Seaside is a busy place. The bustling beach on the north Oregon coast is hemmed in by Tillamook Head to the south and the mouth of the Necanicum River to the north, two geographical features that seem to funnel crowds into the town built between them.
High-rise hotels and condominiums give Seaside a recognizable skyline, and allow for more visitors (many from nearby Portland), who sprawl out across the expansive sandy beach, walk the famous promenade, and fill the many restaurants, shops and attractions throughout town.
On a sunny summer weekend, few places on the Oregon coast are as crowded as downtown Seaside, where the smell of waffle cones wafts through the air, and the shouts of children echo off the concrete and glass. It’s a paradise for many — and a nightmare for others.
I’ve long avoided Seaside, opting for quieter, less crowded destinations on the coast. But over the years, I’ve felt like I’m missing out on all the town has to offer. After all, there may be no other beach town in the Pacific Northwest with such a large concentration of storefronts, virtually all of them active and busy throughout the year.
It didn’t feel right to snub any town on the Oregon coast, especially when there’s a perfectly good time to visit without all the crowds: weekdays in the dead of winter.
A WALKABLE TOWN
I pulled into Seaside on a gray and drizzly Thursday afternoon, the wind whipping at my jacket as I walked out to the beach. It wasn’t a particularly good beach day, so before long I checked into my room at the Gilbert Inn, a quaint and historic bed and breakfast that sits in the shadow of — and stands in stark contrast to — the towering WorldMark Seaside hotel near the heart of town.
With dark clouds overhead and a chilly January breeze coming off the ocean, the streets of downtown Seaside seemed more appealing than the beach. Unlike many smaller Oregon coast towns that are confined to a single strip or a few restaurants, Seaside is chock-full of storefronts where visitors can buy beach clothes, taffy, smoked salmon or a bite to eat. It’s also an extremely walkable town, with several bridges conveniently crossing the Necanicum River, connecting the shops and restaurants on either side.
A walk down Broadway Street led past the waffle cone aroma of Schweitert’s Cones & Candy across the street from the soft alpaca wool sweaters in the window of Inca’s Inc. Lunch was in full swing at Dooger’s Seafood, and an early crowd had begun to gather at the Bridge Tender bar.
The streets of Seaside were uncharacteristically quiet on the gray Thursday afternoon. Some shop owners took the opportunity to clean or make repairs, others didn’t bother opening at all. Glass floats and nautical antiques lined the shelves at Pacific Heirloom, and guides to modern witchcraft adorned the windows of Beach Books.
Around the corner on North Holladay Drive, a small lunch rush was underway at The Stand, a cash-only Mexican food restaurant known for its juicy tacos that come packed with meat and little else. The tacos run from $3.25 to $3.75, making The Stand a great lunch option for those looking for a fast or affordable meal.
Seaside continued to buzz with activity as evening fell. Heavy clouds obscured the sunset, drawing people to downtown streets instead of the beach, where a drizzling rain drove people to indoor dining rooms. A crowd had gathered inside the Times Theatre and Public House, a movie theater-turned brewpub that opened in 2018. People dined on burgers and clam chowder, drinking the in-house Sisu Beer while an NBA game played on the big screen against the wall.
But the long, rainy evening was ultimately best spent inside, so after dinner I retired to the cozy comforts of the Gilbert Inn, listening to rain rap the windows through the night.
Bright light and blue skies greeted the coast Friday morning, casting the beach in radiant gold. After breakfast at the Gilbert Inn, I found myself just north of Seaside in the tiny town of Gearhart, situated on the north side of the Necanicum River mouth.
I had planned a stop at Pacific Way, a beloved restaurant and bakery in downtown Gearhart, but arrived to find not only the bakery closed temporarily, but the restaurant shut down permanently due to economic hardships caused by the pandemic. I was still in search of coffee, however, and found some across the street at By The Way, a funky gift shop that brews excellent coffee from Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters based in Cannon Beach (coffee snobs, take note: always look for coastal cafes brewing Sleepy Monk).
The morning light was glorious at Lesley Miller Dunes Meadow Park, a short walk from the main drag in Gearhart, and it painted the dune grass gold beside the ocean. From here, the sandy beach runs uninterrupted for almost 15 miles north to the mouth of the Columbia River — a paradise for long-distance beach walkers.
