I make no secret of the fact I love the Oregon coast. It is, after all,
one of the most consistently beautiful coastlines in the world.
I make no secret of the fact I love the Oregon coast. It is, after all, one of the most consistently beautiful coastlines in the world. It offers gorgeous views, dramatic headlands, vast sweeping vistas, tall dark forests, and unforgettable sunsets - and so much more. I enjoy absolutely every inch of the Oregon coastline, from south of Brookings all the way to Astoria. I would love to hike and paddle the entire coastline someday, to take it all in slow and easy, to let it settle in my soul.
But in our hectic modern existences, it's difficult to find months to set aside to saunter down the beach and through forests. As much as I might fantasize ambling all the way down this coast, I have been barely able to carve out a week at a time, here and there. You're no doubt probably in the same metaphorical boat. So, how do we make the best of our time on the Oregon coast?
Simple. Head to Yachats.
Now, I should begin by noting all of us who have spent time on the Oregon coast have our favorite spots. I've spent, up until now, most of my time in Florence, Gold Beach, and at the towns on the coast that are easily accessible from Portland - Cannon Beach, Seaside, Tillamook, Lincoln City and Lincoln Beach, even Newport. The northern coast can begin to feel a bit crowded these days during summer months, so I now tend to stay south of Newport when I visit, though it's all beautiful and well worth exploring.
If you've found a favorite spot that touches you with the magic of the Oregon coast, don't let me sway you. Enjoy it. I'm not telling you that what you've found that you enjoy so much isn't special. But having experienced all of the Oregon coast repeatedly, I do want to just whisper in your ear that my magical spot along this Pacific coastline is Yachats.
A quick note - Yachats (pronounced "yah - hawtz" - the "c" is silent), comes from the Siletz language and means "dark water at the foot of the mountain." Maybe.
I came upon Yachats because we had been meeting up on the coast for family get togethers. We had enjoyed a previous stay with family at the Moolack Shores Inn, north of Newport. It was very enjoyable, and I thought it might not get better than that. But we didn't really connect with Newport, which has gotten bigger and a little less personable than when I had been there last. Sure, we loved hiking around the Yaquina Head Lighthouse area, Agate Beach,and Yaquina Bay, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium is nice, but we hadn't found any really great restaurants we loved, other than Rogue Ales & Spirits. With our son and daughter-in-law both chefs, dining and drinking are important aspects to our family gatherings.
For our next get together, I was looking for a location somewhere between Florence and Newport, and Yachats caught my eye. I wanted a hotel that had a view of the ocean, and wasn't some large impersonal resort. I never have as much money as I'd like (Do any of us?), so it had to be reasonably priced, comfortable, and clean. I chose the Fireside Motel, on the north end of Yachats, and it turned out to be ideal for our stay on the coast.
The Fireside Motel is an unpretentious, well maintained, 43 room motel with all the amenities I need, including, of course, free W-Fi. There's a small shop on site to pick up things you might want, but not want enough to drive into town, and it's filled with a funky and fun selection of gifts as well. And, most importantly, Fireside Motel comes with stunning ocean views and coastal access to trails and tidepools. It also offers its "Wine Cove," where you can find a selection of regional wines and beers, along with food to put together your own picnic. You can even choose from a number of pre-selected picnic baskets to purchase and take with you.
While you can book pretty standard guest rooms that lack an ocean view, but are very reasonably priced, we opted for the Tufted Puffin room with its full ocean view, and our son and daughter-in-law got the Bald Eagle room with its ocean view, balcony, and cozy gas fireplace. The motel is quite well appointed, pet friendly, and will accommodate all but the snootiest of travelers (who aren't any fun to be around anyway). It is comfortable and welcoming, just like the coast itself. The Fireside Motel also offers vacation rentals which look ideal if you want your own home for your stay, and the Overleaf Lodge & Spa, where you can indulge in full body treatments, massages, facials, Vichy hydrotherapy, soaking tubs, and all that sort of pampering thing. Some folks love that, some folks have to have golf. Me, if I go to the Oregon coast, I go because I want to hike the coastal trails through forests and along rocky cliffs to dramatic views, stroll the beach with my wife at our own pace, watch the fog slowly lift from the firs as the waves crash on the beach unseen, or... well, you get the drift.
