When I make it back to the coast, the fog and the dramatic rocky shoreline are waiting for me, right where I left them. I get back into the habit of pulling off the road, even if it means making the car in back of me slow down while I pull off the road and then running across the street and climbing on top of a post to get a better view. The fog is thick on the Oregon Coast, even now in August, so only during the brief windows of intermittent sunshine is the view anything but hazy outlines of cliffs and the sound that means there must be an ocean down there somewhere.
I continue to stop at lighthouses and justify myself in that you are at least guaranteed a rocky coastline, maybe a free tour, and maybe a wonderfully restored light keeper’s home with antique furnishings and pictures of the weather-beaten former inhabitants. I like thinking about what it would have been like to be the lighthouse keeper’s family: isolated, perched on a rocky cliff, farming and collecting seashells. The tours tend to get a little tedious: they are all pretty much the same. I wish they would delve more into the lives of the individuals who lived there (maybe even filling in the holes of history with a little fiction, just to make it interesting), but instead most of the tour is spent explaining how the lighthouse worked and why it was built and later preserved.
The Oregon Coastal towns are more rugged industrial type hubs than I expected. In Newport, things begin to get more touristy with the addition of the Oregon State Aquarium. Instead, I stop across the street at the Marine Science center run by Oregon State University because it’s free. I take the time to carefully touch some sea urchins and watch the octopus sit at the bottom of it’s tank with it’s eyes shut tight, as if it can will all the people starring at it to go away. I stop by the Rogue Brewery for lunch and have a yummy taco salad with an amber ale. The beer had an odd thick taste I didn’t really care for, but the salad was just the right size and tasted homemade - in a good way.
In Tillamook, I make a stop at the cheese factory. The tour is self-guided and pretty nonexistent. It consists of watching a video in a crowded room so loud you can’t hear the audio, followed by gawking behind a glass at workers breaking cheese into blocks on a conveyer belt, maybe standing in a ten minute line to get a small sample of cheese and then being corralled through the two gift shops and cafeteria. I pretty much run past all that and just get a scoop of ice cream, which is terrific ice cream that really tastes fresh - caramel praline pecan. Yumm…. I wonder why supermarkets in California only have Tillamook cheese and not this delicious heavenly ice cream.
Many of the coastal towns in Oregon I simply drive right through. Most of them are either too touristy or too small or industrial. In Cannon Beach all the houses and shops are the same wood singles with white trim. Everything looks way too manicured and expensive. The beach isn’t even that pretty. Same thing with Seaside even though instead of the Cape Cod-like cleanness there are huge beachside motels and lots of family fun type activities and junk food. It's not a bad thing to be a touristy town. It can be really fun for a weekend, but I get the sneaking suspicion that nobody actually lives in these towns - every house is a rental and despite having five jewelry shops they have no nurseries or drug stores. I pretty much found the central part of the Oregon Coast to be the best - slightly touristy, yet still beautiful but far enough away from Portland to avoid being completely taken over.