The charming gem of the Oregon Coast

written by James Sinks

These days, the easygoing coastal hamlet of Yachats is so idyllic that it’s called the gem of the Oregon Coast, with its rugged and tidepool-strewn shoreline, networks of trails, and inviting cluster of eateries and shops.

Located between Waldport and Florence, you won’t find a gas station here, but you’ll discover art galleries, a boutique brewery and uncrowded driftwood-decorated beaches. There’s fresh seafood on-shore and, often, whales off-shore. There’s even a tiny “whale park” with a whale tail sculpture and a gentle water spout every ninety seconds, as if there is a friendly whale hiding beneath the grass to surprise the kids.

The town was once listed as one of the top ten worldwide vacation destinations—alongside Paris, Bali and Kenya—by the author of Frommer’s travel guide. “The ideal spot for a stop in the course of a motoring trip along the breathtaking (and largely undeveloped) Oregon coast,” Arthur Frommer wrote in 2015.

Yet Yachats hasn’t always been so charming.

Some 35 million years ago, it was violent and dangerous in a geologic way, with eruptions sending lava exploding into the sea. And in the 1800s, it was a harsh place for the indigenous Alsea people that long called the region home. (The term Yachatc in the native language means “where the trail leaves the beach.”)

After white settlers arrived, smallpox decimated local tribes and the land was carved up for homesteads. Survivors from other coastal tribes were forcibly marched to Yachats by the Army and then, after starting farms, they were relocated again—and many of them didn’t survive that.

Today, Yachats pays homage for that terrible treatment with an annual Peace Hike and a statue along Amanda’s Trail, named in honor of an elderly Coos woman who was marched barefoot and tracked her blood across the sharp rocks in the 1860s. The memorial trail ascends to the top of 800-foot-high Cape Perpetua, a dormant volcano that watches over town like a forest-shrouded sentinel, just two miles away.

The name of headland—the highest spot on the Oregon Coast that you can reach by car—comes from seafaring explorer Capt. James Cook, who spotted it on March 7, 1778, on the Feast of Saint Perpetua. The perch over the Pacific served as a military lookout during World War II, and now is the centerpiece of a recreation site that lets visitors marvel at old-growth spruce and awe-inspiring basalt beach formations.

Day 1

HIKING • BREWS • CRAB CAKES

At the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area’s visitor center, put on durable shoes and pay the $5 day use fee, if you don’t have an annual U.S. National Parks Pass. From here, head downhill on the Trail of the Restless Waters, which takes you to the ocean and Devil’s Churn, where waves slosh like a washing machine in a narrow volcanic chasm and thunder in underground caves.

Hike the trail along Cape Perpetua to take in the enormous views.
Photo by TravelOregon.com

It’s one of three watery natural wonders in the protected area, which is part of the Siuslaw National Forest. The others are Thor’s Well (once reportedly as known as Captain Cook’s toilet), a rocky bowl that dramatically fills and empties with the surf, and—at high tide—the Spouting Horn blowhole. You can tread out on the rocks here, but always be wary of the ocean.

Thor’s Well has its best moments at high tide.

During the Great Depression, workers in the Civilian Conservation Corps built trails, campgrounds, and a stone shelter that perches at the top of the Cape, overlooking the Pacific. On a clear day, you can see 37 miles. On any day, it’s worth checking out the view, and maybe whales below.

If you’ve mountain bikes in tow, the 8.5-mile Cummins Creek Loop Trail will take you through meadows and old growth groves to ocean vistas.

At Yachats Brewing + Farmstore, a quenching Black Agate Bock will hit the spot after your afternoon adventure. The place prides itself on local and fresh fare, and they also like to pickle, from kimchi to sauerkraut to, yes, pickles. If you are a vinophile, grab a bottle (or two) at Beach Daisy Wine. Nothing stays open particularly late in Yachats, which is part of the small-town charm, unless you are trying to enjoy a drink after 10 p.m.

Smell the hops and ocean air at Yachats Brewing.
Photo by Yachats Brewing

The Adobe Resort is one of several hotels in Yachats that offers direct access to the beach. The place isn’t new—it opened in 1952 with mud bricks made on the property—but the view is timeless. It perches on a basalt outcrop with the ocean on both sides, and every room looks onto the water.

At upscale Ona Restaurant and Lounge, the locally sourced steak-and-seafood fare is seasonal and well-seasoned. Their Dungeness crab cakes were named the best in the state by USA Today in 2018. The view isn’t half bad, either, especially with beverages and sunlight fading on the horizon.

Crab cakes at Ona Restaurant in Yachats.
Photo by Elizabeth Ann Studio Photography

Day 2

COFFEE • SEA LIONS • HECETA HEAD LIGHTHOUSE

From pretty much anywhere in Yachats, it’s only steps to the Historic 804 Trail, an oceanfront footpath that extends the length of town. The path was carved centuries ago, and parts were incorporated into Road 804, the conduit between Yachats and Waldport before the Highway was built.

