A drive down Oregon’s northern coast

Emily Denny/Staff

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Something bright peaked out from beneath the thick layer of clouds above my car — something I hadn’t seen for weeks, something overwhelmingly bright. I pulled over the car alongside the empty, cliff-side highway. Waves 100 feet below crashed against the rocks while two seagulls cried, playing a game of tag in front of me. 

It was the sun, in January, in Oregon — a warmth I hadn’t felt for weeks on this Pacific Northwest coast. For just those few minutes on the side of the road, the sun had fought its way through the messy winter fog. 

I wasn’t the only one with the same idea to pull over the car. As I stood off the highway, facing the sun and attempting to soak in as much sunlight as I could, other cars parked next to mine. 

Together, my fellow highway drivers and I stood like cormorants in silence facing the sun, attempting to eliminate the damp chill that had spread throughout our bones for the past few chilly and brutally wet winter weeks. But just as fast it came, the sun disappeared, and the fog all too soon took over, darkening the Pacific waves below and welcoming back the cool gray and salty breeze. Hopping into my car, I returned back to the 101. 

Sunny moments like these are rare along the Oregon coast, but they make me appreciate the sun more than I would normally. 

I had spent the beginning of the new year on the northern half of the Oregon coast, dedicating more than half of my days to its sandy beaches, regardless of the unreliable weather. And ever since the new year, a majority of these days were rainy ones, welcoming the sun only momentarily on a few lucky days. 

Hiking along Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach was one of my first stops as I drove south down the coastline. Easily one of Oregon’s more popular destinations, the small town rests along a soft, sandy beach, which points toward the picturesque Haystack Rock. Rising 235 feet above the shore during high tide, the rock hosts a unique ecosystem, home to tidepools and unique birdlife, like the tufted puffin. 

Although it was the wrong season to view the nesting puffins, Haystack Rock was undoubtedly an impressive landmark, making the small town next to it popular as well. I found the reflection of the rock against the glossy sand even more impressive. As the tide slowly backed away, the reflection grew with the lowering sun, stretching longer and wider across the beach. 

A pit stop in Manzanita

Following the 101 south, I was met with multiple small beach towns past Cannon Beach, many of which provide easy beach access. When approaching Manzanita, the highway winds its way down a cliff, completely covered in dense forest. As I came off the cliff, and into town, I was met with small shops, restaurants and the sandy coastline. Manzanita is home to an endless amount of outdoor recreation, such as hiking the nearby Neahkahnie Mountain or birding. Not having too much time, I resorted to taking a small walk along the beach. 

Small homes line the way, as fellow beachgoers walk along the crashing waves and dogs run back and forth, chasing the sandpipers. Manzanita, like many of Oregon’s coastal towns, offers an ideal escape for people looking to avoid crowded beach spots, but for those who also enjoy the forest to sea views, as well as local restaurants and boutique shopping. 

Creameries and fermentation

About another 40 minutes down the 101 is Tillamook, Ore., home to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Pacific Northwest, the Tillamook Creamery, which was established in 1909. When walking toward the creamery, a massive cow face towering above the creamery’s main entrance greets you — almost intimidating visitors into eating entirely too many dairy products once inside. I later learned that the cow was named Flower and that it was Tillamook’s token and award-winning cow. 

A self-guided tour takes visitors of the creamery along the cheese-making process. The day I went, the creamery was highlighting the cheddar-making. As I followed the interpretive signs, I watched as employees constantly checked the temperatures of metal canisters and followed as they busily shuffled heavy blocks of cheese on and off of conveyor belts. Downstairs, the creamery has endless options for sampling its products in the forms of macaroni, pizza, soup and every ice cream flavor possible. 

Farther downtown is de Garde Brewing, a unique brewery that ferments its beer from natural Tillamook yeast and microflora. Inside the taproom, customers sip on a radical set list of beers, many of which include notes of fresh fruits and winter spices. 

That night, a sudden thunder and lightning storm hit the coast. As I drove through the forest and along seaside cliffs, heavy rain blurred the dark views of the coast. Every few moments, flashes of lightning lit up the landscape around me, highlighting the dark waves to my right and the rolling mountain hills to my left. At this point, I knew I couldn’t depend on any form of consistency in the coastal weather, but as I drove farther south, watching the sky brighten and darken instantly, I couldn’t help but enjoy the inconsistency of the weather. Throughout my day, the Oregon coast may have been constantly changing depending on the weather, but it was also a region that is celebrated for its cuisines based in its natural elements, grounded by its constant coastline and appreciated for its endless cliffside views — rain or shine.

Contact Emily Denny at [email protected] .