Sometimes one of the most appealing aspects of staying at a bed and breakfast is the journey to get there. Nowhere is this more true than along the Oregon Coast.
A century ago, Governor Oswald West had the good sense to limit development along the coast to structures of no more than three stories tall. So here, unlike the wall of condominiums and hotels you’ll find in places like South Florida, your views of the ocean are unobstructed and awe-inspiring.
Technically, a coastal trip could last 340 miles from Astoria to Brookings, but for one of the finest one-day rides you can take, begin in Cannon Beach and drive the 158 miles and wrap up the day in Florence (or vice versa).
Launch from Cannon Beach
Located about 80 miles northwest of Portland, the highlight of Cannon Beach is a rock. Actually, it’s more than just a rock. It’s Haystack Rock and it’s 235 feet tall which makes it the third-largest coastal monolith in the world. A wonderful backdrop for photographs, it’s also a towering refuge for puffins, pigeons, guillemots, cormorants, and seagulls.
In a town of less than 2,000, downtown is easily manageable and interesting to see, with art and gift galleries, a small library and market, bookshops, watering holes, and a collection of restaurants. On the north end of town is Ecola State Park which epitomizes the woods primeval. The old-growth rainforest you’ll pass as you arrive in the park sets the stage for the view ahead. From a cliff is a vision of the Pacific Ocean where dozens of miles of arched shoreline are swept by an infinite series of waves. The cliff dips down until it dissolves into the waters like a dragon's tail.
Heading south on U.S. 101, the two-lane road has an old-fashioned feel as it clings to the coastline and begins to scale the mountains as you approach the Oswald West State Park and then, a few miles south, you spy a pullout that introduces you to a most marvelous overlook. Hundreds of feet above the booming and crashing waves, you’ll be able to view the sweeping coast as far north and south as you can see.
Through the small towns of Manzanita and Nehalem where you are suddenly aware you’ve left the coast for a valley, the calmness of the journey continues to follow you through Wheeler, Rockaway Beach, Farview and Garibaldi where the surrounding emptiness magnifies the impact of these places. One stop worth making is in the town of Tilamook, the "Land of Cheese, Trees, and Ocean Breeze."
Tillamook Cheese is known across America and a look inside shows the effort workers put into their product. Within seconds, 40-pound blocks of cheese are sliced into forty one-pound units and just across the hall some of the freshest ice cream you’ll ever taste is being produced. The end result of this whipping, cooking, mixing, and cooling can be sampled in the restaurant where grilled cheese sandwiches are served hot and scoops of ice cream delivered cold.
If you can forsake your schedule, the Three Capes Loop Road detours to the coast and the Cape Meares Lighthouse. Perched on a cliff 232 feet above the waves, at just 38 feet it’s Oregon's shortest and sits near the Octopus Tree, a multi-trunked Sitka spruce.
Should you loop back to Tilamook rather than connect to US 101 further south, the Tillamook Air Museum is built within a massive hangar built which once housed Navy blimps searching for Japanese submarines. Six miles south, tucked inside the woods is Munson Falls, a 319-foot waterfall springing out of a mossy cliff.
The road remains gentle and undisturbed, with well-placed pullouts, small towns, farms, valleys, hills, beaches, and bays spaced at perfectly timed intervals. At Lincoln City you’ll cross the 45th parallel which tells you you’re midway between the equator and the North Pole, and then miles down the road more lighthouses including one at Heceta Head, which is believed to be the most photographed lighthouse on the Pacific Coast and one which also accommodates a bed and breakfast.
A mile ahead, Sea Lion Caves is an old-fashioned tourist attraction where an elevator descends nearly 20 stories down to usher you into a domed cavern where sea lions surge in with the sea and doze atop the basalt rock formations.
End of the Line
For this journey, the final stop is Florence where Old Town and its waterfront shops, restaurants, galleries, and gift shops occupy recycled buildings. It is the retail counterpart to the town’s natural appeal, which is Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. To experience one of the biggest thrills o your life, arrange a ride in a dune buggy with Sand Dunes Frontier as the driver leaps and grinds and springs and skitters across 38,000 acres of sand mountains.
You’ve traveled less than 160 miles. Do it right and this one day drive will generate years of memories.