180 Miles: Sandy Toes, Kites and Bumper Cars on the Oregon Coast
If you long for a perfect beach getaway, there’s no need to hop on a plane to the tropics. Just 80 miles west of Portland, Oregon, lie the twin beach towns of Cannon Beach and Seaside. Aside from palm trees, these small, inviting areas have everything you need for a world-class day trip—flanking some of the widest, most beautiful ocean beaches in North America, with miles of fine white sand, undulating dunes and diverse sea life. Here you can piggyback highbrow activities with the best of the cheesy, lowbrow ones. Your mini-vacation officially starts on your way out of Portland, a tranquil hour-long drive that’s the perfect transition from the city to the slower, restorative landscape of the coast.
HIT THE BEACH
First stop: Cannon Beach, occupying the south of the end of Highway 26. To make the most of your beach day, be sure you’re properly caffeinated. The best coffee in town is at the aptly named Insomnia (139 West 2nd Street, Cannon Beach, OR 97110; 503-436-4164; insomniacoffee.co). Try the Guns & Gold roast, which is extra dark and bold, with notes of blackberry; the foamy cappuccinos are a signature of the house. Pair your joe with a freshly-made blueberry lemon scone or cheddar biscuit and you will be fueled up for your morning adventures.
No matter what the season, Cannon Beach deserves a nice long walk on the sand. If it’s low tide, you might be able to clamber out to Haystack Rock, whose profile lords over the quiet, four-mile stretch of serene beachfront. Movie fans will recognize this landmark and the local beach areas from movie classics like “The Goonies,” “Point Break” and “Twilight.” The beach can be blustery, even in the summer, but the coast is usually fairly mild all year long.
The world-famous Cannon Beach Sand Castle Contest is held during the third week of June and makes for terrific people – and sculpture - watching. The 2014 event marks the 50th anniversary of the contest, and will be held June 21. If you want to participate in or even come view this memorable festival, make sure to plan ahead, as it draws thousands of sand-art connoisseurs.
GO FLY A KITE
If you are looking for the perfect beach activity, go retro and get a kite at one of the oldest kite shops on the Oregon Coast, Once Upon a Breeze (240 North Spruce Street, Cannon Beach, OR 97110; 503-436-1112). The selection includes traditional diamond-shaped paper fliers, all the way up to giant box kites depicting dragons. Depending on how busy the staff is, you may be able to get a tutorial on flying your kite, and locals walking the beach are always eager to lend a hand, too. The shop even offers a “kite hospital” if a rogue breeze wreaks some havoc.
SEASIDE SHOPPING AND CULTURE
After you’ve wrestled with the wind, head back to town to warm up and take in some of Cannon Beach’s famous galleries. One of the best is Northwest by Northwest Gallery (232 North Spruce Street, Cannon Beach, OR 97710; 503-436-0741; nwbynwgallery.com) This cozy space represents some of the finest artists in the Pacific Northwest, including fine art photographer Christopher Burkett, who shoots in the style of Ansel Adams, but with a keen eye toward nature’s colors, and bronze sculptor Georgia Gerber, whose life-size sculptures of deer, seals, birds and other native critters are elegant yet whimsical.
For such a tiny town, Cannon Beach boasts an unusual number of on-trend boutiques selling jewelry, clothes and shoes. One of the most eclectic is SeaSoles Shoe Boutique (139 West 2nd Street, Cannon Beach, OR 97110; 503-436-9033; seasoles.com). They have a great selection of sandals for summer strolls, but be sure to check out their line of Freebird boots, made of hand-distressed leather in Mexico. To complete your shopping experience make sure to visit the Organic Boutique (139 West 2nd Street, Cannon Beach, OR; 503-436-4199;organicboutique.org), which specializes in clothing made from 100% organic fibers (including the popular Seattle brand Prairie Underground). Although it is a fragrance-free and chemical-free environment, it is the perfect place to delight yourself with the aroma of essential oils and a variety of organic products such as hair care, bath and body products, food, and a selection of different lines of trendy, comfy cotton separates.
NORTH TO SEASIDE
A century ago, Seaside was a hopping resort, fancying itself as the Atlantic City of the Northwest. There are no towering, glitzy casinos, thank goodness, but there’s neon and taffy and seemingly hundreds of T-shirt shops, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. You can make Broadway and the Promenade your base of operations. Run out on the sand once again (because it’s calling your name) and then head back to “town” for food and fun.
Lunch in Seaside is inexpensive enough that you can graze and nosh as you walk, picking up sandwiches, fish and chips, burgers, and other meal-in-a-bun options. But for a touch of elegance and more creative presentation, try Finn's Fish House (227 Broadway, Seaside, OR 97138; 503-738-8330; finnsfishhouse.com). It serves just about any type and flavor of local seafood you might have a hankering for, including fresh Willapa Bay oyster shooters, local Dungeness crab cakes, or the famous cioppino, brimming with scallops, halibut, clams, mussels, prawns and crab. If you choose Finn's for dinner, enjoy live piano on Fridays and Saturdays.
Several of Seaside’s old-timey arcade attractions are still going strong, though now they don’t take up whole city blocks as they once did, and have been surrounded by cap and mug shops. But they are all worth seeking out. The small, but adorable vintage carousel is located deep inside the Carousel Mall (300 Broadway, Seaside, OR 97138; 503.738.6728; seasidecarouselmall.com). Riders of all ages can enjoy one of the few remaining operational carousels from the early part of the last century.
Head back out to Broadway, walk a bit west, and then go back in time once more, to the Funland Arcade (201 Broadway, Seaside, OR 97139; 503-738-7361; funlandseaside.com), which has been providing the beach crowd with funky attractions since 1931. The vintage Tilt-a-Whirl ride is supremely rickety yet still scream-worthy. And the Bumper Cars are a total throwback—not to mention a great way to get out any simmering frustrations. Even little ones, as long as they are 44 inches tall, can get on these bumper cars—the only restriction seems to be “No Casts.” The mural on the back wall still features the battling early 20th century cartoon characters Maggie and Jiggs, who command you to “Ride the Skooter!” as they have for decades. And at $2.50 per go-round, the cars are a great cheap thrill.
By now you should be just about ready to head back to Portland, but you should take a little piece of Seaside back with you. The best place for a sample, or three, to give you that splendid sugar rush is at The Buzz (406A Broadway, Seaside, OR 97139; 503-717-8808; thebuzzcandy.com). This place is like a candy museum, but you get to consume the works of art. Yes, there’s salt-water taffy—80 flavors, including chili mango, rum and blueberry muffin. However, The Buzz is regionally known for its 30 flavors of fudge—a personal favorite is the super creamy Cookies ‘n’ Cream—as well as Twinkies and Rice Krispie bars dipped in, well, just about anything. Bacon fans, don’t leave without trying a full rasher of bacon coated in maple. And if you want to relive your childhood, you’ll find vintage candy you thought they stopped making ages ago (Fizzies, anyone?).
If you’re lucky, you’ll make it back home with a few treats for tomorrow.
This city guide is part of our series: 180 Miles. We’re highlighting enticing and accessible day trips Zipsters can embark upon with the 180 miles included in every Zipcar reservation. Good eats? Scenic views? Hidden gems? From the California seaside to New York’s Hudson Valley, and all the sights and sounds in between, we’ve got your itinerary. Who’s got shotgun?