The Other Bay Area of United States: Nehalem Bay, Oregon
(Wheeler, Oregon) – A tad inland from Manzanita - or Rockaway, depending on how you think of it - Highway 101 veers east around a pristine body of water that is not the Pacific Ocean.
The Nehalem Bay is a thickly wooded stretch of the north Oregon coast that is often called “the Bay Area” by some locals – but of course not referring to the more well known San Francisco landmark. It's simply easier to say sometimes, and especially for those who are both residents of this area and Portland - a good 100 miles away - it's instant recognition that you're in kind of an exclusive club. To even know about the Nehalem Bay is a badge of honor to some Oregonians.
The jetty of the Nehalem Bay mouth, seen from the Rockaway side
The Nehalem Bay first pops into view a bit past Manhattan Beach in Rockaway Beach, as the northern part of that town gives way to a thicker forest and periodic glimpses of the marshlands, tidal flats and the Nehalem Spit across the other side. At first the waters are more robust, as seen from above, near the bay mouth, as you look past a couple of marina businesses that cater to the many crabbers and fishermen who frequent here.
You'll find about eight miles of curvy road along here, showing off the sights in between stands of dense foliage and trees. It's all primitive and inaccessible here.
Soon, however, you arrive at Wheeler – the center point of the lush and varied Nehalem Bay. A quirky little town that's a mere few blocks long, it gives birth to a distinct kind of rugged individualism among its denizens, whose endeavors in the worlds of artisans, craftsman, culinary chefs, collectors and even historical research bring up a bevy of surprises. Wheeler is fun and funky, there is no doubt.
It's the natural aspects that really draw one in here, however. That calming bay with the island across the way creates spectacles in wildlife viewing, especially as the elk go to war over mates in the spring.
Nature is what really coaxes in one Portland resident. Creative consultant Lisa Lepine actually prefers it over the beaches of the coast.
“The sheltered bay of Nehalem is to me a place where the ocean is dissipated, and yet wild and ancient,” Lepine said. “Where traces of native American life can still be imagined and the vibrant sea life that thrives in the calmer bay is always a wonder to behold.”
Wheeler on the Bay Lodge
The bay has numerous grassland marshes hidden in little pockets around here. A couple of kayak-renting businesses thrive around here for just that purpose. But a local lodging highlight, Wheeler on the Bay Lodge, sits right up against these docks and even provides kayak rentals as well. But if you're lucky enough to stay here at least a couple nights in a row, you get access to a kayak for free. 800-469-3204.
Head up north and you eventually bump into more Nehalem River fishing spots by the bridge, and then you reach curiosity-filled Nehalem. Beyond that you can find the Nehalem Bay State Park (complete with campsites, copious hiking, and access to the rugged Nehalem Spit).
After that you hit the third town considered part of the Nehalem Bay: Manzanita, with its long line of captivating beaches.
More about the area at the Manzanita, Wheeler, Nehalem Bay and Rockaway Beach Virtual Tour. Or see below.
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