Oregon Coast

Columbia River Maritime Museum

A Good Gray Columbia River Maritime Museum

What: Columbia River Maritime Museum
Where: 1792 Marine Drive, Astoria

When: Daily 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Why: It offers hours of history and activities for your whole family
Cost: Kids 5 and under FREE, Kids ages 6 and over $5, Adults $14, Seniors $12

This summer my in-laws treated us all to a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum right on the riverfront of charming Astoria, Oregon. I knew it’d have boats and history, but it seriously exceeded my expectations! We easily spent over 2 hours here, discovering and learning.

The main focus of the museum is the history of the Columbia River as well as general maritime information. I was also fascinated by the information on the Coast Guard, weather systems, and the many, many shipwrecks on the Columbia sandbar. The displays are large and creative–and usually to scale–and they’ve created exhibits with every age in mind. Adults can find plenty of information while kids crawl through certain displays, captain their own ship, and even give a weather report with a green screen.

Museum admission includes a tour of the lightship Columbia. It was decommissioned in 1979, and now sits docked behind the building. Walking (and stumbling!) through it gives you a real taste of ship life.

For an extra $5 each we also watched their 3-D movie “Hurricane 3D,” which I found interesting but not earth-shattering (although I did have a wiggly 2-year-old on my lap).

While you’re in Astoria, you can also check out the Astoria Column (and throw a toy plane from the top!), drive by the Goonie’s House, or ride the Astoria Riverfront Trolley. Sometimes I get snooty because Astoria isn’t on the ocean, but really, it’s a delightful place to visit.

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Cape Meares Lighthouse

What: Cape Meares Lighthouse
Where: Tip of Cape Meares just south of Tillamook Bay

When: Year round, 7 am to dusk (tours April to October)
Why: You get a historical lighthouse, incredible views, and natural wonders all in one stop
Cost: FREE

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About 10 miles west of Tillamook way out on Cape Meares, you’ll find a bit of a treasure: a historical lighthouse surrounded by interesting wildlife, spectacular views, and fascinating trees. And it’s all accessible from the same parking lot.

The Cape Meares Lighthouse was built in 1889. As Oregon’s shortest lighthouse, it gives you a great view of its top with little effort. There is a shady, paved trail down to the lighthouse from the parking lot (save some energy for the walk back because it’s deceivingly steep). They have a teensy interpretive/gift shop and free tours from April to October (with limited days/times in the Spring and Fall). Small children aren’t allowed on the tour, but anyone can walk around the lighthouse exterior year-round.

Cape Meares is also a great place to bird-watch or whale watch during migration seasons. There are designated viewing points, but there are incredible views all around, in part thanks to the National Wildlife Refuge that cover the cape.

A short hike from the parking lot you’ll also find two interesting Sitka Spruces. There are two you won’t want to miss: one is the Octupus Tree, which has what looks like tentacles reaching up. It’s an Oregon Heritage Tree, which basically means it’s super old. And cool. It’s considered a sacred tree to local tribes, and is probably 250 years old. (It was already an adult by the time Lewis & Clark made it to the coast!)

The second Sitka is even larger and older: Old Spruce is 144 feet tall and 15.5 feet in diameter, and is an estimated 750 to 800 years old! It’s the oldest of its kind in the state. Old Spruce will require you to park in a different lot (near the entrance to the scenic viewpoint), but it’s still only takes a short hike to reach it.

When you visit, try to check the roads in advance. We had to turn home once during a rainy season due to sinkholes, and I know the roads have been closed for landslides before too.

You probably won’t spend hours and hours at Cape Meares, but it’s a breathtaking spot and well worth the scenic drive.

 

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Cape Lookout State Park

What: Cape Lookout State Park
Where: 13000 Whiskey Creek Rd, Tillamook

When: Year round
Why: Beautiful beach access with tree-shrouded campsites
Cost: $5/day for day use, $21 and up for campsites

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We yurted again last month (going back to a tent is going to be very difficult), but this time we checked out Cape Lookout State Park with some dear friends. We had great food, excellent company, and only a teensy bit of rain. It hit the spot, ya’ll.

