Discover Oregon's Old-World Charm

By Christian DeBenedetti
August 8, 2010
Oregon's coast has always been slightly off the radar, but now its small towns are gaining just the right amount of polish.

There are many reasons to visit Oregon's coast, but Jetty Fisheryisn't usually one of them. At first glance, the tumbledown crab shack north of Tillamook Bay hardly screams out for a stop (27550 Hwy. 101 N.,, crab from $9 a pound). Add to that the chef, Ron Hall, who, on the day I visited, was stirring a steaming pot while smoking a cigarette. But then you order the Dungeness crab, fresh and perfectly boiled, and any reservations you had fly out the window.

The Oregon coast doesn't have the sex appeal of California or the old-world charm of New England—and that's precisely the point. Pretense doesn't have a place here. Ticky-tacky beach towns and unassuming cottages are scattered between dozens of laid-back state parks. There are no big resorts and no private beaches, just arching bays, spits of sand, clusters of tidal pools, and deep Sitka spruce forests.

I grew up in Portland and visited the coast every summer, but after a decade in New York City, I'd lost any connection with my former vacation spot. Each time I came home, I saw Portland transforming from a second-tier town into a foodie fantasyland for urban expats. Happy as I was to get a decent espresso, I worried that such an evolution might spread to the coast, a place I'd always hoped would remain the same. I set off for the mellowest stretch, the 59 miles between Tillamook Bay and Astoria, directly west of Portland.

Jetty Fishery was my first stop, but Manzanita, nine miles north on Highway 101, was where I expected to start seeing Portland's influence. The 564-person town used to be just a blip on the map; I don't even remember seeing signs for it when I was a kid. Perhaps because of this anonymity, Manzanita has started to draw in creative types, just as Big Sur, Calif., did back in its heyday.

I pulled into town and stopped in front of an idyllic cabin, all front porch, faded shingles, and leaded glass. A guitarist was casually strumming away in the afternoon sun. Down on the main drag of Laneda Avenue, I met Cecily Crow, 26, at Unfurl, a natural-fiber-clothing store that opened in 2004 (447 Laneda Ave., An aspiring actress, Crow left Hollywood just over a year ago to settle here. "Manzanita is different from a lot of coast towns," she said. "We don't get the random tourists. It's more like an artists' retreat." Sure enough, a few doors away atVino, a wine bar that sidelines as a tapas restaurant (387 Laneda Ave., 503/368-8466, plates from $8), server Julie Yanko explained how Manzanita was better for her as a jazz artist than Portland had been. "We all support one another here," she told me.

North of Manzanita, 101 unwinds like a wire, bending around headlands and plunging into cathedrals of spruce and fir. Empty beaches emerge unexpectedly, the most striking of which is atOswald West State Park(503/368-3575). The sandy stretch has become famous for its protected break, and when I arrived, surfers were wrapping up a midday session, tugging off hoods and wet suits.

If Manzanita is Oregon's Big Sur, then Cannon Beach, 10 miles north, is its Carmel, a warren of Cape Cod–style homes with not a chain store in sight. I breezed into town in late afternoon and headed to the 15-room Land's End Motel(Beachfront at W. 2nd St.,, from $100). The challenge with Cannon used to be that if you didn't rent a house, your only option was a mediocre motel. The recently overhauled Land's End changed that, and my room, with a fireplace and huge picture windows overlooking the Pacific, was an inviting retreat.

In the early-evening light, I wandered down to Haystack Rock, a hulking 235-foot-tall boulder that ranks up there—geologically speaking—with the Rock of Gibraltar. The waves were coming in small sets, and the sand made arip-ripsound underfoot.

Cannon was pretty much as I remembered it—homespun and occasionally campy—except for one thing: the food. There's still the standard beach fare (smoked mussels, fish-and-chips), but with the arrival of new chefs, from Portland and beyond, items like gourmet pizza and butternut-squash ravioli have started to pop up on menus across town. There's even a cooking school, EVOO, for folks who want to take the taste of Cannon back home (188 S. Hemlock St.,, classes from $45). To sample the scene, I stopped into former New York chef John Sowa's 3-year-old Sweet Basil's Cafe for a pulled-pork sandwich and side of homemade coleslaw (271 N. Hemlock St.,, $7).

