Are we back in Paris? No. The Sweet Life Patisserie is just one of the many Oregon surprises we discovered on our back roads drive to San Francisco. This local treasure is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood (775 Monroe Street) in Eugene. It’s very American but the pastries and coffee are good as those in any patisserie we discovered in Paris. It’s always crowded, so you’ll likely change your mind more than once as you peer into the display case waiting your turn and feasting your eyes.
Eugene and its little sister, Cottage Grove, have other surprises for a road warrior with time to explore. Marilynn and I put our bikes on the car and took a week to drive the back roads of Oregon and California to the Bay Area. On our way we spent two nights in Eugene, home of the University of Oregon, where we rode on well-maintained trails along the Willamette River and through adjacent wetlands.
Then, on the way home, we spent a couple of nights in Cottage Grove (13mi south of Eugene), where we visited some local wineries and rode the 31-mile-long Rails-to-Trails bike path that leads from the center of town to Dorena Lake in the nearby hills. Along the way we passed several well preserved covered bridges dating from the early 20th Century. No Meryl Streep or Clint Eastwood, just covered bridges in a beautiful rural setting.
We live on our own Rails-to-Trails bike path in Seattle, and we were surprised to note that even on the weekend we had the Cottage Grove trail almost to ourselves. Admittedly, we were out early (8 – 11 a.m.) as Oregon was experiencing a torrid heatwave (Roseburg, 52 miles to the south was 106F the day before our arrival), but in spite of that we were cool and comfortable as we passed through long stretches of Hansel and Gretel-like forest and rode beside Dorena Lake.
Western Oregon is full of surprises… and scaled for our pleasure. Eugene is a college town but the University there is small compared to our University of Washington. There are small liberal arts colleges in towns you’ve never heard of. Portland, its largest city, is cosmopolitan but manageable in size, with an idyllic Japanese Garden, a trendy renewed shopping district (The Pearl), one of America best bookstores (Powell’s), a good Jewish deli (Kenny and Zuke’s) world class Thai food (Pok Pok) and the best ice cream on the West Coast (Salt and Straw). Further south, in the wine country around McMinnville you can sample some of the best Pinot Noir in the world, or visit Ashland’s world famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival where they showcase 11 plays on 3 stages during the February to November season.
Sometimes, it seems, we overlook the attractions close to home or the pleasures of a leisurely road trip. For years Marilynn and I jumped on airplanes and flew across oceans for our travel adventures. Four years ago after we returning from 3 years in Vietnam, we drove the back roads of Idaho and Montana to refresh our recollections of the American West. This summer we added Oregon and California, and while these road trips lack the foreignness of Paris and Rome, they reveal the landscapes and vistas that are uniquely American.
Following our last morning ride in Cottage Grove we made a swing through Eugene for one last petit dejeuner and to say goodbye to the folks at Sweet Life. This is Jessica, one of the managers. She’s got a great smile, lots of ink, and makes one of the best lattes I’ve ever had (3 shots in a 16oz cup).
The next time we’re in the Eugene area, Sweet Life Patisserie will be our first stop.
Sweet Life Patisserie – 755 Monroe Street, Eugene, Oregon 97402. Telephone: 541-683-5676. www.sweetlifedesserts.com, Facebook.com/sweetlifepatisserie.