Camas, Washington is a small Columbia River Gorge town that has undergone a transformation. There are lovely large homes dotting the wooded landscape, lake-side trails for a run, and a lovely, historic downtown—the setting for our recent girls’ getaway.
On downtown's NE 4th Avenue you can stroll the tree-shaded streets and stop to shop at antique stores and boutiques. In season, beautiful hanging baskets overflowing with flowers decorate the lampposts.
Where to stay? The small historic Camas Hotel has been lovingly restored and attracts people who just want to relax and enjoy some small-town charm. There are local eateries with farm-to-table cuisine and several brewpubs. Things are happening in downtown Camas and the evolution of this town to an upscale destination will delight you.
Downtown Camas and the Camas Hotel
Camas was established in 1883 as a rough-and-tumble mill town. In fact, the paper mill is still functioning not far from downtown. New companies have also located in Camas, upscale housing areas have been developed and Camas has become a very desirable place to live, play, and visit.
As Camas has changed, the downtown area has also changed. Fortunately, it has retained a small-town feel. We parked on a side street and entered an almost hidden door next to the new Hey Jack Restaurant. The narrow lobby of the Camas Hotel still has the feel of the historic hotel. We were greeted, registered, and given real keys. Next, we climbed the narrow stairs to the second floor and our adjoining rooms. I was there with a girlfriend for a two-day getaway from traffic and the crowds of the busy Portland area. The hotel is perfect for that and would be equally fun for a couple’s retreat.
On the floor where we stayed there were large rooms with beautifully tiled showers, the smaller amenity-filled rooms where we enjoyed our stay, and the breakfast room. The local family who renovated the hotel decided to keep some of the small European style rooms with a shared bath on the top floor. This adds to the European vibe of the hotel and ensures that there is something for everyone, from a budget European style room with a single, twin bed to a lovely large room with a king bed and spa tub.
Over the past few years, all rooms were upgraded and have top-flight amenities. The kitchenette (in the breakfast room) and guest laundry are available, making the hotel ideal for those on a Gorge hiking vacation. I was impressed with the luxe look of all the rooms with modern color palettes, windows overlooking the downtown scene, and—a big selling point—its location in the midst of shopping near a vintage movie theater, events, and dining.
The en-suite rooms come with an expanded continental breakfast (the quiche is a favorite). To keep the cost low for the budget-minded, the European style rooms do not include breakfast but guests can purchase it separately.
We enjoyed our two adjoining rooms, each with an en-suite bathroom. Having the smaller adjoining rooms was perfect for a girlfriends getaway. The rooms had amenities such as local soaps, Keurig coffee makers, a small refrigerator, and a flat-screen TV. I slept at night with the window open, something you can’t always do in modern hotels. It was quiet and the cool Gorge air was relaxing. They do have air conditioning, but it wasn’t needed even though the day had been pleasantly warm.
But most of all, it was fun to stay in the quaint downtown and enjoy all that the area offered.
Strolling Downtown and Enjoying Dinner
The local food and dining media were all over a big story, a story happening just downstairs from our rooms! The restaurant space downstairs was recently leased to a Michelin-starred chef from the San Francisco Bay area, Peter Rudolph, and a wine and restaurant industry alum, Don Riedthaler, for their new venture, Hey Jack. Hey Jack, they said, featured foods from the local area with a creative, ever-changing seasonal menu. We were excited to be dining there!
Our reservation was for 6:30 p.m. so we spent some time before dinner strolling the downtown area. Upscale shopping has become a good reason for people to come to Camas. For example, at Lily Atelier the focus is on the personal touch with shoppers. In fact, the locally owned boutique offers a wardrobe consulting service. Would you not like a “Closet Intervention” ($275) where fashion experts come to your home, help you go through your closet to thin out the unneeded and put together outfits to help you establish your personal look and signature style?
