Explore the Northwest

Tillamook Coast, Oregon

Explore the Northwest

Explore the bays, forests and food paradise of Oregon's Tillamook County

Haystack Rock viewed from Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area in Pacific City, OregonHaystack Rock viewed from Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area in Pacific City, Oregon (photo by Dizzo/iStock.om)

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.

Outdoor Fun

The Cape Meares lighthouse in Oregon's Tillamook County at sunsetThe Cape Meares Light at sunset (photo by RobertCrum/iStock.com)

Devote a day to the Three Capes Scenic Route from Pacific City to Oceanside, running closer to the ocean than the busier Highway 101. This scenic drive is roughly 40 miles, but you’ll want to make time for dune treks at Cape Kiwanda, whale-watching hikes along the headlands of Cape Lookout, or a tour of the 1890s-vintage lighthouse at Cape Meares.

Netarts Bay has direct access to some of the finest clamming in Oregon. You’ll need a shellfish license to dig steamers, but spotting brown pelicans and great blue herons in the estuary is free. Head north to Rockaway Beach and get a boat, baited crab pots or rings and a permit at Kelly’s Brighton Marina (dock crabbing is also allowed), dining on your catch at the picnic tables overlooking stunning sunsets on Nehalem Bay.

For long walks on the beach, it’s hard to beat the flat, sandy expanses between Manzanita Beach and Pacific City. The latter offers views of Haystack Rock, the tallest sea stack on the Oregon coast at 327 feet (not to be confused with the better known Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach).

Eats and Drinks

The 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 panOysters Rockoyaki from the Schooner on Netarts Bay (photo by Javier Cabral)

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

A dory boat headed for the beach in Pacific City, OregonA dory boat heads back to the beach (photo by GarysFRP/iStock.com)

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.

Shops

A woman wearing a "so-fish-ticated" t-shirt from FishPpeople Seafood Market  in Garibaldi, OregonFind fun apparel at Fishpeople Seafood Market in Garibaldi (photo courtesy of Fishpeople Seafood Market)

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. 

 

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The Essentials

From Seattle: About 210 miles 
From Spokane​: About 470 miles 
Best for: Seafood, sandy beaches and seaside history
Don't miss:
Oregon Coast Scenic Railroadlate May through September
June Dairy Parade, the fourth Saturday in June
Rockaway Beach Fourth of July, July 4
Tillamook County Fair, August 5-8, 2020

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