For those of us who spent time or grew up in the East, a West Coast road trip has this one, can’t-beat-it novelty: seeing the sun set over the ocean. The following five places — Gig Harbor; Oregon’s Astoria and Cannon Beach; California’s Arcata/ Eureka and Mendocino — are notable destinations for that reason and more. But getting there should be at least half the fun.
Successful planning for a spring road trip has a few common elements. Consider them as you ponder the possibilities in a trip that includes any or all of these picturesque coastal towns from Washington to California:
- The promise of warmer weather. Come on — you’ve earned it after one of the wettest Januarys on record
- A visit to a place you’ve never been before.
- Some history. Knowing that Gig Harbor was named for the small boat, or captain’s gig, that allowed explorers through the small entrance into the harbor’s wide basin in 1841 is just cool. Same goes for Eureka, from a Greek word meaning “vacuum.” Kidding. Actual meaning: “I have found it!” — from California’s gold rush era.
- Knowing when to get off the interstate and follow the coastline.
- A sense of freedom. A friend of mine once described this as the feeling you get when you’ve rested an elbow on the rolled-down window and felt the breeze puff up your shirtsleeve. That’s when he knew he was on a road trip.
We picked these five places not only for the scenery, but for offerings in food, family fun, exploring, and shops. Put winter and some miles behind you. It’s a chance to see new things and think deep thoughts. A good road trip should provide opportunity for both.
At ground level, Astoria has its old-world-meets-newworld charms — remnants of its cannery history are embedded in brew pubs and sidewalk trash bins; its twice-rebuilt downtown is thriving after historically devastating fires, the old county jail has become an internationally visited film museum.
But to really see Astoria’s illustrious place in West Coast history, you have to get above it all, which we did when we climbed the 164-step spiral staircase inside the Astoria Column, a 125-foot-high steel and concrete tower built in 1926 that’s perched on a hill overlooking downtown. Far below the tower’s narrow observation deck, we took it all in: the massive, 4.1-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge connecting Washington with Oregon, and just beyond, the mouth of the Columbia River, finishing its 1,200-mile journey from British Columbia to the Pacific.
That sweeping panorama on an oddly sunny October afternoon (Astoria is typically rainy in fall), encapsulated Astoria’s past and present. Founded in 1811 via an expedition funded by investor and fur trader John Jacob Astor, Astoria is the oldest European American settlement west of the Rockies, making it the granddaddy of all West Coast harbor towns. On a clear day from the
The Goonies Take Over the Town
One of Astoria’s biggest tourist attractions — and most surprising, even to city officials — has nothing to do with maritime history. The old Clatsop County Jail, site of the opening scene in the movie “The Goonies,” has become a year-round shrine to fans of the movie. Now the jail is home to the Oregon Film Museum, celebrating more than 400 films shot in the state.
But “The Goonies,” a kids adventure movie involving preteens, some bad folks and a pirate’s treasure, is the star here. The museum and a house used in the movie drew 15,000 people from around the world for the flick’s 30th anniversary in 2015, and nearly as many for its 20th. Executive-produced by a young Steven Spielberg, the movie is a cultural touchstone for adults who grew up in the 1980s. People have come to celebrate birthdays and honeymoons, said county historian Mac Burns, but also mark events more searing and personal — cancer remission, and lost siblings who were Goonies groupies. Visits have grown 20 percent each year, and “we don’t know if it’ll ever stop,” said Burns. “For (some), it’s a religious experience.”
column — wrapped in stunningly intricate artwork depicting the area’s founding history — you can look southwest to Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark ended their famed expedition. North of us and dominating the view, however, is the mighty Columbia, home to the notorious Columbia River Bar and “the Graveyard of the Pacific,” where, since 1800, an estimated 2,000 ships and 1,000 people have met their doom.
Back on ground level, Astoria’s maritime history is everywhere you turn. We spent a few absorbing hours touring Flavel House Museum, the restored 19th century Queen Anne mansion of Captain George Flavel. Flavel, Astoria’s first millionaire, cornered the market on bar piloting, providing visiting ships with local know-how to navigate the treacherous, ever-shifting sandbar as they entered the Columbia River.
