We couldn’t have asked for a better reentry into our fulltime travels. Any doubts I had about taking to the road again were swept aside by the perfect weather and the charms of Newport, our first destination on our tour of the central and north Oregon Coast.
We stayed in Newport a couple of years ago in December and despite the cold, gray, soggy weather, thoroughly enjoyed our visit. But it was even better this time, with plenty of sunshine and delightful temperatures in late May. Weatherwise, the Oregon Coast is always a crapshoot. But lucky us, the rhododendrons were in full glory, the birds at the aquarium in fancy breeding plumage, and we even scored a tour at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, although it isn’t supposed to be open until July. I think we’re back in the groove. It’s a good thing, because seriously, we don’t need any more bumps in the road right now.
We stayed five nights at South Beach State Park, the perfect location for setting up camp to explore Newport. The sites are spacious and wooded, with paths leading over the dunes to the beach. More trails wind above the campground through a forest of wild rhododendrons, and yet more lead to the jetty, with a wonderful view of the historic Yaquina Bay Bridge, an Art Deco/Gothic beauty.
Highlights of our visit to Newport:
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area: With a treacherous but beautiful beach, mesmerizing tidepools, nesting seabirds, a wonderful interpretive center (with a resident nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons), hiking trails, spectacular views, and the tallest lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, Yaquina Head Outstanding Area truly is outstanding.
Formed from an ancient lava flow, the headland extends one mile out into the open ocean. Below, Cobble Beach—composed entirely of smooth rounded kiwi-sized black rocks—wins the prize as the most slippery, ankle-twisting beach I’ve ever seen. But it’s worth traversing to get to the prize of some of the best tidepools on the Oregon Coast.
At low tide, the pools are filled with thousands of brilliant purple sea urchins, delicate jade green anemones, and at least a few ochre sea stars. We’re happy to see the sea stars making a comeback (albeit slowly) after almost being extirpated along the entire West Coast by a virus several years ago.
The Lighthouses: Newport boasts not one but two lighthouses, and both are well worth visiting. Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, the only remaining wooden lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, was constructed in 1871 but decommissioned after only three years. Someone apparently made a big boo-boo, built the lighthouse too far inland, and ships couldn’t see the light. It’s a cute little lighthouse, and fully furnished in period décor. (We toured it on our last visit to Newport; you can see photos of it here.)
Yaquina Head Lighthouse was built to replace little Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. This time, the builders got it right. Stuck way out on the tip of Yaquina Head, the lighthouse is an imposing 93 feet tall, the tallest in Oregon. We enjoyed a delightful tour with a ranger in costume, who regaled us with tales of a lighthouse keeper’s life and duties. (Hauling heavy buckets of lard up the 114 winding stairs to keep the light burning was one of the many chores.) Although the lighthouse was automated in 1966, the original beautiful Paris-made Fresnel lens is still in use, casting a beam of light 20 miles out to sea.
Oregon Coast Aquarium: We love this little aquarium. Many of the exhibits at the Oregon Coast Aquarium are outdoors, and we had a blast watching the antics of the sea otters being fed and the sea birds going about their daily lives in the wonderful sea bird aviary. Here’s my take-away fact from our visit: Puffins, Common Murres, Rhinoceros Auklets and Pigeon Guillemots are all members of the same family. They share in common the ability to “fly” underwater—we watched their undersea acrobatics through submerged viewing windows, and they do look like they’re flying.
The walk-through fish tanks are fascinating, and it appeared as though some of the fish were having just as much fun watching us as we were watching them. The sharks and the rays, they didn’t pay us any mind. But the Pacific Rockfish—there were a few of those guys doing their best to telepathically communicate with us. (Eric always tells me not to anthropomorphize, but I continue to ignore him.)
Bonus tip: The Hatfield Marine Science Center is just across the street from the aquarium, and is well worth a visit. We stopped in last year, but lingered so long at the aquarium this time that we missed our opportunity for a return visit. Part of Oregon State University, their focus is on sustainability, and as they say, “hot topics in contemporary marine science research.” It’s a cool place.
The Waterfront: Newport has managed to remain a working waterfront, while adding some amenities for visitors (not just junky t-shirt shops). We wandered the docks, checking out the various trawlers, crabbers, and shrimpers. There’s great seafood to be found here—last time, we enjoyed a delicious meal at Saffron Salmon. This time, we chose to dine at Local Ocean Dockside Grill and had perfectly prepared fresh caught salmon while perusing the activity of the busy little harbor from our window table. The seafood market downstairs is excellent, too, with every catch labeled with the boat that brought in the haul.
About the campground: South Beach Campground is just a few miles from Newport. Even if you didn’t leave the campground, you would have plenty to do exploring the beach and hiking trails within the park. (Really, though, you don’t want to miss Yaquina Head and the aquarium.) Water and electric hookups, good Verizon, and it’s remarkably peaceful, given that this is such a popular campground. Make your reservations early if you plan to be here between Memorial Day and Labor Day.