Coast Travel Secrets: Sandy Wonders of Oregon Beaches
Published September 2009
Northern Seaside, land of sand dollars
(Oregon Coast) – For most of the tourists in the world, it's the sandy stretches of beaches that are the big attraction. Where long tracts of sand extend for miles and sunsets create a warm glow, it's the stuff long, hand holding romantic walks are made of. These places are what the average visitor tends to look for on this coastline, and on many others.
There is, of course, lots of that on Oregon's coast. Most of it is made of sandy beaches. But there are surprises to be found on these that make some of them extra attractive. Sometimes it’s a hidden feature waiting to be discovered. Other times, there are spots on these glorious places where you can find yourself alone and cloistered from the world.
On the north coast, at Seaside, the town’s very northernmost strands are the beaches less traveled, located by the Necanicum River and the Estuary Walking Trail. You can see part of this from Highway 101, where hordes of rugged dunes cover both sides of the Necanicum River as it winds its way out to sea. All this is accessible from the parking lot at 12th Avenue. It winds on for about half a mile as you enter more and more unspoiled territory, eventually winding up at a slightly rocky area near the bay mouth.
The great hidden secret about this area is the proliferation of unbroken sand dollars here, the result of a combination of tidal conditions, an undersea shelf that is ripe with the creatures and a distinct lack of crowds to pick the objects washing up. On the other side of the Necanicum, as you edge closer to Gearhart, there are even more of the sand dollars lurking.
It’s also one of the more deserted beaches on Oregon’s entire coast.
About halfway between Yachats and Florence, Ocean Beach Picnic Area is a quaint hidden spot that’s often overlooked because of its size, but it’s well worth inspection. Take the tiny, paved – but steep – road down to the parking lot and you’ll find two picnic tables overlooking a lovely view of the sandy beach. Beach access was apparently torn away by storms in recent years, so that’s not easily done anymore.
At the beach’s southern end is an intriguing, bubble-like headland with an indentation that looks a bit like a cave. (Look for MP 174.)
Rock Creek Campground and Roosevelt Beach sits a tiny ways south of here. The Forest Service operates this one, accessible by turning inland. 16 campsites are nestled in the forest here.
But the real discovery is the beach. If you’re not camping here, you can find this gem by looking for a couple of unmarked dusty patches on the side of the road immediately south of a small bridge – and just the other side from the headland at Ocean Beach. You’ll find a long stretch of bluffs which allow you access to Roosevelt Beach at various points.
You’ll find this charming creek spilling into the ocean, and the other side of that headland from Ocean Beach looks strangely identical with a very similar indentation in it. The strand wanders on for a while and disappears out of sight beyond the sandstone bluffs, meanwhile dotted with intriguing rock structures and covered half in stones and half in sand.
It’s a fascinating and enchanting spot, made more so by the fact it’s largely hidden and very unpopulated.
Lincoln City is one enormous expanse of shoreline that goes on for miles and miles, with nary a spot that isn’t occupied by one human being or another.
Still, it's at the north end of Lincoln City where the real surprises often lie. Road's End State Recreational State is at the end of Road's End Road, and from there you can continue north through a neighborhood of cabins and expensive homes until you come to the last public beach access. This spot allows for perhaps two cars to park there and is approximately half a mile from the looming cliff.
The cliff, across the Siletz River from Cascade Head, possesses the rock structure known as Wizard Rock. At anything but a high tide, this moody, slightly spooky, pointed rock can be seen. But at a low tide, you can go around Wizard Rock and find a rarely touched section of beach, filled with small caves, pristine, glistening sand and inviting, angular rock forms and haystacks to climb and carouse on.
Like the hidden parts of Oceanside to the north, this beach provides quite a Gilligan's Island experience, and it's walked on far less by humans than that spot. Plus, there's something so idyllic and peaceful about this place you can easily convince yourself you're one of the first to ever have set foot.
Some slightly hidden spots lie just off Jetty Ave. That street starts and stops as it runs north and south. But take streets like NW 40th, 39th or 26th westward from 101 and you’ll find them. Other streets intersect with Jetty Ave. and take you back to the next section of the road.
At the end of 40th lies a tiny beach access between two sections of the hotel next to the casino. It features a small wheelchair ramp as well.
Another prominent access is the Grace Hammond Access, found at the bottom of NW 34th. There’s a small parking lot, a little viewpoint with a picnic table, restroom facilities and a wheelchair-accessible ramp down to this broad, sandy beach.
At NW 26th lies a particularly beautiful access. A small, nice parking lot is surrounded by an atmospheric wall, coming complete with bike racks. There are some concrete steps down to the beach, which is mostly a sandy spot with a few interesting rock structures scattered around.
Manzanita is one of the coast’s most precious gems, with a woodsy, slightly mysterious vibe surrounding it with its proliferation of fir trees and the looming presence of green-covered Neahkahnie Mountain (said to be a spiritual place thanks to the good karma of the local tribes).
The beaches here are a real killer: there's nothing like standing on this beach and having to strain your neck to look up at Neahkahnie Mountain stretching out above you.
A wide and beautiful sandy beach fills the eye here. Although at the beach’s northernmost access – near Neahkahnie Rd. – it quickly becomes large cobblestones until it ends at the base of Neahkahnie Mt. some 200 feet down.
The most obvious beach accesses lie past its downtown and at the bottom of the main road, Laneda Rd. But there are numerous hidden ones south of there, between the homes, along the beachside roads. These eventually dead-end at a back entrance to Nehalem Bay State Park.
At the north end of Nehalem, this sprawling shoreline of nothing but sand goes on for over two miles until it reaches the end of the spit. A good two miles down the sand spit you may find spots to watch seals rather closely.
But don't get too close: bothering them in their natural habitat is illegal.
This beautiful state campground contains 284 campsites, full toilet systems and hot showers. Each campground features a picnic table and a fire pit. There’s also a horse camp with 17 sites and two corrals.
South of Newport, the highway soon becomes a tunnel of wind-swept trees, often looking gnarled, knotted and bent landward by living in enormously windy conditions. It’s lovely, a little eerie, and certainly dramatic.
At Ona Beach, just north of Seal Rock, the world gets decidedly more laidback. If you’re coming from the north, from the highway you’ll first spot Beaver Creek spilling into the sea and forming a small bay. (There are some small parking spots and unmarked accesses on the north side of that bay.)
Ona Beach and its park are a pleasant respite, with a small trail meandering next to the creek and a lovely little footbridge getting you onto fluffy dunes, and then leading you to this large beach.
At low tides – and if the sand levels aren’t too high – odd tracts of rock structures emerge, containing a myriad of sea life.
There are full restroom facilities and a boat ramp. And the park features a variety of picnic tables with little fire pits – so barbecuing just seems as if it should be de rigueur here.
On cold winter nights, the bridge going over the creek can get very icy – more so than other areas nearby.
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