For these times, there’s Pacific City, Oregon
, in the scenic Nestucca
Valley at the southern end of the Three Capes Scenic Loop. It’s not that there’s nothing to do here, just that there’s nothing you have to do, no competing requirements for your time or attention.
At Tillamook, Highway 101 heads inland. To stay on the coast, you have to take a series of roads less traveled past Cape Meares
, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda
—from which comes the name Three Capes Scenic Loop
. The Oregon Bicycle Guide calls it an ideal route for cycling, on low-traffic volume, paved roads. You’ll have it even more to yourselves in what the state park system calls the Discovery Season, from October through April.
We— my husband, two dogs and I—pack the car with kibble, toys and treats, and lots of old towels and blankets. We add a jigsaw puzzle I’ve been meaning to put together for years, and a couple of board games. Our only concessions to high technology are short stacks of CDs and DVDs, knowing that the home we’re renting at Shorepine Village
has players for both. The four most important food groups we pack are wine, beer, hot cocoa and popcorn.
Our destination is at least five and a half hours away from our home in Seattle. We leave early, as our plan includes many stops along the way. Pacific City is about two and a half hours from Portland. From San Francisco, it’d be an 11-hour drive, but pilots, take note: There is an airstrip in town.
Our first three hours is the slog south on I-5, pausing only for rest-stop potty breaks and coffee (single-short-decaf-soy mocha and double-tall-nonfat cappuccino). But when we get to Portland, we have a tradition: a side trip to Northwest Portland’s Couch Park
), an off-leash hilltop on 19th between Glisan
and Hoyt. A stop into Moonstruck Chocolate Café
is required, for a nine-pack of designer truffles, and then somewhere along 23rd Avenue, we have lunch.
On any given Saturday, this would be about time for a nap, but the road demands our attention. The scenery of Tillamook State Forest
—first on State Route 8 and then onto State Route 6—is gorgeous, and it takes great awareness to keep the car on the twisty curves of the road. Aside from a pullover at a forested rest stop, the next place to get out and stretch our legs is at the Tillamook Cheese Factory
. The dogs and I run around a wide lawn while the hubby goes in for an ice cream cone. He returns with free cheese curd samples for the pups. Later, I demand a stop at the Blue Heron Cheese Company
for picnic goodies, and the geese and barn animals running free drive the dogs mad with barking.
It’s almost dusk by the time we exit Highway 101 onto the loop. We skip the sights and head directly to our home for the next few days. We’ve picked one of 18 pet-friendly rental houses at Shorepine Village
, a new development in Pacific City. Each home is individually owned, decorated and fully outfitted with everything you could want. A few even have small fenced yards. Ours is more of a fenced sandbox, but the dogs love the sniff-scape
Because most of these new and swanky vacation houses sleep anywhere from six to 10 people, you might try splitting the cost by going in with friends or extended family—there’s a two-night minimum in the off-season and a three-night minimum in the summer. We can also highly recommend a night at the Inn at Cape Kiwanda
, run by the same management company. We enjoyed a warm, light-filled room with an ocean-view balcony and gas fireplace.
The next morning, we discover some of the features that make this community extra dog-friendly. Extended, paved walkways wind throughout, and a couple of bicycles with gritty gears are available for our wanderings. Outdoor wash stations, bag dispensers and dog towels make cleanup a little easier after a day at the beach. We immediately fall in love with the dune ramp, built by the community for private beach access. It has a couple of switchbacks up and over the steep fore dune, giving us great views of the stormy skies and ocean. We’re told that in the spring and fall, you can watch migrating gray whales from this perch, and in the winter, storm watching is the name of the game.
After a hefty breakfast (and free toast scraps for the pups) at the Village Coffee Shoppe
, which really should be called the Village Home of the World’s Largest Chicken Fried Steak, we abandon our ambitious plans to hike the beach section of the Oregon Coast Trail and opt instead to hang out on the deck and then wander over to Cape Kiwanda
Pacific City is a working fishing village without docks, marinas, piers or a wharf. We’ve come to see the ocean-going Dory fishing fleet, flat-bottomed boats that launch directly into the surf. When they’ve caught their load for the day, they return by running the boats full-throttle onto shore to a sand-slide stop. They have right-of-way, so you and your pooch have to watch out.
