Big Planes & Big Wines – McMinnville, OR

I saw here, I totally did! The Spruce Goose
I saw her, I really did! The Spruce Goose at McMinnville, OR

She was one-of-a-kind, built by Howard Hughes, a genius (a madman?) in the service of war. She was also big, the largest aircraft ever built for her time (1947). Her tail stands 79.1ft (24.1m) tall, the size of an eight-story building, her length spans a substantial 219 ft (66.6m) and her wings a jaw-dropping 320 feet (97.5m), sizes that rival even the very biggest aircraft built today….but that’s not even the most interesting part. What is absolutely astonishing, what makes this bird totally unique and unlike anything you’ve ever seen is that she was made of wood!!

Due to a war-time limitation on use of metals she was constructed of birch, mostly. A long painful, detailed construction of ~9 layers of thin veneers bonded together, formed and coated with an aluminum spar varnish. Dubbed the “Spruce Goose” no-one believed the shiny grey monstrosity would ever fly, and it was touch and go right up to the moment she actually lifted off. She only flew 70 feet over the water for around a minute, but history was made.

I "may" have been slightly sloshed by this point. At Terra Vina Tasting Room.
I “may” have been slightly sloshed by this point. At Terra Vina Tasting Room.

I’ve wanted to see this aircraft ever since I watched “The Aviator” several years back, and turns out she’s housed in the little town of McMinnville in NW OR walking distance from a cute private RV Park. As an added bonus this area is the heart of Pinot Noir production in the PNW,  boasting over 300 wineries all within short drives, enough for several lifetimes of tasting and even the most discerning sommelier. In other words, the perfect place to hide away a long holiday week-end.

Which brings up an interesting little RV tip….

Those of you who follow the blog know how much we love public camping. We’re almost fanatic about it, but we have one major exception. We’ve developed the habit of checking into a private park for the big holiday’s (Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day etc.) mostly to avoid crowds and families. I don’t begrudge these folks their time out and I love that public spots get used, but during the bigger holidays they get overrun and we prefer to slip away to somewhere quieter.

So, welcome to our hideout weekend of big planes…and big wine…

Evergreen Aviation And Space Museum

Paul poses in front of an F-14 Tomcat
Paul poses in front of an F-14 Tomcat

The Spruce Goose is the main reason we came to this place, but what I didn’t know when we arrived was how much more there was to see at this superb museum. In the main building I was amazed to see around 30-40 impeccably restored planes underneath the wings of the big bird, as well as a large outdoor walking area, a 3D movie theater and an entirely separate building dedicated to the entire history of Space Travel. Just about everything is covered here from the original Wright Brother’s Plane to an actual Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, reproductions of early space capsules to modern-day rockets. You can even land the Space Shuttle in a simulator (oh yeah…I totally did and I rocked it, baby!). Honestly you could spend several days here if you wished, but dedicating a full day to this place is an absolute minimum. Put this one on your list, folks!

Note/ A Museum Pass costs $25/adult ($24 for seniors, $23 for youth, 5 and under free) and includes all buildings and one movie. Hours are 9-5. Outside grounds are free and open to the public at all times.

Willamette Valley Wines

Wine with a view at Bryn Mawr
Wine with a view at Bryn Mawr winery

By wine standards this is a brand new area dating back only ~50 years. Everyone thought is was impossible to grow grapes in Oregon, but the temperate climate and interesting soils of the Willamette Valley have proved otherwise. Turns out the cool, mild climate is ideal for Pinot Noir and within the short space of a few decades wine-makers have flocked to the area to get on the boat. This is now THE area for Pinot Noir in the PNW and with over 300 wineries it’s hard to drive a block without a tempting spot to stop and taste. For those too lazy to drive around, there are no less than 12 winery rooms within walking distance of each other just in downtown McMinnville alone. I mean, it’s insane!!

The lovely ladies at Terra Vina Tasting Room
The lovely ladies at Terra Vina Tasting Room

With so many mind-boggling options to chose from we did the most logical thing and narrowed down our choice by dog-friendliness. Granted it may not have been the most sophisticated selection method, but with pooch in tow it ended up being the most enjoyable (for us) which, after all, is what drinking wine is all about. In downtown McMinnville we had an excellent, but small selection of tastings at the outdoor tables of R.Stuart, followed by a superb and very extensive tasting right opposite at Terra Vina (the ladies here were a barrel of laughs, very knowledgeable and big doggie lovers to boot). The next day we took ourselves for a country drive and ended up at the extremely scenic Bryn Mawr where we enjoyed yet another extensive tasting with a view to boot. We had many more on the “list” (including a few recommended by blog readers) but never made it further.

