designed in the classic “California Craftsman” style. The lodge boasts over 13,000 square feet of space for events from corporate retreats to weddings. Catering is provided by the in-house restaurants. Perks include a 36 hole golf course with epic views of the Pacific Ocean, a full-service spa, and the manicured grounds featuring the very rare Torrey Pine which only grows in the immediate area!

Lodge at Torrey Pines

It would be very remiss of us if we didn’t mention Raised By Wolves, a Gilded-Age influenced speakeasy located, of all places, inside a suburban mall! It might not be the best place for a meeting where things need to get done, but can be a great add-on for an after event. Reservations are pretty much required to get a spot at this amazing bar.

Raised By Wolves (from their website)

Ok, we’re in a beach town, so let’s go beachside! La Jolla Beach and Tennis Center is a “hacienda” styled private club with 90 guestrooms and of course a lovely beach and tennis facilities. The club features the Walnut Room with 1,300 square feet of space for up to 100 guests, and the La Sala Room with 2,000 square foot event space that can seat up to 150 guests. Events can also be held by the pool, next to the duck pond, and of course on the beach itself!

La Jolla Beach and Tennis Center (from their website)

Would you like both “beachside” and luxury that comes out of a different era? The Hotel del Coronado is a rare surviving example of a wooden Victorian-era beach resort. Upon opening in 1888, it was the single largest resort hotel in the world. A space this big (second largest wooden structure in the US after the Tillamook Air Museum!) has a lot of meeting space, about 96,000 square feet to be exact. The selection of spaces runs the gamut: indoor ballrooms and meeting rooms, outdoor gardens and lawns, and of course the beach itself.

Hotel del Coronado

Forget the beach, how about something on the water itself? Flagship Cruises runs the popular ferry service from Coronado to downtown San Diego and also offers private cruises on its fleet of both modern and vintage vessels. A cruise could be the event itself, or it can augment another event held elsewhere.

Perhaps you want something with more of an urban flavor. Deck 655 incorporates 8,500 sq. ft. versatile indoor outdoor party venue that can be customized for social or corporate events. Deck 655 features a 125 foot long outdoor deck with fireplace and a capacity for 350 guests in both the indoor and outdoor spaces. Centrally located downtown at the corner of W Broadway and Kettner Blvd, Deck 655 is across the street from the historic Santa Fe Depot.

Deck655 (from their website)

And we’ll end our tour at Santa Fe Depot. Opened in 1915, this historic train station built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style still serves as a major transit center. Amtrak runs its popular Pacific Surfliner service several times a day between San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. One can also catch the Coaster commuter rail service north to Oceanside every weekday. And the depot serves as a hub for the San Diego Trolley, an extensive light-rail system that serves many destinations around the metro area.

San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot, serviced by Amtrak and local commuter rail

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

* The El Cortez Hotel is named after the conquistador, mutineer, and adulterer, Hernan Cortés, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Aztec Indigenous peoples. 

It is sadly common that in our regular event planning activities, planners and attendees will encounter venues and points of interest that honor historical figures who committed atrocities against Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Color. As we all become more aware of our shared history, we can do our part to educate ourselves about the history surrounding the names of event venues and tourism points of interest, and to study the history of colonization and genocide that has led to many of the problems of systemic racism that Indigenous people suffer today; and to prevent future harm. 

In addition, we urge event leaders to provide written or verbal acknowledgement of original peoples and history within the context of hosting an event, and to reinforce verbal statements with actions such as paying voluntary land tax in support of Indigenous peoples.

We ourselves acknowledge that our events and our tourism-related activities with groups and meetings take place on land that was forcibly taken from the original peoples. We endeavor to go beyond mere land acknowledgement and instead, work proactively to prevent harm to Indigenous and Native peoples, and to return land and resources to them. To learn more, here are some resources for starting your journey: https://nativegov.org/news/a-self-assessment/

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.

