written by James Sinks | photos by Leah Nash
When SacagAwea, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and his family’s slave, York, and the rest of the weary band of explorers reached the edge of the tumbling Pacific in 1805, the list of fun stuff to do in Seaside was fairly short. Namely, collect salt.
To cure meat for the journey back east, a crew was dispatched in early 1806 to Fort Clatsop, fifteen miles away. The men maintained a full-time low-tech salt works, boiling seawater on the gently curving beach, where access was easy and peaceful Clatsop tribal families were accommodating.
A century after the Corps of Discovery Expedition broke camp, the hamlet was buzzing as Oregon’s first coastal resort. The list of fun stuff had grown to include saltwater in the form of sticky-sweet taffy.
Today, Seaside, population 6,445, is an eclectic mix of the old, the not-so-old and the new, which is often designed to look old, or the coastal weather has helped it along. For a town whose livelihood relies on attracting new generations of beachgoers, Seaside happily keeps a foot in its past.
Along the pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare, Broadway, tourists bounce in sixty-year-old bumper cars, prowl a 110-year-old candy shop and grab a microbrew at Seaside Brewing Company. At seemingly every stop, black-and-white photographs are part of the décor.
While vintage reigns, it also rains plenty. Even in summer, when Seaside is home to a succession of fair-weather events including the Hood-to-Coast relay finish line, it’s a good idea to toss waterproof gear in the overnight bag.
At the end of Broadway, a statue depicts Lewis and Clark, with Newfoundland dog, Seaman, gazing westward toward the nonstop somersaulting waves. You can almost hear Lewis say: “I’ve grown weary of salt. How about a beer?
Day 1: Shopping and Family Fun
The train that once ferried droves of visitors to Seaside earned the nickname “Daddy Train” by the children whose families would stay for extended periods at the coast. On weekends, they’d head to meet their fathers, who’d rumble into the depot from Portland.
Today, the train is a black-and-white memory. The winding asphalt ribbon of Highway 101 now brings the entire family into town.
At the Rivertide Suites, overlooking the Necanicum River that splits the city, check in to your room and soak in the hot tub, or head to the rooftop and soak up the panorama of the beach five blocks away. The inn also treats guests to wine during happy hour.
A block away, the historic Gilbert District has a bevy of boutiques and even a yoga studio in a circa-1914 building. For bibliophiles, Books on Beach beckons. Canine parents will appreciate the whimsical selection at Beach Puppy.
Share a six-pack of carnitas tacos ($6.95) or a pizza at Seaside Brewing Company, in the former city hall and jailhouse at 851 Broadway. There’s seating indoors and out, and stacks of board games. If the kids get antsy, you can banish them to the old jail cell. If only it locked.
Like most Seaside eateries, gluten-free choices are on the menu. But like no others, the menu tells you which items are prepared by guys with beards. (Hint: It’s the beer).
After dinner, if it’s wet outside, Green Dreams Billiards at 47 N. Holladay Drive is a non-smoking, non-drinking and non-raining venue where you can rent a table for $8 an hour. Some recent history: a natural gas explosion blew out the windows in 2003.
If the evening weather allows, stroll to the beach for a bonfire. If you don’t feel like lugging firewood, reward the entrepreneurial spark at the Seashore Inn, 60 North Promenade, where wood, s’more ingredients and four roasting sticks come in a $25 kit. Then, watch the waves disappear into the dark.
Day 2: Gearhart Golf, Tillamook Head Trail and Jell-o Shots
This is how men went clubbing a century ago. Just five miles up the road in Gearhart lies the oldest golf course west of the Mississippi River. The links opened in 1892 and, according to the proprietors, it’s two years older than the venerable United States Golf Association.
The course, clubhouse and attached hotel are part of the growing empire of historical sites rehabbed and preserved by Portland’s McMenamin family.
