Oregon’s cool and mysterious coast isn’t a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of place. Only repeated visits allow you to discover why it’s one of America’s most underrated destinations.

And on our last trip through the Beaver State, something clicked.

Our family road trip took us through Lincoln City in central Oregon, and wound its way along two-lane roads to Pacific City, Cape Meares, and finally Portland. Along the way, we learned to golf, kayaked to the edge of the ocean, climbed an enormous sand dune, hiked along countless beaches, and then wrapped up our adventure with a riverfront stay in the Rose City.

If you begin your journey in Lincoln City, as we did, you’ll notice the Pacific coast starts to present itself in an unexpected way. Farther south, California’s coastline offers either cliffs or beaches, but somehow, Oregon manages to do both at the same time. Beach here, rock there. And over there, an estuary teeming with wildlife.

A terrific starting point is a quiet round of golf at Salishan Spa & Golf Resort. The course, bracketed by old-growth firs, presents a spectacular view of a chilly Pacific, and the morning fog burns off into postcard-perfect days during midsummer. If you’re there with young kids, as I was, you’ll probably want to take them down to the pro shop for a lesson and then to the beach to run around.

Just a few miles north, in the Salmon River, the kids and I did a deep dive into coastal Oregon by taking a guided tour with Kayak Tillamook. Our guide led us out just as the tide was slackening, which made paddling to the mouth of the Pacific a little easier. The estuary system became a United Nations Biosphere Reserve after several dikes were demolished a generation ago to restore the tidal waters.

But Salmon River saves the best for the last — a view of the Cascade Head and Three Rocks in a churning Pacific. From the water, it is truly a sight, and it rendered my normally chatty kids silent, in awe.

By contrast, my kids, ages 10, 12 and 15, were energized by what they saw in Pacific City: the enormous sand dunes and rock formations of Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. You can climb to the top of these sandy peaks and discover even more about what makes the Oregon coast so special, like the vertical columns of Chief Kiawanda Rock surrounded by crashing waves. It’s a heart-pounding climb to the top, but once you’re there, you feel like you’re on another planet. This is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, or are likely to see again.

From there, we took the slow road north. The Three Capes Scenic Route is a 40-mile road trip that demands your attention. Some of the scenery is so remarkable that words fail me. Take pictures; your friends will think you Photoshopped them. My colleague Grant McOmie did an outstanding job describing what you’ll see in this video. Give yourself a full day to take this drive. Bring a picnic lunch and your swimsuit — and don’t forget to charge your phone so you can take lots of pictures.

We settled in a vacation rental near Cape Meares, on the northern tip of the drive, for a few days. Because of a road closure, Cape Meares is only accessible from Bayocean Drive. In order to get to the scenic Cape Meares Lighthouse & Wildlife Refuge, you have to go around the other side, a 20-minute detour. That’s worth doing at least once, because the lighthouse takes a lovely photo. You can also see the Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge (a park with a fascinating history) and take your picture next to Big Spruce, Oregon’s largest Sitka Spruce.

In Cape Meares, we rested for a few days. And stopping here really lets you take it all in. Even though we were in Oregon during the peak of travel season, we still had the place to ourselves. Every morning, I walked to Kincheloe Point with my 15-year-old son, an almost four-mile round trip. On several days, we were met with fierce headwinds, forcing us to lean into the gusts as we pushed toward our goal, obscured by billows of sand.

“It’s character-building,” he confided.

The Cape was a launching point for several excursions to the north, including a memorable trip to the Tillamook Cheese Factory (granted, a touristy thing to do, but I’m on the road with three ice cream aficionados) and a drive to Oswald West State Park, which has a beach you can only reach by hiking through a dense temperate rainforest. This was the northernmost coastal point of our tour, but perhaps the most impressive. It almost feels as if the sandstone cliffs that used to be out in the water have come ashore to merge with the beach. All you can do is stand on the shore and say, “Wow.”

From there, we headed inland, but still followed the water. The Willamette River, which runs through Portland and merges with the Columbia River, finally spilling into the Pacific, offered a bookend to our long journey. Along its shores, we checked into the Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel, which reminded us of Oregon’s nautical heritage.

In many ways Portland follows the narrative path of the coast. It’s a place where urban and rural almost coexist, just as the cliffs and beach seem to come together on the coast. On our first evening in town, we found ourselves at Nordic Northwest, the Scandinavian heritage center, for its midsummer crawfish dinner. It’s a short drive from downtown Portland, but you feel as if you’re on a farm.