Boats are everywhere, not just sliding past on the river. Walking along Marine Way, we saw a ship that doubled as a lighthouse, a full-size pilot boat perched on blocks, a smaller boat with a window to order takeout fish-andchips, yet another filling the floorto-ceiling window at the world-class Columbia River Maritime Museum (a must-see), in an exhibit portraying a daring Coast Guard rescue.
Stroll along Astoria’s six-mile paved riverwalk (take the trolley if it’s running) and see old buildings from the era when canneries, fisheries, and the lumber trade ruled. These days, they are transformed to shops, restaurants and brew pubs, but a workmanlike sensibility remains. “We’re gritty, not pretty,” is what locals like to say to show that Astoria (pop. 9,802) isn’t like other places that have abandoned their founding heritage to become gentrified tourist towns.
Veer a few blocks south from the riverwalk to Astoria’s downtown, where the historic Hotel Elliott and restored Liberty Theater are worth a stop, along with eateries like the T. Paul’s Supper Club, boutiques and bookstores.
Past-era buildings dominate downtown, like the home of the Labor Temple Diner & Bar, many built no earlier than 1924. Downtown Astoria suffered two fires, catastrophic because it was built on wooden pilings over marshy ground. One, in 1883, destroyed nearly all of downtown, and another in 1922, wiped out 32 city blocks — Astoria’s entire business district.
Mac Burns of the Clatsop County Historical Society points out Astoria is “really a river town, not a coastal town,” and he’s right. But tell that to the hundreds of sea lions that have overtaken the docks off one Port of Astoria pier. Our hotel nearby offered guests earplugs to muffle the sea lions’ “singing,” actually more like a cross between a guttural bark and a creaking door. The sound was a near-constant backdrop that followed us, even to the top of Astoria Column, where you could see history laid out before you.
CHARIOT SPIRIT + HOME
1421 Commercial St., Astoria
In a city where local art and restoring old Victorian homes is a thing, this store is a great blend of houseware retailer and interior design studio. Go there to browse their inventory, but also to gather ideas for your next project.
348 12th St., Astoria
Located downtown in the historic Liberty Theater building, Lucy’s has been around since 1998 and is a local favorite. Cozy and quaint, the bookstore also has helpful staff happy to help. Winner of the 2017 Coast Weekend Readers’ Choice award.
1116 Commercial St., Astoria
Also, downtown, Finn Ware is a local institution and emblematic of Astoria’s large Finnish and Scandinavian population (check out the annual Midsummer Scandinavian Festival). Features are Scandinavian gifts, home décor, and Christmas all year-round.
FLAVEL HOUSE MUSEUM
441 8th St., Astoria
Built in 1885 for Captain George Flavel, the city’s first bar pilot and later, millionaire. Restored and furnished in late Victorian style, it is an interesting time capsule of when Astoria was booming. Has been a museum since 1951.
CATHEDRAL TREE TRAIL
28th and Irving, Astoria
Near the Astoria Column, this hike is notable for its 300-year-old Sitka Spruce, and “Octopus Tree” that youngsters will enjoy. Hike is just a mile long, but visitors say the “up” back to the column, if you parked there, can be tougher than expected.
1 Coxcomb Dr., Astoria
It’s adorned with a stunning hand-painted spiral frieze depicting scenes from Astoria’s founding, with a view worth the 164-step climb of the (thankfully) indoor spiral staircase. Stunning panorama of ocean, city, mountains, and downtown Astoria. Get a (biodegradable) cardboard plane from the gift shop and launch it from above.
OREGON FILM MUSEUM
732 Duane St., Astoria
Homage to hundreds of films shot in Oregon. Enter the old cells in the former county jail building, where “The Goonies” opening jail break was filmed. Also try your director’s hand on replica movie sets of famous film scenes.
COLUMBIA RIVER MARITIME MUSEUM
1792 Marine Dr., Astoria
A must-see, with one of the West Coast’s most extensive maritime collections. Video and hands-on exhibits bring boating history to life, and includes a striking 44-foot Coast Guard rescue boat. Admission gets you onto the Columbia, the West Coast’s last lightship station, parked outside.
