Covering 180 miles of Oregon coast travel: Astoria, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita, Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway, Garibaldi, Tillamook, Oceanside, Pacific City, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Wadport, Yachats & Florence.
Into the Mists and Mysteries of the Oregon Coast
By Andre' Hagestedt
(Oregon Coast) – Again, February brings its interesting mix of warm, clear day surprises and the typical rainy moments the area is known for. It’s in this mishmash of weather that I begin wandering the coast on another lengthy trip that takes me from Waldport to Seaside, spread over about a week’s time. It’s another journey of abundant, brilliant sunsets, gloriously odd and comical moments at bars, unusual, natural wonders that only few get to glimpse, exceptional culinary discoveries and beaches and attractions that seem to change with every day.
In Waldport, my beautiful friend Melissa and I witness a wondrous sunset that shoots wild colors across the sky via all manner of cloud formations, and is then reflected in the Alsea Bay to create some remarkable shapes.
After a scrumptious pizza dinner at The Rogue brewery on Newport’s bayfront (which contains an intriguing array of spices), we take part in the Saturday night karaoke madness at Moby Dick’s – an unabashedly kooky bar that gives the term “local color” new dimensions. This place is always an adventure. We witness a myriad of barfly mating behaviors. Some wacky pair of tourists for some reason gives us a glimpse of the inner turmoil in their relationship when the woman – a total stranger - walks past me and mumbles to me some truly odd and slightly nonsensical insult about her boyfriend.
Sunday winds up fairly sunny and nice, but it’s a workday and I’m stuck doing domestic stuff at our little cottage in Nye Beach. Breakfast that morning consists of scrumptious Indian leftovers from Swagat in Beaverton – a most delicious form of cuisine you unfortunately can’t get on the coast.
Monday begins with a healthy dose of rays and an amazing breakfast at Café Stephanie in Newport’s charm-o-rama Nye Beach district. Owner Scott Doll’s special on this day is a “chicken cordon bleu” sandwich, deceptively simple with its prosciutto ham, fine chicken, Dijon mustard and gobs of delectable cheese. It’s a mini masterpiece.
By early afternoon, a billowing, rippling fog has enveloped the town, giving the place a delightful coastal vibe. Just after dark, I hit the beach at the Nye Beach Turnaround, and the lighthouse is barely visible through the thick air mass. The tide is far out there and has disappeared in the distance. On the cliffs above, the lights of the stately old Sylvia Beach Hotel glow fuzzy and large in the mists, creating a decidedly otherworldly, if not spooky, vibe.
If it’s Tuesday, it must be the north Oregon coast – and that’s just where I’m heading. The rains have come, and I embark on a more-than-two-hour drive to Cannon Beach (some 115 miles). About 100 miles later, I hit that strangely spiritual spot called Wheeler, and Neahkahnie Mountain is enshrouded in mists, looking as mystical and mysterious as ever. It keeps a watchful eye over Wheeler and the entire Nehalem Bay, but it apparently can’t control the weather.
Or maybe it just doesn’t want to.
Cannon Beach, too, is covered in misty rain and hints of fog. In the Tolovana area, at the southern end of town, you’ll find a playground of sand and beach accesses, especially in the hidden neighborhoods just south of the main park, where Mo’s and the Tolovana Inn cajole hordes of tourists year-round.
The main access here was also been attacked pretty hard by recent big storms. Last year, big waves did quite a number on the zigzagging, concrete ramp that is the handicapped access to the beach. It was half filled with logs and debris.
This year, it was totally filled up with sea junk, cramming practically every inch of the rather long ramp. It was astounding.
In Seaside, I wander into the lair of the Seaside Aquarium, and chat with my pals there. This slightly crusty stalwart of tourism is the oldest aquarium in the western half of the U.S., having run continuously since 1934. Nothing ever stays the same here, in spite of the facility’s limited space. This time, manager Keith Chandler and assistant Tiffany Boothe show me the “Idiot Fish” they recently acquired from a fisherman who accidentally snagged a few in his net. This form of rockfish is a rare find so far from the deep, as it lives so far below the surface, where light can’t penetrate, that they must keep the poor little idiots in very low light.
One example of the species they had was about three feet long – a giant. They are pink and jagged on the outside, and weren’t expected to live long because their current environment was so different from that of their regular one.
All this hanging around fish in a tank made me hungry for seafood. I was starved, and watching these guys swim around made me wish one was on a plate already. But first I scarfed down a couple delectable beef burritos at Muchas Gracias, where fast Mexican food becomes a culinary treasure. It makes the other chains seem like dumpster diving eats.
Soon after, I’m joined by my pal Bob, and we have dinner at The Lumberyard Rotisserie and Grill in Cannon Beach, where they make this exquisite orange martini I can never get enough of. I thoroughly enjoyed the halibut fish and chips as well. While that may not sound very imaginative, the fish chunks were large and extremely tasty – and I am not even that fond of fish.
