It’s difficult to avoid clichés when describing the rugged Oregon coast with its spectacular vistas and pristine beaches. Photo opportunities are so ubiquitous you’ll probably run out of camera memory before you run out of views you want to take pictures of. Even an amateur photographer like me can take impressive shots of its natural beauty. There are also plenty of picturesque towns, filled with quaint shops and fascinating tourist attractions, dotting the entire length of the coast. If that’s not enough, exciting indoor and outdoor activities and special events of all sorts abound. Just reading about all these delights will make you want to visit it.
Pictures, of course, can’t do it justice. They never do, when it comes to showing the true essence of any place. A photo might hint at certain qualities, but it’s always an incomplete representation of what it’s like to actually be there. Since I have had the pleasure of visiting the northern half of the Oregon coast several times, I’ll share my experience of it to help fill in some of that picture. Most importantly, it has one dominant characteristic that I believe sets it apart from other coastlines. The Oregon coast has weather. Lots of it. And it’s the kind you will never, ever get in the Caribbean or Hawaii.
You should count on it being cool and foggy (or overcast) on most days and for most of the day. Except when it’s windy and cold.
Taken in August, 2011. The wind was so strong I was afraid the blowing sand would damage my camera. I brought a windbreaker and a lightly-lined jacket because I didn’t know which I would need. I was wearing both.
Sometimes the wind manages to blow away the fog, but just because you can actually see the sun doesn’t mean it’s going to be warm when you rush out to the beach. Nevertheless, you should still go, for two reasons. That’s when you’ll see more locals, those hardy individuals who actually thrive in such a climate. Generally, the only people on the beach are tourists, easily recognizable by their T-shirts, shorts, sandals, and goose bumps. The few locals you see on overcast days will be wearing jackets, heavy pants, boots, and warm hats strapped to their heads so they don’t get blown off. But when the sun peeps out, even briefly, the locals drop everything and rush to the beach, like it’s a holiday or special treat—because it is.
The other reason to rush to the beach when the sun comes out is you just might be one of the lucky few to actually get a fabulous and extremely rare picture of the sun setting over the ocean. Even on “sunny” days, the fog usually rolls back in by sunset, and pictures taken of a fog-shrouded sun look more like the moon setting over the water. They’re still pretty awesome, but not gloriously stunning.
In the wintertime, it’s colder and windier. Hurricane-force winds are not that unusual. To that, you have to add in the frequent, heavy rainfall (because this is Oregon, after all), which causes flooding, mudslides, road closures, and power outages. Except when the precipitation is snow. That’s right. Sometimes the sand is covered with snow. With a little luck, you can get a sunburn and frostbite on the same trip to the beach. No doubt about it, the Oregon coast in the wintertime is a storm watcher’s paradise.
I prefer to watch storms from a safe distance—50 to 100 miles is usually sufficient—so I haven’t been to the Oregon coast in the winter, yet. Besides, there are enough other kinds of spine-tingling excitement to steer clear of in the summertime, such as beach logs that can unexpectedly spin around when you hop on them or “sneaker waves” that can rise up out of nowhere when your back is turned and drag you out to sea. I’m not even going to mention the possibility of a tsunami being caused by an earthquake in the Cascadia fault zone just off shore because that would be a once-in-a-lifetime event. (How ominous-sounding is that phrase?)
Instead, let us focus on a few things I do recommend. Newport is a popular destination with tourists who are looking for the picturesque. In fact, it’s so picturesque it has murals painted on some of the buildings in its historic Bayfront District. It also has tourist attractions galore: Oregon Coast Aquarium, Hatfield Marine Science Center, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum, The Wax Works museum, Oregon Undersea Gardens, Yaquina Bay Lighthouse (and surrounding natural area), plus all the other things that you would expect from a coastal town, like public beaches (all beaches are public in Oregon), charter boat trips for whale watching or fishing, and seafood restaurants.
Other popular choices include Lincoln City for their casino and outlet mall and Tillamook for the Tillamook Cheese Factory tour (with free cheese samples plus you can buy a cone of your favorite Tillamook ice cream flavor from their store. Chocolate lovers should try their Tillamook Mudslide.) Afterward, make sure you visit the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum. It has three floors of fascinating treasures to explore, which will help you burn off those ice cream calories. Historic Astoria is on my list of coastal towns I want to visit, with its Flavel House Museum, Astoria Column, Columbia River Maritime Museum, and Astoria Riverfront Trolley.
Just from this brief list, it’s obvious that people are visiting the Oregon coast, in spite of the weather. After all, there’s no point in having tourist attractions if there are no tourists. And if you are starting to get a niggling suspicion that I have exaggerated the cold, windy weather in order to discourage you and other tourists from cluttering up the Oregon coast, let me assure you that I am not that mean-spirited. I’m happy to share all this beauty with anyone who has the fortitude to enjoy it. The weather is simply a fact, one that is so well-known to those living in this part of the country that there is even an insurance commercial about the beaches in the Pacific Northwest called “Goosebumped Beach Bum.”
(One of my favorite commercials by this insurance company.)
So pack your bags and meet me on the Oregon coast…next summer.