LEWIS AND CLARK NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK
92343 Fort Clatsop Rd., Astoria
Spanning two states — Washington and Oregon — the park commemorates the turnaround point of the nation’s most famous exploring duo. A replica of Fort Clatsop is popular. That’s where the Corps of Discovery spent a reputed miserable few months (it rained 94 of 106 days) in the winter of 1805-06 at the end of its journey. Check out the visitors and interpretive center.
20 Basin St., Astoria
Located in a renovated, 100-year-old cannery building on the water’s edge, it’s good for casual fare or fine dining with fresh, regional food. Their small plates are generous. If available, order the crab mac-n-cheese and the pear cider.
FORT GEORGE BREWERY AND PUBLIC HOUSE
1483 Duane St., Astoria
Named for their George (King George III), not ours, this downtown pub is built on the original settlement site of Fort Astoria. Best chop salad I’ve ever had — roasted corn; crispy bacon; and avocado chunks, not slices.
BUOY BEER COMPANY
1 8th St., Astoria
Housed in the former Bornstein Seafood cannery, this independent microbrewery has become the place to be. Good food and beer are a draw, as are big ships gliding past large windows. Oh, and you can see snoozing sea lions through a section of glass flooring.
Known as one of the gateways to the Olympic Peninsula, Gig Harbor acts as a quaint jumping-off point for an explorer ready to dive into the Olympic National Park, or someone looking for a quiet getaway with a view. Unlike its peninsula neighbors, Port Townsend, and Port Angeles, Gig Harbor is easily accessible over the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge, an attraction in itself. With light traffic, Seattle natives can reach the town in under an hour. For those further north, the drive is nearly a straight shot down Interstate 5. After arriving, guests will leave the hustle and bustle on the other end of the bridge. That is, if they make it across (see next page).
3026 Harborview Dr., Gig Harbor
Pink doors welcome visitors to this well-loved gift shop in downtown Gig Harbor. The store specializes in jewelry, scarves, and handbags at affordable price points.
UPTOWN SHOPPING CENTER
4701 Point Fosdick Dr. NW, Gig Harbor
Just a few minutes from downtown, shoppers will find restaurants, the movie theater, and national local retailers. Popular shops include Chico’s, J. Jill, and Home Goods.
CHALET IN THE WOODS
9406 74th Ave. NW, Gig Harbor
Situated on 12 acres of gardens and wooded grounds, the Chalet in the Woods is more than a quaint store, it is a destination. Visitors will find European clothing, accessories and small home goods along with the flock of Oxford sheep and lamb that roam the grounds.
HARBOR WILDWATCH PRIVATE BEACH TOUR
3207 Harborview Dr., Gig Harbor
Join professional marine naturalists for a day spent exploring and learning about the unique ecosystems of the harbor. Tours are available June through August for $150 an hour.
POINT DEFIANCE ZOO AND AQUARIUM
5400 N. Pearl St., Tacoma
Located just a quick 20 minutes east of Gig Harbor, the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium will awaken wonder in guests of all ages. Visit the Marine Discovery Center to touch a sea star or urchin, or if you’re brave enough, a stingray in the Stingray Cove.
GIG HARBOR GONDOLA
3117 Harborview Dr., Gig Harbor
Enjoy a ride on the only authentic Venetian gondola in the Pacific Northwest. This unique tour allows visitors to experience Gig Harbor from the water without getting even their toes wet under the shadow of Mount Rainier. Reservation can be made online, pricing depends on the number of riders.
THE TACOMA NARROWS BRIDGE
Tacoma Narrows Bridge: When the first bridge was opened in 1940, it was celebrated as an engineering feat — the third-longest suspension bridge in the world. Unfortunately, that title was soon changed to one of the greatest engineering failures in the world. The bridge, buffeted by high winds, famously collapsed into Puget Sound, with a movie camera capturing “Galloping Gertie” for posterity. Today, rebuilt and re-engineered, the bridge’s rich history and impressive structure make it a sight worth seeing.