After filling your lungs with ocean air and peeking in a tide-pool or two, fuel up on organic coffee, tea, and breakfast fare at Green Salmon Coffee Co., where fun fungi art will scowl at you. This coffee spot also has metaphysical books and a legit assortment of tarot cards, in case you left yours at home.

A twenty-minute drive south, the privately owned Sea Lion Caves lets you take a 180-foot elevator ride to the world’s largest sea cave, which is home to bats and sometimes hundreds of barking Stellar sea lions.

From border-to-border, Oregon is a feast for the senses. To call yourself a real Oregonian, a few uniquely Oregon experiences offer—ahem—extreme sensory challenges. The taste of mineral-rich Lithia water in Ashland, for instance, is not for the meek. In Eugene, the jet plane-evoking din of Autzen Stadium can be rough on your ears.

Then there are the Sea Lion Caves. Your eyes will love it. Your nose probably won’t. After all, sea lions eat a lot of fish and dead fish don’t smell fantastic, even before they are ingested.

Call ahead to see if sea lions are in the house: It’s more likely to be full during cooler months.

A few miles further south is Oregon’s most-photographed lighthouse, 56-foot-tall Heceta Head. You can reach the brick-and-stucco spire from the beach below at Heceta Head State Park or from the popular overgrown Hobbit Trail, through wind-sculpted Sitka Spruce. The former tenders’ house nearby is now a popular bed-and-breakfast, and some say it’s also haunted. But that’s probably just due the grumbling of hungry stomachs outside on the trail. Probably.

Heceta Head Lighthouse, named for a Basque explorer in the 18th century, stands 1,000 feet over the Pacific while being surrounded by a salal meadow.

Back in Yachats for dinner, the only thing at quirky Drift Inn Cafe that’s more fun than the diverse (and delicious) menu is the story of the circa-1929 place, with a larger-than-life amateur boxer former owner and a “partying and ignoring law tradition.” Rumor says Merry Prankster Ken Kesey penned much of his One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the bar.

If it’s not yet 10 p.m., stroll a block to Yachats Underground Pub & Grub, where the drinks are cheap and strong, and there’s live music on Saturdays.

Day 3

KAYAKS • BOTANICAL GARDEN • SHOPPING

If the sound of the surf inspires you to get onto the water, it’s just a short ten-minute drive north to Waldport and Alsea Bay. No boats? No worries. Wildport Adventures will bring the rental kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to you.

A number of trails crisscross Yachats but there’s only one with giant Asian rhododendrons and Brazilian swamp plants with 7-foot leaves. That would be the Gerdemann Botanical Garden, where a narrow path weaves through a lush hidden preserve of unusual plants collected over thirty years by a former university professor and his wife. As a bonus, the trail ends at a trio of art galleries.

Like the rest of the city, the four-block shopping district along Highway 101 packs a lot of impressive into a small spot. You’ll find hours’ worth of potential retail therapy, from vintage garb and bookstores to saltwater taffy to freshly caught fish. There’s a farmers’ market on summer Sundays.

At Judith’s Kitchen Tools, which is about as big as your pantry, you’ll often find spritely 80-year-old Judith MacDonald, who started the business after she retired and has no plans to quit. “The alternative to getting old is not very pleasant,” she said with a laugh.

Around the corner at Bread & Roses Bakery, there’s the aroma of espresso in the air and often a line out the door. If they haven’t sold out, try the fresh-fruit-topped “snail tarts.” The lemony and buttery shortbread cookies have been coined “sand dollars.”

Bread & Roses Bakery’s “Celestial Snail”—its version of a cheese danish, with lemon curd, fresh fruit and a dusting of powdered sugar.

And, from the category of unsurprising discoveries, the city known as the Gem of the Oregon Coast has a doozy of a rock and gem shop.

At Styx Stones and Bones, the owners have collected glittery rainbows of agates, moonstones, and quartz from across the globe. There’s a 13-foot-long model of a T-Rex skeleton named Betty, and also a water flume outside where you can pan for gemstones for $5.

Owner Marc Taylor, who grew up nearby and moved back as an adult with his family, said the town has always been the sort of place that people—once they discover it—can’t get enough of. “Yachats” he said, “is magic.”

 

YACHATS, OREGON

EAT

Drift Inn Café
www.the-drift-inn.com

Green Salmon Coffee Co.
www.thegreensalmon.com

Ona Restaurant & Lounge
www.onarestaurant.com

Yachats Brewing + Farmstore
www.yachatsbrewing.com

Yachats Underground Pub & Grub
www.yachatsunderground.com

STAY

The Adobe Resort
www.adoberesort.com

Heceta Lighthouse B&B
www.hecetalighthouse.com

Overleaf Lodge & Spa
www.overleaflodge.com

PLAY

Amanda Trail
www.yachatstrails.org

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
www.fs.usda.gov/siuslaw

Sea Lion Caves
www.sealioncaves.com

Styx Stones ’n Bones
www.facebook.com/roadrunnerrocks

Wildport Adventures
www.wildportadventures.com

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