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, Waldport, Yachats & Florence.
One Week of Oregon Coast Waves, Whales and Other Wonders
By Andre' Hagestedt
(Oregon Coast) - It’s Saturday, 1:30 a.m., in early April. I’m finally rolling into the coast in the wee hours of the night. No wind or rain. In fact, it’s been a pleasantly clear trip the whole way through the coast range. In Depoe Bay, a fog is enveloping the area, causing the ocean to become blurred and the large yellow lamps just west of the wall and bridge taking on these larger dimensions, as they are fuzzied and distorted by the fog. They become these mysterious, bright yellow ovals of haze with indistinct borders.
Sat 11 a.m.
The Great Oregon Beach Cleanup is in full swing, and dozens of little SOLV robots are running around Nye Beach with their little green bags, scouring the beaches of goofy stuff. I take a quick jaunt down to the beach, with my part time dog in tow (Charly, this adorable chocolate lab-looking beastie). She bounds about the beach with great excitement, frothing at the mouth with such enthusiasm that she looks perhaps rabid to the untrained observer. She’s having a ball, and it warms my heart to see her so happy.
Some cute alt-culture chick wandering about the beach wants desperately to pet her, but Charly has her own doggie agenda as she races from one edge of 100 yards to another. I even tell the girl the dog’s name, but Charly only momentarily pays attention to her, then darts off.
For breakfast, I down an exceptional sandwich at Village Market & Deli, just above Nye Beach.
When the evening rolls around, the wind and rain kick in and we have your basic coastal storm to contend with. It’s annoying to drive in, but fabulous nonetheless. Sure it’s late March, but who can resist the allure of such weather?
About this time, a lady friend and I head down to Yachats, driving in the full grown soupy slop. We have a mind-bendingly wonderful dinner at the Landmark, with their always unforgettable pasta (made from co-owner Marilyn’s real Italian, family recipe.)
Sun. 12 p.m.
It’s Whale Watching Spoken Here time, and unbeknownst to us locals, the weather decided to turn nice. It’s a brilliant, sunny day – even warm at times.
I drift down to Nye Beach again, and check out the volunteers who are trying to point out the whales to tourists. Interestingly, I finally get to meet Morris Grover, the head of Oregon coast’s Whale Watching Spoken Here program, whom I’ve conversed with on and off for about ten years via phone and email.
You know you’ve entered weird nerdy territory when your heroes are coastal science experts like Morris or some of the big name geologists I’ve recently became acquainted with. Meeting them and Morris was a bit like meeting some of my fave rock stars in the last 15 years, back when I was a music writer. Yes, I’m a serious nerd. This is what gives me glee these days.
Shortly after, it’s time to head north to Manzanita. A two-hour ride brings me that 100 miles or so, with nothing but blue skies and sunshine accompanying me the whole way. Lincoln City is hopping mad with motorists and tourists. Pacific City’s Cape Kiwanda is aglow with the glaring sun. Bay City and Tillamook Bay light up especially lovely as I pass this crescent-shaped geographical landmark. I am ecstatic as I get into Rockaway, because I know my beloved Wheeler and Manzanita are just around the corner.
Sun. 3:30 p.m.
I make it into Manzanita, with just a bit of cloud cover, and I’m so happy I could cry. This tiny town is manic with people buzzing about, and there’s nary a parking place along Laneda. That’s fine. I’m staying at the San Dune Inn, just off the main drag, which now has wireless Net access. I’m in heaven here, with the best of both worlds: complete connectivity from my laptop and the sound of the surf in the distance.
After an especially scrumptious pasta dinner at Cannon Beach Fultano’s, I gorge myself further on that most stunning of all ice creams: Zinger’s Homemade Ice Cream in Seaside. It’s been months since I’ve been able to indulge in this bit of frozen, gourmet heaven, and it’s a religious experience. The strawberry has tasty chunks of real strawberries floating around in it. It’s so good it's spiritual.
Sunset in Seaside is particularly intense today, with shapes of logs at the “cove” providing plenty of fascinating subject matter for photographs. Driving southward again, those intense colors still remain at Cape Falcon.
Later, I get completely schnockered at Warren House in Cannon Beach, in my opinion, the coolest bar in the state.
I’ve driven more than 140 miles at this point.
I finally wake up. I’m sick with some sort of sore throat and minor cold. Ick.
On top of it, the weather pundits have claimed today was supposed to be lovely and bright as well, but no go. It’s overcast and chilly, and it only gets worse over the day, resulting in bouts of rain.
The north coast is moody the whole day, with squalls filing in one after the other, amidst occasional spots of dark, billowing clouds that periodically give way to a few moments of sunlight. It’s exhilarating and part of the reason many of us live on the coast. It’s even addicting. Some of us live for these brooding, magnificent moments.
The area south of Cannon Beach, for example, has an ominous atmosphere about it. From one of the overlooks outside town, the mountains and headlands of Arch Cape and Cape Falcon are draped in silky mists, underneath a sky that can’t decide if it’s in a serious mood or upbeat.
Mon. 4 p.m.
I’ve gotten little done today, thanks to this cold, aside from dropping in on the Seaside Aquarium, where manager Keith is playing chef for the day. It’s another one of those kooky, laidback, surprise moments you live for by living on the edge of the continent.
He’s in the back of the facility, in the middle of a kind of impromptu seafood barbecue. He wants to show off his culinary skills and has breaded about a dozen chunks of clams, and will soon deep-fry them in a small fryer he has set up. At first I thought he was holding some sort of science experiment on a tray. But it turned out to be real food.