I can't recommend the Fireside Motel enough, though I will offer one piece of criticism - their complimentary breakfasts are pretty much worth what you pay for them. They're OK, just nothing special. We did enjoy, however, being able to take them back to our room where we could eat them while watching the sea roll in below. One cautionary note: exercise caution along the rocks on this part of the shore. Keep a good eye on your children and pets and be aware of the tide and waves. It's beautiful here, but the sea is powerful and can be dangerous.
One of the best things about staying at the Fireside Motel is that you don't have to drive or even walk, to get to the ocean. While the Fireside Motel isn't on a sandy beach, it's on an enticing stretch of rocky coastline that's right there, outside your room. This makes it optimal for everyone, but especially for folks with limited mobility who might just want to sit on the balcony, or walk down to one of the benches along the coastline, and watch the Pacific in all her glory. We saw gray whales spouting (whale watching trips are available if you'd like to get up close), and truly awesome romantic sunsets during our stay.
The Yachats Coastline
If you're up for a walk, all you have to do is leave your room and head for the sea. There is a seaside trail (the 804 Trail) that runs north and south from the motel, which takes you to coves with sandy beaches, and fascinating tidepools. It's a short walk south to the Smelt Sands State Recreation Site (named for the local annual smelt run, the park has great tidepools), or north to a long sandy stretch of beach. You can also go clamming (spring is best in nearby Alsea Bay), crabbing (also in Alsea Bay), and fishing (both saltwater and freshwater). You can kayak, surf, kite surf, paddle board, go boating, or even snorkel along this stretch of coast, depending on weather and season. Offshore lies the Cape Perpetua North Marine Protected Area, where we spotted the gray whales. The 804 Trail was once a major route between Yachats and Waldport, eight miles to the north. It had been used by the Native Americans of the region for centuries during low tide, and then as County Road 804, it carried carriage and horse and buggy traffic from the late 19th century until Highway 101 was constructed in the 1930s. It is now part of the Oregon Coast Trail System.
If you want a forest walk that's within walking distance from the Fireside Motel, try the Ya' Xaik Trail, on the east side of Highway 101 (the mauka side of the highway for all you Hawaiians). The trail is named for the Ya' Xaik band of the Alsea Tribe who lived for thousands of years along this stretch of coastline. They spent their winters inland and summers on the coast (smart!), dining on smelt, salmon, birds, deer, whale, fruits, seeds, camas, and skunk cabbage roots. They smoked and dried their meats to assure a steady supply throughout the year, and built underground homes with earthen walls and roofs made from cedar planks. They made single log canoes, water-tight baskets, sleeping mats, and functional clothing. Their traditions are kept alive by the coastal tribes.
Find the trail at the end of Diversity Street where there is a parking lot just past a long apartment complex, and follow the trail to the Gerdemann Botanical Preserve (Garden). The trail is a little over a mile long with some steep sections. There's a private section at Gerdemann Garden that is supposedly now only accessible by appointment. The website for Gerdemann Garden is not online at this time.
There are a great variety of beaches south of Yachats, perfect for exploring and picnicking. We had been looking for a location to shoot a music video for our new Greek music group, Kefi (my wife plays traditional and pop Greek clarinet, while I play darbuka and other drums and percussion), and found the beaches were perfect in the early morning hours. Even though this was summer, there were hardly any other people who came to the beaches while we were filming.
We also took a short drive south to the Heceta Head Lighthouse where you can take a short hike up to the lighthouse and the assistant keeper's house. The view is fantastic from up at the lighthouse, and there's a seven mile network of trails that can be accessed from there. There's also a delightful little gift shop. We watched sea lions down in the bay below, and wildlife refuge islands here host a large number of boisterous whirling seabirds who make their nests on these rocky islets. As we were there, the fog began rolling in from the sea. Time to head back to Yachats!
I should note that while you can go inside the lighthouse, you can't go up into the tower. However if you really want to add a special night or two to your stay on the Oregon coast, there is no better way to do so than to stay at the Heceta Head Lighthouse's Light Keeper's Home, now known as the Heceta Lighthouse B&B. This is a fantastic opportunity to relax at a historic property built in the mid-1890s, on the National Register of Historic Places. Imagine arriving to a wine and cheese social in late afternoon, watching the light beacon with its historic Fresnel lens atop the 1894 lighthouse sweep out to sea during the night, and then awaken to a seven course breakfast. Take a midnight stroll to the lighthouse or simply watch the sunset from the grand Victorian porch. It's a once in a lifetime experience!
