The Seven Things You Must Know Before Taking an Oregon Vacation

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Before you embark on an Oregon vacation, it’s important to know that the state covers over 98,000 square miles of terrain but has only two interstate highways. That leaves a lot of back-road winding along coastal waters, through mossy green mountains and across starkly vivid dessert landscapes.

It’s the contrasts of Oregon that make it such a unique travel destination, and while visitors will find an endless list of things to do, there are a number of the surprises you’ll probably want to hear about beforehand.

Here are the seven things to know before visiting Oregon.

  1. Dutch Bros is the place for coffee
  2. Oregon is at war
  3. Recreational marijuana is legal
  4. There is no sales tax in Oregon
  5. You can’t pump your own gas, so what do you do?
  6. Elk, an unsuspecting threat
  7. You may not want to take that ocean swim

Move Over Starbucks, Dutch Bros. Is the Place for Coffee on an Oregon Vacation
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Exterior shot of a Dutch Bros Coffee Drive through, Oregon's premier establishment for a cup of joe.
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If you’re accustomed to pulling into Starbucks to grab your cup of Joe, you might have to adjust your habits in order to start your morning off right on an Oregon vacation. In Oregon, it’s the cross blades of a blue and white windmill that mark the spot for the most popular coffee in the state.

Dutch Bros is the largest privately owned drive-through coffee chain with 290 locations across seven states. Aficionados even have their own nickname, the Dutch Mafia, having propelled the company to the top of the roast bean chart.

Vacations are a great time to try something new. So, instead of searching for the elusive Starbucks, hit a Dutch Bros instead.

Oregon Is at War

Person carrying groceries in a plastic bag, something that may be banned during your Oregon vacation.
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Several years ago, Oregon went to war – against plastic. The plastic bag ban, originally adopted by 16 Oregon cities, went statewide in January of 2020 with the passing of House Bill 2509, also known as the sustainable shopping initiative. Under the act, retail establishments and grocery stores are prohibited from packaging items in disposable bags, requiring customers to bring their own.

Since many visitors to the state aren’t in the habit of toting around reusable bags, grocery stores and retail establishments are able to offer paper bags for a five cent fee. However, Oregon’s war on plastic hasn’t stopped with shopping bags. Recently, Oregon increased its battle ground to include plastic straws.

drink cups featuring plastic disposable straws
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While not banned outright, you will find it more difficult to locate a plastic straw to sip your iced refreshment thanks to State Bill 90. The bill, signed by the governor in 2019, prohibits restaurants and some convenience stores from automatically providing plastic straws.

This means you may not find straws located next to drink stations at convenience stores or receive one with your iced beverage at a restaurant. You are, however, permitted to request one, and drive-throughs will still be allowed to distribute plastic straws to customers.

Recreational Marijuana Is NOT Illegal

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There was once a billboard on Route 5 heading out of Corvallis that read, “Where are you going to grow your 4 plants?” The coined phrase referenced the state’s then-recent legislation passing the legalization of recreational marijuana and the fact that residents were allowed to grow cannabis on their own.

Fast forward several years and residents’ weed-friendly attitudes may not necessarily add up to high demand. According to information from Oregon’s liquor control commission released in early January of 2019, the state’s recreational market is now chock full of surplus cannabis, enough to meet demand for the next six and a half years.

If you’re embarking on an Oregon vacation and are interested in obtaining the substance, it’s easy to do. Brightly colored stores are hard to miss in even Oregon’s moderately sized towns. However, if you’d rather avoid the substance, you can easily spend your Oregon vacation without realizing the state is now smothering under 2,000 metric tons of wet, untrimmed marijuana. Just ignore the psychedelic storefronts and catchy billboards.

There Is No Sales Tax in Oregon

Young women shopping for clothes and paying with a credit card
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While you may have to fork over some change to get your purchases bagged, at least you won’t have to pay sales tax. Oregon is one of five like-minded states that does not tax purchases.

How do they pay for roads, schools and the like? Oregonians pay higher income and property taxes than other states, though certainly nothing like you’ll find in the Northeast. For travelers enjoying an Oregon vacation, however, it’s a nice bonus and a chance to shave a few cents off a purchase.

You Can’t Pump Your Own Gas on an Oregon Vacation

Attendant pumping gas for customer on an Oregon Vacation
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If you’ve never had the decadent privilege of sitting in your car while someone else does the work of pumping your gas, an Oregon vacation will be a treat. Oregon joins New Jersey as one of only two states where pumping your own gasoline is illegal.

If you’re concerned about how the process works, set your fears aside. It’s pretty straightforward.

Simply pull up to the pump and wait for an attendant to approach. Tell him or her how much gasoline you’d like. “Fill her up” is the most common.

Then sit back and wait for the attendant to fill your tank. Be warned, if the station is busy, this could take more than the time required to pump it yourself. Attendants will start the pump and then move on to help others in line, so you may have to wait a bit for them to get back to you to accept payment.

Once the attendant returns to your car, you can pay via cash or plastic (your credit card is one type of plastic allowed in Oregon).

Gratuity is optional. Many Oregon residents never think about offering a tip, but it isn’t uncommon for travelers to do so. The choice is up to you.

Watch Out for Elk on Your Oregon Vacation

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Similar to a deer in conformation and appearance, these larger relatives can be found across the state, but are most common in the Blue and Wallowa mountains, as well as the northern coast range where they are common in yards and public spaces.

Oregon is home to two type of Elk. The Rocky mountain elk is found primarily east of the Cascade Range while the smaller Roosevelt elk inhabits western regions. As with any wild animal, you should confine your viewing to a distance and avoid direct interactions.

When driving, remain vigilant, particularly at night. An early 2018 crash left 13 elk dead after a man drove into a herd crossing the road in the dark. He was uninjured, but his Chevy Avalanche sustained heavy front-end damage. A driver of a smaller vehicle could have been seriously hurt.

To keep safe during your Oregon vacation, always remain alert for elk.

You May Not Want to Take that Ocean Swim on an Oregon Vacation

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You’ve seen the pictures of Oregon’s beautiful coastline and can’t wait to catch some waves. Hold on a minute. You might want to take some steps to be prepared.

For the most part, summer water temperatures peak at a balmy 58 degrees according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,  with the exception of Astoria. Here, you may be able to dip your toe in the warm splendor of 68 degree currents.

Make no mistake, people do swim in the ocean, but with average summer air temperatures in the 60s on the coast, it takes a hearty bunch to brave the elements. That, or a good wet suit.

If the chilly temperatures put you out of the mood for swimming, don’t change your Oregon vacation plans just yet. Just like the state itself, the Oregon coast offers an endless array of things to do.

You can easily explore the many light houses that were once used to protect the rocky coast, visit an old ship wreck, examine tide pools, delve into an abandoned war-time fort, tour an aquarium, build a sand castle, or even ride the sand dunes.

With even more options available, you won’t miss swimming at all.

Now that You Know…

Knowledge is power, so get out and enjoy your Oregon vacation.


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Kathleen Hesketh

Kathleen is a travel agent with Mickey World Travel, a platinum level Authorized Disney vacation planner, where she helps people discover the magic of a Disney vacation and other travel destinations. She is also the chief author and editor for Seconds to Go - a travel blog where she shares experiences from traveling the U.S. with her daughter, Ali.

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