Tillamook Coast

Not merely wonderful dairy, the Tillamook Coast has some of the most scenic hikes on the Oregon Coast.
Not merely wonderful dairy, the Tillamook Coast has some of the most scenic hikes on the Oregon Coast.

This coastal region is a watery, culinary, cheesy—and collaborative—wonderland

written by James Sinks | photography by Tillamook Coast Visitors Association

Prior to statehood, there was no easy overland route to Tillamook Bay.

So, before refrigeration was a thing, settlers had to rely on faster seafaring shippers to transport dairy and farm products to market in more populous Astoria and Portland. Thus, when traders said in the 1850s they’d no longer make the treacherous trek into the bay, it could have been disastrous.

Cranky and motivated, the community came together and built its own boat, milling local lumber and scrounging metal and sails from nearby shipwrecks. Local tribal members even aided in the construction of what became the state’s first christened ship, and the Morning Star of Tillamook made its maiden voyage in 1855.

It stands as an example of an apt oxymoron—independent cooperation—that still defines the Tillamook Coast. In 1909, family dairies teamed to create the Tillamook County Creamery Association, paying $10 each to get it started. Now, working together, they produce some of the best cheddar on the planet (and other delicious stuff to test your lactose tolerance).

In the 1950s, after a series of “Tillamook Burn” forest fires scorched the coast range, the sawmill-supported community helped in the massive reforestation effort.

More recently, independent food producers joined to showcase the region’s surf-turf-and-farm bounty, collectively calling themselves the North Coast Food Trail. And after years of reluctance, strongheaded locals who saw Tillamook only as a timber-and-farm economy have been swayed by a collaborative tourism sector.

The North Coast Food Trail brings together the highest and best foods of the coast.
The North Coast Food Trail brings together the highest and best foods of the coast.

“Tourism used to be a dirty word here, but not anymore,” said Nan Devlin, director of the Tillamook Coast Visitors Association, before a recent gala awards banquet celebrating everything from breweries to bookstores to museums.

The welcome mat is officially out. The mat also might be a little rain-soaked in these parts, but don’t let that dampen your excitement for a packed—and flavorful—itinerary.

Prowl uncrowded beaches and trails. Ride the rails. Unleash adrenaline in the sand. Float the bay. Actually catch some dinner. And, of course, ignore calorie labels and your doctor, and sample the cheese and the ice cream with abandon.

Tillamook is abundant enough to fill a weekend—and your cooler—and then some.

Day 1


Seedling is believing. With 72 million baby trees planted afterward—by air, crews and even busloads of school kids—there’s little sign today of the devastating Tillamook Burn fires of 1933 to 1951, as the Wilson River Highway snakes southwest toward the coast.

At the Tillamook Forest Center, now fully reopened after the pandemic, learn about those blazes, logging, local critters and also how nice an indoor bathroom can be if you have a low-bladder-capacity traveler. Also, climb seventy-two steps (one for each million seedlings) to a towering replica fire lookout.

Agricultural sights and smells will welcome you to the fertile Tillamook valley, where five rivers empty into the bay, organic growers raise everything from vegetables to wasabi, and where cows outnumber people. The name Tillamook comes from tribes that once lived nearby.

Head first toward the shore and the Three Capes Scenic Loop. Atop Cape Meares, it’s a short stroll to Oregon’s shortest coastal lighthouse, at just 38 feet. From the size-isn’t-everything department, the kerosene light was visible an astonishing 21 miles away, before it was decommissioned in 1963.

The Cape Meares Lighthouse has a kerosene-powered Fresnel light, a work of art.
The Cape Meares Lighthouse has a kerosene-powered Fresnel light, a work of art.

Up the trail, marvel at Oregon’s gnarly Octopus Tree, a Sitka spruce that looks vaguely like a giant candelabra. Some speculate the 250-year-old specimen was sculpted by Indigenous tribes for burial ceremonies. Happily, it does not contain octopi.