My final stop was Astoria, Oregon's northernmost town, 25 miles up 101. Set at the mouth of the Columbia River, Astoria was founded as an outgrowth of Fort Clatsop, the settlement established by Lewis and Clark upon reaching the Pacific, and it still comes off as a roughneck port—all 19th-century canneries and working warehouses—albeit spiked with an indie-rock air.

I checked in to the recently renovated Commodore Hotel Astoria, a former seamen's boardinghouse turned 17-room boutique hotel (258 14th St.,, from $69), and then took a quick stroll. Boutiques and galleries have sprouted up all over downtown. There's even that requisite Portland import, an artisanal coffeehouse: 7-month-old Street 14 Coffee, attached to the lobby of the Commodore. This all seemed rather familiar and predictably urban to me, but strangely enough, as I lingered over my espresso, I didn't much mind. Even with changes here and there, the coast I loved had somehow overall managed to remain true to itself, while improving in just the right ways.

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Art-World Escapes

ROME Maxxi It took six years to complete the Zaha Hadid¿designed home for Italy's first big contemporary art and architecture museum, which opened in May to house pieces by the likes of Sol LeWitt and Anish Kapoor. Judging by the more than 74,000 visitors in the first month alone, it was well worth the wait., $13. STOCKHOLM Fotografiska Having already earned its accolades in cinema and design, Sweden set its sights on a new target with the 4-month-old Fotografiska center for photography. The premier exhibitions, with photos by Vee Speers and Annie Leibovitz, run through early September., $12. METZ, FRANCE Centre Pompidou-Metz Along with works by Miró, Picasso, and Calder loaned from its parent Pompidou in Paris, this 4-month-old art outpost in Metz, an 80-minute train ride east, shares another trait: a whimsical building. This one swaps the original's primary-colored pipes for a dramatic roof., $9. WARSAW Chopin Museum Warsaw's Chopin Museum, opened in April, is loaded with futuristic features like floor sensors that activate different instrument noises and glass panels that light up in time to music. Even the information stations play to a tech-geek aesthetic with multimedia displays customized for each visitor., $7. BERLIN Neues Museum The artifacts in the Neues Museum skew ancient, but recent history is embedded in its walls. Bullet holes in the brickwork bear witness to the World War II damage that kept the museum closed for 70 years. It's reopened at last, after a $244 million restoration., $12.

Just Back From... a Motor Home in Alaska

Great local meals... Alaska king salmon, beautifully prepared and presented at Anchorage's Simon & Seaforts restaurant, where we also enjoyed spectacular views of Cook Inlet. Then at Chair 5 in Girdwood, we had fresh grilled halibut for lunch—they really know how to cook it. Fun surprise... The shops by the harbor in Homer [PHOTO] and the town's public library. When we stopped to check our e-mail, we came upon a wonderful library with a great view of the Kenai Mountains and quite a collection of books in Russian. We had spotted a Russian village along the Sterling Highway on our way to Homer. [PHOTO] Our favorite part... The float trip down the Kenai River. Captain Nolan took us from Cooper Landing to Jim's Landing. The river rolled high and fast, the soaring bald eagles were out in force, and the endless row of fishermen casting for salmon was an unforgettable sight. Did we see 100, 200, or more? We lost count! Wish we'd known that... We should have turned the furnace on in the motor home we rented from Great Alaskan Holidays. [PHOTO] On the first night, we went to bed warm and toasty only to wake up desperate for more blankets. Once we located the thermostat, we solved that problem. Worth every penny... The six-hour wildlife-and-glacier cruise from Seward to the Aialik Glacier and back. Within minutes of leaving the dock—and still within sight of the city of Seward—we spotted a whale in Resurrection Bay. We encountered several pods of orcas that seemed to be congregating in the inlet, saw sea otters, harbor seals, gray whales, humpback whales, porpoises, sea lions, and, finally, puffins perched on cliffs on the islands off the Aialik Peninsula. We're still laughing about... The wildlife we saw in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge—it amounted to a single gray squirrel. He was cute, though! We had better luck during a bus tour through Denali National Park & Preserve on a clear, blue-skies day. We spotted grizzly bears, [PHOTO] Dall sheep, and Mount McKinley in the distance. [PHOTO] What we should have packed... A hairdryer. It would have made the cool mornings more pleasant for my wife. Cool weather, wet head, not fun. Hotels we liked... Comfort Inn near the Anchorage Airport and the Hampton Inn Anchorage. Both were clean and offered a nice breakfast and great shuttle service.