Cape Lookout, just southwest of Tillamook, is a coastal forest on a stretch of beach between Netarts Bay and the Pacific. You can see capes, rock formations, and beauty galore from beach. The day use area and campsites are just over the dunes, so we spent a lot of time playing in the sand. Unlike other beach campsites, I love that Cape Lookout is full of massive trees, many freakishly warped by the wind. The trees offered extra privacy, protection from the wind, and entertainment for the kids.

The park offers 35 full-hookup sites, more than 170 tent sites, 13 yurts, and 6 deluxe cabins. There are also 2 group tent camping areas, a hiker/biker camp, and a meeting hall. As a state park it has the usual hot showers, restrooms, fire wood for sale, and the Junior Ranger program. We were happy with our yurt site (shout out to Yurt 44!), but our friend’s tent site was prettttty small; choose your tent site carefully.

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With so many little kids in tow, we decided against the 5-mile round trip hike to the cape (there are some steep cliffs). However, I’m told it’s lovely with breathtaking views and epic whale-watching opportunities. You’ll need to drive or hike to the trail head from the day use area and campsites.

One thing that really sealed my love for Cape Lookout was the fact that we were still close to plenty of other cool places. I recommend exploring:
– Netarts Bay for clamming and crabbing (15 minutes away)
Tillamook Cheese Factory (20 minutes away)
– Cape Meares Lighthouse and Octopus Tree (20 minutes away)

We’ll be back, Cape Lookout!

Taking Kids to Newport, OR

During our Kindergartener’s first Spring Break, our family spent a few fun-filled days in Oregon’s own city of Newport. Located along the central coast, this city and beach make for a kid-happy vacation. With options for playing indoors and outdoors, take your kids to Newport and you’re sure to find something fantastic for everyone in your crew.

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INDOOR PLAY:

  • Oregon Coast Aquarium: This is a small yet beautiful aquarium, with a variety of animals. A highlight is walking through their awesome tunneled tank, while fish and sharks swim all around you. Open daily 10 am to 5 or 6 pm, admission is pricey: in 2016 it ranges from $14.95 to $22.95 per person (kids 0 to 2 are free).
  • Hatfield Marine Science Center: If you want to see marine life without paying aquarium prices, this FREE visitor center from OSU is a great alternative. They have please-touch tidepools, a resident octopus, and several other fish varieties on display.
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  • Bay Boulevard/Bayfront: Technically this is both indoor and outdoor play, but I’d consider walking along the bayfront a must-do in Newport. The heart of the city is along Bay Boulevard, where you can see fisherman coming in, hear the relentless barking of the sea lions, and find local shops, artists, and restaurants.

 OUTDOOR PLAY:

  • Yaquina Head Lighthouse: We loved Yaquina Head so much we went twice during our short weekend. We didn’t tour the beautiful and historic lighthouse (small children can’t go up), but we walked around it and enjoyed the incredible views—it’s a great spot for whale watching. You’ll pay a fee to enter the area, but it lasts for a few days and gives you access to the interpretive center (which is worth a visit) and Cobble Beach (see below).
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  • Cobble Beach: Descend the stairs on the south side of Yaquina Head and you’ll find an unexpected treasure—Oregon’s only naturally-occurring cobble beach. It’s made up entirely of smooth black rocks that crackle as the waves come in at high tide. It offers views of harbor seals and tide pools galore at low tide. Park Rangers stand by to offer info on marine life.
  • Agate Beach: Our hotel was right off of Agate Beach, so we spent a lot of time here playing, kiting, bonfiring, etc. It’s a nice, flat sandy beach with a small river and great views of Yaquina Head. We saw whales from here with our binoculars (!!!!), but oddly enough we did not see agates (head closer to the state park and I think you’ll have success).
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  • Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and Recreation Site: This lighthouse lacks the wow factor of Yaquina Head, so we only drove by here quickly. Apparently the recreation site has a nice beach with beautiful views

