10 Coolest Small Towns - Yachats has been voted one of the 10 coolest small towns by Budget Travel. Read more about this article from the Newport News Times.
On the Coast, a Cabin With a View
By Denise Fainberg, New York Times (June 22, 1997)
WHEN I asked friends if they knew a quiet, unspoiled spot on the Oregon coast, several recommended Yachats (population 635, according to the sign), where the air is soft and the sound of surf never far away.
The village of Yachats (pronounced YAH- hots) is almost at the midpoint of Oregon's 400-mile coastline. The name apparently was derived from an Indian word meaning ''dark waters at the foot of the mountains'' -- appropriate enough, since the cold Pacific waters are certainly dark, and the settlement sits between them and the Coast Range, which rises almost directly from the beach. Thus the town, like most Oregon coastal towns, is laid out like a string running north and south. ''The gem of the Oregon coast,'' it calls itself. I couldn't argue with that. Set under evergreen mountains, Yachats is a cluster of modest houses where the Yachats River tumbles into the sea, with nary a high-rise or a neon sign in sight.
On a friend's advice, I had booked accommodation for a long weekend in March at Rock Park Cottages, a collection of five gray-shingled units a hundred yards from the sea. The weather is variable on the coast, especially in spring, making March an off-season month; however, this particular weekend marked the beginning of spring break, so all the other cabins were full.
My one-bedroom cottage reminded me of the beach houses of my childhood. The bedroom, about 10 feet by 14 feet, contained a high queen-size bed and a bunk bed. Down the hall, past the bathroom, the living room looked west onto a tiny forest of wind-stunted spruce, which, with a low cliff, was all that separated us from the ocean. This room had a television and two sofas that could have slept two people. I used the full kitchen only for making tea, being curious to sample the local restaurant fare; but for the families obviously meant to be accommodated here, it would have been quite convenient. I noticed, too, a selection of board games, jigsaw puzzles and books for the rainy days one had to expect. Being holed up here in the rain wouldn't be too bad, I reflected, with the sea to look at, the warm wood paneling and the energetic wall heater to dissipate any damp chill.
The genial, white-haired proprietress invited me to watch the sunset with her on the beach. ''Last night we saw the green flash,'' she said. After the sun had turned the waves pink (no green flash this time), I sampled some fish and chips at a family restaurant, then strolled around until after dark. As the town settled in for the night, the comet Hale-Bopp burned brightly over the sea, its hair blowing in the solar wind.
The next morning I walked to the Little Log Church by the Sea. The tiny church, now a museum, was built of local timber in 1930 in the shape of a cross. It is still used for weddings and celebrations, but for the most part serves as a repository of local history, with photographs from the 1920's and 30's, a wedding dress from early in the century and World War II memorabilia. Also on exhibit are various Indian artifacts found nearby, including fish-net weights and drillstones for making fire.
Several art galleries in town exhibit ceramics, paintings in various media, blown glass, jewelry and sculpture. Understandably, much of the inspiration comes from the natural heritage of the Pacific Northwest. I was particularly taken with a large soapstone sculpture of a pair of salmon at Earthworks Gallery, at the north end of town. The largest of the local galleries, it displays work by many regional artists. I browsed happily among the watercolors and Japanese-style tea sets.
The usual small gift and curio shops in the center of town sell everything from souvenir T-shirts to New Age cassettes. I'm always attracted to the kites of all sizes, shapes and colors popular on the coast. (Yachats is host to a kite festival in the fall, when the winds are most favorable.) By the Sea Books specializes in used volumes.
But the outdoors beckoned, so I got into the car and drove north. It is difficult to get anywhere along the coast, because Highway 101 offers such extraordinary vistas at every turn that one feels obliged to stop at each and gaze at the combers coming in, or the surf-bitten cliffs, or the sea lions. I made my first stop before I had even left town, at Smelt Sands State Park. This is one of the small, sandy beaches tucked among Oregon's basalt shores and is named for the sometimes prodigious summer runs of smelt (there's a smelt festival in Yachats in July).
From the parking lot, a three-quarter-mile wheelchair-accessible trail winds through several types of coastal habitat, through thickets of salal -- a heath that can grow as a ground cover or as thick shrubbery, and stabilizes the sands -- and a grove of windblown Sitka spruce, to another small beach. I wandered across it, noticing a pillow-sized rock under which water was springing up and flowing into the sea a scant 20 feet away. I tasted it; the spring was sweet, though clearly covered at high tide.
