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Driving Through Manzanita, Nehalem Bay - An Insanely Cool N Oregon Coast Auto Tour

Published 02/23/2019 at 5:23 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Driving Through Manzanita, Nehalem Bay - An Insanely Cool N Oregon Coast Auto Tour

(Manzanita, Oregon) – There are times when zipping through an area in your car is the only option to enjoy some parts of the Oregon coast. If you’re in a bit of a hurry, or if the weather is not cooperating, there are still means to dig deeper as you view this watery world from behind auto glass.

If you’re heading through the Manzanita area, which includes the Nehalem Bay, there’s still much to appreciate via an auto tour of this part of northern Tillamook County.


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Starting just south of Cannon Beach, the road is winding, twisting and a tad dangerous for too much rubbernecking, but it’ll be hard to resist those engaging beaches that pop abruptly into view between the stands of forest trees, like Hug Point or Arcadia Beach. Arch Cape is the next stop southward, where a little road right before the Arch Cape tunnel lets you sit and watch the surf from your car.

The tunnel itself is brief and unremarkable, unless you know its history. Built rather late in the game – about 1940 – its completion finally eliminated that nasty run of Highway 53 being the only way between Cannon Beach and Manzanita. Workers actually started choking on fumes from the machinery that helped bore through the towering basalt, which created work delays. It had the same lighting through 1998, and then a landslide closed the tunnel for six months during one winter in the early 2000s.

Immediately after exiting, a small roadside viewpoint exists. It’s not the most exciting view on the entire Oregon coast, but it has some different sights and interesting angles on rock structures you normally can’t see.

After that you enter the wilds of the woods at Oswald West State Park: massive trees tower over you in ancient grandeur. If you’re coming from the north, this provides rather stunning views of a mountaintop in the distance, which is sometimes covered in snow in winter.

Along this route, stop and stretch your legs – a lot – by walking about a mile roundtrip down to Short Sand Beach. Or trek to the other lookout point just north of that pathway that’s much closer.

Driving through the forest southward again, you’ll quickly emerge from the thick greens to a sudden opening with a sloped field that leads to an abrupt cliff. Slow down and you’ll notice the weird rock structure peeking its head up from the surf: a stately structure known as Cube Rock. Continue south and more ocean vistas explode. Stop at the gravel pullout to take in the sights of Cape Falcon in the distance.

The piece de resistance of the entire Manzanita area comes into view here: the Neahkahnie lookouts. Stunning, nearly endless ocean is laid out before you, with some interpretive signs along the way. There’s a handful of the viewpoints and none disappoint.


Soon you dart down the hill into more forestland until you reach the Manzanita junction. A deliriously lovely Oregon coast town by any standards.

Keep wandering south and you enter into a mix of forest, business district and residential areas that aren’t particularly scenic, but within a mile you’ve entered the tiny charmer of Nehalem, which sits a tad inland. An old west vibe dominates the scene here, with clearly ancient buildings, and then there are a couple of comely parks from which to enjoy the Nehalem River.


You soon exit Nehalem and begin zipping along highway that’s dominated by the Nehalem Bay and the river. There’s farmland and Swiss Alp-like mountains on the leeward side of the highway.

One of the Oregon coast’s big surprises happens at Wheeler, a tiny town of just a few blocks. But it’s packed with a bevy of little wonders. A host of funky shops and a sometimes-burgeoning oddball art scene hide beneath the surface.




The most obvious is the bay itself, which stretches out in an intricate mishmash of marshlands and waterways, with the iconic Neahkahnie Mountain still visible near the horizon. The docks here and its parking lot are a memorable way to dig into the sights.

From here, it becomes mushy marshland and largely highway, but you get pleasant glimpses of forest and other greenery on all sides of you. After this, you wind along Highway 101 until it eventually wanders into Rockaway Beach. Lodging in Manzanita, Wheeler - Where to eat - Manzanita Maps and Virtual Tours




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