Explore the Bays, Forests and Food Paradise of Oregon’s Tillamook County
You know you’ve reached the Tillamook Coast when the ocean vistas on Oregon’s northern coast suddenly transition to serene bays and undulating hills south of Cannon Beach. A remarkable stretch of about 60 miles reveals a dramatically changing landscape, at times dotted with dairy cows, shaded by forested cliffs, or winding through wetlands to spits and shores.
Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the forested Coast Range, the coastal route in Tillamook County passes through Manzanita, Rockaway Beach, Pacific City and Neskowin, each fronting the ocean with beautiful sandy beaches ornamented by basalt sea stacks. A bit further from the shore, tucked into bays that locals love to explore on kayaks, the towns of Nehalem, Wheeler, Garibaldi, Bay City and Netarts offer some of the best fishing, clamming and crabbing on the coast. Tillamook County’s historic dairy industry — anchored by the county seat, Tillamook — still churns out cheese that can be sampled with Netarts Bay oysters at coast-to-table restaurants.
Eats and Drinks
If you love local food, the North Coast Food Trail is a must. Seaside eateries from casual to fine dining have killer water views. Watch boats come and go on Tillamook Bay while sharing a rack of smoked ribs at Garibaldi Portside Bistro, which opened its new central location at the port this year. Tiny Roseanna’s Cafe, with its renowned cioppino and marionberry cobbler, overlooks Oceanside’s sandy beach and the magnificent rocks that make up Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge. In a historic Wheeler building with a deck straddling Nehalem Bay, Salmonberry Saloon serves up locally sourced food like kale salad with farro and roasted carrots and beer-battered fish and chips to families after a day kayaking or crabbing.
Up for oysters? Go to the boat launch on Netarts Bay and you’ll find the ship-shaped Schooner Restaurant and Lounge’s signature Oysters Rockoyaki: wood-oven roasted bivalves with pork belly and a Rockefeller-like garlicky green sauce served in a cast-iron pan set atop beautiful coastal agates. At sunset, you can’t do better than to enjoy an Oregon pinot noir from the robust wine list at Meridian in Pacific City, enjoying the modern, butterscotch-toned interior while watching the sun dip below the water.
History and Industry
Pacific City is also home to the unusual dory boat fishing fleet, which has launched from the sand for over a century. Gigantic chinook salmon of yesteryear known as “June hogs” are mounted at the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum in downtown Tillamook. Vintage train buffs love the daily 90-minute excursions on historic steam and diesel locomotives between Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach on the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad (through the end of September). And no visit to Tillamook would be complete without seeing the cheese wrap assembly line and dairy exhibit at the newly expanded Tillamook Creamery.
Tillamook Coast food souvenir standouts include Stella Falls cumin gouda from Nestucca Bay Creamery in tiny Cloverdale (upriver from Nestucca Bay) and Jacobsen Salt Co.’s jars of truffle-infused salt crystals distilled on Netarts Bay. The Port of Garibaldi offers 90-minute, guided Shop at the Dock tours, but even if you can’t get a reservation, Fishpeople Seafood Market offers cute oyster shucking kits and T-shirts with Japanese-style fish prints alongside their fresh Oregon albacore fillets.
– Written by Jennifer Burns Bright
This story originally appeared in the September/October 2019 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.