We bundle up tight against the cold, spray and wind, and climb to the top of the beautiful wave- and wind-sculpted sandstone cliffs. This natural feature juts a half-mile out to sea and is one of Oregon’s most frequently photographed natural wonders. My husband is mesmerized by the spray action against the haystack rocks in the bay, and I shake my head at a couple of crazy but determined wet-suited boogie boarders. At low tide, the beach extends four miles south to the tip of Nestucca Spit
. Cars are allowed on the beach during certain times of the year; our only bummer of the morning is that we didn’t pay close enough attention to the signs telling us where to park, so we get a ticket for parking on the wrong section of sand.
By now, we’re frozen popsicles, so you can’t blame us for tucking the dogs in the car in sweaters and blankets while we park our butts at the bar in the Pelican Pub
. In the summer it’s no big deal, because there are posts for tying up dogs just beyond an extended patio, and the soft sand and surf are right there. I have the crab cakes paired with the Scotch ale. The Pelican becomes our hangout. Over the next few days we down cream ales, pales, darks and stouts with our pizza and burgers. Even breakfast is better with beer—in beer-batter pancakes—with haystack potato burritos and stuffed French toast.
We’re getting used to this life in the slow lane. On day two, we play around Sand Lake
in the morning and walk around Clay Myers
in the afternoon. Sand Lake is a playground for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), spitting their way through the sand dunes on the northwest side. For quiet dune hikes with your dog and playtime in the water, turn to the left as you enter the Fisherman Day-Use Area, where ATVs are not allowed. At high tide, there really is a lake, but when the tide is out, you can fool around on the mushy lake of sand and walk three-quarters of a mile out to the ocean.
Clay Meyers is remote and peaceful, with 180 acres on Whalen Island that became a state park in 2000. We walk a mile and a half loop through Sitka
spruce, shore pine and salal
dripping with moss. At low tide, you can dig for sand shrimp. In this pristine ecosystem, you can watch the salmon returning to spawn in the fall and the salmon smolts
struggling back to the ocean in the spring.
That night, we follow the locals 20 miles north to the Schooner Lounge
. The place looks like a dive, but the food tastes like a dream. At a beautiful bar carved out of maple wood, we munch on light and crunchy wood-fired mushroom pizza, with a recommendation to try the Cornish game hen when we return. Next summer, our furry kids can hang with Radar, the owner’s golden retriever, at the picnic tables on the paved lot.
On our final day in town, we wake to spitting rain; we get caught in periodic squalls throughout the day. It doesn’t deter us (much) from spending time at Tierra del Mar Beach
—wide and windy—about a mile north of Cape Kiwanda
, and at Bob Straub State Park
, a bunch of wavy dunes on a sand spit formed by the Nestucca
River. The river is the stuff of fishing legend, where it’s not unheard of to hook a 50-pound Chinook salmon. In between, we warm ourselves with scrubs and tub soaks back at our lovely rental house, and with more beer at the Pelican Pub.
The drive home begins the next morning, and it takes us even longer than the trip out. On the scenic loop, we stop at the Cape Meares Lighthouse
, see an octopus tree and watch hang gliders in Oceanside. We pull over to watch a blue heron nabbing fish in Netarts Bay
and an oysterman hauling nets out of the sludge. We plot our return. We never got to that puzzle. Next time, perhaps.
Before we sign off, we should mention the Web site pacificcity.org
, where you’ll find listings for places like Grateful Bread
, with drive-thru espresso, and restaurants like the Riverhouse
, famous for bottled salad dressings to take home. It’s also where you’ll find information for some of the things we never got around to doing: fishing the area’s two rivers, trolling the art galleries, bird-watching at Nestucca
Bay National Wildlife Refuge, feeding the resident population of wild bunnies, or kayaking the Nestucca
estuary with rentals from Pacific City Sporting Goods
Gear up for Pacific City at the CityDog Shop
Blue Heron French Cheese Company
2001 Blue Heron Dr., Tillamook
NW 19th Ave. & NW Glisan
Inn at Cape Kiwanda
33105 Cape Kiwanda
Dr., Pacific City
Moonstruck Chocolate Café
526 NW 23rd Ave., Portland
33180 Cape Kiwanda
Bay Rd., Tillamook
Dr., Pacific City
Tillamook Cheese Factory
4175 Hwy 101 N., Cape Meares
Village Coffee Shoppe