And delicious too. Keith has quite the secret recipe for breaded clam fritters. Wow.
Moments later, he and other employees show me how they feed their octopus. As we approach the tank, one employee has her hand in the water and appears to be shaking hands with the freaky beast. It has a tentacle tentatively wrapped around her hand, as if in a greeting rather than a “I think you’re food” stance.
A funny story: apparently, the big guy has tried to climb out several times. Keith explains he finally stopped pushing him back in and just let him fall on the floor. After a while, he picked him back up and returned him to his watery home. The octopus never did it again. “Sometimes you just have to let that toddler put his hand on the hot stove to teach him not to do it,” he joked.
I figure I can cheer myself up with a fat (or phat) dinner at The Bistro in Cannon Beach. Their spaghetti and meatballs (not officially on the menu, but available for the asking), is a hidden wonder that must be experienced to explain.
It works. I’m happier – for a while. I spend the remainder of the night glued to the Sci Fi Channel, working on my computer, and feeling sorry for myself I have a cold.
Tues. 11 a.m.
Yet another goofy prank by one of the San Dune employees is sitting outside my door. It’s a long story why, but some there have nicknamed me “chicken man,” and this has become a running joke for the last year. The morning before, Valerie left a small, stuffed chicken, with an Easter egg, outside my door (the same chicken, it must be noted, that she left in my room in a previous stay back in January). This morning, there’s a sign on the door that reads “Fresh Eggs Inside – Please Knock.” I didn’t know whether to laugh hard or strangle her.
Around 1 p.m., it’s a meeting with Kim Bosse, the head of the Cannon Beach Chamber. Her dog, Emma, is one of my favorite attractions on the coast. This bundle of fun, in the form of a large, black lab, actually has a fan club: I’m not the only two-legger who comes in off the street to regularly visit this canine ambassador for the city. They’ve actually nicknamed me “Emma’s boyfriend.”
The rest of the day is spent on business errands, driving back and forth between Manzanita and Seaside. The clouds remain, making the day kind of dreary. Moments of heavy to moderate rain punctuate the pleasant temperatures. I’m in a great mood in spite of it. After all, I got to play with my favorite north coast dog today.
Dinnertime arrives, and I venture into the new Guido’s in Wheeler, unsure of what I’ll find. This place was a wondrous haven of culinary inventiveness back before it shut down last June. Now, with new owners, I’ve heard good things, but was so spoiled by the brilliant pizza wizardry of former manager Phil Kaufman, I’ve never thought of pizza the same.
So I decide to have the calzone, which should show me what both the pizza and the pasta are like. Indeed, it is delicious. Everything has a homemade sense about it, as if made by someone’s grandma. Owners Bud and Louise are about grandparent age, and obviously put a lot of care into their work. The crust was magnificent, and the sauce: hearty, thick and rich in taste.
The same stunning view is there, of course, with the bay spread out in all its glory.
I get antsy after working all night on the computer. I drive down a half-mile to Manzanita’s beach and peer into the darkness a little while. The ocean roars softly in the distance. It’s almost a low tide, so it’s practically a quarter mile away. The cloud cover has numerous holes in it, and I can see stars twinkling brightly in the cold night air. With part of a moon somewhere beyond those clouds, they allow some soft light to hit the waves. It’s calming and captivating.
Wed. 11 a.m.
Breakfast is lunch for me, obtained at the outstanding Sea Shack in Wheeler. I’ve heard exceptional things about the food there these days, with the most recent owners having infused a new energy into the place. Indeed, the deep fried halibut sandwich was by far and away the best fish I’ve ever had. I was literally blown away.
The sun has returned to the coast – most of the time, anyway. There are dozens of people at the Neahkahnie overlook, above Manzanita, gathered to badger the Whale Watch Spoken Here volunteer with questions, all hopeful to spot a great cetacean on its trek.
The pullout here is bordered by a large, rock wall, the kind of stony creation that always reminds me of a castle. Just beyond that wall, I spot something unusual. It looks as if there was once an old trail that wandered around the cliffs, with a small stairway leading down to it. The stairway is blocked off by the wall now, but the trail looks as if it’s still being used occasionally.
The cliffs of Cape Falcon, just to the south, take on a new vibrancy in the sun. The field of long grass is an intense yellow. A hiker wearing red in the distance is a conspicuous red dot in the middle. I see some craggy rock structure jutting up from the sea, a single column that looks like something out of a fantasy book cover.
I’ve never noticed this oddity before. Again, no matter how times I wander some of Oregon coast’s myriad of beaches and features, I can still spot something new.
The rest of the day is spent running a couple sporadic errands, but mostly just screwing off. I run into old friends in Manzanita, chatting with them at their shops or at the San Dune Pub (not to be confused with my motel for this fortnight).
By early evening, the clouds have stayed away but the air is becoming chilly. I saunter into the Terra Cotta Café in Manzanita. Heaven doth await here. The breadsticks are a fabulous creation: moist, tender and full of life. The artichoke and tomato soup, a personal recipe of co-owner Sandy, is a cup full of some higher existence. The New York steak is probably the best specimen of steak I’ve ever come across: a perfect blend of charred tastes on the outside and rich, juicy meat on the inside.
The romantic interior here is also not to be missed.
The next step, unfortunately, is to head to our Portland office for a while. I have car repairs to attend to, and various other business concerns, before returning to Newport. While it is cold, it is clear. The drive over Hwy. 26 is smooth and beautiful, with the forests illuminated in the faint, last rays of the day.