The Ultimate App Tool Kit

Before the trip FIND FLIGHTS Kayak's website set the standard for streamlined searching, and its app delivers the same ease-of-use on the go. Simply enter your destination and travel dates, and the app spits back options sorted by price, time, or airline; a single click takes you to the corresponding booking site. Free. SCOPE OUT A HOTEL With thousands of user-generated reviews of hotels, restaurants, and attractions worldwide, TripAdvisor has long been a mother lode of unvarnished assessments. What it hasn't been is a model of simplicity. The app cuts through the clutter, bringing just the facts—er, opinions—filtered by price or neighborhood, to the fore. Free. TRACK YOUR ITINERARY Forget paging through printouts of confirmation codes and terminal info. The TripIt app culls flight numbers, gate information, and even loyalty-program account numbers from e-mail receipts you forward. From these, it assembles a master trip itinerary you can access from anywhere. Free. EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS Lonely Planet has created the perfect pairing of inspiration and information. First, flip through the colorful, photo-heavy 1000 Ultimate Experiences iPad app for thumbnail takes on some of the world's most intriguing destinations. Then use the brand's dedicated guides (for nearly 58 cities) to hunt for specifics, like how to get a bus pass for the MUNI in San Francisco or when to catch the ferry for a visit to Alcatraz. 1000 Ultimate Experiences $4, San Francisco travel guide free, other city guides $6. SCORE A CHEAP ROOM If landing a rock-bottom rate ranks higher than remaining in complete control over where you stay, roll the dice with Priceline's Hotel Negotiator app. You choose a preferred star rating and an ideal price (recent successful bids in the area are listed as a guide), and the tool will lock in a room that meets your criteria. Bonus: The app uses GPS, which is priceless for lining up convenient last-minute accommodations for unexpected overnighters. Free. GET A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW You've probably already used Google Earth's satellite images to zoom in on your childhood home or your current residence—in almost scary detail—but the intuitive app also serves as an easy way to suss out a hotel's rooftop pool deck or the size and location of various parking lots at a big museum or other attraction. Free. En route MAKE THE MOST OF A LAYOVER Consider it Yelp for airports. GateGuru's app contains searchable directories for 92 U.S. airports and more than a dozen international hubs. They take the guesswork out of finding an ATM, a decent cup of coffee, or a 10-minute massage station—wherever you happen to be delayed. Some locations even have user reviews, rankings, and photos. Free. CRAFT A CONTINGENCY PLAN For the frequent flier who has no time for snafus, FlightTrack Pro is an essential aid. In addition to storing and tracking your flights, it pulls vital info like gate changes and weather reports for 5,000 airports and 1,400 airlines. If your flight is canceled or delayed, it's easy to search for other connections while you're standing in line for the gate agent, or even from 30,000 feet—you can access the app's route-maps feature offline when you're in the air. $10. KILL TIME IN THE TERMINAL First, give yourself some elbow room. Then fire up Scoops, a highly addictive game even a technophobe could master. Your only goal is to position a virtual ice cream cone under colorful scoops that fall from the sky, using the phone's motion-sensitive accelerometer to direct the cone with a tilt of the wrist. Free. KILL TIME ON THE FLIGHT The perfect nervous-passenger distraction, Flight Control HD for iPad gives folks something to focus on while surviving a long-haul flight: an air-traffic-control strategy game that lets you manage planes' flight patterns by dragging them along the touch screen. If only getting to your real-world destination were so easy. $5. ENTERTAIN THE KIDS IN THE BACKSEAT Dr. Seuss goes digital with iPhone- and iPad-ready versions of his best-selling stories. Let The Lorax app be your on-the-road babysitter: It reads the story aloud, and when you tap an illustration, the machine will speak its name ("Trees." "Grass." "Pond."). $4. On the ground LOOK LIKE A LOCAL Because some things just require visuals, Howcast's user-generated video tutorials cover everything from taxi