We wouldn’t deliberately choose to travel north in Oregon in the winter. But in our search for our new rig, we found ourselves journeying twice to Portland in the depths of December. We rarely go directly from point A to point B (where’s the fun in that?). So on our initial scouting trip, we moseyed to Portland via the coastal route so that we could spend a few days in Newport, a small town and historic fishing port located halfway up the ruggedly beautiful Oregon coast.
Despite the gray skies blanketing the coast, the intermittent rain, and the chilly temperatures, we had a great time. We stayed in a lovely site at South Beach State Park—within a few miles are two lighthouses, a beautiful coastline with a unique rocky beach, tidepools, an aquarium, a marine science center, a cool historic area, and excellent restaurants. There’s no lack of fun things to do in Newport, even when it’s rainy and cold.
Here, the highlights of our time in Newport:
• Oregon Coast Aquarium
It’s easy to spend several hours at this small but excellent aquarium wandering through the exhibits, including a glass walkway that takes you beneath the sea. The focus of the aquarium is on local mammals, sea life, and seabirds—most of the animals are rescues. The aquarium does a great job of education, with spacious outdoor exhibits for sea lions, seals, playful sea otters, and a wonderful aviary for sea birds that you don’t ordinarily have an opportunity to see up close. The puffins are especially curious, and will paddle right up to look you in the eye.
• Hatfield Marine Science Center
This very cool marine science center is definitely worth a visit. Part of Oregon State University, their focus is on sustainability, and as they say, “hot topics in contemporary marine science research.” Great exhibits on how Oregon manages fisheries (Dungeness crab, salmon, and shrimp)—they’re even working on raising tropical fish sustainably to stop the destruction of reefs. It’s inspiring to visit and makes me hopeful for our oceans and marine life.
• Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
This is the only wooden Oregon lighthouse still standing. Constructed in 1871, it was decommissioned after only 3 years because it was built too far inland and ships couldn’t see the light. Oops. The lighthouse is fully furnished in period décor and offers a fascinating glimpse into the lifestyle of a light keeper. It looked pretty sweet, except for the fact that someone had to be on duty 24/7 to keep the light burning.
• Yaquina Bay Bridge
There’s a lovely view of the iconic Yaquina Bay Bridge from the parking lot of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. Constructed in 1934, it’s an interesting combination of Art Deco and Gothic architecture and is very picturesque. You really can’t take a bad photo of it.
• Yaquina Head Visitor Center
Located within Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, this excellent visitor center has fabulous displays on the cultural, natural, and lighthouse history of the area. Yaquina Head lighthouse (built in 1873 to replace Yaquina Bay lighthouse) was cocooned for painting while we were there, but we enjoyed miles of hiking trails on the headlands and stumbling over the rocks on Cobblestone Beach, one of the most unique beaches we’ve ever visited.
• Cobblestone Beach
This absolutely stunning beach has tide pools; rocky offshore islands that provide refuge for seals, sea lions, and sea birds; and a great view of Yaquina Head lighthouse (albeit incognito while we were there). Over thousands of years, chunks of basalt have fallen from the hillside and been transformed by the surf into the smooth black round rocks known as cobbles that make up the beach. As the waves recede, the tumbling of the cobblestones makes a whooshing, crackling sound—hence the name “magic rocks.”
• Bay Street Pier
The reason to visit the pier is to have lunch or dinner at Saffron Salmon, a charming little restaurant overlooking Yaquina Bay. Get a table by the window and watch the crab boats coming and going beneath Yaquina Bay Bridge. The food is delicious and local—we loved our mixed seafood platters, Oregon coast style: Dungeness crab cakes, grilled wild salmon, and clam chowder.
• Nye Beach
This picturesque historic district of Newport has attracted writers, artists, and scholars since the late 1800’s. It’s a fun area to stroll amongst the unique shops, cafes, and historic homes. We paid a visit to the Sylvia Beach Hotel, an early 1900’s hotel where each room is dedicated to an author and decorated accordingly. They have an interesting restaurant (Table of Contents) where we intended to dine, but they were closed while we were there. We meandered down the street to Zach’s Bistro, where we enjoyed delicious paella in front of the fireplace for a perfect cozy evening after a chilly day of exploring.
Where To Stay:
If we didn’t have our trailer, I’d stay at the Sylvia Beach Hotel (the Mark Twain room looked especially appealing with a view of the beach). But since we have our home on wheels, we stayed at South Beach State Park. Located just south of the Yaquina Bay bridge, the park has spacious wooded sites, water/electric hookups, good Verizon coverage, and great walking/biking trails directly from the campground. If you plan to go in summer, book early. If you’re crazy enough to go in the winter, you’ll have your pick of sites, no reservations required.