Nighttime is in full swing by now, which means I must hit the bars again. Warren House, in Cannon Beach is without a doubt my favorite bar in the whole state, and Julie the bartender makes a ravishing strawberry concoction that’s a lot like a martini, but juicier. Yum.
Next up, it’s goofy time at Pudgy’s in Seaside, where pleasant conversation and fun was had by all. This bar is always one of my favorites, with its retro décor so loungy it has been nicknamed the “Star Trek bar” in the past.
I then meander just down the street to Girtle’s Lounge for their intriguing karaoke night, which usually means one-man band Bucky may join in behind you, jamming with you on guitar as you sing your dignity away on stage. This is certainly something different in the karaoke world.
Lately, owner Bob Girtle occasionally makes a surreal entrance by zipping in on a segway. This time, I find out he has more than one, as two sit against the back of the bar charging up. I discover he’s collecting a small fleet of them and hopes to rent them out later in the year when the tourist season kicks in. This is also something more than a little different.
Bob chats with me briefly, then rides away into what would be the sunset if it weren’t for the fact it was pitch black out. He did, in fact, ride off into a blaze of neon lights that surrounded his doorway. Same effect.
The next morning, I awake in Arch Cape to wild wave action and a host of mists drifting around northern landmarks like Hug Point and Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock. While getting gas in Cannon Beach’s only station, I realize the owner here also has his own art gallery of interesting north coast photographs. Cannon Beach is known as an artist’s hangout (having once hosted an actual artists colony), so it’s sort of the epicenter of this kind of aesthetic on the whole Oregon coast. It’s rather amusing to note that even the local gas station gets in on it – and with outstanding results. Check out Gary D. Moon's works here.
I then have an encounter with Middle Earth. I have a meeting with the folks who run Turk’s Lodgings, a small collection of vacation rentals hidden in a primeval forest just south of Cannon Beach. Here, you expect gnomes or naves to come rushing out to meet you. The exterior of the main house (actually a mansion) is decidedly medieval, with moss and vines growing all over this massive cedar shingled home and its quaint little covered stairway. Even the clandestine forest road leading up to this hideout screams “Frodo was here” in some way. Inside, the house is part rustic but heavy on the breathtaking.
Later in the day, I’m interviewing the people who run the Coastal Natural History Center in Seaside, which is up against the marshland neighboring the river mouth. This secret little stunner provides a bevy of outdoor information about the area which will allow you to further appreciate what you’re doing on the beaches or trails around here.
During the interview, the clouds give way to an esoteric sunset scene, which is then reflected on the water of the marsh with dazzling results.
Dinner means exploring the famous Driftwood Inn in Cannon Beach, a Tudor-like structure with bulky wood furniture reminiscent of some of the homier, more woodsy eateries I’d visited in France or Germany. Again, I opted for the fish route, with a creamy, buttery salmon that melted in your mouth, a robust rice pilaf and fresh baked bread that was simply stunning.
My jaunt into coastal nightlife meant heading down to Nehalem to The Watering Hole, where my good pal Abby-Normal and I gawked at the strange denizens there, including a middle-aged couple whose faces distorted in funny ways because of loads of missing teeth. Coastal nightlife is nothing if not inadvertently entertaining at times.
Thursday and Friday was a mishmash of weather conditions and workdays that were so packed they’re pretty much a blur. I visit a charming but thoroughly modern little lodging called Ocean Point Inn in Arch Cape, snap pics of that beach in various kinds of weather (including a vibrant sunset) and chow down on goodies like the exceptional, even dreamy pasta of Fultano’s in Cannon Beach.
On Thursday, my fave restaurant, Cannon Beach’s The Bistro, is open again (after being closed most of the week), and I sit and inhale their wondrous pasta at the bar, while engaging in that always interesting conversation you can count on here.
Then I make a fatal mistake.
I’m now late to get to my TV set back in Portland for – yes, I’m addicted to – “The Office.” It’s a white-knuckle drive back through rainy coast range hills, and I miss all but 20 minutes of this show that I consider a religion and not mere entertainment.
But when I arrive, I discover I’ve left some important components of my laptop in Arch Cape at my friend’s house. I am absolutely inundated with work, and have no choice but to zoom back in the middle of the night, through fog, periodic rain storms, and those dark, gloomy stretches of Highway 26 that don’t usually spook me unless I’m already stressed out.
Friday morning brings better moments, however, and I take the time to stare at the beauty of the northern end of Cannon Beach, where hints of mist are trying to veil the small parade of basalt structures that march silently away from the headland.
In Seaside, on the other side of Tillamook Head, it’s largely the same look around sunset, but this time the banks of misty stuff are making a slightly eerie display of the tip of the headland.
It may be February, but it looks and feels like fall on the beach.
The edge of the continent is a dynamic place, one where things really don’t look the same from month to month, even day to day. That kind of change in scenery is one constant you can depend on.