Miles of pristine beaches, an outstanding hike with views over the Pacific that stretch to infinity, quite possibly the cutest little lighthouse on the planet, some of the finest oysters in the world, and a cool brewery just steps from the surf. We found all of this and more on a winding, scenic 38-mile stretch of road between Tillamook and Pacific City.
When we started making plans for our “Ultimate Oregon Coast Road Trip,” the Three Capes Scenic Drive was near the top of our list. The three capes refer to Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda, all picturesque locales on the north Oregon Coast. It’s not only the spectacular vistas from the capes (assuming that the weather allows for views), but also the unexpected gems along the way that make this an appealing destination.
It’s well worth detouring off of Oregon Coast Highway 101 to explore the Three Capes Scenic Drive. However, it’s best to leave your RV behind, unless you have a really small rig. Many people do the drive in an hour or two. But in our typical meandering fashion, we found it so interesting that even one full day wasn’t enough. We made two trips to explore different sections in-depth, and still didn’t get to quite everything we wanted to do. (Oh good, a reason to return!)
• Cape Meares
Strolling down the heavily forested path toward the tip of Cape Meares, a red and white light beckons. It belongs to a short, stout little lighthouse—the shortest (only 38 feet tall), cutest lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. You can view the beautiful original Fresnel lens at eye level, and then walk down the path to enjoy a close encounter with the lighthouse. From the bluff above, the view looking toward Cape Lookout is stunning.
South of Cape Meares, we discovered two delightful local foods purveyors. At Nevør Shellfish Farm we purchased a dozen tiny Netarts Bay oysters (reputed to be among the best of the best) and a dozen enormous oysters from another nearby bay that we put on the grill with a bit of olive oil and garlic. So delicious! Not sure why the tiny oysters cost the same as their much bigger kin ($10 a dozen), except that the huge ones might intimidate people who aren’t used to oysters. (I grew up eating oysters, but there’s no way I’d tackle one of those gigantic ones raw.)
Jacobsen Salt Company, just down the road, makes their salt the old-fashioned way, by boiling seawater. And then they create all kinds of fancy salts and offer tastings in a little shed on the property. We brought home a jar of black garlic salt to add to our herb collection and came close to buying a bag of their yummy salted caramels. But the fear of losing a gold crown to the sticky treats prevailed.
• Cape Lookout
The hike to the tip of Cape Lookout is a gorgeous 5-mile round trip journey through a fern laden, lush coastal forest. If it’s a clear day, the views are outstanding. We started the hike in a thick morning mist, and enjoyed the show as the curtain of fog rolled back, revealing the sparkling azure waters of the Pacific and the curve of Cape Kiwanda in the distance. A word of caution: Don’t hike this trail following heavy rainfall—had we attempted this just a few days earlier, we would have been slogging through ankle deep mud.
• Cape Kiwanda
The big attraction for us here was Pelican Brewery. In fact, we didn’t even make it out onto the beach—which I regret, because the tide pools are reputed to be outstanding. But we arrived late afternoon at high tide, and our mission was to drink beer after our hike at Cape Lookout.
We liked (a lot!) almost every beer we sampled, from the outstanding Beak Breaker and Dirty Bird IPA’s to the rich Tsunami stout. A platter of smoked oyster bruschetta and a bowl of steamer clams rounded out our beer tasting. Those smoked oysters were seriously amazing. I could have eaten the whole plate all by myself, no problem.
• Around Tillamook: Cheese/More Beer/More Hiking
Although Tillamook is perhaps best known for cheese, we didn’t bother with a visit to the namesake cheese factory. The visitor center is closed for renovations until sometime in 2018. We did, however, spend about 15 minutes at the Blue Heron French Cheese Company, a touristy venue (in a beautiful 1930’s barn) that lured us in with samples of brie, including an exceptionally delicious smoked version that we couldn’t resist buying.
We also paid a visit to de Garde Brewing, a unique little brew pub that “embraces imperfection.” I’ll say. They have a cool tasting room, where they offer brews that depend on spontaneous fermentation, with no two batches the same. It’s apparently an acquired taste. Beer connoisseurs travel here from all over the world, and they don’t balk at spending big bucks to stock their cellars with de Garde beer. (A beer cellar? Who knew?) All I can say is that it’s the sourest beverage I’ve ever tasted. However, I did really enjoy the “guest stout” they had on tap.
If you’re in Tillamook and looking for a place to hike/walk, the Bayocean Peninsula County Park is a beautiful place to explore. There are several miles of trails along the bay (with good birding) and on the opposite side, an equally long stretch of peaceful beach to walk. We enjoyed it so much that we went twice in our four days in Tillamook.
About the RV Park: In January, when we started making plans for our trip up the Oregon Coast and Olympic Peninsula, I had no problems getting reservations for prime sites in state parks for May and June—with the exception of Memorial Day weekend. There was not one site to be had in any state park on the coast. That’s how we ended up behind the Ashley Inn in Tillamook. (Our original idea was to stay at Cape Lookout State Park.)
The Ashley Inn RV Park is a bargain, offering level concrete sites separated by grassy areas, water and electric hookups, and wifi for $15 a night. The location is convenient, and it’s surprisingly peaceful and quiet. The only downside is that there are surrounding lights at night, but with our blackout shades, we were fine. They don’t take reservations, but even on Memorial Day weekend the park was only half full.