Visit a seaside town west of Corvallis, Ore., for fresh fish, pebbled beaches, a 39-acre aquarium, and plenty of local flavor.
Like a sturdy fishing net full of briny treasures, Newport, Ore., brims with gifts from the sea. Fisherfolk with rough hands and ruddy faces share sidewalks with visitors who come to stroll around the lively Bayfront district, sample saltwater taffy, and gaze at the spectacular marine life at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
A steep hill rises in Newport’s center to create two distinct areas for travelers to enjoy. To the west, in quiet Nye Beach, shops, galleries, and restaurants cluster near a sandy shore. And to the southeast, the dense, commercial Bayfront feels like a salty boomtown colliding with an old-fashioned boardwalk. Alongside the souvenir stores and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, a sign warns pedestrians to watch out for the forklifts that pass through loaded with seafood. On the nearby docks, fat sea lions bark a soundtrack as locals tend to their crab pots.
It’s easy to see the Bayfront’s real engine: Newport’s fishing fleet of some 160 boats, the largest in Oregon. You can watch deckhands scrambling among the masts and hulls or take to the water yourself on a two-hour cruise with Marine Discovery Tours. Don Mathews, a licensed captain for 35 years, steers his 65-foot rig into ocean waters or up Yaquina Bay, depending on the weather, to show you harbor porpoises, whales feeding, and bald eagles diving for fish.
“We’re coastal people with a deep commitment to sharing our real lives with visitors," says Fran Mathews, Don’s wife and business partner.
There may be no better place to appreciate the regional bounty than Local Ocean, a restaurant and market with doors that roll up for an open-air feel and a menu that includes fried oysters, fresh-catch fish tacos, and garlicky Dungeness crab soup. Another delicious option is Saffron Salmon, with an extensive list of Northwest wines and a rich stew loaded with fish and shellfish. Or dig deeper into the town’s surprisingly diverse food scene with a melty, grilled Reuben at Nana’s Irish Pub or a steaming bowl of Vietnamese pho at Noodle Cafe.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium, 39 waterfront acres teeming with all manner of aquatic creatures, sits anchored across the bay, accessible by the 1930s art deco Yaquina Bay Bridge. Some 250 species of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles occupy a variety of habitats that replicate rocky shores, reefs, tide pools, and the open sea. Visitors can lay a gentle finger on the surprisingly sticky anemones in the touch pool, walk through a clear tunnel in a tank of stealthy sharks, or watch a giant Pacific octopus unfurl his seven-foot tentacles. More educational exhibits can be found at the nearby Hatfield Marine Science Visitors Center, where admission is by donation.
Ready to relax? In the tranquil Nye Beach district, you can walk on the sand, sip tea or wine in local cafés, or browse to your heart’s content in the Yaquina Art Association’s CNC gallery, a display space converted from a 1913 bathhouse. “Not everyone who comes in buys,” says Ken Hartwell, the association’s president. “It’s a place where you can come in and escape.”
Farther north, visitors climb twisting cast-iron steps inside the historic Yaquina Head Lighthouse and examine the gleaming lens that warned captains about the hazardous shore. Another set of stairs leads down to Cobble Beach, a small stretch covered in rocks that knock together and create a primal cacophony with each crashing wave. Over time, the stones have grown smooth and round. Like so many of Newport’s treasures, they take their shape from the sea.
Photography by Melissa Barnes and courtesy of Wikipedia/Mary Beth Seiber (view of lighthouse)
This article was first published in July 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.