Among the many sea stacks that are found along the Pacific Coast, Cannon Beach is famed as much for iconic Haystack Rock as for its art galleries, boutique shops and restaurants. It’s natural to think that Cannon Beach has the tallest stack along Oregon’s coast, maybe because of the town’s unverifiable claim (“third largest intertidal monolith in the world”), but the one in Pacific City, which also happens to be called Haystack Rock, is taller. Yet, for all its extra 92ft, its impact is not as dramatic because it’s dwarfed by Cape Kiwanda to the north and its greater distance offshore makes it seem smaller than Cannon Beach’s.
There’s more to like about Pacific City. The flat sandy beach is firm enough to walk and drive on. Many visitors park their vehicles on the beach and spend the day. It doesn’t attract nearly the crowds that Cannon Beach does, while having good amenities for tourists. We stayed at The Inn at Cape Kiwanda where every room has a terrific view of Haystack and the ocean. On summer days, like today, the temperatures are mild, rarely exceeding the 70s, which attracts many beachgoers, who tend to congregate between Kiwanda and the brewery. A short trudge to the south will give you all the solitude you might want.
Cape Kiwanda is an easy walk from the beach. You can get to the top by climbing what amounts to a giant sand dune, called the Great Dune, on the back end of its southern flank, or from access roads further north. We did the climb. Shifting sand made for tricky footing. When we reached solid sandstone, we got a panoramic view of the shoreline. Going back down was much easier, but not as fast as boys schussing down on their sandboards. The cape, consisting of brilliant but soft orange and yellow sandstone, still stands by the grace of Haystack Rock that has shielded it from the erosive force of rough waters. It would otherwise have disappeared long ago.
At low tide, tidepools can be explored on and between the rocky shoreline, heavily encrusted with mussels, barnacles, limpets and chitons, making for treacherous navigation. At least one tidepool harbored a colony of colorful anemones. A common murre, one of several indigenous seabirds, remained amazingly unperturbed by humans, even as a kid patted its back.
Pacific City lies along the 40-mile loop called the Three Capes Scenic Route. Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda, the last jutting out from Pacific City’s shore, make up the three headlands. It’s a beautiful drive that rivals any stretch that Oregon has to offer. Taking Sand Lake Road (part of the Scenic Loop) north out of Pacific City will lead to Cape Lookout and its state park via Cape Lookout Road. We stopped here for a brief hike along the South Trail to stretch our legs. The view out to sea and of Cape Kiwanda was largely obscured by trees. The trail dead-ended twenty minutes into the hike with a warning sign not to go any further, so we turned back and found a short path down to the beach before returning to our car. Though we didn’t take it, the longer 2.4-mile trail along the cape ends up at a viewpoint that gives you unobstructed views of Tillamook Head, Cape Falcon, Cape Meares, Three Arch Rocks, Cape Kiwanda, Haystack Rock, Cascade Head and Cape Foulweather, the only single spot along the coast where all these geographical features can be seen.
Our next stop was Oceanside. We only had time to get a glimpse of Three Arch Rocks, which stand about a half mile offshore, and have lunch at Roseanna’s Cafe, before heading out to Centralia, WA.
Although not on the coastal roads, two nearby places are worth mentioning. At 319ft, Munson Creek Falls is the tallest in the Coast Range, located about 10 miles south of Tillamook. It’s only a quarter-mile walk from the parking lot to the viewing area. Unfortunately, storm damage caused the closure of the path closest to the falls. Still, a very good view can be had from the existing vantage point.
Without doubt the area’s most popular attraction, enticing 1 million visitors a year, is the Tillamook Cheese Factory in the city of Tillamook, first made famous by its award-winning cheddar. Nowadays, far from being the small facility that we remembered from decades past, it’s an enormous complex with two gift shops, gigantic ice cream parlor and café. Gone are the guided tours where you could actually watch employees making cheese, replaced by self-guided tours from viewing areas far above the factory floor. Despite making all sorts of cheese today, it seems the main attraction is a full line of premium ice creams served in two lines, each staffed by half a dozen servers. This place is a circus, to be sure, but worth at least one visit.
Tasting notes: Pelican Pub & Brewery (Yelp: 3.5/5.0; TripAdvisor: 4.0/5.0) in Pacific City has a prime spot on the beach. Here, you can get better-than-average grub, but more to the point, taste its award-winning beers. Try their delicious Kiwanda Cream Ale, for example. There’s an outdoor dining area facing the ocean that’s hugely popular with customers in the summer. The chef aspires to use the beers as ingredients in the menu items. There’s even a suggested beer pairing with each item. With very few restaurants open on Tuesdays in Pacific City, we wound up eating lunch and dinner at Pelican, across the street from the Inn. Roasted tomatoes were a tasty component of the Oregon Shrimp Niçoise Salad (☆☆½), a pretty good salad with lemon-caper vinaigrette. Their ‘fabulous clam chowder‘ would’ve lived up to its billing if the clams weren’t so minuscule, rubbery and sandy. The broth itself was very tasty and thick (☆☆½). One at least has to give credit to the kitchen for offering Sweet Potato Quinoa Cakes, more like a salad with arugula, roasted tomatoes and fried onion rings obscuring the yam patties underneath (☆☆☆). Fish Tacos sounded appealing, with another slight change-up with jicama lime slaw and Southwest quinoa salad. Two problems. The Alaskan cod had been previously frozen that rubbery flesh betrayed and the slaw tasted more vinegary than lime-y (☆☆).
As we were on the Oregon coast, what better opportunity than to smother ourselves with fried razor clams. I had read that Roseanna’s Cafe (Yelp: 3.5/5.0; TripAdvisor: 4.0/5.0) in Oceanside served a wonderful version, but alas it’s not on the regular menu, served only on occasion. The day of our visit was not one of them. So, we contented ourselves with beef and barley soup, a spectacular version marred only by over-saltiness (☆☆☆½). Even more spectacular was marionberry cobbler (☆☆☆☆). The marionberry is another of Oregon’s great contributions to the food world. The pie was still warm, the crust flaky and the vanilla ice cream likely Tillamook’s. You would hardly notice Roseanna’s as you’re driving along narrow Pacific Avenue, just as you wouldn’t realize what a very popular place this is until you step inside. As a bonus, you get a good look at Three Arch Rocks from any table by the window.
No visit to Tillamook County would be complete without a taste of ice cream at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Tons of people had this is mind last Wednesday (August 5)—likely every day—when two separate lines form to get samples of 31 flavors. Recently, Tillamook introduced a line of ice creams, sold only in half-gallon sizes, that features locally grown fruit, such as Oregon Strawberry and Oregon Blueberry Patch. For my money though, I’m a big fan of their Marionberry Pie with its bits of pie crust and Oregon Black Cherry. At the factory, you could gorge yourself on a sampler called Tillamook Ice Cream Adventure, which offers a scoop of every ice cream they make, amounting to 31 scoops. Our sights were a little lower, opting for the 5 Scoop Sampler Dish. We chose Cinnamon Horchata, Coffee Almond Fudge, Oregon Blueberry Patch, Wild Mountain Blackberry and an outstanding Oregon Hazelnut & Salted Caramel. Not to worry—each scoop is the size of a golf ball.