Most Oregonians understand when I speak of the violent beauty of the Oregon Coast in the wintertime. While Salem area residents are accustomed to the rain and the cold we experience in the Valley, the coast range takes winter weather to a whole new level of dramatic splendor. Without the mountains to belay the wind and rain, the cloud cover and fog, our western “beaches” take on more of an unpredictable and raw persona, akin to something straight out of a film, only better #becauseOregon.
I think the Pacific Coast is so admirable in our region because the trees and the mountains continue all the way up to the shoreline. We don’t just have sandy beaches—we also have rocky terrain, ominous sand dunes, beachcombing the driftwood for treasures, tidepools, fresh seafood restaurants, sea lions, scenic hiking trails, storm watching, numerous “Haystack Rocks” and rocky crags pointing upwards in defiance against the test of time.
In terms of the time constraints of a day-trip, Salem’s coast access spans from Newport to the south, all the way up to Seaside, over 100 miles of opportunity. From 1- to 2-hour driving times, the coast is an ideal destination option for a winter escape, especially with the holiday season upon us. With the stressors of over-crowded city centers and increased traffic, sometimes our sanity demands the balance of a little R&R. Solo trips to the coast can be really rewarding—it gives me some time to think and listen to some good tunes in the car, and there’s something really liberating about wandering the coast with me, myself, and I, absorbing all the gorgeous sights and smells. On the other hand, sharing those experiences with a travel buddy or a group of friends can be equally rewarding for the very same reasons. It totally depends on the mood, I’ve found, or the kind of adventure you’re craving. Sometimes you just need to go solo; other times you need to bask in camaraderie.
Naturally, it’s a good idea to know which coastal town you wish to visit. Everyone has their favorites. The popular spots include Lincoln City, Seaside, Tillamook, Pacific City, Cannon Beach, and Newport; the lesser-known gems like Depoe Bay, Netarts, Rockaway Beach, Oceanside, and Otis are well worth mentioning.
And while Otis is not technically on the coastline, it’s certainly on the way if you’re taking Highway 18. Don’t sneeze, or you’ll miss the best part about driving through the tiny town—the Otis Café. It has, hands-down, the best homemade bread this side of the Mississippi. Their molasses bread is my guilty pleasure. (I always buy a loaf to take with me.) It’s the perfect stop for the beach-bound traveler. Another perfect pit stop is Camp 18 Restaurant on Highway 26 as you head out towards Seaside. A huge log cabin-style building, the restaurant not only boasts logger-sized specialty menu items (like their famous dinner-plate-sized cinnamon roll), they also honor the history of Oregon’s logging industry.
And yes, I know, the Coast seems like an obvious destination for those of us in the Salem area, but over time and experience, I’ve learned that with just a little planning and a bit of adventurous efficiency, you really can get more out of your trip than you originally expected. While I’m always a fan of spontaneity, I find the best beach escapes involve a hybrid of both strategy and impulsivity. And if you can, please consider staying at least one night in an actual cottage or room at a beach house (trust me, hotels just don’t cut it for this kind of experience)—it takes away the stress of cramming in what you can, and it also opens up the opportunity to discover what really makes the coast so enjoyable during all times of the day. Because, honestly, the coast is just mystical at night. Especially in the winter. It demands a fire and hot drinks and books and movies and straight-up unadulterated relaxation. My coastal adventures have improved dramatically since I discovered the invention of the “overnight stay” at a cottage or local B&B/AirBnB.
Because, often times, I find myself not wanting to leave, or wanting to hike more, or take pictures of the sunset, or peruse the town and local businesses more, or be able to just drive up and down the 101 before crashing in the warmth and safety of a beach cottage and not needing to fret about driving the long, winding way home at night.
#OptOutside (and a little inside) this time of year. With the near-guarantee of rain in winter, and the bizarre, early sunsets starting at 4:00 p.m., there’s something wondrous and enchanting about our coastline. Los Angeles can have its polluted golden beaches and relentless, smoggy 24/7 sunshine, as far as I’m concerned. I’ll take my rainforest-Oregon coast any day, rain or shine (but especially rain).