Favorite American Drives, Oregon Coast

In 2005, I was hired to pen a story about whale watching along the Oregon coast during spring, when the gray whales migrate north. I brought along my brother Jim, who worked as photographer, starting our trip in Portland. That first night, we had an exceptional meal at Paley’s Place and had our first taste of the beverage we’d happily be drinking the rest of the weeklong trip, Oregon pinot noir.

From Portland, it’s only 75 miles on Route 26 West to the shores of Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast. First stop was towering Haystack Rock, which stands tall in the shallow waters, inspiring awe from all who stroll on the hard-packed sand. After dropping our bags off at the upscale Stephanie Inn, we drove over to nearby Ecola State Park and took a hike in this emerald forest, where massive 300 year-old Sitka spruce trees have trunks as wide as a redwood. The woods soon recede, replaced by sandstone bluffs, pink colored beaches and the great expanse of the Pacific. 

We headed south on Route 101, stopping in the fishing community of Bay City for small, tender Kumamoto oysters on the half shell at Pacific Oyster. Dessert was creamy blackberry ice cream at Tillamook Cheese Factory. As we grew closer to Depoe Bay, the traffic and commercialism increased. Yet, south of Newport, the coastline is its wild self once again.

In the small arts community of Yachats, houses cling to the high cliffs, nestled in a forest of spruce and leafless alder trees. The hills reach their highest point, 900 feet above the beach, at Cape Perpetua. We drove to the top and jumped out of the car to take in the exquisite vistas. At the start of the Giant Spruce Trail, a man yelled joyously, “A whale.  I just saw a whale.” My brother and I ran over, but didn’t see diddlysquat. 

Our final night was spent at arguably the most perfect spot on the entire Oregon coast, a former assistant lightkeeper’s quarters set on a grassy patch below the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Below, breakers explode against the burgundy red cliffs that hem in a narrow beach filled with driftwood. In the darkness, we grabbed a flashlight from the inn and hiked up to the lighthouse to watch it flash beacon after beacon across the rugged land and then out to sea.

The next morning, we tried again to find one whale, any whale, but saw no fluke or spout the entire trip. Didn’t matter. We still had an awesome time. We topped it off with a visit to Willamette Valley, the heart of Oregon wine country. From Yachats, it was about a 2 ½-hour drive to the outskirts of Salem, home to our favorite wine of the week, Cristom. Vines cling to the slopes of their 60-acre lot and are named after the owner’s four daughters.  We also stopped at the Tasting Room in Carlton to try his selection of little-known gems that never make it out of the state. Then it was an hour drive back to Portland and our flight home. An exceptional drive that I can’t wait to do again!