With firm resolve, I drove another 13 miles nonstop, to Seal Rock State Park. My Birder's Guide to Oregon mentioned it as a good spot for avian winter residents and spring migrants, but it seemed the winter birds had gone and the spring ones had not arrived. Small matter -- the rock formations of columnar, jointed basalt were impressive, and the sandy beach was a good spot to contemplate the waves.
Back in Yachats, I changed my clothes and walked a couple of blocks to La Serre, a restaurant and bistro promising ''freshly prepared meals in a relaxed atmosphere.'' It made good on both promises. The dining room was airy and welcoming; off to the side was a large living room with fireplace and sofas. The staff was attentive and cheerful. I chose the charbroiled salmon in a chili-pepper sauce; it sounded like trendy nouvelle cuisine, but was actually very hearty and tasty, and was served with an excellent green salad, potato, fresh string beans in lemon-butter sauce and sourdough bread with herb butter. At $18.50, the meal was one of the pricier you can get in the area, but well worth it.
A tourist pamphlet had noted that elk often could be seen at dawn and dusk on a back road just outside town. It was now dusk, so I went to check. The road ran along the Yachats River -- a fast, dark and narrow stream -- through National Forest land interspersed with new and old homesteads. It was to the pastures attached to these homesteads that elk supposedly come to browse. I saw none, but it was a pretty and peaceful drive. Back at the beach, a lone seal surfed in on the waves to bare inches of water, then swam back out to do it again, until disappearing in the gathering darkness.
The following morning, after grabbing a Danish at On the Rise Bakery, I headed south three miles to the Cape Perpetua Interpretive Center. Cape Perpetua is a high basalt headland, at 803 feet the highest point on the Oregon coast. Captain Cook named it in 1778, either because it came into view on St. Perpetua's Day (March 7) or because, according to his log entry for March 11, he had not been able to advance out of sight of the cape for four days because of contrary winds.
The cape is managed as a 2,700-acre scenic area by the Siuslaw National Forest, which maintains the interpretive center, a campground and 18 miles of hiking trails. It was Whale-Watching Week (the last week of March), so volunteers were stationed on the center's deck, which looks out to sea. The gray whales were migrating north, and volunteers were at selected sites along the coast to help visitors spot whales and give information. I was lucky enough to glimpse several spouts (often all you can see of a distant whale) before I wandered inside to view exhibits detailing the natural and social history of the area. I observed a cross-section taken from a shell midden that had been in use for a couple of thousand years, a film on the geology and wildlife of the cape and a timeline of human settlement in the area. In the hands-on corner, children can handle shells, animal bones and various kinds of rocks; books on the area's geology and wildlife are on sale in the gift shop.
One is supposed to have a 75-mile view in any direction from Cape Perpetua's summit in clear weather. But now the top was swathed in cotton-wool clouds, so I decided to take one of several possible hikes. From the interpretive center, the Giant Spruce Trail (two miles round trip) follows a creek through towering rain forest. Sitka spruce is the dominant tree here, growing to 200 feet or more, with great diameters. The giant at the end of this trail is 500 years old and 15 feet in diameter, and was 225 feet tall before losing 30-odd feet in a windstorm. Its enormous roots disappearing into the earth reminded me of an elephant's legs. Many of the old trees here were logged for building aircraft during World War I, so much that I was seeing was young, second-growth forest. Wildflowers were coming into bloom: lovely white trillium, skunk cabbage, dogtooth violets, wood sorrel and a purple-flowered blackberry that seems endemic to the Northwest coast.
After the hush of the forest, I explored the coastal trails, where surf had pounded the black rock into caves and blowholes. Sitka spruce grows here, too, but in a completely different way: the groves are mats, pushed down by the salt wind. Beach strawberries were blooming.
At last the clouds had lifted from the rounded top of the cape. Quickly I went to the car and slipped onto the spiral road that winds to the summit. (There is a footpath, but as one of the rangers told me, ''It's a steady haul to the top, and the view doesn't change much.'') A trail circumnavigates the crest, alternating between windblown spruce and open views. The trail and a rock shelter were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's, shortly after the road was completed. Because of the overcast, the view was not 75 miles, but splendid nonetheless -- the sheen of the Pacific extending to infinity, and the forested mountains falling down to the sea, garlanded in mist: a classic Oregon picture.
Wisps of cloud ghosted in again, and in fear of being fogbound on the mountain, I hurried back down. Below, a one-lane Forest Service road (No. 55) offers an auto tour of the back country, with occasional wooden informational signs on the forest and forestry practices. Douglas fir and western hemlock are being planted where Sitka spruce has been logged; other cuts are reverting to alder. Silence reigned; even the pounding surf was out of earshot.
