Well, one thing that will never change is the relatively unspoiled beauty of the Oregon coast. Or will it? In the recent past, the biggest environmental controversies had to do with turning ports on the Oregon coast into shipping depots for the export of natural gas and coal to Asia. There is real reason for concern, and battle lines have been drawn between environmentalists and concerned citizens on one side, and eager developers and business interests on the other. That issue has quieted down but threatens to re-erupt at any moment.
The two ports in question are Astoria and Coos Bay. Both cities came into prominence as processing centers (lumber and salmon) and shipping depots, and both have suffered economic hardship since the decline of the timber and fishing industries.
Astoria is undergoing a renaissance right now, thanks in part to its proximity to Portland, the arrival of seasonal cruise ships (which means thousands of passengers disembark to spend a few hours in Astoria), and to the stock of fine old houses and buildings that are being rediscovered and restored. The ball got rolling with the restoration of the Liberty Theater—now a downtown performing arts center—and the Union Hotel, and the establishment of a number of new restaurants and cafes.
Some of us remember the Oregon coast as it used to be, a place of simple, unpretentious, damp-smelling beach cottages, indifferent or nonexistent restaurants (even with all that seafood), and nothing but the roar of the surf and the crackle of a fire to keep you company. Those were the Days Before Casinos (DBC), when you went to the coast to dig for razor clams, look for Japanese glass floats, and walk on deserted beaches. You can still do all three, but you can also go to casinos in Lincoln City and Coos Bay, have meals of a caliber previously unknown, and watch the crashing waves from the warm, bubbling safety of a Jacuzzi.
Everything really started to change along the coast in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when people from elsewhere (read: with money) started to realize how incredibly magnificent this coastline is—a place where you could watch herds of 50-ton gray whales passing by on their annual migration from the Bering Sea to Baja Mexico. The amount of new building and development along the North Coast, the coast closest to Portland, has been enormous. But if you haven’t been to the Oregon coast before, you probably won’t notice it the way some of us do.
And let’s shout hooray for the People’s Coast. That’s what the Oregon coast is called. Why? Because not an inch of it is privately owned. By which I mean the entire shoreline—with its clean, beautiful, white-sand beaches, towering headlands, dramatic offshore monoliths, secretive little coves, crashing waves, seals and seabirds. It’s all there for you to enjoy.
The towns and communities on the coast are small and can no longer rely on commercial fishing and logging to keep them afloat. So tourism plays a major role in the coast economy. There’s been an uptick in the number of upscale places to stay and the number of good restaurants to eat. When inlanders hear that a huge storm is due to hit the Oregon coast, with 100mph winds, they don’t anticipate disaster—they get on the horn and make a reservation at their favorite oceanfront hotel.
The arrival of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in 1999 put the small Central Coast town of Bandon on the map—for golfers, anyway. People arrive from all over the world to play at these 5 links courses that are modeled after the heritage courses in Scotland and Ireland. “Golf as it was meant to be played” is the resort’s tag line. That means you walk the course and play in natural surroundings. It’s really pretty great.
But playing in natural surroundings is, ultimately, what the Oregon coast is all about. A trip to the coast (or “the beach” as Oregonians say) is partly about being cozy despite the elements, and partly about reconnecting with those very elements. It’s a powerful, unpredictable place, the Oregon coast, and if you give yourself up to it, and don’t complain about the wind and the weather, you will enjoy a wonderful world of natural wonders.