There is nothing quite like a coastal winter storm. A stormy sky unleashing a powerful, windy and wet display is fantastic entertainment, whether you watch from warm shelter or from outdoors in the center of the action.
But a great winter storm is more than theater — it can be a spiritual and contemplative experience, too, serving simultaneously as contrast and catalyst to our busy, structured lives. Seeing waves pummel the beach, trees cant in the wind and flocks of birds ride strong gales is mesmerizing and meditative. Watching such wild weather from a cozy perch allows us to feel the excitement of an unpredictable sky and tap into the power of nature while feeling safe and warm. And it’s all the better if you have someone special to curl up with — the two of you hunkered against a beautiful, blustery day.
My favorite place to do just this is Oregon’s North Coast, where the wind whips the sea to froth, the rain can drive sideways, and the smell of the salty sea permeates to your soul. These storied cities offer many perfect storm-watching vistas, both out in the elements and tucked away.
Expansive beaches, cozy restaurants and art galleries make it easy to enjoy a romantic weekend, special occasion, or celebration in the classy town of Cannon Beach. Stay at the Stephanie Inn in an oceanfront corner suite (or one of the many oceanfront lodging establishments), where you can take in a stormy day and views of Haystack Rock from your balcony and then curl up by the gas fireplace or in the Jacuzzi tub. You’ll find another great vantage point for storm watching in the Stephanie Inn’s oceanfront library, where complimentary beer and wine gatherings and nightcaps are held nightly.
Get out in the weather with a hike on the Tillamook Head National Recreation Trail, which you’ll find just outside of town and with easy access to the trailhead from Indian Beach. The trail passes through thick coastal forests to Ecola State Park, where you’ll experience panoramic views of Cannon Beach, the Pacific Ocean and the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse — look for migrating whales in the winter and spring.
For stormy views served with steamy clam chowder, visit Mo’s Restaurant, a classic fish shack that has an oceanfront wall of windows. This makes it one of the best restaurant views in town. A classier option is the Wayfarer Restaurant & Lounge, where a corner booth sits right above the beach with a nice view of Haystack Rock. Try the crab cakes, pinot noir salmon or filet mignon while witnessing the unpredictable, mystical power of the crashing waves.
Seaside’s signature oceanfront Promenade — known locally as “The Prom” — stretches for 1.5 miles along the wide, sandy beach and is lined with benches and lampposts. This paved trail is popular with cyclists, hikers, runners and dog-walkers, but it’s also a great place for a romantic stroll, when you can see grand homes on one side of the path and gorgeous dunes, beach views and the magnificent Pacific Ocean on the other.
Before or after your ramble, grab a bite to eat at Maggie’s on the Prom, where fresh local seafood is served as part of a delicious seasonal menu (try the crab platter with garlic butter). Dine by the river rock fireplace and take in a stormy day through the restaurant’s front windows with a glass of Oregon pinot noir in your hand.
Rounding out a romantic Seaside stay is a night at the Inn at the Prom, which has jaw-dropping views of the beach and the sea. This overnight vantage point comes with fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs in the oceanfront rooms, as well as a full kitchen from which you can create your own candlelit dinner for two and enjoy the sights of a turbulent storm in your pajamas.
Imagine wild weather colliding with the tides of the Pacific Ocean and the persistent immensity of the Columbia River, and you’ve got Astoria in winter. Take in views of all of this from Coxcomb Hill, the town’s highest point and the site of the Astoria Column. Climb the 164 steps of the column, hold your sweetie’s hand tight and turn your faces to the wind.
Afterward, warm up with a pint of Winter Warmer ale and a tasty plate of rockfish and chips at Buoy Beer, housed in a 90-year-old cannery building on the waterfront. The vantage point here, with views of the incredible green expanse of the Astoria-Megler Bridge and the great cargo ships that regularly pass, is unmatched.
But the most romantic storm watching in town has to be at the luxurious Cannery Pier Hotel, which is spectacularly positioned on an old pier extending over the Columbia. Here, the expanse of the river stretches for four miles from the hotel across to Washington. But there’s no need to be out in the elements: Couples can watch the light, rain and storms from their hotel room’s cushy window seat.