The mail carrier in Seaside may have the most inspiring route in the West. He or she gets to walk along this Oregon city's promenade, stuffing mail in the boxes of cottages, while gazing at wild waves speckled with surfers, migrating birds on the Necanicum River estuary, and the forest-blanketed cliffs of Tillamook Head. Visitors cannot do justice to Seaside without following in the carrier's tracks and walking what locals call the "prom," a 1.5-mile oceanfront walkway that is the town's best feature.
The prom is also where visitors will encounter a quaint little aquarium and beachfront motels that were slapped up in the 1950s and '60s. And this grand walk lies at the foot of the town's main street—Broadway—which is lined with taffy shops, knick-knack stores, and arcades stuffed with waste-'em-all video games.
Seaside, sandwiched between the coastal communities of Gearhart and Cannon Beach, seems to be stuck in the '50s. But this is the town of your teens. It's where many Oregonians went—with or without their parents' knowledge—to cut loose at spring break. This is a town that holds a special place in many hearts. Of late, locals have encouraged folks to come back and focus on the fundamentals: the spectacular beach, the prom, hiking and biking trails that lead to extraordinary vistas, great state parks within a few minutes' drive, comfortable bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants with lip-smacking food, and the sweet custom that in spring and summer folks sell bunches of daffodils along the road—using the coffee-can honor system for payment.
When asked where he first directs visitors, Joe Hart of Corpeny's Coffee House and Bakery doesn't mince words. "The beach. You can't beat it." This 3.5-mile stretch of sand, between the estuary and Tillamook Head, is the reason people have been vacationing in Seaside since the days of the "Daddy Train." In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Portland families would move out to the beach for the summer, and on Fridays working fathers would take the 4 1/2-hour ride along the Columbia River, through Astoria, and down the coast for the weekends. With the automobile's growing popularity, the train ran out of steam in 1939. Beachcombers still arrive by car in droves and take to the sand on summer days. The water, with an average temperature of 57 degrees, is a shocker, but the icy reception doesn't stop swimmers and body boarders.
The town's centerpiece, the "turnaround," stands in the middle of the prom. Here you'll find a statue of Lewis and Clark that supposedly marks the Western end of their cross-country journey (which, in actuality, was 20 miles north in Astoria). There was once a large natatorium next to a grand hotel at the turnaround. Today the finishing touches are being put on a mammoth condominium complex that will, by next summer, be the monolithic center of the city.
Strolling the prom will bring you to a small monument on the spot where the Lewis and Clark party boiled sea-water to extract salt. Before you go, pick up a copy of Walking Tour of the Historic Seaside Prom for a quarter at the Seaside Museum.
To walk further afield, drive to the end of the road that climbs up Tillamook Head for a spectacular three-mile (one way) hike through dense forest to Ecola State Park. The trail weaves through Sitka spruce and salal and salmonberry shrubs (watch out for the elk herds) and will take you to high views of Oregon's rugged coast.
Reminders are everywhere that this is Lewis and Clark country. There is a growing hum about the approaching bicentennial (the duo left St. Louis in 1803 and trolled the Oregon coast in 1805 and '06). In the meantime, as Alvis Porter, a volunteer with the Seaside Museum, tells museumgoers, "There's always something exciting happening here." The Fourth of July festival includes a downtown parade and fireworks over the sand. August has a beach volleyball tournament and the finale of the Hood to Coast relay race. September brings the Hot Rod Happenin', with its spiffed-up classic cars from across the Northwest, and the Seaside Sand Sculpture Festival. But the event that really gets the town abuzz is July's Miss Oregon Festival. Last year's Miss America—Katie Harman—was Miss Oregon, and locals feel that she's one of their own.
Oregonians who wax poetic about their teen days in Seaside often follow their reminiscence by directing you out of town. "You are going to Cannon Beach, aren't you?" or "Don't forget to poke around Gearhart."
Good advice. To the south, the main entrance to Ecola State Park is just above Cannon Beach. Here, from the cliffs overlooking the sea, is one of the most famous views of the rocky coast and the grand monoliths that stand guard like sentries, breaking the will of the wild waves. Trails wind into the lush forests and birders can watch for tufted puffins, red-tailed hawks, and bald eagles. A mile off the coast sits the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Built in 1880, "Terrible Tilly" is now owned by Eternity at Sea. Once a year the company holds inurnments at the lighthouse-turned-columbarium.
The town of Cannon Beach is the darling of the northern Oregon coast. All the buildings are wood, stylish, the stuff of romantic movies. The town's most distinctive landmark is massive Haystack Rock, almost within spitting distance of the beach.
If your compass points north, stop at Ironwerks in nearby Gearhart to buy or just admire the exceptional hand-forged furniture, lighting, and garden art (a sign on the door says if we aren't here, call us at home, we aren't too far away). Next door is the John Cook Studios, a small gallery showcasing museum-quality blown glass. Gearhart is also home to the Pacific Way Bakery & Café, one of the more talked-about eateries along the coast—it's even garnered high praise from Gourmet magazine.
To the north you can ride your bicycle over miles of trails through the spectacular beachside dunes at Fort Stevens State Park. Farther up the road is Astoria and the site of Lewis and Clark's winter respite, Fort Clatsop. Then come back to Seaside, take a spin on the merry-go-round or the bumper cars, grab a handful of gooey, chewy taffy, light a bonfire on the beach, and look around—you might see someone you remember from the prom.
Planning Your Trip
All phone numbers are area code 503 unless noted. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington TourBook. For more information contact the Seaside Visitors Bureau, 738-3097, (888) 306-2326, www.seasideor.com. Seaside is very walkable, but you can ride around town on the Seaside Street Car (861-7433) for $2 all day.
A prime location for doing the town on foot is the Gilbert Inn Bed-and-Breakfast, 341 Beach Dr., 738-9770, (800) 410-9770, www.gilbertinn.com. For reasonable beachfront sleeps, check out the
Inn at the Shore, 2275 S. Prom, 738-3113, (800) 713-9914, www.innattheshore.com, or the
Four Winds Motel, 820 N. Prom 738-9524, (800) 818-9524, www.fourwindsmotel.com.
The latest buzz is the year-old restaurant Ambrosia, 210 S. Holladay, 738-7199. Locals find the place pricey ($12 to $26 a la carte) but the quality is reliable. Tried and true is Gearhart's Pacific Way Bakery & Café, 601 Pacific Way, 738-0245. Cannon Beach is home to the reservation-required Stephanie Inn, 2740 S. Pacific, 436-2221, (800) 633-3466, www.stephanie-inn.com. When it comes to seafood, look to local waters for Dungeness crab through August, oysters year-round, and albacore July through September. For breakfast, check out Corpeny's Coffee House and Bakery near the prom at 2281 Beach Dr., 738-7353, or the happy-sounding Pig 'N Pancake, 323 Broadway, 738-7243.
Places to Play
The Seaside Aquarium does have some cute (and raucous) homegrown seals, 738-6211, www.seasideaquarium.com. The Seaside Museum is at 570 Necanicum Dr., 738-7065. For Ecola State Park, call 436-2844 or visit www.oregonstateparks.org.
Photography by Larry Geddis
This article was first published in July 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.