I’ve lived near the beach most of my life, so I didn’t expect any big surprises when my travel buddy (aka my husband Richard) and I set off on a road trip of Oregon’s coastal highlights. After all, that coast — like ours — is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and Highway 101, so I expected to see the usual sights: surfers, fluffy sand, and people playing volleyball. However, we started our survey in Astoria in the northwest corner of the state and were immediately gobsmacked by an enormous truss bridge that stretched over the mighty Columbia River (and nary a surfer or volleyball in sight). We soon learned that the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which connects Oregon to Washington, has a span of four miles and is the longest one of its kind in the nation.
From our room at the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa we watched tugboats pulling barges under the bridge and into the river on their way to Portland docks. The view wasn’t the only reason we adored this beautiful boutique property. We also appreciated the proximity to Bridgewater Bistro, where we sampled the local flavors for which Oregon is renowned. My sea bass was flavored with in-season morels and wild huckleberries, and Richard enjoyed Willapa Bay oysters and savory Dungeness crab cheesecake.
To learn more about Astoria, we spent some time at the Columbia River Maritime Museum and then moved on to Fort George Brewery + Public House, where they brew untold varieties of beer. Is this spot popular? Astoria has a population of about 10,000; this brewery takes up an entire city block. And when we were there, nearly every seat was filled by a happy occupant.
We weren’t traveling with offspring who are studying the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but we still enjoyed the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. The famous explorers stayed here at Fort Clatsop in the winter months of 1805-06.
By the time we left Astoria, I was beginning to realize that coastal Oregon has little in common with Southern California. In fact, there were times when I felt like I was in a foreign country. I loved the lack of chain stores and eateries, and I appreciated the concern for the environment and the pervasive kindness. In short, coastal Oregon reminded me of New Zealand.
Perfection on the Pacific
We spent ten days touring Northern Oregon and if I could only go back to one place, it would be Cannon Beach. The town, with a population of about 1,500, is known for its long, flat beach and the 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock, a basalt sea stack that rises dramatically from the ocean. At low tide, vibrant tide pools here reveal mussels, barnacles, snails, sea anemones, crabs, and orange sea stars. Haystack Rock is also a haven for 22 kinds of birds including cormorants, gulls, and puffins. I appreciate that team members from the Haystack Rock Awareness Program set up telescopes on the beach and I was able to clearly see a tufted puffin with a distinctive orange beak. I also enjoyed the firm sand for walking, the lack of crowds, and the mellow, pet-friendly, bike-friendly environment. In addition to good beach walks, trails in adjacent Ecola State Park offer sweeping views of the ocean, coves, and a lighthouse.
In Cannon Beach, we stayed at The Ocean Lodge, with spacious quarters, a deck overlooking the beach, cozy fireplace, and easy access to the sand. Rates here include a generous continental breakfast, evening wine receptions, nightcaps delivered to each room, and the use of beach chairs, blankets, and towels. Beach bonfire wood is available for purchase and dog-sitting and babysitting can be arranged.
Cannon Beach reminded us of Carmel because it’s home to lots of cute little shops, galleries, boutiques, and cafés. Our favorite of these was the Cannon Beach Chocolate Cafe. In addition, Travel Buddy liked his crab mac n’ cheese at Wayfarer Restaurant and I loved my pepperoni and black olive pizza from Surfcrest Market.
I relished the ways that the Oregon coast is different from home: exotic bridges, world-class tide pools, basalt hay stacks, and — most of all — gorgeous puffins with distinctive orange beaks.