Oregon: Enjoying Coastal Delights
By Ron Mitchell
Got Crab? If not, a visit to the Dungeness Crab Capital of the World is in order. The coastal city of Newport, Oregon, makes claim to this title.
Don’t be fooled by the “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not,” or the “Wax Museum,” luring tourists alongside the fisheries of Newport’s Yaquina Bay, they take their fishing and crabbing seriously around here. Just ask the sea lions, who continually crawl onto the docks, and into cages.
Fishermen transport these creatures further out into the ocean and drop them off, so that they do not eat all profits swimming in the bay. But the sea lions come back… and so do we, because the food is that good, and not just the crab.
Mo’s Restaurant is nationally famous for clam chowder. But the oyster stew is a must-do for any oyster lover. While Oregon strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are legendary, the farms in Oregon grow much more. I’m talking about fresh oysters.
Just a few miles up the Yaquina River from Mo’s, we run into a different kind of farm, the “Oregon Oyster Farms Inc.” They raise these delectable delights on five hundred acres of brackish river water. This perfect habitat grows Pacific oysters, introduced from Japan in 1918, as well as Native and Kumo Moto oysters.
Marcia manages the retail portion of the oyster farm. Much like the twenty-some employees here, she loves her job. “We’re like a family,” she says. “Most of us have been working here for over twenty years. The only thing we ever fight about is who gets to go into the cooler on a rare, hot day.”
Miguel takes us out on the docks and explains that the monster oysters, which take four years to grow, are packed into dry ice and shipped to Taiwan where they are revered. He receives 15 million microscopic baby oysters weekly from the Marine Science Lab.
They incubate inside a large tub for several months, until the few survivors become visible. Then he plants them into the oyster beds, by hanging them onto long strings that dangle in the river.
If it doesn’t rain too much, in about two years most of the oysters will be ready to be shucked. Neither the oysters nor crabs excel with too much fresh rainwater.
Let’s cook our own stew…
A patron in the Oyster Farm market suggests that we use some native oysters, and add mushrooms along with cream, shallots and sherry for a good stew. Oh yes, there is a mushroom farm several miles further up the twisty road as well. In the small community of Eddyville we find “The Rain Forest Mushroom Company,” raising exotic fungi.
Bob owns this farm. He started with $30 in his pocket. He says that after 10,000 failures he finally got it right. Now, Bob even sells organic mushroom growing kits.
He recommends the Maitake mushroom for our oyster stew. The Lion’s Mane, Buttercap, Shiitake and Blue Oyster mushrooms might not be the perfect fit with fresh oysters. We take Bob’s advice and cook up a winning oyster mushroom stew ourselves, but if the truth be told, Mo’s does it much better.
Beaches with room to move
Our dog, Jack, loves to run loose on the beach. He’s from the Arizona desert, so has never seen an ocean. The many small towns along the Oregon coast offer beach access to massive sands, where running into folks is not the norm.
Of course, some great spots for people watching sit close by, like Historic Nye Beach in Newport, or in the numerous other state park beaches that line highway 101.
Here, we have it made… a free place to stay with an ocean view, complete with long daily walks without a leash on the beach, where sea lions frolic around the tide pools, some of them probably carted over from Yaquina Bay.
Best of all, we are just down the road from the “South Beach Fish Market.” This store offers all the fresh crab, steamers, fishes and oysters to keep all of us satisfied.
Plus, it is much easier than fishing and cleaning your own which would involve either renting a boat or a crab basket, or signing up for one of the many charters. This year is making good on the promise of excellent fishing, thus far.
If not for our free house, we would be drawn to camp in the many sites that line the scenic coast highway.
Don’t have camping gear? No problem. For about $35, the rustic yurts at Beachside Campground sleep five, and all you need to provide is bedding and food. They also offer tent camping and RV hookups as well.
Rent a kayak to explore some backwater ponds, or take a glide through the ocean waves.
We happen to arrive in the small town of Waldport for our house-sitting gig during the annual “Beachcomber Days.” A parade, antique car show, and live music teach us that the celebration has nothing to do with beachcombing. The bridge over Alsea (pronounced: “I’ll see ya”) Bay brings us into the heart of town.
“Aye!” a man yells over the music.
I return his “Aye” and he buys me a beer.
“I was born in Waldport,” Micah says. “I’ll die here.”
“What do you like best about it?” I ask.
“The people. They are the salt of the earth. Most of them fish or crab. They’re the friendliest in the world.” He holds up his beer for a toast.
“They know how to live, like calling off work or closing up the business for hunting season, or whenever someone says the fish are biting.” He orders another round. “We don’t work our lives away just to miss out on a good time.”
Time to take a hike…
A change in scenery from long beach walks, to dense forest lays only a few steps away. We tromp around the many trails of Cape Perpetua, in the Suislaw National Forest. This highest point accessible by car on the Oregon coast looms 800 feet over a protected Marine Garden shoreline.
With more than 26 miles of hiking trails, we trek out to everything from two-mile coastal walks, to heart pumping hill climbs through thick woods. What an awesome view of Oregon’s coast from up here!
At the bottom of the trail, the mouthwatering scent of frying bacon transcends through the pine scented woods as we walk past a campsite. So, before long, we munch on a crab pizza in the little town of Yachats (pronounced Ya-hots) just north of the Cape right on the highway 101.
I am convinced that you cannot make a wrong turn off of this road. The many small towns, campsites, and state parks are worth a stop, whether you’re looking for food, lodging, outdoor activities or chain saw sculptures.
A great, well-earned reward after a day of hiking includes a visit to the “Rogue Nation National Headquarters,” a local brewery established in 1988 in Newport.
Two guys started brewing their own beer in their basement during the 80’s, and now they own several large breweries that ship many types of ale worldwide. We each opt for the sampler platter, and taste only eight of the wide variety of suds.
People say to ignore the weather reports when planning to visit the Oregon coast. The misty rain often clears into sunshine, and then back to mist within the same day, sometimes the same hour.
Mostly hovering around a comfortable sixty degrees, even the stormy season in the winter draws people from inland to watch storms move over the rough waves.
With so many activities around this area, go ahead and indulge in the plethora of seafood dishes and breweries. There are enough physical activities to burn off the extra calories, just as the sun burns off the mist, sometimes.
What can I say? Driving the Oregon Coastal Highway 101, you cannot go wrong. Many motels as low as $39; campsites complete with yurts for about the same amount of money; and, of course, fresh seafood, either prepared or packed to travel, awaits.
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