Oregon’s North Coast
Explore the Pacific Northwest
a Recreational Wonderland
Lace-edged waves rolling in from the Pacific Ocean collapse into pounding surf, their base notes adding to the high-pitched shouts of kids exploring tide pools at Hug Point State Recreation Site, 7 miles south of the popular beach town of Cannon Beach, on Oregon’s North Coast.
A brief stroll north along the sand beach reveals yet another natural playground: A seasonal waterfall spilling over a bluff offers splashy fun for another set of youngsters. Just beyond, I’m attracted to the shade of a large sea cave. Toward the back, blue sky peeks through a “giant’s eye” hole with a massive log jammed through it: a reminder of the powerful waves that pummel the Oregon Coast. But the real attraction comes moments later, when my partner, Brian, and I clamber up onto a narrow, wave-splashed rock ledge hugging a bluff. Smooth ruts worn into the rock shelf are evidence of the bravery of stagecoach riders who once traveled this extreme coastal route at low tide. Hug Point—and nearby 2,484-acre Oswald West State Park—are among many fun wild spaces to explore in and around a string of towns along the spectacular Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, aka Highway 101.
- Seaside is nearly 17 miles south of Astoria.
- From there, Cannon Beach is about 9 miles to the south.
- Manzanita is another 15 miles south of the latter town.
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The hamlet of Seaside, just a half-hour south of Astoria, is one of the first beach beauties you approach from the north. When you roll into Seaside, what you notice straight away is its carnival-style atmosphere, with a small, but colorful downtown designed for family fun. The sheer number of entertaining diversions here makes Seaside a West Coast Coney Island. Funland Seaside Arcade is the place to go for pinball machines and bumper cars; Seaside Carousel Mall has touristy shops and an indoor carousel. And at the town’s creature feature, the compact Seaside Aquarium, kidlets can feed harbor seals (above). In a more-natural vein, the 1.5-mile Promenade offers ocean views, and it’s a great introduction to the mighty Pacific: You can access the beach anywhere along it, to let your kids dig in the sand, look for sand dollars or race the waves.
Cannon Beach is undoubtedly the North Coast’s most iconic town, for good reason. The focal point of the broad, curving bay is Haystack Rock (shown at top), which, beyond being a great photo opp, has tidepools in the nooks and crannies around its base. Artists are drawn to the misty, watercolor seascapes of Cannon Beach, so it’s no surprise that the town is filled with art galleries of all sorts, from tourist magnets filled with knickknacks to those with more refined offerings. On the latter end of the spectrum, check out Cannon Beach Gallery, staffed by volunteers and showcasing works by locals; DragonFire Gallery, focusing on Pacific Northwest art; and Icefire Glassworks, which has been exhibiting glass art for more than 45 years.
When it’s time to dine, Sweet Basil’s Café, in an easy-to-miss, low-slung building at the entrance to town, uses natural and organic ingredients to craft dishes ranging from shrimp Creole to crab-stuffed Portobello mushrooms. At the opposite end of town, Newmans at 988, an intimate, fine-dining restaurant inside a quaint yellow house, marries French and Italian foods with Northwest ingredients. If you’re an oenophile, be sure to visit The Wine Shack, where you can chat with Steve, the friendly owner, and find a new favorite (the shop stocks about 60 different variations of Oregon pinot noir) to enjoy back at your lodging, or take home as a souvenir.
Fifteen miles south of Cannon Beach, over a headland with stunning ocean views of waves rolling in along a 7-mile-long sand beach (above), Manzanita is among the most charming—and as yet, still somewhat undiscovered—small towns along the Oregon Coast. Its shingle-sided shops and cafes run east-west along the main street of Laneda Avenue, leading visitors straight to the ocean.
Following a dust-up with a rare tornado in the fall of 2016, the town is coming back strong, with freshly redone storefronts and new businesses, including two kid-pleasers: Manzanita Sweets and Toylandia, for kids, and The Winery at Manzanita and MacGregor’s, a Whiskey Bar, for the older set. (The venerable San Dune Pub was untouched by the twister, and remains the locals’ hangout, with often excellent live music.)
Among the town’s shops are Finnesterre, with beautifully designed housewares, Syzygy, for sophisticated women’s fashions, and Cloud & Leaf Bookstore, which has a top-notch selection of literary fiction, in a shingle-sided building laced over with wisteria.
Bread and Ocean Bakery (154 Laneda Ave., 503-368-5823) satisfies at breakfast and lunch with frittatas, specialty salads and sandwiches, on house-baked bread, and offers dinners (with a limited menu) on Friday and Saturday nights. Neah-Kah-Nie Bistro features nicely crafted seafood dishes, such as cod with asparagus risotto, in a cozy cottage.
At the south edge of town, the Manazanita Golf Course has a 9-hole layout with views of the surf, and just beyond, Nehalem Bay State Park, on a 4-mile-long sand peninsula backed by the Nehalem River, offers horseback riding in summertime and a campground.
Unless you know it’s there, you might easily miss Wanda’s Cafe & Bakery in Nehalem, just 2.5 miles east of Manzanita. This beloved, long-time establishment serves up inspired salads and gourmet sandwiches in a room filled with whimsy: colorful vintage salt-and-pepper shakers and ’50s tablecloths compete for attention. Nearby, be sure to stop by Buttercup Ice Creams and Chowders (35915 Hwy 101 North, 503-368-2469), run by celebrated local restaurateur Julie Barker, who crafts innovative chowders and noteworthy small-batch ice creams such as blueberry creamsicle and lemon poppy seed cheesecake, keeping it local with milk from area dairies.
And just south of there, Wheeler Marina rents kayaks and canoes for exploring the Nehalem estuary. Four miles farther south, Jetty Fishery, family-owned for more than 30 years, has rental boats and equipment for crabbing and clamming. Or, you can just choose your own crab from a tank and they’ll cook it up for you in a boiling vat next to the beach—a quintessential North Coast experience everyone should try at least once.
— Written by Leslie Forsberg