KAYAK OR STAND-UP PADDLE BOARD THE HARBOR
Grab a paddle and prepare to get a little sea spray. Locals say the best way to experience Gig Harbor is from the water itself. Downtown Gig Harbor has numerous gear rental retailers where visitors can rent kayaks, paddle boards, or canoes.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
Start one of your days early and trade the seashore for the rainforest. The east end of Olympic National Park can be reached in a little less than two hours from Gig Harbor and is more than worth the drive. Popular east-side hikes include Copper Creek, Mount Washington, and Hoodsport Trail. Be sure to pack your rain jacket.
HARBOR HISTORY MUSEUM
4121 Harborview Dr., Gig Harbor
Opened in 1964 by the Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society, the museum’s mission is to educate visitors on the rich history of the harbor and the surrounding region. The museum includes an 1893 fully restored one-room school house, a 65-foot-fishing vessel under restoration, and 7,000 square feet of exhibition space.
4116 Harborview Dr., Gig Harbor
Looking for a different way to enjoy all the seafood? Thai Hut in downtown Gig Harbor has a reputation for authenticity and quality. Enjoy Thai-inspired dishes like garlic or ginger salmon, and prawns karee.
2925 Harborview Dr., Gig Harbor
This 21-and-over restaurant and bar has an appealing menu full of seafood classics and an even more appealing location. Constructed in 1910, the building that now houses the restaurant was once the area general store located next to the only public ferry landing referred to as the “People’s Dock.”
DEVOTED KISS CAFE
8809 North Harborview Dr., Gig Harbor
To grab breakfast or lunch without missing a minute of ocean views, visit the Devoted Kiss Cafe. Breakfast is served until 3 p.m. and offers a variety of options from pastries, to quiche, to eggs Benedict served with housemade hollandaise sauce.
The wide, sandy beaches draw Pacific Northwest residents down to Cannon Beach, Oregon and away from the rocky shores of the Puget Sound. Iconic Haystack Rock towers 235 feet above the sea and is unlike any geological formation in the region. The beach landscape draws people in initially, but the laid-back atmosphere of the town keeps tourists coming back season after season. The most notable “tourist” was William Clark, of Lewis & Clark fame, who explored the area in the early 1800s as part of the historic expedition. The group apparently camped about 20 miles north of the beach and Clark explored the Cannon Beach region, later named Clark’s View Point, now part of Ecola State Park.
171 Sunset Blvd., Cannon Beach
Cleanline Surf should be a destination for visitors looking to rent or purchase water sport equipment. Customers will find gear for surfing, kayaking, stand-up-paddle boarding, and kite boarding.
CANNON BEACH BOOK CO.
130 N. Hemlock, Cannon Beach
The quaint bookstore has historic and current literature, a large selection of mystery, and stories to spark the imagination of any child. Along with books, customers can also find greeting cards and art supplies.
DENA’S SHOP ON THE CORNER
123 S. Hemlock, Cannon Beach
This contemporary women’s clothing store specializes in European as well as locally made apparel. Shoppers will find casual items perfect for the beach along with timeless styles that can transition away from the seashore.
COASTER THEATER PLAYHOUSE
108 N. Hemlock St., Cannon Beach
This nonprofit theater has been entertaining residents and visitors of Cannon Beach since 1972. Each year, Coaster Theatre Playhouse produces five plays and two musicals.
Catch a glimpse of the massive gray whales as they migrate through the Oregon coast waters twice a year on their way to and from breeding grounds further south. While guided tours are available, any walk along the beach can turn into a successful scouting mission with a little patience.
The Oregon coast has some of the best beaches for tide-pools. Haystack Rock is noted as the number one destination at low tide to seek out these miniature marine worlds. An hour-and-ahalf south of Cannon Beach, Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area is another tide-pool destination.
NEWMANS AT 988
988 S. Hemlock St., Cannon Beach
The French Italian cuisine is tasteful and light. The fine-dining atmosphere elevates the experience. Reservations are highly recommended, especially during tourist season.
TOM’S FISH AND CHIPS
240 N. Hemlock St., Cannon Beach
This back-to-basics fish and chips restaurant keeps true to its name. While the menu may seem limited, each basket, burger, and salad is well crafted and reasonably priced. Choose from prawns, salmon, halibut, or chicken tenders to accompany your chips.
