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Oregon Coast Spring Break Top Ten: the Good, the Rad and the Unbelievable

Published 03/21/2016 at 8:51 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Photo: more dramatic cloud scenes like this at Ecola State Park

(Oregon Coast) – So much Oregon coast, so little time. Now that it's spring break, you probably need to cram as much fun into a few days as humanly possible. But there's numerous things you probably don't know about this time of year, like its unusually photogenic clouds, things that glow, wild nature, kids attractions and even the wackier bar scene for grownups. (Photo: more dramatic cloud scenes like this at Ecola State Park can be found in spring).

Photogenic Clouds of Spring. A little known fact is that spring produces much more interesting and photogenic sunsets, as well as more dramatic cloud scenes. From later March through April and May there's plenty of days with a nice mix of fat, bulging clouds and sun. At sunset, these big clouds then create a lot of things for the rays to bounce off of, bending and twisting the last light of the day, but also painting them in stunning ways. (At right, a dramatic spring sunset at Oceanside).

You also get more spectacular scenes of dark clouds lit by sunlight, which make for amazing, brooding moments.

Scientifically, it has to do with the kinds of cumulus clouds this time of year brings, along with the less polluted air of spring, which allows for purer colors.

Aquariums Galore. The big attractions are, of course, the aquariums on the coast. In Newport, there are two: Oregon Coast Aquarium (541-867-3474 and the Hatfield Marine Science Visitor Center (541-867-0226 In Depoe Bay there's also the Whale, Sea Life and Shark Museum (541-912-6734 which doesn't have life animals but is fascinating nonetheless.

In Seaside, there is the Seaside Aquarium ( 503-738-6211), the only one that lets you feed the seals.

Blow Your Own Glass Floats. Wondrous creations can come out of your hands at the Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio. Here you can learn to blow your own fanciful creation. They supply the materials, they help you create the masterpiece, and you've suddenly made a memory from your own hands. You need to make reservations ahead of time. 4821 SE Hwy 101, Lincoln City, Oregon. (541) 996-2569.

Whales, Whales, Whales. Lots of gray whales are heading north to Alaskan waters this time of year, often with newborn young in tow. This helps create the famed Whale Watch Week in late March, where volunteers stand at dozens of high vantage points along the Oregon coast to help you spot the gargantuan cetaceans.

Yet this peak whale migration goes on beyond Whale Watch Week, and your chances of spotting a whale stay greatly increased for the next month or so. Even better: your chances of seeing an Orca rise as well, especially in April. There's a mysterious breed of Killer whales (known as transients) that chases the grays up the coastline, looking to eat the young whales. Almost nothing is known about them. But they appear almost like clockwork and make for some spectacular appearances at times.

The gooseberry - a kind of jellyfish - may be one remarkable find you could make

Beachcombing Treasures. A mix of stormy weather and nicer days creates a lot of interesting finds on the beaches. Big wave action causes debris and weird creatures to wash up in great numbers and it's fascinating. Live eggs of skates, purple jellyfish-like critters, objects from foreign countries, wild shells from a variety of oceanic life forms, bizarre bundles of giant tubes (bull whip kelp) or beach grass (known as whale burps) and much more.

Look for patches of stuff on the beach and investigate. You'll be amazed. This is a good time to look for the coveted Japanese glass floats that have nearly disappeared. Best of Oregon Coast Spring Break Lodgings

Agates. Sand levels can still be fairly low in March and April, especially if storms keep popping up. Look for gravelly areas on the beach or stretches were bedrock is showing, and you'll likely find gobs of agates. Where and when the hunting hotspots happen varies constantly, but some good places to check include Newport's Moolack Beach, Lincoln City's southern beaches, Oceanside, Arch Cape, Hug Point and several places south of Yachats like Bob Creek or Strawberry Hill.

Brown Waves of the North Oregon Coast. These are sometimes confused with pollution or with an environmental problem by tourists and even some locals who aren’t used to it. It is simply a larger than normal bloom of diatoms – a form of phytoplankton. In fact, it means the ocean is extremely healthy in the area.

Diatoms are actually the creatures largely responsible for the sea foam you see as well. Their microscopic skeletons combine with the air to make all those suds and bubbles. When gobs and gobs of these show up on the beaches, they turn the surf brownish. This is more prevalent in the Seaside to Warrenton area, where the nutrient-rich waters here foster enormous phtyoplankton blooms. Sometimes, the waves look downright sludgy and almost black in spots. It's rather amazing.

Glowing Sand. The phenomenon shows up as tiny, greenish, blue sparks in the wet sand. Look for an extremely dark beach with no light interference from lights or from the moon, and rub your feet backwards in the wet sand near the tideline. You may see it.

The cause of this is a form of phytoplankton called dinoflagellates – part of the family of microscopic plants that form the bottom of the food chain for marine life. This particular brand is bioluminescent, meaning they give off a glow when disturbed or bumped through internal chemistry processes, much in the same way a firefly does. When a lot of brown waves or sea foam shows up, this is a signal they could well be around.

Family Friendly at Night. Numerous playhouses along the coast offer up entertaining live theater, including the Coast Theater (, Tillamook Theater for the Performing Arts (, Newport Performing Arts Center ( and Theatre West in Lincoln City ( Rockaway Beach, Lincoln City and Seaside have video arcades where the kids can run a bit wild with their imaginations.

Or take them out on a night excursion (using a flashlight and an eye on the tides) and look for the famed glowing sand talked about above. If the weather is clear, it's an incredible time to stand on the beach and look for shooting stars and roving satellites.

Wacky Dive Bars. The Oregon coast is not Daytona Beach for collegiate spring breakers by any means. But for those who want to do a little reveling – in college or not - the wacky dive bars of the coast can be like visiting another country. And it makes you want to dive right into this local culture. Some beautifully strange experiences abound. Especially when you get some seriously sauced locals with a rougher edge or out-of-towners who believe they own the place, the results can be riotous. Plus, “coasties” can be some of the most endearing folks you'll ever meet in such an environment.

Some suggestions for kookier nocturnal cocktail adventures include Snug Harbor in Lincoln City, Sand Bar or Moby Dick's in Newport, and Sampai Lounge in Depoe Bay.

The Beaches Less Traveled. Often, there are so many people looking to get away from it all they bring all of it with them. The peak spring break time is when Oregon schools are out, and the north coast is fairly busy the following week (usually early April) when Washington schools are out. (Photo above: Arch Cape in spring).

Either wait for a calmer week or hit the deliciously (slightly) hidden spots, which are always a short drive from the big attractions of Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita, Newport or Lincoln City. On the north coast, Arch Cape, the village of Cape Meares, Tierra Del Mar and parts of Oceanside are often enough off the beaten path enough where you'll find few and far between surrounding you. On the central coast, Gleneden Beach and parts of Depoe Bay are less frenzied, while the 20-mile stretch between Yachats and Florence has some of the best semi-solitary adventures of them all. Oregon Coast Hotels in these areas - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours


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