Winter along the Oregon coast makes for a whale of a good time.
From early December through the end of January, each hour sees as many as 29 Pacific gray whales pass by Lincoln City, Ore., about 60 miles west of Salem, as they make their annual migration to the warmer waters along Baja California. These spouting cetaceans are a big lure for winter travelers, many of whom flock to the coast to watch the southbound procession from the cozy comfort of the town's many beachfront hostelries. It's not a bad way to spend a chilly afternoon—curled up next to a warm fire with a good book and a pair of binoculars, waiting for a whale to cross your line of sight.
Of course, whale-watching is not exclusively an indoor activity. Popular outdoor viewing spots include Roads End, a mile north of Lincoln City, or the D River State Recreation Site, which is smack-dab in the middle of town. During Oregon's Whale Watch Weeks (December 26 to January 2 and March 19 to 26), volunteers—some with telescopes—greet curious spectators at bluffs and beaches all along the coast and offer viewing tips. To locate these sites, look for signs reading whale watching spoken here.
Call Me Shorty
The D River, which flows a mere 120 feet from Devils Lake to the Pacific, is one of the shortest rivers in the world. D River State Recreation Site, Hwy. 101 at SE First St., (800) 551-6949, www.oregonstateparks.org .
Whales aren't the only things worth searching for along the shoreline. Scour the town's seven miles of sandy beach and you may just find a floating piece of art. Back in the 1930s and '40s, beachcombers routinely stumbled across glass balls that had washed up in Oregon after a long ocean voyage. These floats from Japanese fishermen's nets were eventually replaced with plastic ones and the unusual souvenirs all but disappeared. Then in 1999, Lincoln City revived the magic of finding these ocean-borne treasures. Between October and May, discreet "float fairies" plant 2,005 multicolored, handcrafted glass spheres—the biggest are six inches in diameter—along local beaches. Lucky float finders are permitted to keep the miniature art pieces and can even register them with the visitors bureau.
Be sure to bundle up when combing the beach for glass orbs—winters along the coast can be blustery and cold. Winds in excess of 100 miles per hour and waves exceeding 30 feet are not uncommon. In fact, Lincoln City's tempestuous weather has made storm watching nearly as popular a pastime as spotting whales.
On calmer days, the steady ocean breezes have helped make Lincoln City one of the world's prime kite-flying venues. Forgot your kite? No problem. Two stores—Catch the Wind and Flying Things—stock whatever you need to get your aspirations off the ground, from string and spools to spin socks and large dragon kites.
The Blackfish Cafe's halibut-spinach salad is one of many dishes that feature local fish. 2733 NW Hwy. 101, 996-1007, www.blackfishcafe.com .
No matter how you attempt to tackle the beach, you're bound to work up an appetite. Mo's is an Oregon coast institution, famous for its clam chowder and fish-and-chips. The Bay House offers elegant dining with a view of Siletz Bay and an extensive wine list that features regional vintages as well as selections from France, Italy, and Spain.
Then it's back to the treasure hunt.
Photography courtesy of Lincoln City Visitor & Convention Bureau
This article was first published in January 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Area code is 541 unless noted. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington TourBook and map and Northwestern CampBook. Contact the Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau, (800) 452-2151, www.oregoncoast.org .
Catch the Wind 266 SE Hwy. 101, 994-9500, (800) 227-7878, www.catchthewind.com . Flying Things 130 SE Hwy. 101, 996-6313.
Christmas Cottage Holiday decorations from around the world. 3305 SW Hwy. 101, 996-2230. Garden Art and Gifts Home furnishings. 3001 SW Hwy. 101, 994-2660. Paws on the Sand Dog treats to jeweled kitty collars. 1640 NE Hwy. 101, 996-6019 . Tanger Outlet Center Sixty plus stores including Bass and Gap. 1500 SE East Devils Lake Rd., 996-5000, www.tangeroutlet.com .
Earthworks 620 NE Hwy. 101, 557-4148. Freed Gallery 6119 SW Hwy. 101, 994-5600. Glass Confusion 1610 NE Hwy. 101, 994-4700. Ryan Gallery 4270 NE Hwy. 101, 994-5391.
ROOT OF THE MATTER
Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy Irises, azaleas, and other blooms. 1931 NW 33rd St., 994-6338, www.conniehansengarden.com .
Devils Lake State Recreation Area Bird-watching, kayaking, and fishing on a 678-acre lake. 1452 NE Sixth Dr., 994-2002, (800) 452-5687, www.oregonstateparks.org .
GOOD OLD DAYS
North Lincoln County Historical Museum Exhibits highlight the area's cultural heritage. 4907 SW Hwy. 101, 996-6614, www.northlincolncountyhistoricalmuseum.org .
Bijou Theatre First-run films shown in a refurbished 1937 movie house. 1624 NE Hwy. 101, 994-8255, www.cinemalovers.com .
CONCERTS AND COMEDY
Chinook Winds Casino Resort Upcoming head-liners include Motown singer Smokey Robinson, country legend Merle Haggard, and comedian Sinbad. 1777 NW 44th St., 996-5825, (888) 244-6665, www.chinookwindscasino.com .
60's Cafe Old-fashioned hamburgers, thick milk shakes, and frothy root beer floats. 4157 NW Hwy. 101, 996-6898. Mo's 860 SW 51st St., 996-2535, www.moschowder.com .
Bay House 5911 SW Hwy. 101, 996-3222, www.bayhouserestaurant.com .Wildflower Grill Eggs Benedictto gourmet crab cakes. 4250 NE Hwy. 101, 994-9663.
An Exceptional Place to B&B Inn $99–$159. Three rooms, including one with a hot tub. 1213 SW 52nd Ct., 921-0722, (888) 723-3862 ext. 3975, www.anexceptionalbandb.com . Inn at Spanish Head $169–$265. 4009 SW Hwy. 101, 996-2161, (800) 452-8127, www.spanishhead.com . O'dysius Hotel $149–$299. 120 NW Inlet Ct., 994-4121, (800) 869-8069, www.odysius.com .