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Top Ten Winter Wonders of N. Oregon Coast's Manzanita, Rockaway Beach, Nehalem Bay

Published 12/24/2019 at 5:35 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Top Ten Winter Wonders of N. Oregon Coast's Manzanita, Rockaway Beach, Nehalem Bay

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(Manzanita, Oregon) – The upper part of the north Oregon coast's Tillamook County is filled with a sprawling set of interconnected towns that flank the Nehalem Bay: Manzanita, Wheeler, Nehalem and Rockaway Beach. Each has their own distinctive character and set of surprises, and when winter comes the crowds disappear and some of the most unique opps for amusement and repose begin.

Here's the top ten reasons to come out to the Nehalem Bay area as this season kicks in.

Storm Watching. Around Rockaway Beach, Manzanita, this can get be a bit of too much of a thrill as it's not a broad beach, so waves can come precariously close to the edges. At times, enormous surges come over the riprap and cause damage to oceanfront property. Still, if you can watch from your car, seeing waves pummel Twin Rocks in the distance is a non-stop kick.

In Manzanita, storm watching is multifaceted with that enormous headland in the distance, although not as exciting on the beach itself as it's simply sand. Watching giant waves from the Neakhanie Mountain overlooks, however, is intense. You can see watery gargantuans come raging in from a distance, and as they build it looks as if they may flood the town. Also, the wind knocks your car up here around quite vigorously, so it's a little like a thrill ride at the fair.


Hidden Shipwreck of Rockaway Beach. A major surprise popped up out of the sands here about ten years ago: the wreck of the Emily G. Reed. It hadn't been seen since the ‘70s before that. Now, the over 100-year-old wreck has appeared periodically during some winters. It's found about a block south of the of the big, main access in Rockaway Beach downtown.


Low Sand Levels. The delights are deep here, as winter storms cause the sand levels to drop and fascinating stuff comes to light. One of the highlights are the red towers: bizarre globs of reddish, nebulous shapes that emerge if sands do go down far enough. You can find these just north of Manzanita (along with ghost forests) at Arch Cape and Hug Point. Down in Rockaway Beach, you may spot wooden planks sticking out of the sand at the main beach access – these are from an old wall about 100 years old.

However, this winter's storm action hasn't been that intense and it doesn't look like it's scouring out that much. Wait and see, however.

Ghost Forests. Manzanita doesn't have any per se, but just north are a bunch of these strange wonders, some 4,000 years old or so. But they only come out if sand levels drop far enough. They can be found at Hug Point and Arch Cape in some engaging shapes. It's a fairly short drive.


Secret Spring of February. A little known secret about the Oregon coast is the peculiar warming trend that can happen fairly often in February – in many years, but not all of them, that is. Blues skies and temps around 60 can be found dotted throughout the month, and it's often much warmer than inland. See more at Oregon Coast Weather Secrets.


Squeaking Sands and Icy Sands. Just north of Manzanita – and sometimes in Manzanita – you may encounter the legendary “squeaking sands.” It takes the right kinds of granules in the right combination of humidity conditions to make this, but it's a weird noise: a sometimes quite loud squeak as you walk on the sand.

When freezing conditions come to any part of the Oregon coast, the sand may freeze over. At night this is beautiful as it has a crystallized sheen. Yet it also makes a freaky crunching noise, just as frozen grass does, but it's weirder 'cause it's the coast. Dogs really flip out on this the first time they encounter it.

Solstice Sunsets. According to Jim Todd of Portland's OMSI, sunsets around the solstice are the most intensely-colored of the year. This happens for a few days before and a few days after. Todd said because of the low angle of the sun's arc, it will produce the longest and most spectacular sunrises and sunsets of the year.

On the Oregon coast, this translates to even longer and more spectacular sunsets over the ocean. The great fiery ball lingers a tad longer than other times of the year, and it's more apt to create some bigger, wilder shades.

Hotels in Manzanita, Wheeler - Where to eat - Manzanita, Wheeler Maps and Virtual Tours

Hotels in Rockaway Beach - Where to eat - Rockaway Beach Maps and Virtual Tours


Hiding from Winds (A Bit). If the north Oregon coast is a blowin' like crazy while you're staying there and you want to duck out of that a bit, hanging out in tiny Wheeler and Nehalem may solve that. Not so much Wheeler, as it's not as well protected by hills, but Nehalem and its curio shops are sheltered by hills and a few miles of distance from the beach. In either case, going shopping in these quaint little burghs – especially Wheeler's glee-inducing antique scene – is the perfect way to hide from atmospheric chaos.

Engaging Bar Scene of Manzanita. In this tiny, sometimes beautifully wacky burgh are a pair of night hotspots that are legendary. All of it is hearty fare and fun on wild, windy nights. Or maybe you'll get there when it warms up on one of those strange February days and experience their outdoor offerings.

San Dune Pub is the town's nightlife stalwart, going back decades now and including that historical and slightly maritime yet woodsy vibe. Plenty of raucous rock, blues, alt country and other live bands from the region cause the place to swell with vibrant energy on weekends, while the rest of the time it's an above-average coastal watering hole filled with pleasant locals and regulars from inland. They're also known for their fish tacos and chili burgers. 127 Laneda Ave., Manzanita, Oregon. 503-368-5080. San Dune Pub.

Gleaming with polished wood and the potent aroma of robust whiskeys is MacGregor's A Whiskey Bar (they also have one in Cannon Beach.) It's an upscale, intimate cocktail lounge where mixologists conjure up the most delish drinky-poo's this side of NW Portland, along with some stunning gourmet eats. Be ready to be wowed by the conversation as well. Every Thursday night at 7 p.m. there's Old School Trivia night. 387 Laneda Avenue. Manzanita, Oregon. 503-368-2447. Website here.

Museums of Note. Fall headlong into the past with the Nehalem Valley Historical Society in Manzanita and the International Police Museum in Rockaway Beach.

In Rockaway Beach, you get to glimpse cop uniforms from all around the world, get insights into crime techniques, see the history of policing, and currently there's a nifty exhibition on women in the police force. 216 Highway 101, Rockaway Beach, Oregon. (503) 457-6056 https://www.internationalpolicemuseum.org/

In Manzanita, they have an extensive archive of all things Nehalem Bay, with rotating exhibits filled with tangible items from the area's interesting past – including pre-European tribal legacies. You'll see bits on shipwrecks and all that wax they used to find around here. They're only open on Saturdays, however. Nehalem Valley Historical Society. 225 Laneda Avenue. Manzanita, Oregon. (503)368-7460. http://nehalemvalleyhistory.org/




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