Eventually the road wound down to the stretch I had scouted for elk the night before. Ambling along through the quiet forest and pasture, I spotted, through a screen of young evergreens, a couple of dozen elk browsing an overgrown field. All cows, as far as I could tell, except for one bull. A few raised their heads as I walked up and down for a better view, but without real concern.
For supper, I tried the restaurant at The Adobe, a modern resort spectacularly perched just above the sea. The panorama from the glass-enclosed dining room was unsurpassed, but my meal of ginger garlic chicken and salad was unremarkable and the service slow.
Very early the next morning I went down to bid the ocean goodbye. The tide was well out. I searched the sand for agates, which are often found on Oregon beaches, but was unsuccessful. It was clear and cold. The morning sun washed the houses encircling the small bay. A bald eagle perched in a treetop, harassed by three crows; when the crows saw I was carrying a pastry from the bakery, they followed me instead.
Exploring Yachats and beyond
From Portland, take I-5 south 69 miles to Albany, and pick up Highway 20 going west to Newport (70 miles). From there, take Highway 101 south 23 miles to Yachats.
Where to Stay
Yachats has a range of accommodations.
Rock Park Cottages, Post Office Box 77, Yachats, Ore. 97498, (541) 547-3214, offers comfortable, homey cabins at $55 and $60 a night. Weekly rates begin at $275. An A-frame for groups is also available.
Shamrock Lodgettes Resort and Spa has log cabins and lodges, all with fireplace, and a central, communal sauna and hot tub. Lodge doubles start at $71; cabins at $91 plus 6 percent tax. From June through September, there is a five-day minimum stay for cabins, three-day minimum for lodge units. Call (800) 845-5028, fax (541) 547-3843, or write Post Office Box 346B, Yachats, Ore. 97498.
The large, modern Adobe includes a motel, restaurant, conference facilities and a gift shop. Doubles are $55 to $110. Call (800) 522-3623, fax (541) 547-4234, or write Post Office 219, 1555 Highway 101 North, Yachats, Ore. 97498.
Where to Eat
Menus take advantage of local seafood; steaks, prime ribs and pasta are also popular.
The New Morning Coffee House, at Highway 101 and Fourth Street, (541) 547-3848, is open daily, offering omelets, hearty soups and, for dinner, fresh local seafood, Mexican dishes and pasta. Dinner for two with wine is about $35. Relaxed cafe ambience; reading material is available from the library upstairs.
LeRoy's Blue Whale, on 580 Highway 101 downtown, (541) 547-3399, serves family fare: fish and chips, steaks, seafood, sandwiches, homemade pies. Open daily. Dinner for two (wine is not served) is approximately $13 to $24.
The Adobe, 1555 Highway 101, (541) 547-3141, has a lovely setting with spectacular views but unspectacular food. The menu offers plenty of fresh fish, such as broiled swordfish with portobello mushrooms; some vegetarian dishes available. Open daily. Dinner for two with wine, about $45; early-bird specials from 5 to 6 P.M., except Friday and Saturday, are $8.95 a person. Reservations recommended.
La Serre, Second and Beach Streets, (541) 547-3420. Carefully prepared fresh dishes, such as crab cakes, salmon and charbroiled steak, are served in a large dining room or in a lounge with fireplace. The restaurant is open for dinner only and Sunday breakfast 9 A.M. to noon; closed Tuesday. Dinner for two with wine, $50 to $60.
The Little Log Church by the Sea is open 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. daily except Thursday, staffed by volunteers. Donations welcome. For information, call (541) 547-3976.
The Cape Perpetua Interpretive Center is three miles south of town on Highway 101. It offers a hands-on corner for children, films, guided hikes and exhibits. Hours are 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day; 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. on weekends only, in winter. Admission is $3. Call (541) 547-3289, or write Post Office Box 274, Yachats, Ore. 97498. There are camping and hiking trails in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area.
Earthworks Gallery, 2222 North Highway 101 North, is open daily 10 A.M. to 5 P.M.; (541) 547-4300.
Oregon's beaches, easily accessible through the many state parks and waysides, offer wild surf, wild scenery and wildlife, as well as rockhounding, walking and kite-flying (but seldom swimming; the water is just too cold and the currents too strong).
Check out Yachats Beach, Yachats State Park and Smelt Sands State Park. In addition to the trails at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, the Cummin's Creek Wilderness just to the south presents extensive hiking through old-growth forest.
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