This same level of service is available in their boutique, filled with chic clothing and jewelry, some by local artists. My friend bought a lovely, flowing summer knit kimono-style sweater, ideal for an upcoming wedding.
As we walked, we stopped by Arktana, a shop featuring European and American designer shoes. They also offer bags and jewelry, much of it one of a kind. And they, too, offered personalized service, drawing customers from Portland and beyond. So how do people know about Arktana? Owner, Ann Matthews, is skilled at using social media. Sales pop up on Facebook, and she fills her Instagram account with enticing pictures.
Love antique shopping? We explored the two-level Camas Antiques and found interesting collectibles, vintage home décor items, and new boho-chic clothing on display. Camas Antiques offers classes and events throughout the year.
But then, it was time for our highly anticipated dinner at Hey Jack Kitchen. We were greeted by co-owner Don Riedthaler and seated at a beautiful table, hand-made with local wood. We were soon to find out that personalized service, provided to all diners from the owners, was part of the routine at Hey Jack. Our waitress helped us select a wine from the carefully curated wine list, an Italian 2014 Rapalino, Monforte d’Alba Barbera, enjoyed first with a loaf of fresh-from-the-oven focaccia bread and perfect for most menu choices. The waitress pointed out that their wines were chosen as ones that paired perfectly with the food they served. And, for the beer drinker, they've selected some local brews to enjoy.
The restaurant began to fill with diners and some chose to sit at outdoor tables under the lovely trees. It’s a small, simply decorated bistro-style space with an indoor-outdoor feel. We went over the menu for the evening filled with Pacific Northwest local foods and I chose a Carlton Farms (Oregon) pork loin entrée served with polenta, braised endive, spinach leaves, and sprinkled with pepitas. My friend decided on the special, a Reister Farms (just down the road) saddle cut of lamb.
Chef Peter Rudolph brought out the beautifully plated entree and explained the ingredients. I had to sit back and admire the freshness and beauty of the dish.
As I enjoyed the layers of flavor and offerings on my plate I realized that no part of the dish took center stage. The vegetables were equally as important as the pork. Each morsel was to be savored, alone or in concert with the other ingredients. This was excellent upscale dining experience and I was thrilled that Hey Jack Kitchen was there. It was such a nice, relaxing evening, we took our final glass of wine to an outdoor table to enjoy. The waitress brought us a little freshly hand-made chocolate treat to go with the red wine and to encourage us to return. We will!
Note: While this particular restaurant has now closed, another has taken its place in the same spot.
More Fun Things to do in Downtown Camas
How about bird watching in the downtown area? Check out the Downtown Camas Hidden Bronze Bird Tour. A bronze bird is located on each block (a total of 13 in all). Stroll through downtown and look for birds of all different types. They are life-sized and native to our area. Print out the bird tour sheet and record your finds, then enter to win a bird-themed gift.
First Friday is for art, shopping, and special community events. Camas First Fridays (5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.) take place every month of the year. Stores stay open late and there are art exhibits, family activities, and gift basket raffles. Downtown takes on a festive atmosphere as people stroll the streets and participate in fun activities. In October there is a pumpkin pageant and in November it is all about pie with pie tastings, a pie walk dance and, of course, shopping.
On one end of beautiful 4th Avenue, you’ll find the seasonal Camas Farmers Market on Wednesday afternoons. The Farmer’s Market draws families from all over Clark County to buy produce, baked goods, and specialty foods but would be fun for visitors as well.
When You Visit Downtown Camas
Be sure to watch the Downtown Camas Association’s website for special event information. Camas is closer than you may think to the Portland, Oregon area (and the Portland airport). It's only a few miles east of Vancouver, Washington across the Columbia River from Portland.
The Camas Hotel is the perfect spot to unwind and relax and is an excellent base for exploring the region. Their address is: 405 NE Fourth Avenue, Camas, and the phone number for reservations is 360-834-5722.
Be sure to read more about the Pacific Northwest on Wander for other great ideas of what to do while in the area.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.