Water Ways

by Brian Barker

With so much of its landscape shaped by hot lava that plunged into the ocean thousands of years ago, no one would ever call the Oregon Coast soft. Yet the region also has a salty tranquility, evident where the cool air meets the sands of a lost beach. And cozy places to enjoy the delights of an incoming storm or a delicious fish taco are always within reach.

Commodore Hotel

From its creaky waterfront piers to the decades-old broadcast Scandinavian Hour on local radio station KMUN, Astoria is an old soul that wears fishing line more easily than trends. Juxtaposed against this barnacled backdrop is the Commodore Hotel. Opened in 1924, the hotel was shuttered in the mid-1960s, only to be purchased intact (cobweb-draped cocktail glasses still on the bar) last year. Thanks to a remodel that echoes Portland’s utilitarian Ace Hotel, the Commodore now wears a stylishly friendly charm. All it needs is the next generation of Astoria noir.
258 14th St, Astoria; 503-325-4747;

Fish Tacos at Luna Sea

Pan-seared to lock in a marinade of paprika, cumin, lime, and garlic, the big meaty chunks of fish on the seasonal menu—halibut, ling cod, salmon, or snapper—are as fresh as owner Robert Anthony’s most recent catch. (He owns his own fishing vessel.) Cupped between flour tortillas stuffed with a bed of coleslaw studded with wedges of tangy red and green apples, they make for the Oregon Coast’s most unexpectedly delicious dish. Don’t be surprised if lunch inspires a return trip for dinner.
153 NW Hwy 101, Yachats; 541-547-4794;

Umpqua Discovery Center

This children’s museum in Reedsport could give OMSI some stiff competition with its 7,000 square feet of exciting, lifelike, interactive exhibits. (In fact, OMSI assisted in funding the center’s exhibits.) But here, the subject is the history and ecology of Oregon’s south coast. Listen to native Kuuich Indian tales told around a crackling fire. Walk across a creaky dock that was lined with salmon during the area’s schooner-era heyday. If the kids still aren’t wide-eyed, send them down the slide that leads to a bear den.
409 Riverfront Way, Reedsport; 541-271-4816;

South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

Inside this 4,800-acre coastal stew of saltwater marshes, freshwater streams, and upland forest, kayakers paddle glassy waters, disturbed only by flapping snowy egrets. Nearly 8 miles of hiking trails depart from the interpretive center, the most serene of which is the Hidden Creek Trail, a 1.2-mile saunter to a large observation deck near Hidden Creek Marsh. Shielded by massive tree boughs, this is the perfect place to spy Caspian terns hunting fish or to simply watch ripples fan out across the water.
61907 Seven Devils Rd, Charleston; 541-888-5558;

WildSpring Guest Habitat

Nestled amid magnificent Port Orford cedars, each of this resort’s five cabins sports vaulted ceilings, walk-in slate-tiled showers, pillow-top mattresses, and classy antique furnishings. If you can bring yourself to leave your abode, stop by the guest hall overlooking Port Orford Bay. Floor-to-ceiling windows, plush leather chairs, a well-chosen wine list, and a thumping stereo make for an incredible storm-watching post. Binoculars provided.
92978 Cemetery Loop, Port Orford; 866-333-9453;

Oregon Redwoods Trail

Not many folks know that an arm of California’s famed redwood forest reaches into Oregon. To find the trail that leads to the trees, drive 11 miles south of Brookings and turn left onto Winchuck Road. After 1.5 miles, turn right onto Forest Service Road 1101, a 4-mile-long, well-maintained dirt road that ends at the trailhead. The 2-mile loop feels like setting foot in a cathedral, one in which you are the sole parishioner.