And, if you're really into being a tourist, the iconic Sea Lion Caves are just south of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
So the coast near Yachats is great. But what about the town itself?
Yachats is a small town, but you can find some fun local shopping and antiquing downtown and it's a fairly walkable town. Parking can be a little difficult at times, but if you can't find parking right along Highway 101, try a side street. You'll be fine.
Being on the coast, we set off looking for seafood our first night in Yachats, and the Luna Sea Fish House had been recommended to us. Luna Sea is operated by a local commercial fisherman, and it proudly proclaims no farmed fish are served. While that's commendable, none of us were all that impressed with our dinners. I tried the slumgullion, a large bowl of their house made clam chowder with cheese and bay shrimp, baked and served with garlic bread. It was good, but not exceptional.
We had stopped at another restaurant, Catalyst Seafood, that is owned and operated by a commercial fisherman in Brookings, on our way to Yachats. It was phenomenal. A simple tuna melt sandwich took on a whole new meaning from the freshly caught albacore at its heart. They plied us with samples of their smoked tuna and salmon - all heavenly. Against this example, Luna Sea was tired and touristy and we did not return. All of us know good seafood, and this disappointed and felt tourist-grade. (However, you can catch some great live local music at Luna Sea during the summer months!)
But if Luna Sea was making us question the restaurant selection in Yachats, the town was about to redeem itself a hundredfold.
The next day, when we gathered for a late breakfast, we headed into town to the Green Salmon. Oh my. Who knew the best coffee house in the world was on the Oregon coast, in Yachats, of all places?
Oh my. Who knew the best coffee house in the world was on the Oregon coast,
in Yachats, of all places?
Not only is Green Salmon ecologically and socially conscious, it's also the purveyor of the best damned coffee drinks I've ever enjoyed. I've had coffee all over the world, and Green Salmon blows me away. If I could afford it, I actually would move to Yachats just so I could start my day - every day - at Green Salmon.
Not only is the coffee divine, but the drink selection is magical and inspiringly creative (and extremely delicious). The Saint Pat's Short & Stout, for example, is a double short shot of espresso with house made Guinness syrup and steamed light cream. Yes, now I can have Guinness and coffee at the same time! Or perhaps the Cafe Mexican Mocha with organic dark chocolate and Mexican spices? Superb! There's the Oregonian, coffee with steamed Oregon hazelnut milk, the Kopi Jahe, an intense ginger coffee with steamed light cream, or the Kashmir Express with exotic Middle Eastern spiced espresso (think cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, and honey) with steamed milk. Don't feel like coffee? Their hot chocolates are divine. From the Mayan Cocoa with its dark chocolate, cinnamon, and chili powder, to the Bolognese Chocolate that uses a recipe from the year 1600, to Pacific Northwest Lavender and Rosemary Cocoa, to my fave - Super Shroom Cocoa - organic dark chocolate, cane sugar, and a blend of 14 mushrooms steamed into the milk. Utterly and entirely fantastic.
And it's not just its coffee drinks and cocoas that shine. The Green Salmon Bagel -n- Lox Plate, with its wild cold smoked salmon and matcha infused cream cheese, is excellent, as is the Mushroom Quesadilla with its sauteed mushrooms, leeks, and homemade kale-walnut pesto. Oh yeah.
Needless to say, we ate every late breakfast/lunch at the Green Salmon during our stay in Yachats.
But what about dinner and something resembling a little nightlife? And how do you top, or even equal, the Green Salmon?
Simple. Walk about 150 feet northwest along the same side of Highway 101 until you get to Yachats Brewing.
To be honest with you, I really am a simple man. Give me a cup of good coffee in the morning, a good pint of ale in the evening, and something tasty along the way, and I'm pretty satisfied. But when I can find the best coffee house in the world just down the street from one of the best breweries in the world, and both serve excellent food, it's truly exceptional.
