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17 miles S of Astoria, 79 miles W of Portland, 7 miles N of Cannon Beach

Seaside, about 2 hours from Portland, is the top family destination on the northern Oregon coast. That means you may want to visit or you may want to avoid it entirely.

The town is one of the oldest beach resorts on the coast. At one time you could get to Seaside by train and a big beachside amusement park was waiting for you when you arrived. But nowadays, if you want to enjoy Seaside’s charms, you have to get away from the mall-like hurly-burly of Broadway, its main drag, because the commercial heart of Seaside is like a Northwest version of Atlantic city; in fact, back in the days of beauty pageants, Seaside is where the Miss Oregon contest was held. Time-share apartment blocks and big, anonymous-looking convention hotels rise up beside the beach and dwarf the smaller, clapboard homes and motels that once characterized Seaside. The town has a touristy tang that makes it popular with 20-somethings who want to drink, smoke pot and party. It’s close enough to Portland to make it an easy day trip, so it also draws lots of parents with young kids enjoying a relatively inexpensive day at the beach.

The plusses? First and foremost, that fabulous beach. It extends for miles and is walkable its entire length. There is also a unique promenade from the 1920s lined with well-kept homes and cottages on one side and vast dunes and the ocean on the other. Once you get away from the center, the town is filled with vintage cottages and is really pretty charming. So I’m not saying you can’t have a good time here (especially if you have kids), but I am saying that if you’re looking for a tranquil, romantic getaway, Seaside is not the place for you.

If you travel just a few minutes north, however, you’ll find Gearhart, a very different kind of Oregon coast town. This quiet community, which begins on the north end of Seaside, goes out of its way to avoid the kind of hustling tourism that keeps Seaside afloat, has long been a retreat for wealthy Portlanders. It’s filled with suburban-size homes on manicured residential streets. Beach access isn’t as easy as from Seaside, but that’s what helps keep things calm and controlled in Gearhart.