Cioppino at Sharks Seafood Bar & Steamer Co. (Newport, OR)


Cioppino

Cioppino

Sharks Seafood Bar alone would be worth a trip to Newport, Oregon, even if the town has many other virtues. The interior doesn’t have a very big space, with only a few tables and a sitting bar toward the back. Their cioppino is justifiably famous, named by Sunset Magazine in 2003 as having the best version in the West. It is the best version I have ever had, bar none. It’s chockfull of fresh rockfish, Dungeness crab, and two kinds of shrimp. In season, they’ll use locally caught shrimp. The broth is thick, tomato-ey and sweet. Sharks uses an interesting contraption for making it, which uses a steaming process; you’ll have to see it for yourself, preferably by sitting at the bar and yukking it up with the chef. Don’t even think about taking a picture of it; you’ll be asked politely to point the camera away. Try to get the chef to tell you what’s in the sauce. You’ll just get a polite smile. The recipe is top secret. Luckily, anyone can order the cioppino sauce online.

A bottle of Amity Pinot Blanc (Oregon), which is on the wine menu and very reasonably priced, goes great with the stew.

Very good friends of ours also swear by the marinara linguini, which they proclaim is perhaps as good as the cioppino. Oh, and that huckleberry ice cream!

The restaurant is hard to find off the main highway (US 101). It’s located in the Bayfront area.

Menu

Sharks Seafood Bar and Steamer Company
852 SW Bay Blvd.
Newport, Oregon 97365
541.574.0590
 

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area (OR)


One of the most spectacular areas along the Oregon Coast is the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. It also is the highest viewpoint of the ocean accessible by car in the state. Over 2,500 acres, the highlights include a geologic blowhole (Spouting Horn), a long, narrow crack cleaved in the coastal basalt (Devil’s Churn) and a stunning headland that juts far out to sea. One of Cape Perpetua’s prized possessions is a 600-year-old giant Sitka spruce that stands over 185-ft tall and sports a 40-ft circumference at the base, designated by the state of Oregon as a “heritage tree.”

Incoming and outgoing waves can dramatically collide as they make their way through the Devil’s Churn, an elongated and narrow fissure along the basalt embankment, producing titanic plumes of water and foam.

Devil’s Churn from an overlook

We took the 1.5-mile St. Perpetua Trail over the headland, gaining 600ft in elevation to the end, where there was a magnificent view of the ocean. Along the way, we passed a beautiful forest of old growth spruce, Douglas fir and western hemlock.

Off the trail, a steep stairway provided access to the rocky shore. Scrambling over the jagged volcanic rock requires a sure foot, but from here you can see the power of the swirling waves and currents.

The waves and currents are treacherous, sometimes creating vortices in the water

The waves and currents are treacherous, sometimes creating vortices in the water

Lunch at Minute Café (Bandon, OR)


Fried clams plate

Fried clams plate

Once in a while, you get surprised by a meal that you didn’t expect much from.

We stopped in Bandon to stretch our legs and get a little lunch before resuming our road trip. First, we visited a confectionery, Cranberry Sweets & More, where all things cranberry are made into candies, and then walked around town a bit, before eating at Minute Café. The menu is basically diner food. We decided to have the fried clam plate, which came with fries and cole slaw, plus two halves of buttered toast. All I can say is that the fried clams were extraordinarily good. Though the pieces were larger than we’ve come to expect, they were tender and had a great clam flavor and the batter was light and crispy. Oftentimes, such clams emerge from a kitchen like fried rubber bands in texture, but not these! I was almost tempted to say that they were razors, but the waitress assured us they weren’t. Great, just the same.

Minute Cafe
145 2nd St SE
Bandon, OR ‎
541.347.2707
 

Western Azalea


One of the glorious native shrubs that grows along the coasts of California and Oregon is the western azalea. It is really not an azalea, but rather a rhododendron, a deciduous one at that. When in bloom, the shrub is very prolific. Since it was late spring, our road trip coincided with its peak blossoming period. We didn’t plan to seek it out, but as we pulled into Prairie Creek State Park, we noticed a number of them just outside the visitors’ center. As we approached, we caught their characteristic heady perfume well before we got a closer look at the flowers. It was an unexpected treat.

Azalea shrub outside the park visitors’ center

Fern Canyon (Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, CA)


Steven Spielberg saw its primeval potential for Jurassic Park 2, the backdrop for the T. Rex chase scene. Fern Canyon is an impossibly verdant gorge, carved out millions of years ago by a retreating sea, its vertical walls literally covered with walls of ferns, five species of them, and mosses. Water seems to seep out of the sides throughout the year, providing a very moist environment for these plants to flourish. The stream that cuts through the canyon sometimes gets high enough that wooden planks must be placed down at strategic points to prevent hikers from getting their shoes too wet. It’s worth the diversion off Hwy 101 to take this short but spectacular 1-mile hike.

