"Winter storm watching" on the Oregon Coast is a nice, little, chamber of commerce marketing euphemism for foul weather.
If the rain isn’t horizontal, there’s something to be said for being there: The coast is far less crowded than in summer and less expensive.
Many Seattleites make the boring, four-hour drive for a change of worlds: For those who cut over at Vancouver, Astoria is the drive-through gateway.
This country’s oldest settlement west of the Rockies, raw, rainswept Astoria, lies at the mouth of the Columbia River. Victorian fixer-uppers cling to the hills above town. With its population of fisher and boating folk, Astoria has an authenticity that, say, Cannon Beach lacks.
The Columbia River Maritime Museum is well worth a stop. Downtown, revitalized and historic, testifies to the confluence of artistic, alternative transplants with Astoria old-school.
Bowpicker Fish & Chips, at 17th Street and Duane Avenue, serves memorable fish and chips — they’re done with albacore tuna.
The Astoria Column, erected in 1926, affords sweeping views of the whole scene up and down the Washington and Oregon coasts. Astoria isn’t literal storm-watching territory, but it has its understated attractions (information: www.oldoregon.com).
Nearly 20 miles south, Seaside is the coast’s answer to Coney Island. The promenade makes for a lovely, salt-air stroll, if weather allows; lodging is less expensive than Cannon Beach on the other side of Tillamook Head.
Tides by the Sea, 2316 Beach Drive, at the secluded southern end of town, is the perfect storm-watching place. The heated pool won’t do you any good in winter, but it may draw you back in summer.
The Tides is tucked in a cove protected by Tillamook Head, where surfers hang out (and occasional great whites take a nip of board) and features fireplaces, a small grocery store within walking distance and rates under $200 per night.
Seven miles over the hill to the south, Cannon Beach is the coast’s most “romantic getaway,” which means it can be overpriced and precious. It’s the spot you’re most likely to run into that old college roommate who wants to sell you life insurance.
Still, its charm and beauty are undeniable, with Ecola State Park resembling the green headlands of Ireland to the north and Haystack Rock, the 235-foot-tall sea stack, bird sanctuary and presiding monolith, at its southern end.
Surf Sand, 148 Gower Road, which looks right at Haystack Rock, may be the best storm-watching perch, and it has a bar, restaurant and indoor swimming pool. A room will likely cost you more than $200 a night, but off-season specials are usually available.
Cannon Beach is “artsy” — none of which is cutting-edge — and charming. It is to Seaside what Carmel, Calif., is to neighboring Monterey.
One tip: Pizza a’ fetta, 231 N. Hemlock St., a deservedly much-honored pizza place formerly with a half-dozen tables, has added upstairs seating — the lines to get in are a thing of the past. And they fill your wine glass to the brim — none of this $10-per-dollop Seattle stuff.
This is as far south many Seattleites get for a weekend getaway.
Some 20 miles down the road, though, gathered around Nehalem Bay, lie the villages of Manzanita, Nehalem and Wheeler. If Seaside and Cannon Beach let you feel like you’ve gotten away from the big city for a spell, these places make the Seaside-Cannon Beach area, with its 8,500 people, seem like its own little rat race. Wheeler, for instance, has 400 people and Manzanita about 600.
This also is good storm-watching country. There are enough restaurants and motels, barely, to go around.
Upscale Manzanita, especially, strikes the perfect note for Seattle escapees: excellent coffee shops, miles of beach, quietness and remote beauty and two good bookstores.
For more information on these, visit www.nehalembaychamber.com