Driving the Oregon Coast
Published: January 2011
By David Keeps
On the ocean roads west of Portland, a new wave of modern hotels offers a fresh take on the seaside retreat.
Portland, Oregon, doesn’t lack for fashionable boutique hotels, but to the west, along the Pacific Ocean, the options have tended to be as primal as the shoreline. Recently, however, a group of properties has sprung up on the northern coast, aiming to seduce 21st-century travelers with designs steeped in post–World War II Modernism. Each stop on this easy three-night itinerary provides a stylish Oregon beach getaway—along with postcard-worthy water views.
Day 1: Portland to Astoria
Follow the Columbia River Highway (U.S. 30) as it meanders along the waterway that led Lewis and Clark to the sea. (For more shore-hugging river views, cross the Oregon Way Bridge, just west of Rainier, and drive on Washington’s Ocean Beach Highway—but be sure to return to Route 30 by crossing back over at Cathlamet.) Make your way to Astoria, the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies (founded in 1811), a revitalized former fishing town with Victorian architecture and a restored 1913 riverfront trolley.
Take in the town—and the mouth of the Columbia River—from the 125-foot Astoria Column, and for a dramatic close-up of the Astoria Bridge, which connects Oregon and Washington, check in to the Cannery Pier Hotel (doubles from $299). Built on the site of a fish-packing facility on a pier that extends 600 feet into the river, the four-year-old hotel embraces a Pacific Northwest version of loft architecture, with exposed steel beams in the atrium-style lobby and hardwood floors in the 46 balconied rooms.
The best place to eat is just a short stroll down the pier at the Bridgewater Bistro (dinner for two $75). The restaurant offers exceptional views of the river and bridge, a tasting room for the Oregon Coast’s Flying Dutchman Winery, and a small-plates menu featuring watermelon-and-feta salad and a savory cheesecake with Dungeness crab.
Day 2: Astoria to Arch Cape
The Oregon Coast Highway (U.S. 26) crosses Youngs Bay and snakes southward almost to Arch Cape, set in the lush green terrain of Oswald West State Park. It’s a 30-mile trip that passes through the monied enclave of Gearhart, as well as Seaside, one of the first beach resorts in Oregon. Be sure to explore the Cannon Beach art colony, comprising 19 galleries and crafts studios; then hit the sand to behold Haystack Rock, a 235-foot-tall basalt formation that’s the third-largest such ocean monolith in the world. You might also want to scope out a spot for dinner in Cannon Beach—locals love the French-Italian dishes such as pesto-and-prawn pasta at Newmans at 988 (dinner for two $110)—or stock up on Oregon wine and Tillamook cheese before heading to Arch Cape, a tiny residential community with no restaurants. It is here that Bruce Bessey transformed an old beach house into the Ocean Point Inn & Spa (doubles from $275). The three handsome suites, with mod furnishings, are perfect for curling up in when the rain lashes the wild surf. In fair weather, guests mingle on the oceanfront deck to watch gray whales or gaze at the stars. In the morning, a hearty breakfast with fresh pastries provides fortification for beachcombing. Nestled between two state parks, the inn offers direct access to a nearly deserted Pacific stretch with sand dollar–filled tide pools.
Day 3: Arch Cape to Lincoln City
Lincoln City is a straight 79-mile shot down the 101, past open stretches of sand with more clumps of beach grass than sunbathers. Along the way: Laneda Avenue, in Manzanita, is a charming shopping strip; the Picnic Basket, in Rockaway Beach, has 97 flavors of salt-water taffy; Garibaldi Marina will hook you up for crab hunting and clam digging; and the Hawk Creek Café, in Neskowin, serves fresh seafood and a popular wood-fired pizza. Tillamook is the home of the famous cheddar, as well as ice creams made from local berries. Past Lincoln City, in Newport, is a worthwhile detour: the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, dating from 1871.
The beachfront at Lincoln City is stacked with condo-by-the-sea complexes—which makes the recent renovation of the 141-room Surftides (doubles from $134) that much more welcome. Under the new management of the owners of the hip Farmer’s Daughter hotel, in Los Angeles, the Surftides—first opened in 1936—is now decorated with cork bulletin-board walls and jazzy striped daybeds. The balconied guest rooms reference Midcentury Modern design with sleek built-ins and bold orange accents. You’d swear you were sleeping in an urban boutique hotel, except the roar outside your door is waves, not traffic.