Gearhart doesn’t have nearly the same number of restaurant options as Seaside, but good food can be found easily enough. The most obvious option is the McMenamins Sand Bar, serving up the typical McMenamins menu at the Gearhart Golf Links, the oldest golf course on the Oregon coast. Those looking for a quicker bite can stop off at Sunshine Teriyaki, a no-fuss Japanese food restaurant that opened at the end of 2020 on the side of U.S. 101, or Grizzly Tuna, a drive-through fish and chips joint on the way back to Seaside.
Most of the action in Seaside is centered on the “turnaround,” a small roundabout that claims to mark the spot where Lewis and Clark turned around on their expedition to the Pacific Ocean. From here, the famous Seaside Promenade runs about .6 miles to the north and a mile to the south, passing by high-rise hotels as well as restaurants and attractions like the small Seaside Aquarium, where visitors can toss fish to the resident seals.
With such beautiful weather, I decided to walk south along the promenade all the way to the end at Avenue U, where I found a fascinating cluster of small attractions just off the beach.
I kept walking south past the end of the promenade and followed a path at the back of the beach for about 250 yards to find Painted Rock Beach, a public collection of small, painted stones that commemorate everything from cherished family vacations to people who have died. A little farther south, at the intersection of Ocean Vista Drive and South Edgewood Street, I ran into the Sailor’s Grave, a mysterious little memorial remembering unidentified men who died at sea. I walked the beach back to Avenue U and started down the promenade to the north, where I soon ran into a sign pointing the Lewis & Clark Salt Works, a historical landmark managed by the National Park Service.
NIGHT ON THE TOWN
A winter night in Seaside begins on the beach, where (if the weather is clear enough) colorful sunsets often paint the skies over the north coast town. After dusk, the foot traffic moves to downtown streets, where restaurants and bars begin to fill up for the evening.
And while the Oregon coast is known for its fresh fish and crabs, one of the best restaurants in town leans in another direction entirely. Nonni’s Italian Bistro offers entrees of fresh pasta that lean more traditional than daring, with quality enough to make it a worthy deviation from the norm. A plate of linguini pesto genevese paired nicely with a glass of Soave wine, chased with a complimentary shot of Sambuca.
Of course, there are plenty of other sit-down dinner options in Seaside, including the popular Seaside Brewing Company just off U.S. 101, nearby Yellow Curry Cozy Thai, and the fireside tables on the patio outside Finn’s Fish House, which seem perfect for a chilly winter night.
And lest you think bars are the only sources of nightlife, Seaside offers a rare alternative with the Funland Arcade. If Skee-Ball and video games are not your idea of fun, head to the middle of the arcade to play a few rounds of Fascination, a vintage arcade game that requires you to roll a rubber ball into a series of holes, racing against the rest of the room. At a quarter a play, Fascination is a fun (and addictive) way to spend a long winter night.
MORNING ON THE PROM
It was another beautiful morning for my final day in town. The morning sun was bright yellow on the dune grass, the ocean reflecting the bright blue hue of the sky. A coat of frost made the beach glimmer as the town woke up for the day.
My plan was to grab breakfast at Patty’s Wicker Cafe, a cute restaurant that serves homestyle meals beside the Necanicum River (cash only), followed by a stop at the well-regarded Dough Dough Bakery and Controversial Coffee for another cup of Sleepy Monk brew. Unfortunately, all three places were closed that morning, apparently due to staffing shortages caused by the pandemic.
Groggy and empty-stomached, I instead took a walk down the beach, joined by dog walkers and morning joggers. As I crossed the frosty sand I marveled at a beautiful half moon hanging over the ocean.
Back at the end of the promenade at Avenue U, I found the Osprey Cafe, which was open and bustling with customers. Rather than wait for a table inside, I put in a to-go order and took an outside seat in the sun. My arepas and eggs cooled quickly in the morning air, so I wolfed them down quickly, taking a huckleberry scone and a coffee to go.
I walked along the promenade one final time, passed by excited families and folks headed out for a day on the beach. The sun almost made me forget the winter chill, and for a moment it felt like a beautiful summer day. But looking around at the scattered crowds it was clear that Seaside was still very much in its offseason lull — a downtime for many in town, but the perfect time to go for tourists like me who want to visit the town with a little more room to breathe.
–Jamie Hale; [email protected]; 503-294-4077; @HaleJamesB