Winter on the Oregon Coast

February 25, 2011

Did you know that the Oregon Coast is one of the places you have to go before you die? (Well, according to 1,000 Places to See Before You Die it is). In any case, with its ruggedly beautiful coastline, attractive beaches, and welcoming big and small towns, the Oregon Coast makes the perfect destination for a long weekend away.

The beautiful Oregon Coast

Most people in the Northwest are familiar with Newport, Lincoln City, and Cannon Beach, but there are tons of nice places to stay along the coast with quaint little downtown areas and distinct shorelines typically dotted with a unique rock formation. Every one has its own flavor, but you can’t really go wrong.

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach

One of my favorite places is Rockaway Beach. Tucked in between Wheeler and Garibaldi, this town has a sort of a funky, hippy vibe and many of the little cottages around here were built in the 60’s and 70’s. It also has easy access to a long, sandy beach and views of the mountains to the north. To get there from I-5, it is easiest to take Highway 26 to Highway 6 and go through Tillamook.

The rocks of Rockaway Beach

Heading over the pass last weekend we were surprised by how snowy the roads were, but took it pretty slow since we got stuck behind a logging truck. It’s a nice drive, though, through little rural towns along a pretty river and a labyrinth of snow and moss covered trees. On the way we also noticed several fishermen in canoes dotting the river.

Dairy farms as far as the eye can see

Once we were on the other side of the pass, the trees and snow cleared and we drove through dairy farmland for several miles before reaching the Tillamook Cheese Factory. This valley has a legacy of cheese making going back to 1894 and is well known regionally for its Tillamook dairy products. Here you can learn the history of the area from the original homesteaders to present. You can also purchase and sample their line of delicious cheeses or try a cone of one of their premium ice cream flavors, several of which are only served at the factory. However, if you are more of a French brie person, stop at the Blue Heron Cheese Farm just up the road.

Inside the cheese factory

In Rockaway Beach there are a lots of places to say, from rental cabins, to hotels, to campgrounds; they even have a hostel. So far I’ve been lucky enough to stay at a friend’s cabin, which is a 60’s style place complete with “love” wallpaper, flower power tub decals, and a round sunflower bed.

Got to love the 60's kitsch

Around downtown there are a few restaurants, cafes, a few places to do gift shopping, an ice cream parlor, and an arcade. (There is a little grocery store here too, but for better selection, stop at the Fred Meyer in Tillamook and pick up your cheese at the factory.)

Rick's Roadhouse

On a Friday or Saturday night, Rick’s Roadhouse in Rockaway Beach is a very low key place to grab a beer and some food. The sports bar atmosphere is pretty fun, especially with a big group. The last time I was here, they had music playing and karaoke by demand. There weren’t tons of people, so we got to sing a lot and I ended up winning the air guitar contest to the Journey song, Don’t Stop Believin’. I was pretty stoked when I saw the prize was an inflatable Coors Light tall boy, which became our mascot for the weekend.

Good eats!

For seafood, I recommend the Old Oregon Smokehouse, a family run place located in a small, unassuming white house hidden by the US Bank. The have really good fried seafood (oysters, clams, and fish) and really rich, wonderful clam chowder you can eat at their picnic tables outside. You can also buy fresh local and shipped fish and shellfish here to take home and cook. We had lunch and then took some local, red snapper with us for dinner.

Place to get good eats!

If you’re looking for smoked seafood, head to Karla’s Smokehouse down the road. This place has been owner operated for 46 years and purports to be the home of the best smoked seafood in the US. Not having tried all the smoked seafood in the US, I can’t verify this claim, but I will say that it is really good and they smoke their meats and seafood on site so everything you get is fresh.

Karla's Smokehouse

If you come in winter, the crowds are low, but you’re chance of nice weather is not as good. While it’s generally windy here, both times I’ve come to Rockaway in the winter I’ve gotten lucky and had freakishly nice, clear weather. This meant lots of beach time plus gorgeous sunsets and clear, starry skies at night for bonfires.

Winter Sunset

For recreation there is the usual beach combing, sandcastle making, kite flying, Frisbee, and jogging. They don’t have those recumbent bikes that you can rent in Cannon Beach, but many people like to bike along the highway. There is also a strong, wet suit surfing and body boarding culture here. Outside of town you’ll also find both easy and more difficult hiking trails at several state parks including: Fort Canby, Fort Stevens, Ecola, Oswald West, Cape Meares, and Cape Kiawanda. At one of the two marinas just north of Rockaway Beach, you can even rent a boat or get taken out fishing, clamming, or crabbing.

Hiking along the sea cliffs

However, even if the weather is bad, there is plenty do to in town and sometimes it’s nice just to be mellow inside by the fire and read, cook, or play games. Remember you’re in a beach town and the pace of life is a little slower here, so while it’s a great place to play, it’s also a great place to relax.

Beach fort

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