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Seaside's Different Sides Part II: Where Oregon Coast History Meets Kooky

Published 12/31/20 at 5:05 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Seaside's Sides Part II: Where Oregon Coast History Meets Kooky

(Seaside, Oregon) – The north Oregon coast town of Seaside tends to get known for just one thing: the family fun aspects that take on a bustling vibe. But as Part I of this series showed, Multiple Layers to Seaside, there are indeed other levels. The natural part, the commercial parts – and this edition of the series delves more into its history and the fun parts that just get plain funny.

The Gilbert District is the center of the rebirth of Seaside's historical vibe, an area that includes most of downtown east of the Necanicum River. Older buildings have been getting refurbished and reoccupied for two decades here, with various new businesses and attractions springing up often. The area is a true charmer, and remarkably different from the rest of Seaside. There is a small sense of time travel here: like old Americana with just a touch of swank. If anything, it's equatable to Newport's Nye Beach neighborhood.

A river runs through it all here, with one gigantic aquatic park hosting a business that rents out funky paddleboats. The river divides the Gilbert District from the more frenetic parts of Broadway, which scream kid friendly, sweets and goofy times. From here up to the Turnaround, this is the area that gets the most attention – for better or for worse. Kids and families love it; travel writers sometimes pan it for the commercial atmosphere. Still, you can't deny some of the delicious finds along here, all indie-owned / small business eateries with some unique visions.

Photo courtesy Seaside Historical Museum

Other historical wonders are the Seaside Aquarium (one of the oldest in the U.S.), strolling the Prom (originally built in the ‘20s, made out of wood), and the Seaside Historical Museum's Butterfield Cottage.

It's the Prom that brings out the different shades of Seaside. Shortly after downtown, heading south, the old railings stop and the walk suddenly becomes more placid and quiet. Older homes abound about now and you start to get a sense of the deep history that's a part of this north Oregon coast town. Wind-bent trees and curious little groves of brush pop up here and there, interspersed with the long, sandy trails through beachgrass.

The original Promenade structure, built in the mid-1910s, was made of wood. The concrete came in 1921, and it's been a whole mile and a half since since then. Nothing has been added to the Prom.

More history comes to life as you hit Lewis & Clark Way, where there's a memorial to the Corps of Discovery's salt-making efforts. This is the actual spot where some of the men spent considerable time boiling sea water.

As you approach the Cove, just beyond the end of the Prom there's a trippy little secret: a garden of painted rocks. Here – for generations, it seems – people have been painting cobblestones and leaving them in a colorful pile.

Whatever you think of Seaside, there is a layer here that's often unseen: the kitsch factor has an enormous inadvertent sense of humor. For those whose cultural taste leans a little ways away from the mainstream and slightly askew, this street can be a riot, unbeknownst to itself. Let's face it: to some of us this is just funny. The goofy items for sale for tourists are sometimes amusing for the wrong reasons, and what's pop culture cool to some is just a gasp and a chuckle to others. Sometimes the scene is Monty Python-esque.

One of Seaside's bars, long ago nicknamed the "Star Trek" bar

Hit the bars at night and you'll see the grandest comedy. Mix tourists with alcohol and it can get gleefully surreal. Add to that the more rugged individualistic aspects of the some of the locals – the coasties – and things can veer into the especially awesome. Sometimes they take a bit of getting used to, but once you do the locals at the bars are some of the best pals in the world – who also entertain you in new ways.

Seaside isn't just a family destination on the Oregon coast. It's operating on other plains of existence you don't know about unless, well, you're in the know. Look for part II shortly.

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