written by Felisa Rogers | photos by Fred Joe
The touristy schmaltz of saltwater taffy, stale beer and cotton candy still dot Seaside even with its boardwalk gone. I looked deeper into the tawdry old-fashioned charm once home to the Hippodrome Dance Hall and saltwater natatorium. This North Coast town has attracted Portlanders and other vacationers for more than 100 years.
The light at Seaside Point was bright and desolate, a study in mud and water and sky. World-class waves at Seaside Point, known as the best left-hand pointbreak in North America, has challenged brave surfers since 1964. The surfing community remains strong in this town of 6,500.
I met local surfer and environmental activist Joyce Hunt. We picked our way through hummocks of sedge and salal. We discovered the ocean’s sand thrift—drift logs, beach glass and the decaying head of a shark. “This is a broadnose sevengill shark,” Hunt said. “Something bit him. You can see the teeth marks there. Probably a Great White got him.”
When you come to Seaside, you meet locals like Hunt, steeped in lore and ready to share the beauty of their North Coast place. Hunt, 63, took me to Seaside Brewery, originally built in 1912 as the town’s jail. The keg cooler fittingly sits in what used to be the old drunk tank. I ate a fat Reuben sandwich and drank Honey Badger Blonde Ale.
Seaside fortified my inner nomad with coffee and spirits stops. Seaside Coffee House and the Pilot House Distillery Tasting Room played into my imbibing and ambling. I bought a $6 spirits flight for my non-surfing spirt. After libations, I walked to The Gilbert Inn, built in 1892 by Seaside founding father Alexandre Gilbert. The bed and breakfast is a study in regional history. The Queen Anne architectural style keeps within the resort town’s pastel aesthetic. It is built on massive old growth beams and river boulders and paneled in original tongue-and-groove fir.
At night tourists and locals flock to a Seaside ritual: the beach campfire. When the sun sank behind a tangle of clouds, out came the huddled groups with firewood and hoodies. After wind, smoke and fire, I ended the day at the dive bar Bridge Tender, where I sat and watched a motley crew drink whiskey to a Roy Orbison tune.
Seaside’s waterfront promenade offered a picturesque route to breakfast, including a pit stop at the historic Lewis and Clark National Park–Salt Works, a small park built on the spot where members of the expedition camped for nearly two months, tending fire day and night in order to boil enough seawater to produce the salt they needed to survive the winter. Once I had my fill of history and salt air, I aimed for the Osprey Café and its creative menu with Cajun eggs benedict.
No coastal town is complete without a little thrift and eccentricities. Oddities in Nature, a flea market, fills that niche nicely. Who doesn’t need emu eggs, a stuffed weasel and various sizes of Oregon geodes? The bearded owner of the shop narrated the kookiness of things. “Oh, those tranquilizer guns are from my career as a zoo animal trader” and “that there is a British World War II 303 rifle modified to shoot nets. It’s for capturing wallabies.”
After the thrift shopping, I heeded the locals’ advice and went to e Stand before five o’clock for its carnitas tacos. (You’ve got to stay ahead of the crowds.) After eating beef tacos, I wandered into Relief Pitcher and finished the day with horseshoes and fresh-squeezed grapefruit mimosas (no longer a morning drink in Seaside). The drink embodied the je ne sais quoi of Seaside.