The Octopus Tree is believed by historians to have been a burial tree for Indigenous people, who once buried their dead in canoes.
The Octopus Tree is believed by historians to have been a burial tree for Indigenous people, who once buried their dead in canoes.

The laid-back hillside town of Oceanside stairsteps to the beach, and at the base is a two-block cluster of surf shops, restaurants and the venerable Three Arch Inn. At family-owned Roseanna’s Cafe, soak up views of the Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge offshore, plus shrimp melts and mixed drinks.

If the tide allows, an Oregon bucket list attraction waits at the north end of Oceanside Beach. Enter a concrete bunker to a short passageway, and you’ll emerge at Tunnel Beach on the other side, amid a smattering of agates and wannabe Instagram models.

The small Oceanside community rises up from the shore of the Pacific.
The small Oceanside community rises up from the shore of the Pacific.

Head south to Netarts and Lex’s Cool Stuff, a kitschy retail smorgasbord that’s as effervescent as owner Lex Maxwell. You’ll find her handing out brownies and, on a good summer day, she’ll go through six batches.

She shows no signs of slowing down, even though she opened the place at retirement age, two decades ago. “I used to say I would do this until I was 80, but 80 is long gone,” she laughed.

Posh spice maker Jacobsen Salt Co. operates alongside Netarts Bay, and while there aren’t tours, you can see where seawater is piped and boiled to yield gourmet salt crystals, infused with flavors like habanero, lavender and truffle. Find sodium sensations at the cozy gift shop, a stop on the North Coast Food Trail.

Imposing and beautiful, Cape Lookout juts more than a mile into the Pacific and is one of Oregon’s best places to watch whales when they’re on the move. It also was the site of a tragic B-17 reconnaissance flight crash in 1943.

After paying $5 to park, catch the north trail through old growth spruce and across a 90-foot suspension bridge.

The 5-mile hike is a good appetite enhancer for locally sourced supper at the ship-evoking Schooner Restaurant & Lounge, with steak and salmon, Dungeness mac and cheese, and—if the notoriously finicky coastal sky is cooperative—a blushing sunset over Netarts Bay.

The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad operates between Garibaldi and Wheeler along the Tillamook Coast.

Day 2


From the well-appointed tiny cottages at Bay City’s Sheltered Nook, it’s a block to the basketweave of trails and boardwalks at Kilchis Point Reserve. Overseen by the local historical museum, the bayfront property was the site of an Indigenous village (the chief was named Kilchis) and where the first white pioneer settler was invited to live in a giant spruce stump. It’s also where the Morning Star sailship was constructed.

Tillamook is a watery wonderland. Launch kayaks almost everywhere for a leisurely float—or rent and have them delivered by Kayak Tillamook, which will even point you toward good clamming spots.

Water also means fish, and you’ll find fresh catches of the day at The Spot, on the marina in the bayfront community of Garibaldi. They’ll even tell you when the tide goes out and the fishing boats will come in.

Find fresh seafood at The Spot in Garibaldi.
Find fresh seafood at The Spot in Garibaldi.

The only way the fish could be fresher is to catch them yourself, and you absolutely can. Toss lines off the pier, take a half-day trip with Siggi-G Ocean Charters for rockfish, or book a bay or river excursion with Fish Slayer Guide Service for salmon.

Fishing and charter fishing is abundant in this coastal region.
Fishing and charter fishing is abundant in this coastal region.

Blue collar Garibaldi, population 830, is also the terminus for the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad. During warm months, steam and diesel-powered trains ferry passengers on low-speed sightseeing trips north to Rockaway Beach and back, about a half hour in each direction. A wheelchair lift is available.

For art and the unexpected, a historic grocery store is home to Belladonna Beads, a sprawling emporium with hundreds of thousands of them—some centuries old—and even jewelry made from neon beetle wings.

Not all beers are created alike, and that’s definitely the case at de Garde Brewing, whose no-added-yeast fermentation yields smooth, fruit-tinged “wild ales.” Find out why it has a national following in its downtown Tillamook tasting room.

