Roadtripping the Oregon Coast

Destinations Travel Magazine, July 1st, 2012

Read Heide's Oregon story here


Waking up on my first morning in the small coastal town of Bandon, Ore., I walked out of the tiny ocean-front motel to an alien landscape of crashing waves and thick grayness.

Coming for a girls’ road trip along the Oregon coast from Oklahoma City, the beach scene that greeted me was as far from flat sunny land and red dirt as one could get. A foggy mist hung heavy on the dark, angry waves that crashed from the Pacific Ocean as volcanic rocks jutted out of the churning waters like black monuments from another civilization.

One could easily picture magic in these rough, unforgiving shores. Even in early June, the chill had not let go of this part of the Pacific Northwest and the rain only added to the otherworldliness of this coastal state.

But the Oregon coast isn’t all gray weather or furious surfs. Traveling south down Highway 101 in Oregon brings visitors to charming coastal fishing towns, quirky shops and homegrown wineries and scenery that stepped straight out of the primeval ages.

Whether a Midwestern transplant touring a new state or a native of the Northwest, there’s plenty to do and see along the Oregon coast from shopping to wine and beer tastings to some of the best hiking in the land. Here are 10 of them:

  1. Make a Day in Manzanita One of Oregon’s quirkiest and most charming towns, Manzanita is located in Tillamook County on the Northern Oregon Coast. For nature lovers, Manzanita boasts both Oswald West State Park and Nehalem Bay State Park, as well as mountain trails that result in breathtaking views of the coast. For others, it’s the intimate arts and music community that gives the town its charm. Manzanita’s streets present eclectic gift shops and other small stores around Laneda Street and small cafes clustered at its center.

  2. Get Cheesy in Tillamook Named “Nature’s Playground of the Oregon Coast,” Tillamook is also known for its cheese and fishing industry. It’s also home to stunning scenery and a half a dozen museums full of the history of the area, from the Tillamook Naval Air Museum to the Garibaldi Maritime Museum.

Tillamook’s waters are famous for kayaking adventures with more than 800 navigatable miles of waterways for enthusiasts, and outdoor lovers can find over a dozen well-maintained trails to explore.

Food is a big part of this little seaside city. Visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory for samples of local cheese, cream and ice cream, but be sure to try some of the area’s other offerings, like the Pacific Oyster and the Blue Heron French Cheese Company.

  1. Whale Watching on Depoe Bay

Nestled between Lincoln City and Newport, Depoe Bay is the “Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast.” From March to December, a pod of gray whales call this bay home, and the best sightings can be found at Depoe Bay’s new Whale Watch Center.

This charming little town is blocked from the huge ocean waves by a sea wall that runs along the entire downtown of Depoe Bay — the only city along the Oregon Coast that has this — which allows visitors to eat, shop or sightsee within view of the ocean. During rough and stormy weather, the ocean waves go beneath the lava beds which cause water spouts, known as spouting horns, as high as 60 feet.

  1. Touch a Starfish at The Oregon Coast Aquarium

As you travel south from Depoe bay into Newport, a trip to the Oregon Coast Aquarium is a must. Recognized nationally for its exhibits and programs, the Aquarium is listed among the top 10 in the nation by Parents Magazine, Forbes Traveler, USA Today, and Coastal Living.

Visitors can literally walk underwater through a series of underwater walkways that include a variety of Oregon Coast fish, shark and rays. The Aquarium is also home to sea otters, seals and sea lions and the coastal bird aviary. A touchable sea life area allows kids and adults alike to touch starfish, sea urchins, rays and more.

  1. Boardwalk the Bayfront — Newport’s Bayfront

Newport’s Bayfront — a sister district to the city’s zany arts area of Nye Beach — is the city’s hub for commercial fishing and wood industries. Home of one of the state’s largest commercial fishing fleets, it’s also an area of shops, art galleries, more seafood restaurants than imaginable, fish markets and bars. In an afternoon, we spent several hours in a local pub trading ghost stories with fishermen and walked to the Trident Seafoods market to buy two pounds of fresh clams and two Dungeness crab.

The Bayfront area is a strange mix of working fishing industry and tourist shops, but it’s worth a visit for local color and amazingly fresh seafood. When you’re done, pop on over to Nye Beach with its agate shops and arts stores. If you’re looking for a hotel in Newport, look into the Waves Motel or the Greenstone Inn, both charming and ocean-front motels.

  1. Beer, beer and more beer

Newport is home to Oregon’s famous Rogue Ales Brewery. You can sample the Oregon beers at several places, including Rogue Ales Public House on SW Bay Boulevard in Newport with its 35 taps and outside seating or at Brewer's on the Bay on OSU Drive, which is actually part of the Rogue Ales Brewery. This two-story pub offers the full line of Rogue ales, as well as brewery tours and more than 40 taps.

The Wet Dog Café and Astoria Brewing Company is located Downtown Astoria. Besides nine ales brewed on site and more than 20 other Northwest craft brew options, the Wet Dog and Astoria Brewing Company includes a full menu too.

Rusty Truck Brewing in Lincoln City is making a big splash with big beers like Taft Draft Toffee Porter and Stupiphany Imperial Red Ale. Call or email the brewery for a tour.

  1. Go Take a Hike

Oregon’s coast has hundreds and hundreds of miles of hiking trails and outdoor walks to choose from. Some of the most scenic include the Hecata Head Lighthouse trail, the Cape Lookout trail at Cape Lookout State Park with its scenic panoramic views of Cape Meares, the Drift Creek Falls path in Lincoln City that descends 340 feet through wild coastal forests to a stupendous suspension bridge over Drift Creek to the Oregon Coast Trail system itself that runs along the entire coast of Oregon.

  1. Sail a Sand Dune

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area along the southern part of the Oregon Coast slides for 40 miles from Coos River to Florence. The huge, windswept sand dunes are among the largest expanse of sand dunes in North America, and popular activities include hiking, off-road vehicle use, photography, horseback riding and camping. Numerous off-road outfitters can be found nearly every other mile in this area, so a fun ride among the dunes is an easy day adventure.

  1. Dance with the Devil

In Yachats, Devil's Churn is a natural formation in a long, slender inlet where powerful waves slam in against the rocky walls. Best seen at high tide, this churn can be accessed by a switchback trail or by the Trail of the Restless Waters. Because this parking area is a federal area, expect to pay $5 to park, but for a glimpse of one of the most violent areas along the coast, it’s worth the few bucks.

  1. Make Beautiful Music at the Oregon Coast Music Festival

If you’re headed to the coast in July, check out the 34th annual Oregon Coast Music Festival, a 10-day event in the communities of Coos Bay, Bandon, Shore Acres, North Bend and Charleston. More than 5,000 visitors attend this festival, which features performing arts from throughout the nation. Music styles include Celtic, chamber music, symphony orchestras, jazz, Native American and classic blues.