The Surreal Northern Oregon Coast

US 101 hangs like a castle from the cliffs of Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain, the Pacific Ocean below it all

Photograph by Nathan Swartz


US Highway 101, a two-laned legend, is a zip line of a ride through the North American rainforest.

Our bearings due south, nothing short of a long dive over a cliff separates us from the crashing waves of the world’s mightiest ocean, the Pacific, ever expansive and on our right. Out the left window is a coniferous jungle hanging from the cliffs of Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain, where the god of the Tillamook Indians—who called these cliffs, trees and waves home—resides. We pull off to our right where a bluff lined with stone walls has been paved out enough for a few wandering tourists worth of automobiles to take a break from the car-commercial-winding mountain and beach side roads. The ocean is endless, and from where we stand, some seven hundred feet from the tide crashing into the cliff face below, it feels as though we’re watching the end of the world from here. The Red Hot Chili Peppers song Californication comes on, and as Anthony Kiedis sings “it’s the edge of the world and all of Western Civilization” I can’t help but think of how we are at the end of it all, even if we’re a state north of where the song gets it’s name. Civilization started in the East, the Old World. People discovered the Americas by heading west into unknown peril or fortune, and thus the East Coast of the United States was conceived; becoming quickly overdeveloped and overpopulated, we once again sought the West until we went as far as we could without finding ourselves underwater or back in the Old World. When Louis & Clark reached the Pacific, right here on the shores of Oregon’s North Coast, they became the last chain in a link of European explorers who had set out to discover the world. They’d come as far as you can go without going back to civilization again.

From our cliffside vantage the water endlessly rides itself in and out, against the mountainside and onto the beaches of the small town of Manzanita below. At a bar by the name of Ron’s Lighthouse, three miles south of the cliff, we meet a bushy red headed woman—white skin, freckles and adamant of her Jewish background—who tells us that Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain, the very spot we’d just been standing, was a massive magnetic draw, some partly spiritual, partly extraterrestrial waymark. A DJ who formerly worked the bar’s Friday Night karaoke told us over a few beers of her dead set belief that she’d seen three lights in the sky, hovering around the horizon over the Pacific, at the very same cliff we’d just visited. She was not the only person at the Lighthouse who assured us that they’d seen what they believed to be aliens flying around the area.

The bar’s front porch, open, airy and perfect for watching passing motorists on their way here, there and wherever up and down 101, is packed with locals ranging from rough around the edges old timers working fishing boats and a dwindling lumber industry to woohoo hippies (a term coined by our new red headed Jewish friend) seeking the small town solace and mystical vibe that comes with being two hours west of a city like Portland, Oregon; out in the country but still in the thick of left wing ideology. We smoke and drink Ninkasi IPAs and get to know the bartenders, a lovely couple who have turned around this former rowdy bike bar into a good old party of a time.

A road leading into the Manzanita neighborhood of Neahkahnie, the ocean and mountains abound
Manzanita, Oregon.

Later that day, as the sun sets heavy orange brilliant over the ocean before tucking down into some clouds hanging around on the horizon, we dig our toes into the cool sand and watch other families wind down their day in the waning evening, lovers roll one another over on beach blankets and dogs of all shapes and sizes chase sticks, waves and whatever else catches their canine eye. That American Mt. Olympus stands behind us, the Tillamook gods hopefully looking down on their ancient lands and smiling at all the happiness this beach can bring. They say a treasure is buried in these hills, long and lost, left behind by Spanish sailors who purportedly killed a man they were with, threw him into the hole the treasure was buried in, and all in an attempt to discourage the natives, who didn’t dare disturb a grave site, from stealing it. We didn’t come here looking for dubloons, though, the treasure this area has to offer is obvious, all the gold in a Pacific Coast sunset, and thus far, man has not been able to steal it away.

Explore Oregon's North Coast

The Essentials

Quaint beach cabins, RV parks and campgrounds from Manzanita to Astoria. Our favorite places to eat and get groceries in the area. Coffee shacks!.

Go Coastal

Something to do every day of the week on Oregon’s North Coast!

  1. Oregon is home to nearly a hundred breweries. This is our absolute favorite.
  2. But why stay indoors, when you’re allowed to have beach fires.
  3. So get the family down to the shore and spend a day in Cannon Beach.
  4. Or head further north to explore Astoria, America’s oldest Western settlement.
  5. Want to save the world? Clean up the beach and then pay a visit to CART’M Recycling Center.
  6. Hike up a sleeping Indian warrior god.
  7. Or live out some Americana via US Highway 101.