For upscale pub fare, wander to the local outpost of Pelican Brewing Co., which got its start just south in Pacific City. For charcuterie and food carts on a patio with peacocks, head to Blue Heron French Cheese. And for fish with flair, try Tora Sushi Lounge—one of three on the Oregon Coast—where the menu includes pot stickers, sashimi and a “Heart Attack” appetizer with spicy tuna and jalapeños.

Ever wanted to be a lumberjack, and sleep all night and work all day? Wear whatever you want and toss axes at Mook Axe Cowliber, for $25 an hour or $1 per throw.

Loser buys drinks at late night hot spot Rendezvous, where drinks are strong, the laughter is loud and the karaoke can be as spotty as the local holsteins.

Day 3


On the sandy ribbon between Tillamook Bay and the Pacific, investors in the early twentieth century built what they called the “Atlantic City of the West.” Bayocean had a theater, houses, a train and even a giant seawater pool with a wave machine.

Now, there’s nothing.

Over the following decades the place was swallowed by encroaching waves, the last structure disappearing in the 1970s. Park at the trailhead on the south end of the peninsula, and it’s a 7-mile round-trip hike to the old resort site, where there’s sand, seagrass and quiet.

What’s less quiet will be your stomach. Fix up any hunger pangs at Downie’s, a popular hole-in-the-wall eatery in Bay City.

To patrol the coastline during World War II, the U.S. Navy launched surveillance blimps—and parked them in a mammoth hangar just south of the city limits. One of the largest clear-span wooden buildings in the world and now home of the Tillamook Air Museum, it’s the sort of place that you remember is incredibly big, but every time, you still gape at how big it is.

For ground-based adrenaline junkies, nearby Sandlake is a federally managed 1,076-acre magnet for the high-octane, high-speed and high-noise set. Unload your four-wheeler for a sandy spin, or if you’ve got a state off-highway vehicle license, book them by the hour via Sandlake Tsunami ATV Rentals.

Get your fun on with rental four-wheelers in Sandlake.
Get your fun on with rental four-wheelers in Sandlake.

At JAndy Oyster Co., find molluscs many ways, from fried to raw on the half shell to bagged by the pound, all of them freshly harvested from 90 underwater acres in nearby Netarts Bay. The restaurant also has greenhouses with plants for sale, live music some nights and an annual oyster fest on Father’s Day weekend.

Owner Todd Perman, who named the place after his son, Jacob Andrew, said it’s nice to see Tillamook on the tourism map for the breadth of food that’s grown, raised and caught.

“If you like fresh food and fresh seafood, there’s everything here you could possibly want,” he said.

Finally, no trip to Tillamook would be complete without taking your taste buds (and cooler) to the yellow-cheddar-hued visitor center of the Tillamook County Creamery Association, still a farmers co-op, which attracts more than a million visitors a year.

Where ice cream dreams come true—Tillamook Creamery.
Where ice cream dreams come true—Tillamook Creamery.

Chances are, many of those visitors will be in line at the ice cream counter. Join them. It’s worth the wait.

While there, it’s hard to miss the boat. An ode to Tillamook-style independent cooperation and tenacity, on the company logo and sitting out front, is a replica of the double-masted Morning Star.



Blue Heron French Cheese

de Garde Brewing

Downie’s Cafe

JAndy Oyster Co.

Pelican Brewing Co.

Roseanna’s Cafe

Schooner Restaurant and Lounge

Tillamook Creamery Visitor Center

Tora Sushi Lounge


Sheltered Nook

Three Arch Inn

Turtlejanes Bed and Breakfast


Bayocean trail

Belladonna Beads

Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint

Fish Slayer Charters

Jacobsen Salt Co.

Kayak Tillamook

Kilchis Point Reserve

Lex’s Cool Stuff

Mook Axe Cowliber

Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad

Sandlake Tsunami ATV Rentals

Siggi-G Ocean Charters

Tillamook Air Museum

Tillamook Forest Center

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