Escape to a Classier Coast

By Kate Verotsky

We’re all familiar with the dive bars, novelty stores and chowder joints that attract swarms of eager tourists to the Oregon Coast every summer. What you may not know is that the Coast also has a classy side. Indeed, restaurants, shops and wineries in the area between Lincoln City and South Beach are quietly delivering world-class food, drink and entertainment to discerning visitors.

Not exactly what you’d call a well-kept secret, The Bay House Restaurant, south of Lincoln City (5911 S.W. Highway 101, Lincoln City, 541-996-3222), might easily be the most widely celebrated restaurant on the Central Coast among food and wine enthusiasts, and for good reason. Proprietor Stephen Wilson is adamant about the selection of quality local ingredients, working closely with local fishermen to hand-select the day’s seafood just minutes after the boats come in.

But if you think the menu is mouthwatering, wait until you see the wine list. According to Wilson, who personally oversees the The Bay House list, the selection of nearly 2,000 wines has a foundation in classics such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Italian wines, as well as a strong focus on the Pacific Northwest region, including 320 Oregon Pinot Noirs and newer “big reds” from the Walla Walla area. The list has earned the restaurant national recognition, including a recent “Best of Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator magazine and an “Award of Unique Distinction” from Wine Enthusiast magazine. In addition to unparalleled food and wine, The Bay House boasts impressive professional service and a magnificent view overlooking Siletz Bay.

Less than a block away, The Freed Gallery (6119 S.W. Hwy. 101, Lincoln City, 541-994-5600) also evinces excellence, featuring a stunning assortment of work from local, national and international artists. Media includes painting, photography, sculpture, glasswork, woodcarving, ceramics, jewelry and textiles.

Just south of Lincoln City, Depoe Bay may be small in size, but it is large on charm. Known as the “Whale-Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast,” eager tourists with binoculars are near-constant fixtures on the picturesque seawall. The whale-watch center on the north end of the bridge features movies, exhibits and an indoor observation area. Quaint shops and a variety of restaurants line the east side of the street, ensuring that this tiny town offers hours of enjoyment.

The village of Otter Rock, five miles south of Depoe Bay, is home to the Flying Dutchman Winery (915 First Street, Otter Rock, 541-765-2553), the Oregon Coast’s only working winery and first “micro-winery.” Winemaker Richard Cutler purchases grapes from five notable vineyards in Central and Southern Oregon, using them to craft exceptional Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and dessert wines. Some attribute the unique character of the wines to the salty air and spectacular oceanside location. Bring a lunch and open a bottle to enjoy at the vineyard’s sheltered picnic area overlooking Cape Foulweather, sandy beaches and teeming tide pools. After lunch, take a stroll in Devil’s Punchbowl State Park, just across the street from the winery.

Heading south, be sure to stop at Newport’s historic Nye Beach, a charming seaside mini-community with all manner of eateries, shops and galleries. Park at the public lot, and walk along the water before heading up to explore the shopping district.

Patrons of the arts should make a point to visit For Art’s Sake (258 N.W. Coast Street, Newport, 541-574-9070), an exciting gallery featuring traditional and contemporary art in a variety of media by local artists, and The Dapper Frog (701 N.W. Beach Dr., Newport, 541-265-FROG). At this eclectic shop, browse through a treasure trove of items that balance fancy and fanciful. This charming boutique features all manner of gifts, décor, art, jewelry and furniture, many of which are crafted by local residents.

If it’s a new outfit you’re after, visit nearby Toujours (704 N.W. Beach Drive, Newport, 541-574-6404), a women’s boutique apparel shop, featuring clothing of flowing natural fibers and lovely, exotic prints that are designed to flatter women of all shapes and sizes.

A stroll along Newport’s historic bayfront will make for a memorable afternoon, no matter the season. Between the flapping, barking antics of sea lions lounging along the docks, the pungent aroma of the fishing boats’ haul and the delectable flavors from saltwater taffy and fudge shops, the bayfront provides a distinctive sensory experience.

