A Taste of the Oregon Coast
[Manzanita / Cannon Beach, OR, Jul 5, 2019]
Trying to figure out what to do with a couple of free days in the Portland area was not hard at all. I’ve been to Portland a couple of times before, so this time I was expanding to good day trips outside of town. The Columbia River Gorge is an excellent such trip, but I had done that in the Fall of 2013. One alternative that came to mind was the Oregon coast. It turns out that Cannon Beach, famous for its Haystack Rock, is only about 90 minutes away. I decided to check out the small coastal town of Manzanita first, then head north towards Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park.
The drive to Manzanita was almost 2 hours. Highway 26, which runs east-west and connects Portland to Cannon Beach, took me over the Oregon Coast Range. I then veered South-West on Highway 53, a narrow and winding road that had me going at 30 miles an hour the whole way. It was challenging but fun to drive, albeit I wished I were driving something better than a small Nissan sedan.
Once I left the forest, I drove through the small town of Nehalem – population 271 as of the 2010 census.
Shortly after, I found myself on Manzanita’s main street, Laneda Ave. Laneda runs east-west and I could see the ocean down the hill in front of me. I found an empty spot on the street. Once I got out of the car, I realized I was right next to Manzanita News and Espresso, a cabin-like coffee shop that had a bathroom I very much needed.
I kept walking down Laneda Ave, which was lined with shops, restaurants, galleries and hotels. The weather was overcast but not as cold as the forecast said it was going to be – it felt like mid 60s (upper teens C) with relatively high humidity, which made the temperature feel even warmer. I bought a little souvenir in one of the shops, then walked back to the car.
Further down, I stopped along the coast to marvel at the Manzanita beach.
From there, I picked up US Highway 101, the 1500-mile (2500-km)-long highway that runs the length of the West coast all the way down to Los Angeles. US-101 has lost some of its popularity since the construction of I-5, which is newer, passes through more major cities and is more direct due to the much easier geography compared to the coast. Still, US-101 remains one of the most scenic roads in the US. The portion between Manzanita and Cannon Beach took me through Oswald West state park, named after Oregon’s governor from 1910 to 1914. He was instrumental in passing regulation to preserve the Oregon coast, specifically its tidelands – the land between low tide and high tide.
From one of the overlooks in the park, I could see Manzanita Beach in its entirety. The overlook was on the West shoulder of the Neahkahnie mountain. The name is Native American and is believed to mean “home of the supreme being.” At 1,661 ft (506 m), this was one of the highest points on the Oregon coast.
The same overlook allowed me to marvel at the design of this section of Highway 101. During the 1920s and 1930s, an evolution in design ethics in architecture and landscape took place – designing in harmony with nature. Roads designed during this time hugged the topography of the land where they were built, and local materials were used. This is very much true for the Oregon Coast Highway. This specific section, built between 1939 and 1941, features rock structures 4,000 ft (1,200 m) in length, which represents the largest rockwork project in Oregon.
Just north of Oswald West State Park is another state park, Hug Point. Without the modern highway, visitors to this rugged part of the coast had to hug the coastline during low tide to make their way, hence the name. The parking lot had ample parking, and the beach was really beautiful.
There was one more interesting viewpoint on the way to Cannon Beach. I had a great view of Silver Point Rock, one of the many Oregon Coast monoliths scattered along the coast.
I finally got to Cannon Beach around 2 pm. I headed straight to Mo’s, a beach-side restaurant famous for its clam chowder. I got very lucky with parking and found a spot right outside the door. The line for seating took about 10 minutes, and I was lucky to score a table on the outside patio with great views of Haystack Rock.
I ordered the clam chowder and shrimp melt per Megan’s recommendation, which were both delicious!
The staff was nice enough to let me keep my car in their lot for a short walk on the beach. I got a bit closer to Haystack Rock, which was just as impressive as I had seen in pictures. Just like many of the other seashore monoliths in Oregon, Haystack Rock was once joined to the coastline but years of erosion have since separated it from the coast.
I stopped in downtown Cannon Beach to to go to the post office. My AirBnB hosts had given me 4 large printouts of wildlife photos the husband took while they lived in Kenya. Conveniently, they gave them to me in a circular tube, but it was too large for me to fit my suitcase or bring as an additional carry-on item. Downtown Cannon Beach was even cuter than Manzanita! I didn’t take any photos except for this unique view of Haystock rock from the road.
I kept going north to Ecola State Park, my last stop on this mini-road trip. A single-lane road lead me into the park.
This was the only park where I had to pay a fee, but the $5 were totally worth it. Left from the main entrance is a great viewpoint of Cannon Beach and beyond.
I also saw the now defunct Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. It was commissioned in 1878 and finished in 1881. The lighthouse was built on the rock rather than on the shore because a survey discovered the lighthouse would be obscured by fog if built there. Because of the often stormy weather conditions and the dangerous commute for both keepers and suppliers, the lighthouse was nicknamed “Terrible Tilly.”. Over the years, storms have damaged the lighthouse, shattered the lens, and eroded the rock. It was decommissioned in 1957 and subsequently sold to private owners. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Next, I went to the other side of the park, at Indian Beach, where I saw more seaside monoliths. It was past 4 pm now and it was definitely getting a little cooler and windier, so I didn’t spend a lot of time here.
I was supposed to take Highway 26 all the way back to the Portland metro area. An accident on the road caused another curvy, winding detour through Timber, which delayed me by a good 20 minutes. But the clouds were lifting this far east and I finally saw a stretch of blue sky.
Once back at the house, I took a dip in the hot tub, then watched the soft light of the setting sun though the huge windows in the living room.