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Witnessing Oregon Coast History at Depoe Bay: What's Gone and What's Eternal

Published 4/03/24 at 5:35 a.m.
y Andre' GW Hagestedt

(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – With this gig as editor of a publication about the Oregon coast, the region never ceases to surprise. I've been digging into it for almost three decades now, and consequently have been around some historic spots and aspects – plenty of which are gone now. (Above: the now-gone Whale Cove Inn back in the early 2000s - Oregon Coast Beach Connection's Andre' Hagestedt)

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These days, they're not even just memories anymore: they're times I witnessed actual history here. I've also had the good fortune of documenting some of it in-camera. One village in particular is a big part my experiences.

One of my fave places for decades has been Depoe Bay – even before I knew that to be so. My memories of it go all the way back to about 1970 as a wee child, apparently around the time it officially incorporated as a city. It was a bit of a late bloomer for coastal towns, waiting until 1973 to make that official.

Back then, I remember being obsessed with the show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and at one point had a working model of the submarine the Seaview with that cool little flying shuttle / sub that came out of it. As my mom, dad and brother and I walked over that bridge, I looked down in awe at that tiny harbor (which didn't seem that small to me then) and thought of the Seaview emerging down there. I asked my dad if a submarine could be housed in the bay and he – with great wisdom – informed me that no, a sub would not be able to fit in there, much less make it up the channel.

I was bummed and I think I even tried to argue the matter. Aw, what a cute kid: just as nerdy then as now.

Depoe Bay in the '50s - courtesy Oregon Archives

I have very vague memories of going to the Depoe Bay Aquarium and being around that mysterious rocky interior (they built it to look like a sea cave). Yet I distinctly remember an oddly-shaped window in back of it in the '90s where you could peep in and see the seals. That window still exists in what is now an art gallery there in Depoe Bay.

Depoe Bay at night / Oregon Coast Beach Connection

It wasn't until the '90s that I started venturing out there on my own, and one night found myself completely struck by the atmosphere of this place after dark. It was clear and misty at the same time, with blobs of fog swirling around you like ghosts, yet you could see the stars. The smell of the sea was intoxicating. There was not another soul around. I did something that startled all the seagulls and suddenly had swarms of them cawing and flapping around, discovering that they were hanging out below the bridge at night. It was unbelievable how many of them were down there.

Somewhere in that decade or just after 2000 I discovered North Point, that wondrous hidden spot of rugged cliffs that extend beyond some neighborhood. That giant arm-like basalt structure you see from the seawall? That's found here. On a particularly calm, sunny day, I wandered out there and encountered a whale, probably only 30 feet from me or less. He very slowly moved past, and I got the distinct impression he was watching me. I knew then, as other scientists later confirmed to me in interviews, they are curious about you too.

This was an incredible experience.

Tidal Raves in 2004 or so

Sometime late in the '90s I discovered Tidal Raves and its insane seafood. For many years I'd hightail it there for the rich, juicy filet mignon. Since I'm (ironically) not much of a seafood guy, it took me some years to even try it there. I was immediately addicted to the thick, rich cioppino, just crammed with all sorts of seafood. Those dishes are still there and so is the view.

Periodically, whales come up close to this spot and start mulling around in front of those enormous windows. It becomes a rather dramatic thing as suddenly everyone in the place is standing up and gawking below.

I was poking around Depoe Bay a lot in the early 2000s and distinctly remember the charming little Whale's Cove Inn (photo at top) before it was torn down. It's now a part of Depoe Bay history. The food itself was hearty and fairly good, but again it was those windows that made the scene. I remember sitting and talking with the owner when a gray whale and her baby came into the cove, and the whole room stood and gasped on occasion: quite the communal experience. It was utterly astounding.

I saw numerous wonders and eateries come and go. There was that funky little Irish bar that had live blues and an incredible Shepard's Pie. I have fond memories of the old Dairy Queen on one corner for decades, though I wouldn't dream of fast food now. The Whale Watch Center was for years an adjunct biz of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, called the Oregon Coast Aquarium store. That was interesting.

Then there was the most intense Green Flash at Sunset I'd ever seen, right in this town – and all those great times I can't completely remember getting loopy at the Wing Wa bar and doing the most obscure karaoke tunes. It's still there and kickin'.

Little Sam the lab

My homebase while zipping up and down the Oregon coast was often Depoe Bay through about 2014, especially Troller's Lodge when it was owned by Peg and Rick. For years they had this adorable black lab named Samantha, who did kooky little tricks for treats, and sometimes lurked outside my room in the early mornings, whining for me.

One of the most unforgettable things about staying in Depoe Bay is not just the soft murmur of the surf pounding those rocks, but that bell buoy just out to sea, ringing and clanging throughout the night. This was a hypnotic, comforting noise that just can't be beat for atmosphere.

One night in 2009, I had a series of striking moments wandering up and down the central coast, resulting in me going back out at 3 a.m to watch the surf at Rodea Point just south of Depoe Bay. I was completely awestruck, even floored by the beauty of it all, and I couldn't stop writing about it for hours. The whole night still remains one of my best memories ever. See What You're Missing on Oregon Coast: Waves After Dark

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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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