LAZY SUSAN CAFE
126 N. Hemlock St., Cannon Beach
For the first meal of the day, try the family-owned Lazy Susan Cafe. The cafe includes classic dishes with a touch of the seashore. Items like the shrimp scatter omelet and the tuna apple hazelnut salad or the Mediterranean seafood stew.
DRIFTWOOD RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE
179 N. Hemlock St., Cannon Beach
A local favorite for more than 70 years, the Driftwood has a warm and cozy feel with no-fluff food. The more upscale menu includes entrees like filet mignon, Dungeness crab casserole, and halibut.
One of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Oregon, Haystack Rock rises 235 feet above the sea. The scenic beaches home to Haystack Rock are easily accessed from town and offer four miles of sandy beach to explore.
ECOLA STATE PARK
84318 Ecola Park Rd., Cannon Beach
Offering nine miles of coastline connecting Seaside with Cannon Beach, a visit to Ecola State Park is a must. Clatsop Interpretive Loop Trail is just a brief 2.5-mile journey that follows a part of the historic path of Lewis and Clark.
TILLAMOOK CHEESE FACTORY
4175 Highway 101, Tillamook
Just an hour south of Cannon Beach lies the town of Tillamook, home to the Tillamook Cheese Factory. The factory has a popular visitors’ center with all you need to know about dairy along with a shop to pick up fresh cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and butter
EUREKA & ARCATA
Eureka sits in the land of giants. In three directions, visitors can find well-conserved old growth redwoods. To the south, check out Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Head east for Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and north for Redwood National and State Parks. Visitors can’t go wrong. Not that enthusiastic about trees? Eureka is also a destination for water sports like surfing, kayaking, and standup paddle boarding. Its old town area features Victorian homes.
VISIT THE “GIANT TREE”
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
This tree, located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, has been deemed the “best in show” when it comes to enormous trees in northern California. While not technically the tallest, it is potentially the world’s largest tree in terms of overall mass.
CATCH A HUMBOLDT CRABS GAME
Arcata Ball Park
If you’re lucky enough to visit the coast in the summer, add a Humboldt Crabs collegiate summer baseball game to the itinerary. The season runs June through August.
ARCATA COMMUNITY POOL
1150 16th St., Arcata
This public pool is open year-round and offers options for youth visitors as well as their parental partners. Guests will find 25-yard lap lanes, shallow area ranging from 2.5-4 feet, Arcata’s only water slide, and a patio hot tub.
MAD RIVER COUNTY PARK
1 Mad River Rd., Arcata
While the Pacific coast is a bit more intimidating this far north in California, it still is a perfect place for a picnic. Mad River County Park is just a few minutes from Arcata and offers gorgeous views, impressive dunes, and boat access.
BAYFRONT ONE RESTAURANT
1 F St., Eureka
The bayside restaurant specializes in Italian and Japanese cuisine. Skeptical visitors will be pleasantly surprised by high-quality dishes in both styles.
LOST COAST BREWERY AND CAFE
617 4th St., Eureka
Eureka isn’t short on brew pubs, however, Lost Coast is a visitor favorite. Grab a refreshing brew and pick from the restaurant’s long list of pub burgers and sandwiches.
BIG BLUE CAFE
846 G St., Arcata
Located in neighboring Arcata, this cafe specializes in organic, fresh plates with plenty of vegetarian options. Open for breakfast and lunch.
301 301 L St., Eureka
The chefs are committed to a garden-to-table philosophy and work hard to incorporate the best ingredients of Humboldt County in their menu.
HIKE IN THE REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS
A trip to Eureka or Arcata cannot be complete without a least a hike or two in the national park that made the county famous. Trail difficulty varies from wheelchair accessible to very strenuous.
TAKE A SCENIC DRIVING TOUR
Highway 299, Arcata
The coast is far from the only good view in the Humboldt County region, so be sure to set aside an afternoon to explore with the help of four wheels. Take the Trinity River National Scenic Byway east just outside of Arcata.
MORRIS GRAVES MUSEUM OF ART
636 F St., Eureka
This museum is housed in one of Eureka’s most famous historic buildings, the old Carnegie Library, built in 1901. Since the Humboldt Arts Council began restoration in the 1990s, the building has been transformed into a space that supports and shows off local artist talent.
