The Oregon Coast is a treasure trove of charming little towns you’ve never heard of. But once you see them, you’ll never forget them. You round the corner on a gorgeous stretch of highway where the waves are breaking on a broad, lovely beach that’s just begging you to get out of the car to take a walk. And lo and behold, here’s the perfect little town with cafes, shops and a historic hotel. Wheeler (pop. 414) is one of those sweet finds. Located on Highway 101 just south of Manzanita on scenic Nehalem Bay, Wheeler turned 100 in 2013. This former timber town is the perfect stop on your fall coast road trip.
Shop and stroll: Old Wheeler Antiques & Collectibles is an art deco bonanza, and Wheeler Station Antiques is a browser’s paradise. Shop for jewelry, pottery and baskets at Trillium Gallery. Find one-of-a-kind jewelry and clothing at Cultivation and quilting supplies at Creative Fabrics. Take a walk in Waterfront Park, a one-acre open space with amazing views of the bay, Neahkahnie Mountain and the river estuary (It also has what might be the state’s cutest public restroom.).
Winter birding: Nehalem Bay, Alder Creek Farm, Nehalem Bay Sewage Ponds (really) and the Nehalem Fish Hatchery are excellent spots to view fall migratory birds as well as overwintering birds like mallards, wigeons, kites and hawks. Visit oregoncoastbirding.com for details.
Dig it: The river estuary by Wheeler is a great spot to dig for soft shell clams. Wheeler is also near a rich stretch of rich razor clam territory on the North Coast. For tips on digging and information on permits, check out the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Spend the night: Stay at the beautifully restored Old Wheeler Hotel right downtown. First built in 1920 during the timber boom, the historic building has been lovingly restored. Charming and quiet, the hotel’s rooms have beautiful water views. Enjoy dinner at Rising Star Café, called a “a piece of heaven” by residents who say the chef serves up the freshest local seafood.