Our very short intro to Willamette Wines has left us wanting for much, much more. Pinot Noir can be a tricky grape, but the valley does it well and there’s enough interesting soil (terroir) to provide an amazing variety of tastes. Tastings are also generous at only ~$10-$15 for a slew of (typically) 8-10 options, plus most places will deduct the price of tasting from anything you buy. I’m gonna have to start training the dog to carry wine bottles….

Food, Glorious Food

A place with this many wines backs it up with almost as many good restaurants. We only managed one night out at La Rambla (very good), but we heard excellent feedback from many other spots such as Thistle, Community Plate and Blue Goat. Clearly, we’ve got alot more eating to do next time we come back.

But…Not So Much Hiking

This is about as much hiking as we got up to with doggie :)
This is about as much hiking as we got up to with doggie :)

Given we passed three solid days of tasting, I’d hoped to bleed off a few calories with a hike, but sadly we didn’t find many good spots to go with doggie near town. The trails at Miller Woods turned out to prohibit dogs, and even the downtown park had weird dog-banned areas. It’s the first time I’ve seen such prohibitive dog rules in Oregon, a surprise in a state that is (in general) hugely dog-friendly. We ended up walking around the extensive grounds of the Air Museum by our RV park, but that was about it. Clearly this place is best for wines and not the waist :)

That about wraps up our long week-end of big planes and debauchery. Today we’re moving north to stock-up for a few days before we hit the WA coast for our lighthouse hosting jobs this week-end (oh yeah, we’re totally psyched!!). By the time you hear from me again we should have our ass in the sand and our feet in the cool waters of the crazy coast….see you there!

McMinnville Links

  • Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum – All about the museum. Click HERE
  • Willamette Valley Wines – Overview of all the wineries in the area. Click HERE for interactive map and HERE for downloadable map.
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. Jil says

    glad you enjoyed the area…did you buy any wines…we love reds but are not really Pinot fans but once in a while we have been known to buy a bottle or two…

    like you I found the Goose amazing….and I really I loved the area..

    • libertatemamo says

      Yup, we ended up with another 10 bottles or so. Between this and our purchases in Bend we have enough to last us a while. We’ve got wine all over the RV now.


        • Kymm says

          You are visiting my childhood home (and one of my several current landing spots). We’re heading to the Willamette Valley this weekend. Glad you’re enjoying the great NW. We travel a lot via airplanes and cars (showbiz) but we’re thinking the RV thing would be a much more enjoyable way to get from Client to Client. And a better way to enjoy a few days off. We love our blue-hair’d friends but always like seeing younger people doing the RV thing too! Glad we found your blog.

          • libertatemamo says

            Plane and hotel travel does get old pretty fast. I did too much of it in my “former” life. We definitely find the RV much more comfortable. Welcome to the blog!


  2. Traci Hamilton says

    We’ve found that oregon outdoor areas are getting less and less dog friendly. We live in Salem and there are very few dog friendly options anywhere. It’s unfortunate

    • libertatemamo says

      What a bummer! I wonder if that’s typical of the entire wine region? We’ve seen the same kind of thing happen in the CA wine regions, sadly. Alot of the trails which were once dog-friendly there are no longer. Thankfully the OR coast is still dog-friendly. Sure hope it stays that way.


  3. keepinontruckin says

    Glad to hear you made it to the Evergreen Air & Space Museum. It’s been a few years since we’ve been there. It was a “must-see” when we first moved to OR. That looked like quite a deluxe RV park!
    We visited Nehalem Bay SP and Tillamook Air Museum recently on your recommendation. Definitely plan to re-visit both. Lot of info at the museum I didn’t get to. It was kind of weird seeing a good portion of the hangar being used for indoor RV storage though.
    Funny how “tourists” discover local attractions that the residents ignore. I have no doubt that there are Portland residents who have never seen Multnomah Falls!

    • libertatemamo says

      This WAS actually quite a fancy RV park, especially by our standards. It was a good, relatively quiet place to spend the week-end though.

      SO GLAD you got to enjoy Nehalem Bay & Tilamook Museum. When we were there the hangar wasn’t being used for RV storage so wonder if that is new? I think there were classic cars in there or something (just on the one end). Maybe they change what they use it for? Still, glad you enjoyed it!