Yachats Brewing is a fun, laid back, casual place, with indoor and outdoor seating. The tap list changes, but unlike any other brewery I've enjoyed, the staff here is extremely enthused about all things fermented. So, when you look up at the list of lagers, ales, IPAs, stouts, wheats, Saisons, and seasonal variations on these themes, you'll also find several of their house made kombuchas as well. And yes, they're all excellent (though I truly loved the Gingerade Kombucha more than the others).
I was in heaven. I slurped my way from one beer to the next, pleasantly surprised by the variety of locally inspired beers and the quality offered. And when I didn't want any more beer, there was the kombucha. And solid food!
Yachats Brewing's kitchen uses local, pasture-raised meats, organic veggies, line caught wild fish, and seasonal wildcrafted ingredients for their entrees and shared plates. With their Beet Cured Wild Salmon Carpaccio, the Brew Queso, Tempura Gnocchi with quail eggs, Eggplant Fritters, and of course, their Fermented Flight, we had found the only dinner place we needed for our stay in Yachats.
Now, there are plenty of other restaurants in Yachats - a large number for a small town, actually. And they may be very good. But between the Green Salmon and Yachats Brewing, we were so pleased that with our Luna Sea disappointment in mind, we chose to keep returning to these two establishments. I would like to apologize to the other restaurants for not venturing out to try them during our stay, but these two establishments were so good, and we had such good times with them, that I can't even promise to go anywhere else whenever I return to Yachats.
I'm sorry. I truly am. It's not fair, and I know it. But when someone plies me with Guinness syrup in my coffee, mushroom cocoa, every variety of ale and beer I could desire, along with superb foods, it's hard to go look elsewhere in hopes of finding something that will stack up to what I've already found.
Perhaps in the minds of others, my stay in Yachats doesn't sound like much. It's not all that glamorous, there's no nightlife going to the wee hours of the morning, no Michelin-rated dining, no golf, no giant brand name overpriced resort. Just a simple well appointed, beautifully sited motel, the best coffee house in the world, one of the best brewpubs in the world, and miles and miles of drop-dead gorgeous coastline, forests, and beaches.
Maybe that's not enough for others. For me, it's as good as it can get. I absolutely love Yachats, and can't wait to return.
If you're thinking of going, please do. There are a few events in Yachats that you may want to check out, including the Yachats Village Mushroom Festival in October, and the Yachats Celtic Music Festival in November, as well as a host of arts and music events. There's more to see and do as well, with the Little Log Church and Museum, the North Fork Yachats Covered Bridge, the Yachats Commons, a farmers market, and, of course, plenty more trails and beaches and fabulous coastline to explore. Don't forget a drive up Yachats River Road to spot elk and Oreo cows.
The best visitor website is the Yachats Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center site at Yachats.org. Unfortunately, another site, GoYachats.com, which is nigh on useless, comes up first in Google searches. Don't bother trying to use that site, and if you find yourself on it, just click on the link to the Chamber, which will take you to the useful website for visitor information.
Oh, and if you don't want to take my word for how great Yachats is, maybe you'll listen to Arthur Frommer. The acclaimed travel authority updated his top 10 favorite travel destinations on the planet in 2015. He listed Colonial Williamsburg, Yellowstone/Yosemite/Grand Canyon (somehow he lumped all three national parks together in one listing), Concordia Eco Resort in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Sicily, Paris, Bali, Bonaire, Greenwich Village, Kenya, and, yes, Yachats. Budget Travel Magazine also rated Yachats as one of the Ten Coolest Small Towns in America, CNN put it in its Top 10 Bed and Breakfast Towns, and, well, you get the idea.
If you're headed south along the Oregon coast from Yachats, I highly recommend a stop in Florence and a visit to its small but bustling waterfront old town area. Summer is the optimal (and busiest) time to visit the Oregon coast, but don't pass up spring and fall too. Winter can be a bit bleak and dreary, but hey, a rainy walk through the forest to a misty beach with waves you can't see through the fog crashing on the shore, followed by a steamy hot cup of cocoa with 14 kinds of mushrooms in it, isn't a bad idea either. But you're not going to get objective opinions from me when it comes to the Oregon coast. I've been exploring the coast here for years, in every season, and I've never not loved it. Not once.