I watch my twins run up the dune toward the rhythmic call of the Pacific Ocean. With buckets in hand and sun hats flapping, they look back to check on me once or twice. “Come on, Mom!” they call, as their little feet sink into the sand as they run, excitement fueling their onward push.
That first glimpse of the ocean in Manzanita, Ore., is a memory that’s imprinted on our minds. The beach seems to stretch forever, meeting the ocean and the sky in one expansive canvas of water and light. It’s seven miles of soft sand, framed by Mount Neahkahnie to the north and the perfect sandcastle beach at Nehalem Bay State Park to the south.
Coming from the mostly rocky, gray beaches of Washington, we didn’t expect this in Manzanita, a small town on the Tillamook Coast, about a 90-mile drive west of Portland. Manzanita has recently become the darling of many, but shrugs it off with the timeless confidence of a true beach town. It’s a place to read, explore and unwind, and a popular destination for Northwest families and couples looking for a refined Oregon coast getaway.
Standing on wide, quiet Manzanita Beach, we look down and see our reflections in the glass-like shine of water covering the sand. With so much room to move, my twins love running and hopping through the wet sand, the tap, tap, tap, tap of little feet making the only music we hear. In the morning there can be mist here, and those windy, steely skies that suddenly burst into radiant blue light, a reminder that you’re still in the Northwest.
The beach in Manzanita is perfect for activities that invite imagination and unplugged fun. Rent a three-wheeled beach cycle at Manzanita Bikes and Boards (170 Laneda Ave.), and listen to your family’s winded giggles as they pedal in wide circles around each other. Pick up a kite and beach toys there too — the open door of this little shop beckons like a vintage postcard.
Manzanita’s glowing sunsets, all enormous sky painted in wide stripes of deep colors, draw groups of relaxed admirers to the sand every night. Find a spot on a dune with loved ones, a blanket, and nowhere to rush off to. It’s a nature experience that needs no equipment except for a camera, if you’re up for the challenge of capturing the sight.
Manzanita’s main street is Laneda Avenue, just a few blocks long but packed with locally-owned stores and the kind of thoughtful specialty shops you’d expect from an elegant beach town that’s serious about relaxing. If you haven’t brought plenty to read, linger a while in Cloud & Leaf Bookstore (148 Laneda Ave.). Friendly staff can point you to authors you might enjoy, or try something new — you’re on vacation, after all.
Manzanita is a dog-lovers’ town, and we see many pampered beach dogs strolling around, enjoying their holiday. In Four Paws on the Beach (144 Laneda Ave.), my twins picked out armloads of gifts for our two dogs back home. I negotiated them down to one toy each, but not before being thoroughly charmed by the light, well-organized space.
The classic candy and chocolates at Manzanita Sweets (310 Laneda Ave.) will be a daily stop for many families. It feels like an old-time candy shop, where kids get a warm welcome and the selection is bright and fun, with novelty and vintage-inspired toys as much a part of the experience as the sweet, sweet excess.
On every getaway there should be an afternoon when Mom gets to slip away for a while: no kids, no toys in your beach bag, no schedule. My afternoon includes a stop at Finnesterre (194 Laneda Ave.), a home accessories and furnishings store. It’s full of accents for your fantasy beach home, all coral and bamboo and artisan-crafted jewelry. I’d move in if I could.
I often dine with twin 5-year-olds. This is not the reason we ate almost daily at Marzanoís Pizza Pie (60 Laneda Ave.), though. I loved the nostalgic pizzeria vibe, and the pies are made with fresh, interesting ingredients. My Insalata Grande was a repeat favorite, enough to share with the kids. There is a tasty gluten-free pizza option, too.
For a classic diner-style breakfast, try Wandaís CafÈ and Bakery (12870 H St., Nehalem). This favorite spot serves up American big plates like omelets and cinnamon French toast. The bakery’s handmade pastries are offered at shops and inns around Manzanita. Their marionberry hazelnut bars are perfect with morning coffee by the beach.
At Bread and Ocean (154 Laneda Ave.), the innovative but simple menu makes the cozy dining room and patio a popular spot for breakfast and lunch. Linger with a freshly prepared sandwich on the patio, or grab a salad and flavorful specialty bread or pastries for a picnic lunch as you head out to explore the coast.
All beach getaways require ice cream. We liked Manzanita Cones and Coffee (387 Laneda Ave.), where we chose from Cascade Glacier and Tillamook ice-cream treats, and even some dairy free options. The Manzanita Farmers Market also has great locally-made treats like pies, crepes, and desserts — find them among the delicious organic produce and handmade gifts every Friday night during summer.
If you do get that afternoon to yourself, slip away to Left Coast Siesta (288 Laneda Ave.), a Mexican restaurant popular with casual-cool weekenders from Portland looking for fresh food and relaxed conversation. On kid-free evenings, Vino Manzanita (387 Laneda Ave. #D) is a great place to cap off a stroll around town with wine tasting and small plates to share.
You can do a lazy afternoon walk just admiring the beach houses in Manzanita. If you’re traveling with family or a group of friends, treat yourself to one of the many vacation homes. From beachy little bungalows to large, coastal show homes, there are plenty to choose from. They’re all within walking distance of the beach and town, with some at Manzanita Golf Course. Check out listings at Manzanita Beach Getaway or Vacasa.
For couples or those coming for one night, Manzanita has a few beautiful small inns. The romantic Inn at Manzanita has a great location on the west end of Laneda Avenue. The buildings and grounds are beautiful, and the elegant Northwest feel extends to its rooms, all with individual character. Also on the beach, Ocean Inn has a repeat following with ocean-view rooms that have kitchens and wood stoves, some just steps from the sand.
If you’re a camping family, the campground at Nehalem Bay State Park has excellent facilities and park activities. Your kids’ memories of s’mores around a beachside campfire and falling asleep listening to the waves crashing nearby are those simple vacation moments that will endure long after they’re all grown up.
This part of the Oregon Coast is full of outdoor fun and attractions. Here are some experiences not to be missed and other awesome options:
- Gearhart Between historic Astoria and tourist-filled Seaside is the tiny town of Gearhart. It’s home to one of the oldest golf courses West of the Mississippi, Gearhart Golf Links. Eat or stay at McMenamins or rent a condo at Gearhart by the Sea. It’s a family fun destination, minus the crowds. And that makes the beach that much better.
- Neahkahnie Mountain Trail Hikers can trek to the top of the mountain for views of the beach and Tillamook Bay.
- Kayak Tillamook Kayak excursions on the coast with experienced guides.
- Tillamook Cheese Factory Tour Learn how the cheese is made with a birds’-eye view of the factory, eat lunch (hello mac and cheese to die for) and finish it off with a fresh waffle cone.
- Cannon Beach Head 20 minutes north for the galleries, restaurants, and your photo of Haystack Rock. Or stay at the well-appointed Stephanie Inn if it’s just the two of you (kids must be 12 and older).
- Three Capes Scenic Drive A 40-mile drive through three state parks with trails, beaches, and a lighthouse.
- Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad A roundtrip excursion on a vintage steam train along Tillamook Bay.