  4. Else says

    You two are having too much fun. Keep it up, and enjoy the wine tastings. Kim and I, and of course Buddy, are headed for Florence, on June 1st., for 2 mnts. Hope to meet up with you on the coast. Always enjoy your blog, Nina.

    • libertatemamo says

      Did you guys pick-up another hosting job in Florence? Hope you’re getting some time to relax before you start in Bandon. If you’re still in the area Sept/Oct we’ll catch up with you on-site. Kisses to Buddy!


  5. tom says

    Congrats on seeing the big wooden bird. I am amazed every time I see it, all the craft that went into building it is amazing. The most angry powerful gas engines ( 8 each at 4360 cubic inches and 3000 horse power ) pulling a man made machine of glued wood, amazing.
    I would go there just for the wine tasting, yet I love aircraft.
    Hope all goes well at the light house this Summer.

    • libertatemamo says

      The plane was frikkin’ amazing. There was so much more I didn’t put in the blog post…the fact that he filled it with beach balls ‘coz he was worried it would sink…that they used 7 TONS of nails to set the thing, all of which were removed by hand afterwards…the fact that a man can walk upright inside the wings. And yes, those crazy engines!!

      Oh, I agree the Spruce Goose is just amazing…


  6. says

    I was unaware the Spruce Goose was no longer in Long Beach. I should know that since I was at the Queen Mary last summer and they weren’t selling tickets to it. Duh. By the way, the Queen Mary is lame but the Soviet submarine next door was pretty awesome.

    • libertatemamo says

      Yeah it’s actually been a while since it was in Long Beach. The plane was disassembled in 1992, shipped (barged) up to Portland, trucked to McMinnville and re-assembled in 1993 in a temporary hanger here. The final museum bldg was finished in 2001.


  7. Michael Mullin says

    Great post! We’ve driven right past that museum at least half dozen times on the way to Pacific City and haven’t stopped – but we will make a point to do so next time. And now that the kids are older it’s easier to start visiting some of those wineries you mentioned.

    • libertatemamo says

      The museum is super kid-friendly, but I agree the wineries not so much so. Many of them actually have “no minors” listed on their doors and even their outdoor areas. Not sure if it’s a city-wide thing. In Bend, many of the breweries allowed minors (and dogs) in their outdoor areas so it was interesting to see the difference.


  8. BugDuckley says

    I visited the museum a couple of years ago and took the SG flight deck tour. It was a slow day so it turned out I was the only one on the tour. The highlight was sitting in Howard’s pilot seat, hands on the yolk, and looking down that wing at those giant engines. It must have been quite an experience to hit full power and lift that monster off the water for that first and only flight. Go on a slow day and take the flight deck tour, you won’t regret it!

    • libertatemamo says

      For some reason that tour wasn’t being offered while we were there. We did however, have a nice chat with the docent in the belly of the bird. Amazing history. I’d like to to go back and take that tour!


  9. Beartracksblog says

    I saw the Spruce Goose years ago when she was in Long Beach. Fascinating. Glad you enjoyed it. Looks like fun with the Pinots!!!

    • libertatemamo says

      Interestingly enough normally we don’t drink a lot of Pinot Noir’s. We’re mostly Cab lovers. I enjoyed the tastings though and definitely liked a lot of the wines.


      • Stephen Agnor says

        Nina, When you said the ladies at Terra Vina were a barrel of laughs, does that mean you were barrel tasting?

        • libertatemamo says

          LOL well I didn’t quite mean it like that, although we did get to try some future releases, so I guess it was aaalmost like barrel tasting :)


  10. says

    I loved the Evergreen Air & Space Museum. The Spruce Goose is a jaw dropper. Nothing like seeing its size with your own eyes.

  11. Rogelling says

    The Painted Lady in Newburg is our favorite restaurant in the area. We like Domain Drouhin and Archery Summit.

    • libertatemamo says

      More spots to add to the “list”. We’d need several months to eat and wine taste our way through the area!


    • Jil says

      Domain Drouhin was one of our favorite spots there too…not to mention how much we liked their wine…

  12. says

    Too bad we could only spend a few hours at the museum on our way to Lincoln City last November – it’s definitely a must see. One of the guides mentioned we could have spent the night in our Airstream at the rear of the very large parking lot but we already had a reservation for Devil’s Lake.

    • libertatemamo says

      Didn’t even know about that airstream option. What a cute option to stay for those without RVs!


