Exploring the North Coast of Oregon: Neskowin to Manzanita with a stay in Rockaway Beach
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit a place in my state that I’d never been before — the Oregon coast north of Lincoln City. I actually grew up on the coast, but further south in a little town called Reedsport. My spouse and I both grew up there and so we are familiar with coastal living and the tourists that swamp the region every summer. This time around, we were going to be the tourists.
Up until two weeks ago, I had never ventured further north than Lincoln City. I was in my pre-teens when I had first went up that way. My dad was a heavy equipment operator in the logging industry and he had a job there for awhile. My mom, brother, and I went to see him one weekend when he couldn’t make it home. Because we were coastal residents, we never traveled on the coast for pleasure, so it really wasn’t out of the ordinary that we as a family ever traveled it for fun.
Back then, Lincoln City was a tourist town but not at all how it is now. Today, Lincoln City feels like a big city trapped in a small town. On summer nights, the town doesn’t seem to sleep until the bars shut down. There is a casino there now which is open 24/7 and attracts big name entertainment quite often. I think this has really pushed Lincoln City into the bustling city it now is. Lincoln City is one of those towns that is really long and just seems to keep going on forever. It stretches for miles along Highway 101, parallel to the Pacific Ocean.
While it would have been wonderful to be able to stay in Lincoln City, it wasn’t to be. We had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to stay in a vacation rental in a little town called Rockaway Beach with relatives. I was a voracious reader as a kid and a map nerd — I spent hours dreaming of traveling around the region and imagining in my head of what these places looked like. This was the days before the internet. My impression of Rockaway Beach was that it was likely a glitzy tourist town with amazing beaches. Well, not exactly. I will get to that in a bit.
We traveled from Corvallis on a Thursday afternoon intending to reach Rockaway Beach by 4 p.m. Instead of taking the slow Highway 101 route through Newport and northward, we took Highway 99 to Highway 22, then onto Highway 18 via Grande Ronde, Rose Lodge, Otis and then onto Highway 101 just north of Lincoln County. Finally, I was traveling north of Lincoln County for the first time in my life. Honestly I am embarrassed, as a coastal born person and a native Oregonian, to have finally done this at the ripe age of 36.
My impressions of this stretch of the coast were mixed. The stretch of highway into Tillamook County is extremely poor. It is narrow and windy and it felt pretty unsafe. It made me appreciate the south coast a lot more. The drive through Tillamook County definitely took some time off of our trip and we ended up arriving a bit later than expected.
Driving through Tillamook County, I felt appreciative of the hard work that the people here put into their dairy farms. Dairy farming is a huge industry here. Generations and generations of farmers have passed on their trade here through their families and much of the dairy supply here is put into the Tillamook Cheese Company.
On the way to Rockaway Beach, we were stretched for time and didn’t stop anywhere to see the sites. Honestly, there weren’t many sites to see. Many of the small towns along the way weren’t catering to the tourists and most were actually inland away from the beaches. Cloverdale, Hebo, Beaver, Wheeler, and Tillamook were all working towns that reminded me a lot of my hometown of Reedsport — inland, blue collar towns that weren’t really concerned with the tourists who were on their way to other places.
We passed through Garibaldi, a blue collar fishing town that I’d always been curious about. It was a bit of a surprise to me, as it was quieter than I had expected for a July day in the summer.
We finally reached Rockaway Beach an hour later than we anticipated. We were greeted by our relatives and got settled into the vacation rental.
After dinner, we went out and explored Rockaway Beach a bit. It was definitely what we coastal people call a “tourist trap” but it wasn’t the type that attracted the rich tourists who enjoy golfing, fine dining, and fancy accommodations. It reminded me somewhat of an area I love on the south Oregon coast — Port Orford/Langlois. It was definitely a mix of touristy shops (the ubiquitous candy/ice cream shops), but with more flea markets, dive bars, and odd junk stores, with no real grocery store, a lack of restaurants, and very few places to stay. I have to admit that my romanticized image that I had came up with in my head as a child was dashed.
Over the next couple of days, we had the opportunity to drive further north through Nehalem and into Manzanita. Manzanita is a town that impressed me greatly and I intend to come back to in the future to stay and explore for a few days. It had a lot of cool shops, restaurants, accommodations, and beaches. In fact, we did stop here and go to the beach.
We then traveled south of Rockaway Beach to visit the world famous Tillamook Cheese Factory. This is a well-known stop for tourists on the coast, so we stopped. They are remodeling their facility, so we couldn’t watch cheese being made, but we did order fresh ice cream. Unfortunately, the line to the cheese samples was really long so we didn’t get to experience that.
At the end of our journey, we said goodbye to our relatives and Rockaway Beach and ventured back to Corvallis via Highway 101 south through Tillamook, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, and down to Newport where we then took Highway 20 east over to Corvallis.
My impressions of the Oregon coast between north of Lincoln City north to Manzanita were different than I had expected. I appreciate the opportunity to have finally explored this region and I intend to go back in the future to spend some time in Manzanita, but the trip itself also showed me that there is plenty of exploring to do between Lincoln City and Newport as well.