KAYAK THE BIG LAGOON
Apart from the ocean, Humboldt County is home to numerous bodies of water just waiting to be explored. Tour the Big Lagoon with Pacific Outfitters Adventures or just rent the gear and go.
Mendocino is the upscale sister of quirky Eureka. Located nearly 150 miles south of Eureka, Mendocino offers guests a gateway to wine country, in addition to the endless ocean activities of the northern California coast. The small town is known for its impressive rugged coastline that is filled with trails just waiting to be explored. With a mild climate, low 60s in the summer and rarely frost in the winter, visitors can have a successful trip nearly year-round. However, the water is more appealing with a bit of sun for company.
BIG RIVER TRADING COMPANY
45040 Main St., Mendocino
This charming shop offers eclectic gift items, like cards, jewelry, and small clothing items.
GLASS FIRE GALLERY
18320 N. Hwy. 1, Fort Bragg
Visitors can do more than shop — they can watch beautiful pieces of art being created in the on-site studio. The glass studio specializes in unique lighting fixtures that easily become focal points in any home.
MENDOCINO JAMS AND PRESERVES
440 Main St., Mendocino
Mendocino Jams and Preserves is a local favorite and offers visitors easy take-home gifts. The shop also has a variety of dessert sauces, chutneys, and nut butters.
Mendocino County is home to a number of organic farms that offer guest spaces like Campovida, Emandal, and Howard Creek Ranch and Inn. Each offers a serene atmosphere for a relaxing stay in a beautiful location.
JUG HANDLE STATE NATURAL RESERVE
Hwy. 1, Caspar
Known as the “locals’” beach, it is located at the foot of Ecological Staircase Trail, taking visitors back in time. On the beach, visitors are in present day. Climb to the bluff top and one has traveled back in time 100,000 years. Each terrace is about 100,000 years older.
B BRYAN PRESERVE
130 Riverside Dr., Point Arena
Take a trip to the African plains just a few miles from Mendocino at the B. Bryan Preserve. The preserve has been specializing in breeding hoofed African animals for more than a decade. Families can take an hour-long tour of the preserve for $35 per adult and $20 per child under the age of 10.
VISIT GLASS BEACH
Elm St./Old Haul Rd., Fort Bragg
Located in nearby Fort Bragg, Glass Beach has become a major tourist attraction in recent years. What once was the town dump has become a stretch of three beaches covered in tiny, weathered glass pieces.
BIKE THE COASTLINE
Elm St., Fort Bragg
Rent a set of wheels in Mendocino or Fort Bragg and see the newly opened Noyo Headlands Park Fort Bragg Coastal Trail on the back of your bike. The trail hugs the rugged coastline for 4.5 miles.
KAYAK THE CAVES
Van Damme Beach State Park Hwy. 1, Little River
Join the harbor seals from the seat of your ocean kayak during a 1½-hour-long sea cave tour with Kayak Mendocino tour group. The group also offers stand-up paddle board tours to explore the sea with twice the workout.
THE GUEST HOUSE MUSEUM
343 N. Main St., Fort Bragg
This museum is cared for and owned by the Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast Historical Society and tells the varied history of the region. Located in what was once the Fort Bragg Redwood Co.’s owner’s residence, the home was built in fine, old-growth redwood.
GOODLIFE BAKERY AND CAFE
10483 Lansing St., Mendocino
For a morning jolt, stop into the Good Life Bakery and Cafe. The small cafe is located right in town, making it an easy walk from your hotel or guest house.
961 Ukiah St., Mendocino
This quaint cafe delivers on flavor and charm. The cafe is in an 1893 Victorian farmhouse surrounded by a large, beautiful garden.
5200 RESTAURANT 5200
N. Hwy 1, Little River
Housed in The Heritage House Resort and Spa, 5200 Restaurant offers high end French inspired plates with uninterrupted views of the ocean.
CULTURED AFFAIR CAFE
45104 Main St., Mendocino
The Cultured Affair Cafe is a good stop for lunch or a sweet snack. The restaurant serves soups, sandwiches, and soft-serve yogurt.