Winter Exploration on Oregon’s North-Central Coast: From Depoe Bay to Tillamook

Side Door Cafe

The Oregon Coast is famous for winter storms. Visitors who brave the coast from November to February are typically there to hunker down in their oceanfront hotel rooms and watch Mother Nature’s grand joust between land and sea. Twenty-foot waves are not uncommon sights during these winter months.

Then again, there are winter days that rival a pleasant summer day on the coast, such as the weekend I spent there this November (pictured). This is not an anomaly; I also experienced a 60-plus degree weekend in Pacific City in February of 2012, and another bluebird day in the 50s last December. Out of my ten-or-so winter trips to this section of the coast over the past three years, I’ve had good hiking weather for six of these excursions.

Once you set reservations, however, you are at the mercy of the weather. Will it be storm-watching or blue-sky exploration? If you plan a trip to the central Oregon Coast this winter, it’s best to have a list of things to do that are resilient to Mother Nature.

Depoe Bay

Play: Every month, except November, you will likely see grey whales off the shores of Depoe Bay. The Whale Watching Center ( is informative, and the Whale Museum—run by marine biologist Carrie Newell and her dog, Kida—is an interactive substitute for actually taking one of her whale watching eco-excursions ( Winter seas are too unpredictable for a guaranteed ride on any of the three main charter businesses in Depoe Bay. If you encounter a calm sea, Dockside Charters has a great crew of fisherman for those who want to take a cast at deep sea fishing (

Eat: If you don’t reel in a catch, Tidal Raves Seafood Grill is a delicious alternative. Perched atop an oceanfront cliff, patrons can sip on libations (try the house-infused ginger drinks) and dine on fresh Pacific Coast seafood.

Stay: The Inn at Arch Rock is an affordable little hotel just a short stroll from Tidal Raves. Friendly service complements the comfortable rooms that overlook the cape. If you travel with dogs, I recommend room #5, which has a door from the kitchenette that leads straight to the lawn. Sip on a complimentary cream sherry and take in the sweeping views.

If you want to be right in the center of Depoe Bay, Channel House ( is located oceanfront, just next to the iconic harbor bridge. Whale Cove Inn (, by the same ownership, is a nice remote lodging option south of Depoe Bay.

North toward Pacific City

Play: If the weather is decent, explore Gleneden Beach (between Depoe Bay and Lincoln City) or Neskowin (between Lincoln City and Pacific City). Both are great unincorporated gems with natural beauty and micro-town charm.

If exploring the great outdoors isn’t an option, head to Lincoln City for a movie (the only town with a theater on our stretch of the trip) or see a show. Yes, Lincoln City has a charming community theatre troupe. Things My Mother Taught Me will be performed at Theatre West December 27-31. The New Year’s Eve Champagne Gala will combine a party and a show.

Eat: Don’t pass by Gleneden or Neskowin if the weather is stormy. Both places have restaurants that are worth their salt in any market. Side Door Café in Gleneden has the type of ambiance that could make any meal shine. Overhead, skylight-laden vaulted ceilings complement art and plants, while white tablecloths blanket a well-appointed dining room. The menu is a mix of seafood dishes.

The Hawk Creek Café in Neskowin is under new ownership, but the down-home feel remains. Famous for its pizza pies and chowder, this is a great spot for a family meal.

Stay: Salishan Spa and Golf Resort is a no-brainer for anyone seeking a resort experience. With five dining options and a luxurious spa, Salishan offers safe harbor if the weather isn’t golf-worthy.

Pacific City

Play: Voted best brewery and brews by 1859’s Best Of Oregon, Pelican Pub & Brewery is an institution. It’s difficult to imagine a better location for beer drinking than this beach pub. Watch surfers or a storm and taste the local brews.

Eat: For breakfast, head to the Grateful Bread for a break from sea fare. The sticky buns are glorious, and the sandwiches are all served on house-made bread.

Stay: The Inn at Cape Kiwanda is hard to beat. Ocean views are enhanced with Haystack Rock in the backdrop, and the pub is just a stone’s throw from your balcony.

If a rustic abode sounds more appealing, Cape Kiwanda RV Resort’s cabins are just next door and sleep up to four people. Though the showers are community-style, there is an indoor pool and hot tub. The kids can burn off some energy while you relax in a sea of warm jets.

North to Tillamook

Play: Turn right out of your Pacific City lodging and follow the back roads toward Cape Lookout State Park. This road is one of the little-known rural coast gems. Driving along the winding and largely undeveloped route, it’s easy to imagine the natural splendor that pioneers stumbled upon. If weather allows, hike Cape Lookout. If not, continue north past the dairy farms to Tillamook.

Heading back south on Highway 101, there will be a giant hangar and airplane on your left just outside Tillamook. Definitely click your turn signal. The hangar itself has WWII history; the wooden architecture innovative for its time. Inside, dozens of historical planes fill the hangar. Mechanics work on the planes regularly, and if you are lucky, you will visit on a flight show day. It’s hard to believe that all the vintage machinery is regularly air born.

Eat: The Tillamook Cheese Factory ( is an obvious stop. The Blue Heron tasting room ( is also gaining traction—tasting and selling not only their cheeses, but cheeses from around the world. Other locally made artisan food products and a $5 wine tasting flight are any gastrophile’s dream. There is a petting zoo to entertain the kiddos.

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