I’ve lived in Oregon my entire life — born and raised in Salem, the humble capital city nestled in the lush Willamette Valley. While there are plenty of notable sights to be discovered in this opulent region, wanderlust always pulls me west to the mighty Pacific Ocean and the quaint towns peppering the coastline.
One place that continues to lure me away from the urban jungle is the unincorporated town in Tillamook County, Pacific City, a secret little haven that isn’t even listed on some maps. It’s located north of the popular tourist destination Lincoln City, just off of a drive on Highway 101, and yet receives a fraction of the attention that other Oregon Coast towns get.
Pacific City’s largest draw is definitely Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. I always show up early, before lunch, so that I can park in the Cape Kiwanda lot, across the street from a tiny marketplace and adjacent to my favorite Pacific City eatery, The Pelican Pub and Brewery. Finding a parking space can be difficult, but it’s worth the search. The instant my feet leave pavement and sink into the wonderfully indulgent sand, I’m at peace.
When the sun comes to play — a real treat for us Oregonians who are all too familiar with the temperament of coastal weather — the amazingly soft sand soaks up the warmth. It’s easy to kick back, close my eyes and listen to the whisper of rolling waves and the calls of seagulls flying through a salty breeze. For a moment I can forget the demanding frenzy of urban life and let my mind drift to a state of quiet meditation.
After basking in the sun, I dip my toes in the icy Pacific Ocean (or if I am bold enough, dive in!), and then stroll alongside the shore to do a little beachcombing for treasures like sand dollars, shells and rocks smoothed from tumbling in waves. The best treasure is, of course, the scenery. The sun glitters off of the water as it crashes around the majestic monolith, Haystack Rock. (Pacific City’s Haystack Rock is 90 feet taller than the one in Cannon Beach.)
I challenge myself by climbing the massive sand dune leading to the popular Cape Kiwanda Trailhead, which can be a bit of a workout! The climb is a couple hundred feet in elevation, but the views are spectacular. From there, you can see awe-inspiring views of Nestucca Bay and Cape Lookout, as well as craggy, burnt-sienna rocks and sun-bleached flora. Occasional surfers, kayakers and boats dot the horizon. Because the soft sand can shift, it’s important to stay inside the fenced area and avoid walking near the edges of the cliffs. Play it safe!
The best way to finish a day at Cape Kiwanda is with a meal at The Pelican Pub and Brewery, where a sea-inspired dish is a must. I typically opt for a bowl of hot clam chowder full of locally sourced ingredients topped with a slice of warm, buttered bread. After filling myself to the brim, I head back to the parking lot and pause to snap a few bittersweet photos of the glorious sunset before I leave. These pictures will remind me later why I escape the city every few weeks to the ocean tides and powdery sand of Pacific City, this tiny coastal town where I find my peace.