Live Events in Oregon, What’s Allowed? September 2020 update

We are happily seeing an influx of new inquiries for live events in Oregon to happen as soon as December 2020. Still, COVID-19 is still with us and has not gone away, even though limited event activities are now permitted. As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on much longer than most live event professionals imagined it would, it’s helpful to review the current guidance in order to be updated on the latest of what is allowed at live events in Oregon.

Portland event planning photo of 3 women standing in a ballroom under a chandelier. A view of Lake Oswego Oregon is behind them.
EJP Events visits the Ironlight event venue in Lake Oswego, Oregon. This is an event space that can accommodate many of the new COVID-19 guidelines such as outdoor space, physical distancing, and increased ventilation and hygiene.

As of Friday, September 18, 2020, here is what is permitted in Phase 1 areas with live events in Oregon. This includes Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington Counties that have agreed to progress through phases together since their populations are geographically linked by the City of Portland.

  • Includes limited reopening of personal services like salons and barbers, gyms, and malls, and restaurants and bars open for in-person service until 10pm.
  • Indoor social get-togethers are capped at 10 people with physical distancing.
  • Cultural, civic, and faith gatherings are capped at 50 people with physical distancing for indoors or outdoors.

And here is what’s permitted in Phase 2 areas of Oregon: The vast majority of counties in Oregon are in Phase 2. No counties in Oregon have progressed to Phase 3 since either a reliable treatment or vaccine is required for that phase; and neither has yet been produced.

  • For phase 2 counties the maximum capacity for gatherings is:
    • 50 people indoors
    • 100 people outdoors
  • Statewide, no matter what phase a county is in, the maximum capacity for an indoor social get-together is 10 people indoors.

In addition, organizers of gatherings and live events in Oregon in any phase are required to follow specific General Hygiene, Distance, Occupancy, Cleaning, and Disinfection guidelines outlined here: https://sharedsystems.dhsoha.state.or.us/DHSForms/Served/le2351g.pdf . This includes correct and proper wearing of face masks covering both nose and mouth for all staff and for guests while not seated and eating or drinking; frequent hand washing and proper hand hygiene; frequent sanitation of surfaces with no shared service items such as food servingware; and maintaining distance of 6′ between parties from different households at an event.

Finally, DIFFERENT guidelines and guest count limits apply to gatherings that take place in what the state calls “Sector-Specific” locations. For example, if your event takes place in a restaurant or a bar, versus an event venue, different rules apply. Per OHA:

  • The maximum capacity limits described in this guidance do not apply to gatherings or indoor social get-togethers at a location covered by other sector-specific Oregon Health Authority (OHA) guidance, as those locations have their own maximum capacity limits and other restrictions. Sector-specific locations to which OHA guidance applies includes, but is not limited to venues, restaurants and bars, retail locations, indoor and outdoor entertainment facilities, fitness related organizations, higher education institutions, schools, and child care programs.
  • Updated September 30, 2020: Here we have added a helpful guide from Lewis & Clark Law School’s Small Business Legal Clinic on Guidelines for Opening for Restaurants and Bars. It contains many helpful specifics and a lot of the new details you may be seeing in food service, such as no pre-set tables. This has affected many events that were planning a decorative tabletop. One thing we have seen is to set a mock tabletop for photography only to capture the event vision and the desgin; and then the catering staff brings the same individual items out to each attendee at the time of service.

As you can see, it can be very confusing. A patient and experienced event planner will be your best asset, as they have been keeping up with all of the industry changes and updates since March; and will have you and your guests’ health and safety as their first priority. Please contact us if you are looking for event planning guidance.

Sources:

https://govstatus.egov.com/OR-OHA-Reopening-Framework

https://govstatus.egov.com/OR-OHA-COVID-19#collapseOHAGuidance

COVID-19 is an ongoing and changing situation for live events in Oregon and around the world. The Portland Event Planner blog is meant as commentary only. Please check with your local and state health authorities, as well as the World Health Organization, before making any decisions that would affect you and your guests.