strategies in New York City to the proper consumption of soba in Japan to nude-beach etiquette. (Then again, maybe some things don't belong in a video.) The short clips load quickly and particularly shine on the larger-format iPad. Free. SURVIVE WITHOUT A PLAN So the museum you planned to visit was closed, and now you've got a free afternoon on your hands. Goby has you covered: The app searches events and activities near you—live-music shows, family-friendly outings, and outdoorsy pursuits—and plots them on a map with details and photos. Free. RUB ELBOWS WITH REGULARS It's no easy feat to cut through the restaurant-of-the-moment hype in an unfamiliar city, which is where the no-holds-barred user reviews on Yelp's app come in. Using your GPS-mapped location, the app reveals the highest-rated places near you, as determined by the people who know best. Search thousands of dining options in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Ireland by price, neighborhood, or the handy "what's open now." Free. SNIFF OUT CRITICS' FAVORITES If you're more interested in getting a recommendation on the spot, download Urbanspoon. The app makes a game of finding a restaurant: Search options are displayed slot-machine style, with neighborhood, cuisine, and price as the categories. Refresh with a simple shake of the device, or click off for critics' reviews and some menus. Bonus points for the spanking-new iPad format. Free. MAKE DINNER RESERVATIONS Instead of calling 12 restaurants to find one that can seat your party of four, let OpenTable do the work. Search more than 13,000 restaurants in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. by the number of diners and your desired reservation time, and then sort by cuisine, price range and neighborhood. And in about five taps—voilá!—you've got a reservation. Free. SIP SMARTER With more than 750,000 bottles of wine from Chile to Cali cataloged, the app is like a pocket sommelier. Search by region or varietal, peruse an exhaustive glossary, or scan a bottle's bar code with your smartphone to call up expert ratings and tasting notes. $4. GET THE SHORTEST LINES AT DISNEY The Undercover Tourist app is the savvy best friend of any Walt Disney World visitor, delivering accurate wait times for every ride in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom. At day's end, a built-in GPS helps you navigate back to your car. $4. MAKE SENSE OF YOUR MONEY For up-to-the minute currency conversions, try ACTCurrency. It lists more than 190 exchange rates, updated with every tap of the refresh button. Tip: Turn off the auto-update feature while you're abroad to avoid sky-high roaming charges. $1. SPEAK FOR YOURSELF Overcome awkward lost-in-translation moments with World Nomads. The 25-language translator app covers keywords such as please and thank you, numbers up to 10, and a few phrases useful for other travel conundrums (our favorite: "Those drugs aren't mine!") in easy-to-scan categories like Introductions and Travel Health. Most phrases have audio clips. Free. FIND A PLACE TO "GO" Like it or not, Starbucks outposts have unofficially replaced service stations as America's favorite rest stops. Fortunately for travelers, both are mapped on the SitOrSquat app. More than 92,000 restrooms are represented (concentrated in larger cities in the U.S. and Europe), with details like hours, changing-table availability, and, of course, a "sit" or "squat" recommendation. Free. SEND A PERSONALIZED POSTCARD Nothing says "wish you were here" like a good old-fashioned postcard—with your face smack in the center. For about $1 per note, HazelMail turns your photo into an actual paper card complete with a custom message and then stamps it and sends it off within about two business days, saving you the trouble of hunting down a local post office. Free. DOCUMENT YOUR ADVENTURES It may have been invented for students, but Facebook's ubiquitous app has become an invaluable tool for all kinds of folks. Travelers can share crazy vacation moments on the spot, either in the live feed of status updates or in a mobile gallery where they can instantly dump cell phone pictures. Free. FAKE PERFECT PHOTOS Fancy effects can turn even the most amateur photos into works of art. Use Photogene for iPad to add background colors, crop out mistakes, or just remove red-eye from that otherwise-flawless family portrait in front of the Eiffel Tower. $4, iPhone version $2.