Enjoy a marionberry mocha or an ice cream bar hand-dipped in Euphoria Chocolate from Bayscapes Gallery & Coffee House (33 S.W. Bay Blvd., Newport, 541-265-4017), which boasts both an open and enclosed deck from which visitors enjoy the bayfront’s best view of sea lions and the fishing fleet. 

For a more substantial meal, check out Saffron Salmon, (859 S.W. Bay Blvd., Newport, 541-265-8921), a chef-owned eatery that has made quite a splash with the locals. A philosophy of “simple, fresh, local” extends well beyond the seafood. Guests enjoy fresh-baked bread from Panini Bakery in Nye Beach, microbrews from nearby Rogue Brewery as well as regional coffees, cheeses and carefully selected local wines. The contemporary space is dominated by glass and is perched on the end of a pier, allowing diners to observe fishermen unloading the day’s catch; this is as fresh as fish gets.

You’ve probably enjoyed the awe-inspiring spectacles such as the underwater walk through the sharks and the antics of the sea otters at the Oregon Coast Aquarium (2820 S.E. Ferry Slip Road, Newport, 541-867-3474), though frequently updated exhibits certainly make it worth another trip. Currently, the “Oddwater” exhibit enthralls visitors with marine creatures both weird and wonderful, such as the creepy-cool lion fish or the grinning puffer fish. The bizarre creatures are enhanced by beautiful hand-blown art glass pieces within the tanks.

As long as you’re delighting in the mysteries of the marine world, check out nearby Hatfield Marine Science Center (2030 S. Marine Science Drive, Newport, 541- 867-0100). Described as “part laboratory, part aquarium,” Oregon State University’s HMSC plays a vital role in research and management of marine environments as well as public outreach and education. Guests of all ages enjoy the engaging, interactive exhibits at the Visitor Center, including the ever-popular feeding of the resident octopus three times a week, and a spinning of the “waterwheel,” which outlines chaos theory and its effect on our planet’s ecosystems. One of the newest exhibits, “Invasion of the Habitat Snatchers,” engages visitors of all levels, while teaching about the impact of invasive aquatic species.

Finally, there probably isn’t a wine lover left in Oregon who hasn’t heard of the Newport Seafood & Wine Festival on the Newport Marina at South Beach. Far more than the name suggests, the Festival encompasses more than seafood and wine (although the selection of those are beyond compare). In addition to a staggering array of seafood dishes and intriguing wines, guests sample all manner of culinary delights, from sushi to chocolate to artisan cheeses. Exquisite arts and crafts include woodcrafts, metal work, hand-blown glass, pottery, photography, jewelry and clothing—all handcrafted by local artisans. The 32nd annual festival is scheduled for Feb. 20–22.

If you plan to attend the Festival and need a place to stay, there are many places to choose from. Close to the event—in the same Marina—is an unusual inn, The Newport Belle Bed & Breakfast (541-867-6290). The unique B&B offers comfort but in unique form: a stern wheel riverboat afloat in Yaquina Bay.

For the more traditional traveler, Tyee Lodge (4925 N.W. Woody Way, Newport, 888-553-8933) and its next-door neighbor, Ocean House (4920 N.W. Woody Way, Newport, 866-495-3888), both offer oceanfront storm watching and stargazing with private trails to the beach. And for those who equate the Coast to quality reading time, check out the Sylvia Beach Hotel (267 N.W. Cliff, Newport, 541-265-5428) in Nye Beach. Truly a booklover’s hideaway, Sylvia’s rooms are named after famous authors and its quaint restaurant, “Tables of Content,” offers guests fine food and a chance to play “Two Truths and a Lie.”   

No matter where you stay or what you do, visitors seeking grade-A adventure will not be disappointed with Oregon’s Central Coast. High tides and high class can be found around every corner. ◊

Kate Verotsky is a freelance writer, living in Sherwood.

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