Portlanders seem aware that they, like their own coastline, are mysterious and maybe a little inaccessible — and they seem to like it that way. You can’t parachute into here in a few days and understand it. Soon, they know the warmth of summer will give way to the fog and rain that this area is known for, and the summer tourists will retreat, but that’s just fine. Maybe that is what makes this place so special.

If you go …

Where to stay
Along the coast, the Salishan Spa & Golf Resort in Lincoln City has comfortable rooms that overlook the ocean. I recommend a vacation rental as you head north along the coast. They’re affordable and almost always offer excellent beach access. In Portland, besides the Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel, check out the Duniway Portland, a boutique hotel that’s close to everything and has comfortable rooms. Or consider splurging for a night or two at the Nines, a former department store converted into a luxury hotel.

What to do
Besides soak in the amazing coastline? Lincoln City has a noteworthy downtown with artisanal shops that sell collectibles. If you’re an aviation geek, check out the Tillamook Air Museum, inside an enormous hangar built to house K-class airships used during World War II for anti-submarine patrol and convoy escort. Don’t forget to check out the Guppy, an odd-looking aircraft parked just outside. In Portland, you have to check out High Hopes: The Journey of John F. Kennedy, at the Oregon Historical Society. You’ll find some rare and never-before-seen memorabilia from the 35th president.

Where to eat
This trip was all about the desserts. Along the coast, our favorite stops were the coffee stands. We became addicted to the spicy chai lattes and pastries served roadside. In Portland, check out Nordic Northwest for breakfast if you like Swedish pancakes. (And who doesn’t like Swedish pancakes?) Best donuts in town? We couldn’t stop eating those Blue Star Donuts. Don’t leave town without ordering a Passion Fruit donut.

Published in Destinations

Quick, what's the difference between a big resort hotel and the Wizard of Oz's Emerald City?

Answer: A story.

The wizard's creator, L. Frank Baum, was a frequent visitor to Coronado, California, and the town's beating heart, the Hotel del Coronado ("The Del" to the locals). His visits were so frequent, in fact, that his editor arranged for the rental of a separate house—off of "The Del" property—so that he might get away from the perpetual distraction of the hotel and get some writing done. The hotel and his whimsical experiences there clearly influenced his imaginings of Oz; some of Baum's illustrations of the Emerald City even look suspiciously like the iconic Queen Ann-style hotel.

Coronado still retains much of what attracted Baum (not the least of which is its own, amazing story), and it has also developed an even richer offering of experiences, accommodation, dining choices, and activities that (fortunately for his editor) didn't exist in Baum's day. And because families have always been such a part of the Coronado story, much of that new growth is still family-friendly.

The crown jewel of Coronado is, of course, the Hotel Del Coronado.

Before it was completed in 1877 there was little more than dust and scattered tufts of pampas grass. But the dreams and vision that brought forth the grand hotel spread outward, and shortly the whole island was transformed into the lush, green, and (relatively) tranquil community you see today.

A stroll through the exquisite Coronado neighborhoods is a hint of the island's military presence on its north side. Many current and former navy personnel have homes here, and that military precision shows in the beautifully kept homes and immaculate landscaping (you could bounce a quarter off the lawns). But perhaps a better way to stroll the area around the Hotel Del is to tag along with Coronado Touring for a truly fun and fascinating walking tour. The grand and historic feel of the Hotel Del suggests a great story all its own, and a couple of hours with Coronado Touring confirms it.

You'll even see "The Oz House", Mr. Baum's former "off-site" residence. If you can do this early in your Coronado visit, you'll then see the place with a sense of wonder you might otherwise miss (how else would you know about the secret message in the sand dunes?).

The walking tour begins in the Glorietta Bay Inn, which is itself significant in the story, as it's principle building was the home of Coronado's greatest benefactor and "savior" of the Hotel Del dream, John Spreckels. The Glorietta is a terrific option to the Del Coronado, as you are just across the street from the Del but can choose from luxurious and historic rooms in Spreckels's original house or more modern and affordable rooms of various sizes throughout the rest of the hotel. The entire property is immaculately kept and the friendly staff clearly take their cue from, Claudia, the Glorietta's gregarious and hospitable manager.

The vivid and fascinating history of the island lends a richer tone to everything else you experience afterward. Just a few blocks from the Hotel Del, Clayton's Coffee Shop could be just a nifty 50's-themed diner (albeit with great food and sumptuous milkshakes), but now it feels like a time machine and you wouldn't be surprised to see Mr. Baum himself at the counter reading the day's paper over a coffee and apple pie.

