Visitors ride a surrey near the Prom in Seaside, Ore.
I have three children. Two are twin boys. They have more energy than any hundred stars burning with vast, incredible thermonuclear fusion. If these boys do not burn off their thermoteenage energy every day, there will be fisticuffs and wailing and the gnashing of teeth. So I am constantly in search of the Perfectly Exhausting Place. Recently I rediscovered it, on the north coast of Oregon, between the primmer and proper resorts of Cannon Beach and Gearhart. I wish to celebrate it here, with hoorays and huzzahs, for it has everything a wild child and daunted dad could ever want: sand and surf, seals and wheels, arcades and ales, history and mystery, pizza and putt-putt, and a vast stretch of flat, safe, endless, open beach beautifully suited for running boys until their tongues hang out and they whine for water.
Seaside! For most Oregonians, the name of the town immediately brings to mind white paper bags of saltwater taffy in dozens of colors and flavors, steaming baskets of fish-and-chips at legendary Dooger's, and wandering along the boardwalk at dusk. Poking into the tiny, friendly aquarium on the Promenade (affectionately referred to locally as the "Prom") to laugh at seals and gape at wolf eels. Crabbing or fishing from the street bridges over the Necanicum River, and startling when a foot-long salmon leaps for a silver instant and immense herons materialize suddenly like ghostly blue planes over the water.
Seaside's sandy shores first began attracting tourists in the late 19th century. By 1898, rail service allowed Portlanders to make the 118-mile trek to reach the beach in a leisurely four and a half hours. In fact, one summer run became known as the "daddy train" for all of the men who would ride the rails at the end of the work week to join their vacationing families.
These days dozens of pleasures—both old and new—join the natural splendors of Seaside, and you can, for very reasonable cash outlay, grin and wince as your children crash bumper-cars or gorge themselves on candy apples along the carnival-like stretch of Broadway, go paragliding over the beach (securely in tandem with an instructor), kayak the river, and bustle about town in a dizzying array of mopeds, tiny electric cars, and pedalpowered surreys and coupes of all sizes. There may be no more pedestrian-friendly town in the Beaver State than Seaside, yet the sight I will remember all my life is a surrey trundling past powered by seven adults and two children. I have seen the future, and it wears blindingly bright plastic helmets.
And after headlong sprinting on the beach, the ancient sport of chasing gulls, the traditional Seaside pastime of walking the concrete tightrope of the Promenade wall until a sibling shoulders you off into the sand and wandering along the river and seeing o my heavens an otter! right there by the bridge! wow! and spotting a crab that looks to be about the size of a manhole cover, why, then it is high time for fried halibut, cod, or salmon or perhaps some Dungeness crab cakes and manila clams, with a microbrew ale for dad as scholarly research on local elixirs, and then a couple hours of time travel at the little Seaside Museum and Historical Society by the river. After that, we wander north and see a blue heron and an eagle, each nearly as big as my sons, and each incomparably better at catching fish.
And now it's home to Portland, less than two hours away, via State Route 26 and along the edge of the vast Tillamook State Forest. Two exhausted boys, their sneakers filled with sand and their skin smelling of salt and sun, and one happy dad, who finds himself thinking that he has spent the weekend not so much in Seaside as in that most elusive and alluring of dreams, the Country of Summer. We all lived there as kids and all yearn, deep inside, more than we admit, to find a way back, and I am here to report that you can.
Photography by Mark Larson/courtesy Seaside Visitors Bureau
This article was first published in July 2009 and updated in March 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Check out the rest of our Oregon North Coast package:
Astoria: American history and movie history collide.
Cannon Beach: Dramatic skies and solitude.
Gearhart: Old-fashioned candy and pure relaxation.
Manzanita: Go for the baked goods, stay for the trees.