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There's more to Tillamook than its famous dairy farms
Tillamook - Garibaldi

a Bend Bulletin Article by John Gottberg Anderson

Bend Bulletin ImageFrom Neahkahnie Mountain to Cascade Head — 50 miles north-south from Manzanita to Neskowin and inland nearly 35 miles to the crest of the Oregon Coast Range — Tillamook County sprawls across a broad swath of coastal northwestern Oregon. Rivers like the Nehalem, Wilson and Nestucca drain the rain-drenched slopes of its forested summits. Where the terrain flattens into a coastal piedmont, these streams support a dairy industry that thrives in this damp Pacific climate.

The Tillamook Cheese Factory, which dominates the landscape on the north side of the little town of Tillamook, … it's only one aspect of a trip to this diverse county, which spreads around the second-largest estuary on the Oregon Coast.

North of Tillamook, on the shore of broad Tillamook Bay, the tiny port town of Garibaldi proudly proclaims its 19th-century maritime heritage. Farther up U.S. Highway 101, the resort community of Rockaway Beach is a quieter alternative for beach lovers than Seaside (35 miles north). West and south of Tillamook, the Three Capes Scenic Route winds past a series of impressive seascapes and through such pristine coastal enclaves as Oceanside, Netarts and Pacific City. And back in Tillamook, there are museums galore.

Around Tillamook

There are more cows than people in Tillamook County. About 28,000 dairy cattle — Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Brown Swiss — live on 120 farms in herds that range in size from 30 to 1,400, according to figures published by the Tillamook County Creamery Association. Each cow produces 6 to 8 gallons of milk per day, and that milk is churned into cheese, butter, ice cream and other products shipped across the United States and worldwide.

A hop, skip and meander off U.S. Highway 101 is the Latimer Quilt & Textile Center, a delightfully secluded outpost of visual arts…


Local history

In the heart of the quaint town of 4,500 people is the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum. Here visitors might learn about Joe Champion, who is credited as the first pioneer settler along this stretch of coastline in 1851. Unchallenged by the resident Tillamook Indians, Champion set up residence inside a hollow spruce tree about three miles north of where the town now sits. A replica is in the museum. He stayed there a year, supporting himself by fishing and hunting until other homesteaders joined him.

Established in 1935 when the original 1905 Tillamook County Courthouse was moved to new quarters, the museum displays Abraham Lincoln memorabilia from the private collection of former Oregon Gov. and Sen. Mark Hatfield.

There are fine exhibits pertaining to the American Indian population, early settlement, the logging industry and natural history of the region. Director Gary Albright said the museum will celebrate its 75th anniversary, beginning in February, with a six-month display of items from each year of its existence.

… For three short years, from 1943 through 1945, Naval Air Station Tillamook was home to 15 blimps that patrolled Pacific coastal waters to alert naval convoys and submarines of possible attacks…

Tillamook Bay North

The first of several small communities heading north from Tillamook on U.S. Highway 101, along the eastern shore of Tillamook Bay, is Bay City…

An estimated 20,000 birds may be seen on any given day on Tillamook Bay, which despite its size (six miles long and three miles wide, second in Oregon only to Coos Bay) has an average depth of only about 6 feet.

Next up the highway is the Port of Garibaldi, a busy working harbor community. Fishing boats unload their daily catches on the wharves that extend into the bay, and the small cafes on the waterfront are locally famous for their fish and chips.

A statue of Capt. Robert Gray, who came ashore in this estuary in 1788, stands in front of the Garibaldi Museum of Maritime History. Gray and his crew aboard the Lady Washington are considered the first white Americans to set foot in what is now Oregon. The museum, open May through October, recalls Gray's visit and has exhibits on 18th-century sailors' lives and the early logging and fishing industries along this stretch of coast.

Across the highway, in Lumberman's Memorial Park, the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad awaits passengers. A 1910 steam locomotive pulls the train from Garibaldi to Rockaway Beach, 90 minutes round-trip, weekends from Memorial Day through September. Occasional other trips are scheduled through the year, including a three-hour dinner train excursion to Wheeler, on the Nehalem River, on Feb. 13.

Rockaway is right on the Pacific Coast about five miles north of Garibaldi. It's an undistinguished strip of shops, small resort hotels and condominium developments lining both sides of U.S. Highway 101, but it does have a fine beach just out of sight of the highway, to the west. Many Portlanders and other Oregonians consider it a good alternative to frenzied Seaside or Lincoln City, to the south.

The northern section of Tillamook County is quite tranquil. Wheeler and Nehalem are quaint river towns a few miles from one another on the Nehalem River; farming and freshwater fishing are favored pursuits. Nehalem Bay State Park, on a spit at the mouth of the river, features one of the coast's finest campgrounds. Manzanita, a beach and golf community north of the river's mouth, at the foot of Neahkahnie Mountain, has a more refined, upscale flavor.

The Three Capes

There may be no better day's drive on the Oregon Coast than the 22-mile Three Capes Scenic Loop. A 60-mile circuit beginning and ending in Tillamook, the route winds past the Cape Meares Lighthouse, Cape Lookout State Park and Cape Kiwanda, Pacific City's landmark headland, before returning inland.

Beginning northwesterly along the south shore of Tillamook Bay, the two-lane road passes the broad, sandy Bayocean Peninsula, which separates the bay from the ocean. A crude sign identifies a narrow gravel road that leads to what once was dubbed the “Atlantic City of the West.”

In the early 20th century, a resort community called Bay Ocean stood here. A zealous entrepreneur built roads and a narrow-gauge railroad; installed water, electricity and telephone lines; and, of course, sold real estate. Before long, there were three hotels and other resort facilities. But World War I and the Great Depression took their toll, and left without proper maintenance, the property was gradually obliterated by Pacific tides and storms. By the 1950s, it had been abandoned.

Cape Meares has also suffered the ravages of time, albeit very recent time. Two weeks ago, vandals fired a dozen bullets into the lighthouse and partially destroyed the Fresnel lens for which the building, erected in 1889, is famous. Although at 38 feet it's the shortest of Oregon's nine lighthouses, it's always been among the most welcoming to visitors when it's open, from April through October.

Cape Meares itself is shrouded in dense coastal vegetation, particularly Sitka spruce. Among the trees is one known as the “Octopus Tree,” a unique specimen with branches that spread like a candelabra. Scientists dispute whether heavy winds created its exceptional shape, or if its young branches had been twisted by American Indians for use as a burial tree.

South of Cape Meares are the distinctive Three Arch Rocks, a national wildlife refuge that is home to myriad seabirds and a large herd of California sea lions. The rocks lie offshore the hamlet of Oceanside, which boasts a broad beach, several lodgings and a couple of small cafes.

Three miles farther is another village, Netarts, which sits at the mouth of Netarts Bay…

Cape Lookout is at the south end of Netarts Bay. The state park here has about seven miles of hiking trails, a campground and a fine beach. From November to March, it's known to be a great place for whale watching.

The Three Capes road travels through a stretch of sand dunes near the village of Sandlake and emerges at Cape Kiwanda, about 20 miles past Netarts. This promontory shelters Pacific City, well known for its surfing waves, its dory-fishing fleet and…

Two miles beyond Pacific City, the Three Capes route ends at U.S. Highway 101. A right turn carries travelers 20 miles to Lincoln City via the seaside village of Neskowin, at the south end of Tillamook County. A left turn leads 24 miles back to Tillamook, via the small inland villages of Cloverdale, Hebo and Beaver.

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