As part of our active week here at Nehalem Bay we decided to gawk & eat our way south for a few big day-trips. As it so happens Tillamook, OR is only around 20 miles from us. It’s nestled in another large bay surrounded by more dramatic capes and offers a whole bunch of extra sightseeing PLUS (and here’s the rub) it’s the home of Oregon cheese. Awesome! We checked the forecast (which is totally useless on the coast, but we’re suckers for it anyway) and decided to target the sunniest days of the week. Full days of rays and guaranteed belly-pleasing eating -> gotta be perfect, right? Well, here’s how we fared…
Cheeese, Cheeeeeeese Yes Please!
Cheese is one of my absolute favorite food-groups. If I were ship-wrecked on a desert island I do believe I could live on cheese, and if you were to give me a glass of vino to accompany I might believe I had landed in heaven. Tillamook has a long history of cheese-making, dating back 100 years to some of the very first farms on the OR coast. These farms endure today so you pass many pleasant pastures and grass-fed dairy cows on your way to town, a sure testament to preservation of the local art. I was very excited to sample the curdled and fermented goodness at both Tillamook Cheese and Blue Heron. These two spots are the largest in town and we toured them both in the same day. We passed time learning the history, watching the factory workers and sampling the cheesy stuff. Our impressions? A bit too “touristy” for our tastes, probably expected given the popularity, but a fun excursion nonetheless.
The Plane, The Plane!
As part of our cheesy day in Tillamook we took a side-trip to what became a wonderful & unexpected bonus surprise -> the Tillamook Air Museum. Whereas we found the cheese factories somewhat overrun and kitchy, this place was a gem, presenting aviation history at it’s finest. The museum site is the original hanger for one of the 10 Blimp Bases that operated on the US coastline in WWII. It covers 7 acres and claims to be the largest free-standing, clear-span wooden structure in the world! Inside this impressive building are more than 30 fully restored warbirds, simply stunning specimens of their time. We spent several hours just walking around the huge machines and gawking at their shiny reflections. This is a “must see” in the area and definitely tops our recommendation list.
Find A Quilt, Learn Some History
Another rather cool discovery on our cheesy day was the Tillamook Quilt Trail. Despite the name this has nothing to do with bits of stitched fabric, but is actually a self-guided driving tour of some of the most historic barns and buildings in the area. It’s a pretty fun little drive, and spotting the buildings with the “Quilt” blocks is really quite neat. You can pick-up a map at the Air Museum or the local Chamber of Commerce. Do it and find your quilt!
Scenic Three Capes Drive -> A La Fog?
Three Capes Drive really deserves it’s very own blog post, it really does. This lovely drive meanders 40 miles along the coast south of Tillamook covering three (wouldn’t you believe it) fabulous capes -> Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout and Cape Meares. It’s beautiful, amazingly scenic and provides some of the best views of the northern coast.
Just to be sure we got the most out of it we chose the very sunniest of forecasts to go see it, the day absolutely guaranteed to be 100% clear….which of course meant we were absolutely guaranteed to be disappointed. It was not rain, nor hail that blinded our view but FOG. Yes, that dense and intimate collection of hygroscopic particles with which we are so very well acquainted from our many years in San Francisco. I should have known, of course -> The best days in-land are almost always the foggiest on the coast especially by the bits that stick out (e.g. capes…duh!). But we are fog-lovers and not easily deterred so we decided to do the drive anyway. Why not, eh?
We arrived at the southernmost point of the drive in perfect sun, and as soon as we crossed west to Pacific City we were enveloped in fog so very thick we missed the town and the cape altogether the first time around. We drove back (thank you GPS) and did manage to glimpse a short lifting of fog around the area where the Dory Boats launch. Pretty cool sight to see these nimble and unique boats launch and land on the beach, despite the grey.
Our second stop was a 5-mile hike to Cape Lookout, a (supposedly) amazing hike along the cliffs to a (so-I’ve-been-told) wonderful view at the end. Despite the complete lack of panorama, we embraced the weather and basked in the fogginess of it all. In fact, it was rather eerie to hike through the trees and see the cliffs drop off almost vertically to a grey haze with the crash of waves somewhere beneath us. Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
Our last stop actually provided us the first views of the day. Cape Meares is topped by the shortest lighthouse on the coast and still has an original (albeit damaged from vandalism, sadly) first order Fresnel lens. And here, finally, we saw a tease of what we had missed. A fully-clear view across the capes to Three Arches Rocks and the coastline beyond. Quite the nice ending, especially with a lighthouse to top it off.
So there you go…our rather full and exciting week on the northern coast comes to an end. We’ve absolutely adored our time here and are already scheming to come back. After all, I’ve got to see those Capes again (and write another blog post)! Next stop, Newport, OR and the central Oregon Coast.
P.S. Three Capes Drive and Cape Lookout Trail is entirely paw-friendly and Polly was along for the ride. The Lighthouse doesn’t allow dogs inside, but you can hike to the structure and take turns doing the free tour while doggie waits outside.