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Veering Inland to Oregon Coast Charms You Weren't Aware of: Nehalem and Wheeler

Published 04/24/23 at 6:32 AM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Veering Inland to Oregon Coast Charms You Weren't Aware of: Nehalem and Wheeler

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(Nehalem, Oregon) – Even less than 20 years ago, the place verged on a bit of a secret. Cozy, friendly, and certainly laid-back, the north Oregon coast's Nehalem Bay area was kind of overlooked because it wasn't exactly the beach. To some degree, that's still true. This triple threat of fun includes Manzanita, Nehalem and Wheeler, with the latter two not raging in popularity as much as Manzanita has become because they're inland a few miles. (All photos Oregon Coast Beahc Connection)

As late as the early 2010s, Manzanita wasn't the tourism monster it is now. Even so, compared to many coastal burghs and areas, this trio of towns is still a little bit off the usual paths, a little paradise lurking in the top corner of the Tillamook Coast, complete with a backwoodsy, relaxed and slightly rugged feel all their own.

Wheeler and Nehalem may not seem exactly Oregon coast in the truest sense, but they bring something charming and unique all their own to the Pacific Wonderland experience. They are a hop, skip and a jump from some of Oregon's most beautiful and pristine beaches - and right in the middle of gorgeous forestland. In fact, take a little ride along Highway 53, and for those that have been to Germany it can definitely be reminiscent of the Black Forest area.

One interesting aspect that ironically comes with Nehalem and Wheeler is the very thing that doesn't draw people here as much: they're a ways inland. In terms of weather, this means you get a bit more shelter from those winter Oregon coast tempests of renown. Conversely, if you're heading out to the coast during one of those searing heatwaves, just drive a tad inland and you'll find it again. However, Nehalem and Wheeler don't usually wind up as hot during those sweltering days – often, but not always – a few to ten degrees less than the high temp in the valleys.

Often, those conditions can bring fog to the beaches (see Why is Oregon Coast / Washington Coast Foggy When It's Hot Inland?). But in the Nehalem Bay's two inner towns, the sun often pops out again.

Cruising up 101 from Rockaway Beach, past pastoral lands, glimpses of the bay, the Nehalem Spit and a host of pilings, you'll soon come to the deceptively tiny town of Wheeler. Old saloon-like architecture and chunks of Americana populate this colorful place. In fact, some of these old buildings are decorated quite boldly at times.

This placid little spot is packed full of a decent amount of delights. There's a train stop here, the full scope of the Nehalem Bay sprawls out before you, and its array of shopping opportunities and restaurants is amazing for the mere four blocks that seem to comprise it fully. This is one of the big stops for the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad as well.

It's also an antique treasure hunter's joy, with delightfully oddball shops featuring all sorts of interesting, sometimes kitchy and goofy finds. Wheeler's main industry often seems like antique shops.

Stopping here along the Nehalem Bay is always a reason for pause and taking in some scenic glory. Mini mountains dot the skyline to the northwest, often with snow-covered peaks when the temps here are in the '60s or so. During spring, elk battle it out for mates on the island just to the west, engaging in rather epic moments of combat.

Sunsets are a rush of shades and mirrored scenery, with the Neahkahnie Mountain always in view from here.

Then, just a few miles away, you have atmospheric burgh of Nehalem, with more old-timey architecture, often feeling a bit out of the third installment of Back to the Future. Old West vibes abound. Grand facades of the early last century remain, now painted in spry colors or soothing coastal wood material. This little charmer contains plenty of curio shops as well, along some rather new entries into the gourmet world.

In Nehalem, the river is king. Several spots to access the Nehalem lie dotted along this part of Highway 101, including boat launches. One particularly pretty spot is right next to The Pizza Garden Restaurant.

From here, it's a quick jaunt to the beach, back to the coastline as you know it. But you'll want to give Nehalem and Wheeler a good shot: you may get addicted.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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