Two more blocks along Orange Avenue will find you transported back to that golden age of theatre at the incredibly restored Village Theatre and two blocks back on Orange Avenue from Clayton's will satisfy that old fashioned summer yen for handcrafted ice cream at the Moo Time Creamery.

And of course many of the shops at the Hotel del Coronado itself recapture that historic feel, like at Spreckels Sweets & Treats, where you can get (among loads of other things) the same fudge or saltwater taffy that Frank Baum undoubtedly sampled.

But while Coronado Island certainly honors its rich history, it has grown up nicely with terrific contemporary offerings. Head south along the narrow peninsula (Coronado is technically not an island) where you'll find the contemporary and luxurious Loews Coronado Bay Resort one of Parents Magazine's "10 Best Family Beach Resorts".

The sheer luster in the recently refurbished interior betrays the many family-oriented amenities, including poolside movies (at just one of the three pools!), a dedicated kids' activity desk, and rides in one of their authentic Venetian gondolas. And it's just a short walk or free shuttle to the quiet Silver Strand State Beach, which might seem like your own private beach, relative to crowds at Coronado Beach.

Further along Orange Avenue from the Hotel Del on the north side of the Island you'll find a host of shops, restaurants, and activities surrounding the Ferry Landing. Nearby the Ferry Landing is the sumptuous Coronado Island Marriott Resort, with exquisite views over the bay to the beautiful San Diego skyline, rejuvenating spa treatments, a private water taxi across the bay for guests, and a lush pool and outdoor restaurant that you may find difficult to leave to explore Coronado.

But explore you must, for no matter where you stay, your own Coronado story is waiting to be written.

hotel dell

"Coronado: The Queen of Fairyland"

And every day her loveliness,

Shines pure, without a flaw;

New charms entrance our every glance,

And fill our souls with awe!

- L. Frank Baum 

WHEN TO GO:

The locals are spoiled in San Diego, and even during what they call "June Gloom", the weather is pleasant (if not fully sunny till noon). That said, the best months for weather are June through September. You'll find better deals and smaller crowds outside those months. 

THINGS TO DO:

You'll find plenty to keep the whole family busy on Coronado, but here are number of things to consider in your itinerary:

- Gooey fun: After dinner S'mores on the beach at Hotel Del Coronado.

- Haute Culture: and evening at the impressive Lamb's Players Theatre

- Discovery: Kayak tour with a state park naturalist at Loew's Coronado Bay Resort.

- Gluttony: The indescribable decadence of the Hotel Del Coronado Crown Room Sunday brunch.

- Toodling: Pedal the family around the island on a 4-person surrey bike, available at your hotel or shops around town.

- Learning: Get the full and fascinating story on the island at the Coronado Museum of History & Arthttp://coronadohistory.org/

ACCOMMODATION:

Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa

Glorietta Bay Inn

Hotel del Coronado

Loews Coronado Bay Resort

Published in Destinations

Allow the lure of the Pacific Ocean to entice the whole family to a day skipping over three miles of glistening sandy beach this summer.

Every beach experience should include blue sunny skies, the crashing sound of the waves and a Beach Butler to tend to all the details, so you don’t have to.

At The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel the Beach Butlers offer personalized service for guests enjoying their experience at the famous California surf spot, Salt Creek Beach. Allow them to load all the gear, shuttle the family to the sand and get the everyone set up with beach chairs, umbrellas and towels. Respect the sun with proper sun screen and tanning lotion, which is always on hand with our butlers. All you need to do is relax and play!

If mom and dad are looking for a few quiet moments with a book, these butlers can entertain the kids with sand castles or body boarding and they will get the whole family set up for lunch and drinks. All you need to do is connect with the family and create lasting memories. 

For more information visit www.ritzcarlton.com/LagunaFamily

Published in Luxury

Ready to relax? Maybe unplug?

Visit this laid back, but luxurious, family-owned resort in Antigua for an all-inclusive experience that includes extensive water sports including water skiing, deep sea fishing, snorkeling, paddle-boating, tennis, yoga,  and sailing.

As the kids burn off energy after another delicious meal, relax in a hammock you’ll find tucked within the palm trees. Spend an afternoon at the spa where open air massages provide a perfect end to a sports-filled day. 

Published in Family Travel Blog