FOOD

  • Mo’s on the Newport Bayfront: This is the original of the popular Oregon coast chain. Located on Newport’s busy Bay Boulevard, this place is extremely casual and welcoming to families. You’re not an Oregonian if you haven’t tried their chowder.
  • Pig ‘N Pancake: This is another Oregon coast chain that we like for their breakfast food. It’s not earth-shattering, but our kids are happy here. Interestingly, the Newport location is in the old city hall building built in the 1920s.
  • Georgie’s Beachside Grill: This is a very nice place that will require your kids to be in restaurant-mode. We enjoyed our food and the service, but the real winner of the night was the view. Ask to be seated by a window, and you’re sure to be dazzled.
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Well done, Newport. Well done.

Tillamook Cheese Factory

What: Tillamook Cheese Factory
Where: 4175 Highway 101 North, Tillamook, OR
Who: All Ages
When: Daily 8 am to 6 pm (Labor Day to mid-June) or 8 pm (Mid-June to Labor Day)
Cost: FREE
Why: It’s a fun family outing at a proud Oregon institution

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Growing up when my mom would want us to smile for a picture, she’d say “Tillamook” and we’d say “CHEESE!” It’s just hard to talk about cheese and not bring up Tillamook, especially here in Oregon.

Tillamook Cheese is headquartered in green and gorgeous Tillamook County, Oregon. They make delicious cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and more with milk from dozens of local dairy farmers.

The cheese factory is located just off Highway 101 on the coast. It’s open daily for free self-guided tours. With a birds-eye view you get to watch the actual factory floor where they mix, age, and package the cheese. (We went with friends today and one of the employees waved up to our kids. They went wild.)

Downstairs your kids can play around with the photo spots in the lobby. The informative posters and signs may be lost on them, but the orange VW van is a HIT.

You can also sample the squeaky cheese curds and some of their popular flavors. Then you can shop for Tillamook products and merchandise, and grab a bite to eat. The food at the cafe is tasty yet a bit overpriced, but we simply must stop at the ice cream counter for a cone. (Tillamook Mudslide? Hazelnut and Salted Caramel?? Oh baby.)

Weekends and holidays will be busy, so prepare yourself for long food lanes and slow-moving traffic. The drive there is breathtaking and it’s close to other great stops on the coast like Cape Lookout and Rockaway Beach.

So next time you’re cruising the coast, make time to stop at Tillamook. You (and your tastebuds!) won’t regret it.

Coastal Beaches for Day Trips

If you live in the Portland area, consider yourself coastally spoiled: you’re close enough to the ocean to justify quick day trips. And as a true Oregonian, you know how to make the beach work year round, rain or shine.

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My children are absolute beach babies, so we love to drive west until the land ends and spend the day playing. We keep finding new beaches, but here are our favorites so far:

1. Hug Point: Just south of Cannon Beach and possibly my #1 beach. It has soft sand, caves, waterfalls, and even a bit of tidepooling. Parking and restrooms are right above the beach. A small river splits the main beach and keeps our girls busy for hours (score!).

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2. Arcadia: Also south of Cannon is a small, secluded beach. There are large rocks and some cool tidepools. Parking and restrooms are also just above the beach.

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3. Cannon Beach: This beloved beach with iconic Haystack Rock (Goonies never say die!) is quite popular. The town has the usual stuff—seafood restaurants, ice cream shops, candy stores, gift shops, and festivals. We’ve always parked in town and then schlepped our stuff a few blocks to the beach. But recently it dawned on me that the parking lot south of Haystack Rock (and next to Mo’s) is right on the beach and much easier with kids.

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4. Ecola State Park: I’ve already expressed my love for Indian Beach in Ecola State Park, but there are other beaches to see here too. You pay a fee to get into the park, but you’ll have clean beaches, cool hikes, and restrooms.

