written by: Brad Mee photos by: Don Skypeck
Where is everybody? It’s late summer along Oregon’s northern coast, and tourists have headed home. Now’s the time to visit Manzanita, arguably the state’s most charming and unassuming beach town.
During the dog days of summer, you could join the beach-loving hordes crowding Oregon’s northern coasts, or you could wait them out and savor the splendor in near solitude later in the season. I suggest the latter. With my sights set on the charming town of Manzanita—a quiet coastal haven with a population of about 600—I held off until late September before boarding a flight to Portland. From there, I leisurely drove through Oregon wine country before reaching my destination.
Manzanita is a bit out of the way. Most of the area’s visitors head to nearby Cannon Beach or Seaside—busier, better-known towns where throngs of tourists gather to enjoy the lively communities’ seaside charm. But only a short drive south, low-key Manzanita is located off the Pacific Coast Highway (rather than along it), making it feel secluded. The slower-paced, unassuming town has a Mayberry-like main street ending at the beach. Locals and visitors meander down this street, chatting over coffee and scones at a cottage-housed bakery, perusing a vine-covered book store, shopping at a friendly gourmet grocery and whiling away the days at a pace that makes city folk dream of small town living. Count me among them.
Manzanita also boasts seven miles of dramatically wide, breathtaking beachfront inaccessible from any other community along the coast. Because the town is blessed with this spectacular coastline, as well as lush forests, grassy dunes and majestic mountains—plus two must-visit state parks within a stone’s throw—there are countless ways to enjoy the sights and unpeopled hot spots this area’s late summer offers.
WHERE TO STAY
Manzanita has plenty of vacation rental homes, but if you seek something special, stay at Coast Cabins, an eco-chic hotel. Handsomely decorated and comfortably appointed, Coast Cabins offers freestanding cabins and lofts located at the top of the town’s main road and only a short walk through town to the beach below. For a home away from home, reserve the Modern Cabin, a secluded, one-bedroom ranch house, complete with living and dining rooms, a fully-equipped kitchen and lounge-like decks, shaded gardens and an outdoor hot tub. Also surrounded by a coastal gardens, the Inn at Manzanita is ideally located on the town’s main road and overlooks the nearby ocean.
WHAT TO DO
TAKE the southern route from Portland and drive through Oregon wine country and the tiny town of Dundee. The drive is a little longer, but winery tours and lunch at the Dundee Bistro make it worthwhile. This part of the Willamette Valley produces excellent pinot noir and pinot blanc, among others, and is reminiscent of Napa decades ago.
HEAD to Nehalem Bay State Park and climb over the grassy dunes to the wide, undeveloped and spectacularly scenic, unpeopled beach of Nehalem spit. You can walk for miles in solitude during the off-season.
VISIT the docks at Garibaldi. Colorful boats deliver the day’s catch to on-site fish markets where you can select your fresh-caught favorite for dinner.
HOT SPOTS: WHERE TO EAT
Bread and Ocean performs as a small, busy bakery in the morning and, at lunchtime, offers counter service, gourmet panini, and an impressive selection of Oregon wine and beers.
Blackbird serves the most upscale cuisine in Manzanita, but still embodies the friendly, down-to-earth vibe that defines the Oregon Coast. Enjoy modern takes on local specialties including Netarts Bay oysters, Dungeness crab and grass-fed beef. Reservations are recommended. blackbirdmanzanita.com
Manzanita Market offers everyday grocery items as well as fresh organic produce, catch-of-the day fish, free-range meats, artisan cheeses, fine wine, craft beer and specialty chocolates. manzanitamarket.com
The Pacific Oyster Company is a nothing-fancy eatery where fishermen and tourists alike feast on fresh oysters, assorted seasonal seafood and mouth-watering chowders. Drive the scenic drive south on Pacific Coast Highway and you’ll see it overlooking the water just as you reach Bay City.