The route: Oregon 131 from Tillamook to Cape Meares through Oceanside and Netarts, then backtrack south on Oregon 131 and Whiskey Creek Road past Cape Lookout, following Cape Lookout Road and Sandlake Road south to Cape Kiwanda and Pacific City. Plentiful signs mark the Three Capes Scenic Loop route.
Miles: About 75 miles round-trip from Tillamook, or 275 miles round-trip from Portland.
Best time: Late spring, summer or fall for best weather and to avoid muddy trails, but we got lucky on a sunny weekend in early March.
Why: Oregon’s coast is magnificent, and this popular threesome of capes — Meares, Lookout and Kiwanda — and environs offer breathtaking views, hikes, beaches, ice cream, beer and adventure. Pastoral Tillamook County’s dairies give way to winding roads, tiny towns and the rapidly evolving destination of Pacific City.
Highlights: Start at the Tillamook Creamery, then add a stop (or two or three) along the North Coast Food Trail, perhaps at the gift shop and production facility for Jacobsen Salt Co., the first Pacific Northwest concern to harvest ocean salt since Lewis and Clark in 1805. Hiking opportunities are abundant, starting with a short hike at Cape Meares to the lighthouse, which is open May-September. Trails at Cape Lookout are shady; after about half a mile the trees thin, revealing a stunning shoreline view to the south. Hike Cape Kiwanda, paddle the nearby Nestucca River and watch the sun go down at Pelican Brewing Co.
Memorable stay: Since opening in early 2018, Pacific City’s Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa has aimed high and hit the mark with sumptuous surroundings and ocean views. A flair for adventure runs throughout the property: Note the in-room hooks to hang bikes and surfboards.
Memorable meal: “Everybody must get sconed,” proclaim the tie-dyed T-shirts at the Grateful Bread Bakery in Pacific City. One bite of a warm blueberry white chocolate scone will demonstrate why locals and visitors have kept this breakfast joint humming since 1991.
Tourist trap or treat: A tasty treat all the way, the Tillamook Creamery visitor center has drawn fans since 1949, and the opening of a new facility in June 2018 has improved the experience mightily. The new center is modern and airy and allows for better viewing of the cheese-making process. Be prepared for summer weekend crowds waiting to dig into cheddar cheese curds or Malted Moo Shake ice cream.
Plan to spend: This trip can be done in a day, even from Portland, but an overnight stay is recommended to enjoy the views and hikes.