Five-fingered Fern, one of 5 species in Fern Canyon

Molcajete at La Hacienda (Orick, CA) – CLOSED


Two different Hispanic locals gave us the same recommendation: a shop keeper in Arcata and an employee at a gas station in McKinleyville. The tip was that La Hacienda in Orick was the best place in the area to have Mexican food. As we drove through Orick, situated within the Redwood National Park boundary, at first we passed the restaurant, it not being particularly noticeable, but we found it when we turned back. What a revelation this place is because Orick is such a small town just south of Redwoods National Park, one that you might usually ignore and the last place you’d expect to find terrific Mexican food.

We started off with a nice basket of tortilla chips. Several kinds of salsa were available at the salsa bar, which I always appreciate for giving the diner choices.

Chips and salsa from the salsa bar

Chips and salsa from the salsa bar

And how could we turn down a margarita? And served in a classic margarita glass!

Margarita

Margarita

The entrée that appealed to me on the menu was one called Molcajete (pictured at the top), named after the stone mortar in which it’s served. This version was a stew of carne asada, bacon and shrimp in a salsa-based broth with sliced avocado and roasted chiles. I’d never had anything like it. The broth was complex, savory from the meats and seafood, piquant with divine roasted chile flavor and tart from limes. The molcajete vessel was large, so I was doubtful that I could finish it all. Not to worry. Suffice it to say that I long to have it again.

Update: The poor economy in Orick, which was affected by the closure of six sawmills, has forced the closure of La Hacienda. If any reader knows if and where the chef, who I believe is Erick Torres Montes, has opened another restaurant, please let me know. It’s a shame to lose a chef this talented to bad fortune.

La Hacienda (**CLOSED**)
121137 U.S. Highway 101
Orick, CA 95555
707.488.2520

Trinidad Head Memorial (Trinidad, CA)


Trinidad Head Memorial

A replica of the Trinidad Head lighthouse sits on a bluff overlooking the sea. It is really a memorial to those lost at sea, whose names are on plaques along a concrete wall nearby. The lighthouse itself still is perched on the headland, not accessible to the general public. The fog bell that was originally used with the lighthouse now sits next to the memorial and the original Fresnel lens is housed inside. A trail leads down to the beach where you can wander around and get a closer look at the basalt outcroppings out at sea.

Beach below Trinidad Head

Patrick’s Point State Park


Miles off the coast, the Farallon Plate is subducting under the North American Plate

There is no better evidence of the powerful forces of plate subduction than the shoreline of Patrick’s Point State Park. The Farallon Plate is diving under the North American plate slowly, leaving behind good examples of broken and folded coastline, including some impressive examples of basalt outcroppings out at sea. There is a fault that runs through the center of the park.

Studded with forests of evergreen and alders, carpeted with many wildflowers, the area belies the natural forces at work. On the trails we took, lupines and irises were in bloom. At the edge of the forest are sheer cliffs that overlook the beaches and ocean. At one overlook, we could see puffins and auks, nesting along the cliff sides and diving into the sea. One trail led to a dramatic vista of the ocean.

Lupines along the trail

Douglas iris

The Redwoods (CA)


It’s impossible to miss the magnificent stands of redwoods in northern California. Along Highway 101, there are several outstanding preserves, which include a national park and a good number of state parks. At one time, they were much more abundant.

Redwood trees appeared all over the world 20 million years ago when climates were warmer and more humid than today. Changing climate caused their disappearance to the point that they now only exist naturally along a coastal stretch between Monterey and just past the California-Oregon state line. To subsist, they require a tremendous amount of moisture in the form of rain or fog.

With their understory of azaleas, rhododendrons, huckleberries and ferns, stands of giant redwood look like an ancient virgin forest. There is an unmistakeable sound when you are in the middle of an old growth forest, a combination of the quiet caused by the thick ground cover, punctuated by birdsong overhead echoing between the trees.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove gave us an opportunity to experience the redwoods up close, purportedly the most popular trail in Redwood National Park. There are specimens of Douglas Fir trees that are the equal in size to the redwoods.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood National Park

Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood National Park

The grove was dedicated to Lady Bird Johnson by President Nixon as a result of her well-known support of environmental causes. Rhododendrons were in bloom in the understory, which added nice color against the canvas of green everywhere, but they were much more abundant as we drove through Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park further north.

Rhododendrons in the understory

Rhododendrons in the understory

We didn’t see the famed Western azaleas until we stopped at Prairie Creek State Park. Ferns, so abundant in the understory all through redwood country, make a spectacular display in Fern Canyon.

Having seen stands of these magnificent trees will stay in my memory for a long time.

Mendocino (CA)


Mendocino exudes a charm hard to resist

Mendocino exudes a charm hard to resist

It isn’t hard to understand why Mendocino is such a tourist attraction and a residential community for many artists. The town of less than 1,000 residents sits on a headland. There are many restaurants and galleries as well as a large number of bed-and-breakfast accommodations. For all its idyllic charm, with quaint homes, many behind picket fences, it is an expensive place to live. Many of the people who work here live in nearby, less expensive Fort Bragg to the north.

We spent one night here at Abigail’s B&B and had a fine dinner at the MacCallum House.

Dinner salad at MacCallum House

Dinner salad at MacCallum House