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Oregon Coast Getaway: Manzanita

Is it the perfect Pacific Northwest seaside town? With neighboring state parks, rugged beaches, and a charming downtown, it's easy to say yes.

Gorgeous beaches and an idyllic setting make Manzanita, Ore., a great coastal escape.
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Gorgeous beaches and an idyllic setting make Manzanita, Ore., a great coastal escape.

Manzanita (population 700) has seen an influx of second-home owners, and the “season” has crept into spring and fall. But for the moment, this seaside village (and the two tiny hamlets of Wheeler and Nehalem that huddle close by) exudes a blissful combination of small-town friendliness, rugged beauty, and oceanic serenity.

Ah, the simple life: seven miles of gorgeous beach, a nearby river, magnificent state parks at either end of town, and a 10-block main street, Laneda Avenue, where most of the shops, restaurants, and hotels cluster. Manzanita News & Espresso is a handy spot to grab a latte and a copy of Bark magazine (everyone here seems to have a dog). Sea Level Gallery carries baskets you can fill with picnic supplies foraged at Mother Nature’s Natural Foods or at the Bread and Ocean bakery. With a novel or biography plucked from the shelves of the Cloud & Leaf Bookstore, you’re set for some serious beach lounging.

If you’d rather explore, hop in your car and drive 2.5 miles north to the trail that leads to Neahkahnie Mountain, the forested hump you’ve been admiring from the beach. A not too strenuous 1.5-mile hike rewards you with unforgettable views down the coast and far out to sea. Or set off on an exhilarating walk through the dunes to the southern tip of Nehalem Bay State Park, where the winding Nehalem River spills into the sea.

Come late afternoon, deciding where to watch the sunset takes on a certain urgency. One appealing option is the Sea Shack Restaurant & Lounge on Nehalem Bay in Wheeler, a five-minute drive south from Manzanita on Highway 101. The restaurant’s picture windows frame an Oregon composition of river, islands, tidal flats, coastal mountains, and dunes. As the sun slips toward the Pacific, you may find yourself thinking, If this is crazy, I don’t want to be sane.

Photography by Jairo Rene Leiva/Shutterstock

This article was published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.