In the summer, tee times are highly recommended. It’ll run $75 for 18 holes, but weekday and twilight rates are less. Before you tee off, fuel up and balance your blood alcohol at the Sand Trap Restaurant, where sausage links seem like a good accompaniment to a links-style course. Afterward, for something unexpected, try the Spinach Inquisition salad.
If duffing is not your fancy, retrace the steps of Lewis and Clark on the twelve-mile roundtrip Tillamook Head trail, which climbs through the rainforest at the south end of town. The explorers went this way to investigate a dead whale near present-day Cannon Beach.
A milder trek is an amble to the graded and relatively flat final segment of the Fort-to-Sea trail that connects the site of former Fort Clatsop to Sunset Beach, north of Gearhart. The path meanders to a picturesque overlook of the beach.
Back in town, test your mettle and the strength of your neck for $2.50 on the vintage bumper cars, 110 Broadway. (If you have young ones in tow, try the carousel instead, at 300 Broadway.) Celebrate your survival afterward with $1 Jell-O shots at Big Kahuna Bar and Grill.
The beach is just a half block away. During summer months, lifeguards keep watch and volleyballs constantly pop into the air. For the adventurous soul there’s clam and sand-dollar hunting at low tide. In town, you can pedal on land or water. Wheel Fun Rentals offers multipassenger surrey bikes and pedal boats on the Necanicum River.
Maggie’s on the Prom claims a front-row view of the sunset, and serves drinks to help enjoy it. Unwind by the fireplace and sip lemondrops, Spanish coffees, or the enticingly named Sex on Seaside Beach, which commingles brandy, peach Schnapps, pineapple and cranberry juice.
There is no pretention but outstanding fare at Twisted Fish Steakhouse, 311 Broadway, a combination sports bar and restaurant with a great wine list, beef tenderloin stroganoff and even brussels sprouts with bacon.
Day 3: Promenade, Salt and Aquarium
If the sea breeze is luring, slip into your tennis shoes for a quick jaunt on Seaside’s famous one-and-a-half-mile Promenade, known as “the Prom.”
The crescent moon of concrete, constructed in 1920 to replace a wooden boardwalk, parallels the beach and takes you past rows of houses, hotels and the seventy-five-year-old Seaside Aquarium. It’s as popular as it is scenic, so keep your head up or risk getting tangled in a leash or two.
On Avenue G, a half-block from the Prom, sits a fenced-off replica of the Lewis and Clark salt collection cairn, tucked between houses. The historical record says they boiled 1,400 gallons of seawater here, and extracted up to a gallon’s worth of salt a day. The annual salt camp reenactment is August 15 to 17.
If you can’t imagine salt without pepper, the Firehouse Grill at 841 Broadway offers zesty bloody marys and a hearty brunch. Set in the garage of the former fire station, the eatery made a list of best breakfast spots nationally, compiled by website Urbanspoon.
The menu features a turkey sausage scramble with pesto and jalapeño, and for the inner child or outer child, cinnamon french toast.
The aquarium was initially the site of a natatorium, an indoor seawater swimming pool. Now, a family of ten harbor seals shares the pool, and will vie for your attention–and your food.
Exhibits include giant Pacific octopi, a touch tank and “tsunami fish” that unwittingly crossed the Pacific after being tossed to sea, sheltered in a Japanese fishing boat after the 2011 disaster. This venue is the oldest privately owned aquarium on the West Coast.
If watching fish makes you want to take some home, you’re in luck at Bell Buoy of Seaside, a landmark on Highway 101 for fifty-six years. The market offers an assortment of smoked, fresh and canned seafood. If you don’t want to lug it home, they’ll ship it.
Before heading home, stroll past the Lewis and Clark statue and take a last walk on the beach. Watch the kites bobbing softly overhead. If you haven’t done it yet, swing barefoot on the beach swings.
At this point, maybe you’ll feel a little sorry for Lewis and Clark. They experienced the solemn salt, but none of the delight of modern Seaside.