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5. Seaside: As far as towns go, I prefer Seaside over Cannon. It’s larger and offers more restaurants and shops. We love to get $1 ice cream cones at the Seaside Candyman and then ride the carousel inside the mall. The beach here is simple yet popular, and it gets the job done.

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6. Gearhart: A few miles north of Seaside is Gearhart, a quiet town with a quiet beach. A local told us about this place, and we’re grateful she did. We love that there’s a parking lot, but you can also drive onto the sand (which we nervously did with a sedan, and lived to tell the tale).

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7. Nehalem: You can read all about our experience with Nehalem Bay State Park, but suffice it to say that it’s worth checking out. It has beautiful views, soft sand, and cool dunes. Just beware of the wind.

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Nehalem Bay State Park

What: Nehalem Bay State Park
Where: 9500 Sandpiper Lane, Nehalem

When: Year round
Why: It’s convenient (but windy!) beach access with gorgeous views
Cost: $5/day for day use, $29/day for tent or RV camping

A Good Gray: Nehalem Bay State Park

It’s summer, and time to get our camping on. We decided to try out Nehalem Bay State Park on the coast, just south of Manzanita. It sits on a sand spit (ha!) between the ocean and the bay, and it’s a great place for camping, beach access, crabbing, and horseback riding.

The best part about camping there is that you’re only separated from the ocean by the dunes. You can hear the waves crashing from your camp site! As you hike over the dunes towards the beach, the views are absolutely breathtaking.

I will say that this is pretty cushy camping. The sites are close together so you’re extremely close to clean restrooms, hot showers, and playgrounds. Even the tent sites have water and electrical hook-ups. Like many state parks, they sell firewood within the park and each campsite has a fire pit and picnic table. You’re close to the highway and the city of Manzanita.

But we still felt like we were camping. The placement of the trees gave us sufficient privacy. We saw deer, squirrels, and tons of birds.

Our girls enjoyed the Junior Park Ranger activities that are available most days, and people drive slowly so it’s safe to bring bikes for your kids. People can also bring their horses here to camp and ride on the beach (I really need a horse!), so we took a walk through the horse camping loop and people invited us to visit with their horses.

The biggest drawback of Nehalem Bay State Park is the wind. OH THE WIND. The campsites are breezy, but the beach is impressively windy (even compared to other parts of the Oregon Coast). The mornings are tolerable, but the afternoons are unbearable. We saw one family wisely playing in a nook in the dunes. We hear other parts of the bay are quite nice, but the beaches near the camping are always windy.

You’ll probably want to make a reservation in the summer. If you want to shop the sites a bit, some kind soul has created a slideshow of every single site in the Nehalem Bay State Park. Thank you, stranger.

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Indian Beach

What: Indian Beach 
Where: Ecola State Park on the Oregon Coast
When: Year round
Why: Kid-friendly, secluded beach
Cost: $5 for day pass

A Good Gray: Indian Beach

Many have recommended Indian Beach to us, and thank goodness we finally checked it out. Besides the typical awesomeness you see on the Oregon Coast, it’s also secluded and quite fun with kids.

You access the beach through Ecola State Park (just north of Cannon Beach). The state park status means you pay $5 for a day-use pass, but you get public restrooms, picnic tables, and ample parking. A staircase gives you easy access to the beach.

Once you’re on the sand, you can get down to beach business. We climbed rocks, explored tide pools and played in small waterfalls. We also ate lunch on one of the many conveniently placed driftwood logs, enjoying the view—beautiful cliff faces, crashing waves, and the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse a mile off-shore.  If you get there at the right time of year, you can also see migrating whales or find whole sand dollars (but alas we didn’t have luck with either).

We hear Indian Beach can get pretty busy in the summer (especially with surfers), but we enjoyed our quiet Winter day. We were even graced by the presence of a professional hula hooper (no, really), and frankly you don’t see that every day.

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