Winter days on the Oregon Coast have a subtle magic. The waves are wild, the views are misty and mysterious, and you might even have a stretch of beach or a quiet trail all to yourself. Plus, it’s the perfect time to go behind the scenes — sans crowds — at Oregon’s epicenter of cheddar, the Tillamook Creamery.
Watch Whales and Waves, Then Warm Up at the Creamery
On the North Coast (Astoria to Neskowin), it’s easy to combine a winter hike with spotting whales or safely photographing king tides, both of which are at their peak in the winter months. Cape Lookout State Park, which sits on a forested peninsula 13 miles south of Tillamook, is a great place to spot migrating gray whales from December to February. Or if your visit coincides with a king tide, when Oregon’s tides are at their very highest, grab your camera and head for an elevated area well back from the shoreline to watch the action safely. At Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, you’ll find yourself on a basalt cliff 200 feet above the ocean, perfect for watching the waves crash below.
When you’re ready to get cozy after a morning outside, head to Tillamook for a visit to Oregon’s iconic Tillamook Creamery. In 1909 a group of 10 dairy farmers formed the Tillamook County Creamery Association co-op. Today it’s a certified B-corp selling premium dairy products nationwide. Its flagship visitor center, created in 1949 and remodeled in 2018, is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it attracts more than a million visitors each summer in search of an ice cream cone and a self-guided tour.
But there’s something special about visiting during the winter. Fewer guests mean you can take your time experiencing the exhibits, snapping photos, and sampling cheeses and ice creams. Get an uncrowded view of the production floor from the Viewing Gallery, then swing by the sample counter for a chance to test new products the team is still perfecting.Tillamook’s Jalapeño-Honey Cream Cheese Spread, for instance, went through multiple rounds of visitor taste tasting.
Get the Loaf Lowdown With a Guided Tour
Self-guided tours are always available, but for a guided tour and special tasting experience, you can book a premium experience. Advance reservations are recommended, and same-day bookings may be available in the winter. The guided Tour & Tasting is led by a brand ambassador who will lead you through the exhibits, answering questions and pointing out hidden details of the production process like the metal pipes that wind down the walls of the viewing gallery — they’re carrying salt, one of only four ingredients in Tillamook’s cheese recipe. Put your hand on a pipe as you stroll by, and you’ll feel the friction-driven heat as the salt is piped down to the vats below.
After the tour, nibble your way through a private tasting in a back room lined with mementos like Tillamook company ledgers from 1914 and shiny cheesemaking trophies from decades past. You’ll try everything from squeaky-fresh curds to 10-year-aged cheddar. Each bite is accompanied by tasting notes, beverage-pairing suggestions and tidbits of cheese knowledge. Did you know that aged cheddar owes its unique texture to protein crystals called tyrosine? Or that seasonal variations in weather can add different notes to the natural flavors of a cheese?
Your newfound cheese knowledge will leave you sounding like an expert the next time you’re putting together a charcuterie board.
Dig into Comfort Food at the Dining Hall
The tasting offers just enough to whet your appetite for what’s perhaps the best part of a winter visit to the Creamery: a stop at the Dining Hall. Dig into a menu of pure comfort food, like a hot grilled cheese on sourdough bread paired with fire-roasted tomato soup for dunking. A personal-size skillet of mac and cheese, broiled until it’s just a little brown and crispy, is another great choice for a winter day. Crispy fried cheese curds, served with a trio of house-made sauces, are a good side for anything on the menu.
For dessert grab a scoop or two of ice cream (fewer lines in the winter) — or book the Honorary Tillamook Taste Bud: Exclusive Ice Cream Experience to become a true ice cream expert. You’ll learn how the Research & Development team of Tillamook, commonly known as the Taste Buds, creates and tests new treats. See whether you can detect different chemical compounds by taste and if you’re among the 25% of the population that qualifies as a supertaster, and learn about the science that goes into ice cream flavor research. You’ll sample multiple ice creams while analyzing their flavor qualities before heading home with special swag proving your honorary Tillamook Taste Bud status.
Before you leave, swing through the creamery’s gift shop to stock your picnic basket with everything you need to put your tuned-up taste buds to work — like the Tillamook Farmers’ Collection series of cheeses, which features bold flavors designed to pair perfectly with charcuterie, pickles, preserves and other accompaniments. Think of it like a cheat code for making a cheese board as memorable as the Oregon Coast itself.