  13. Jim N Sheri says

    We love this area.. We have a daughter living there and visit when able. We stayed at Old Stone Village RV for about 2 months last year while traveling.. luv reading all your blogs…hope to run into you and Paul.. someday..

  14. mnwool says

    I saw the Spruce Goose many many years ago. I could not find words or pictures then that could really convey a description. However your title “Big Planes & Big Wines” sure did a great job. Thanks.

    • libertatemamo says

      Nope. Didn’t get around to trying more then the 3 wineries I listed. I believe we drove past it though.


  15. Randy says

    You made it to Portland! We live 3 miles from our condo. Email me back and we can get together. Randy

    • libertatemamo says

      We’re kinda breezing through town (lots of shopping/appts), but I’ve sent you our info.


  16. says

    Glad you made it to see Spruce Goose. We were amazed too of the size of that place and of course Steve had a great time.
    I guess when we get back in that area it will now be more on the wine than planes.

    • libertatemamo says

      I honestly didn’t know how MANY wines there were in this region until we actually got there. It’s huge!!


  17. says

    We visited McMinnville with friends several years ago and had a great time, although too short. Yet another place to revisit at a slower pace. :)

    • libertatemamo says

      It’s definitely worth a longer visit…especially if you’re eating/wine-tasting your way through town. Maybe next time we’ll come through here on Harvest Hosts.


  18. says

    Let me guess…it’s not Coquille River, by chance? Right out my back window? I was planning on leaving today, but if you guys are going to be the next volunteer shift, maybe I will go back for a second tour. 😉

    • libertatemamo says

      Nope. It’s Cape Disappointment State Park up on the WA coast (the very southern tip of WA). So, really your only choice now is to keep coming north on the coast until you reach WA :)


    • says

      I am on my way! haha! That lighthouse is definitely on my list! If I don’t make it there in time, maybe I will finally get to meet you guys while at the lavender festival…

      • libertatemamo says

        You have around 6 more lighthouses to go between your current spot and WA so I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t make it in time :) It’s hard not to get distracted on the coast. We’ll be on-site in N.WA around the lavender festival so do stay in touch.


  19. Paul says

    After our visit to the Evergreen Museum last summer we overnighted in their parking lot (after asking and receiving permission). Very quiet and worked fine. Another interesting spot for those that enjoy old planes and cars is the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum in Hood River.

    • libertatemamo says

      NICE TIP! I didn’t know it was possible to overnight at the Museum. That is excellent info. Thanks also for the tip on the spot in Hood River. We completely missed that when we were there last year.


  20. Doug says

    Yes, the three big summer holiday weekends are a PITA for us fulltime public land boondockers. You always want to time your campsite moves so that they never occur during those weekends or even several days before.

    As you said, the forests do get overrun and it’s often a zoo—but don’t most private RV parks also fill up completely and get noisy during those weekends?

    Unlike most working stiffs, Monday is my absolute favorite day of the week — because it means most forest visitors are gone!

    • libertatemamo says

      I guess it’s just degrees of “fullness”. This park did get full, but it was mostly non-families (people visiting the wineries and such). A few kids, but not too many. It ended up being relatively quiet for the week-end. I find the public spots get fuller -> many more families plus people usually stuff several campers/cars into one spot so the sheer concentration of people is very high. The first time we stayed in a public campground over a holiday weekend the site next to us had 12 people in it! In the forests (dispersed areas) you’ll sometimes get circles of rigs and even more folks. Most private parks won’t allow that many in one site plus they have stricter limits on noise & hours. It’s only a few days so I don’t worry too much about it, but we like to try to avoid the craziness when we can.


  21. Michael Mullin says

    I find the other big difference between public camp areas and private rv parks (particularly over holiday weekends) is the amount of drinking and partying that can occur. And depending upon how remote the location is, law enforcement may be non-existent. I stay away from the crowds as well. Much more peaceful to “hide” in the rv park.

  22. Rowanova says

    Sounds like a fun and interesting area. I’ve heard a little about it a times but haven’t been there yet. Maybe one day…

  23. Sergio says

    From my reading of your blog… I have the feeling you would love Québec City’s refined cuisine and Niagara on the Lake vineyards.

    • libertatemamo says

      Definitely sounds like a place we would enjoy. Sure hope to make it up to Canada one of these days.


  24. says

    Oh, boy, another air and space museum, Hector will be happy. We actually saw the Spruce Goose a long time ago in Long Beach. Crazy.
    Paul looks like a real sommelier in his photo! We’re following in your footsteps heading up the beautiful Oregon Coast, so excited!


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