OREGON'S PACIFIC COAST
US Route 101 follows the entire Oregon coast. It is an engineering triumph... stretching about 400 miles from Astoria south to Brookings and into California. The two-lane highway winds amidst the coast’s rocky high-relief terrain. You may be driving along a sandy beach... minutes later, you are overlooking the ocean... on a road carved into the side of a steep cliff... after that, maybe a stretch of forest or sand dunes. You never know what you’ll see around the next curve, but it’s likely that it will be spectacular.
This road is not meant for those in a hurry. There are many hills and curves. The rural speed limit ranges from 45-55 mph. Due to the terrain, most communities do not sprawl far from the highway, making them long and skinny. Therefore, there are a great deal of 25, 30, 35 mph speed limits beyond what a road map may seem to indicate. The road itself is an engineering triumph. Rarely straying far from the ocean, at times the roadway is precariously carved into steep, rocky cliffs. There are plenty of places to pull over to enjoy the view. Oregon has an outstanding park system. Along the highway, there is an Oregon State Park, State Recreation Site, State Natural Area or State Scenic Viewpoint on the average of EVERY FIVE MILES. Beyond the park system attractions, there are plenty of other places to pull over and take in the view. Some are well-marked with signs, others are not... so drive with caution. The vehicle in front of you may slam on its brakes... or a car may dart in front of you as it exits a pullover.
Astoria, Oregon is located at the mouth of the Columbia River on the Washington / Oregon border. It was here that Lewis and Clark completed their cross-continental trek and first laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean in 1805. That historic moment and other area history has been commemorated in the Astoria Column. Resembling a huge Roman column, the 125-foot structure is perched atop Coxcomb Hill, Astoria’s highest point. From there, visitors are afforded great views of the wide Columbia River, Pacific Ocean and the surrounding hilly landscape. A very detailed 14-scene mural spirals up the column. Visitors may climb the 164 steps spiraling up the column’s interior to an outside observation platform at the top. Even if you don’t climb the tower, the view is still worth it. Admission is just a dollar per vehicle. The Astoria Column is a great way to begin (or end) your Oregon coast drive.
Oregon’s Pacific Coast Highway is known for its series of beautiful bridges designed by legendary Oregon State Bridge Engineer, Conde McCullough. Spanning the mouths of the numerous rivers flowing into the Pacific, these bridges are architectural masterpieces. Their graceful arches and artistic detail perfectly complement their beautiful surroundings. There are also several lighthouses along the Oregon coast, most of which are fairly easily accessible. I snapped some great photos of six of them.
With a two-mile boardwalk, three-mile beach and oodles of shops and hotels, Seaside is among the Oregon coast’s most "touristy" communities. Seaside has a museum, aquarium, lots of restaurants, amusement rides and plenty of other family-friendly activities. We just took a quick look at the town, but if you’re looking to spend two or three days in one spot along the Oregon coast, this is one of your best options.
So named from a cannon that washed ashore from a 19th century shipwreck, Cannon Beach is an artsy-craftsy little town. It’s art galleries, quaint appearance and scenic rock formations are its main draw. Although we didn’t visit any of the numerous galleries, their clean, well-maintained exteriors and window displays seemed to indicate a thriving artistic community. It is obvious that this small town has some strict rules concerning business signs and storefronts.
The entire Oregon coast is dotted with huge monolithic rock formations protruding from the sea just off the shore. Cannon Beach is home to one of the largest of these monoliths, Haystack Rock, towering 235 feet above the ocean. As is the case with all of the coast’s rocky areas, there are tidal pools all around the Haystack Rock area. At low tide, these pools consist of trapped ocean water amid the rocky shore. The pools are all teeming with sea animals which can be seen up close. You’re certain to see lots of colorful starfish on the rocks... often so plentiful that they are on top of each other. We also saw sea anemones, lots of barnacles, an occasional crab and some other unidentified organisms.
Cannon Beach is also home to a great local restaurant, "Pig’n Pancake". As implied, Pig’n Pancake specializes in breakfast... and they do it well. They have five locations along the coast and one in Portland. Of course, they have the typical bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes, hash browns breakfasts... but they also have fancier stuff like dungeness crab omelettes (my choice), exotic pancakes (e.g. Swedish pancakes with "imported lingonberries") and lots of those sophisticated coffee drinks associated with the west coast. Although Cannon Beach was very quiet at 9 AM, Pig’n Pancake was packed, so it’s very popular with the locals. The parking lot was full, so we had to park in a lot 2-3 blocks away, indicating that parking is probably very
difficult when this town gets hoppin’ in the middle of the day. Although the restaurant is medium-sized to large, we had a 15-20 minute wait for a table. This Pig’n Pancake location also serves lunch. Our food arrived hot and was delicious, and prices are reasonable. Breakfast at Pig’n Pancake is an opportunity to be in the midst of the local culture. If you’re not in a hurry, then I highly recommend Cannon Beach Pig’n Pancake. Pig’n Pancake, 223 S. Hemlock (main drag), Cannon Beach.
Tillamook is best known for its cheese factory, Tillamook Cheese just north of the town. The factory welcomes tourists and offers tours, and some free tasty treats. Tillamook Cheese is located right on the highway and has a huge parking lot. It’s free and easily accessible. There is about a 30-mile stretch of Highway 101 south of Tillamook that does not follow the coast. We wanted to stay along the coast, so we drove the Netarts Highway, part of the Three Capes Scenic Loop which intersects Hwy. 101 in downtown Tillamook. It’s clearly marked... just turn west toward the coast. Built on sandy, unstable ground, this rough road is filled with bumps, dips, cracks and holes. We stopped at the Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint to see the Cape Meares Lighthouse. This recently restored lighthouse was built in 1889 and commissioned on January 1, 1890. It is located about 10 miles west of Tillamook. Like many Oregon lighthouses, it is constructed on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It has a large red light and a huge Fresnel lens. Visitors may climb to the top (for free) and see the light mechanism. The structure also houses a small gift shop. We did not drive the entire Three Capes Scenic Loop, electing to take Sandlake Road back to Hwy. 101.
Lincoln City is home to a natural curiosity. The D River was once dubbed the "world’s shortest river" by the Guinness Book of World Records. Linking Devils Lake with the Pacific, the shallow, 120 foot long D River isn’t too much longer than the width of the bridge that crosses it. Billing itself as the "Kite Capital of the World", Lincoln City is home to numerous kite festivals along the beach where the D River meets the sea. A festival was in progress when we were passing through. Make sure to stop at some of the pulloffs about 5 - 15 miles south of Lincoln City. The views are especially stunning there.