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Another Side to Oregon Tourism

One minute I'm cruising around this really cool new website about the Oregon coast, and the next I'm cruising around Highway 101, taking in all the clean air, the beautiful sights, gobbling some wowing food and visiting a lot of funky secret spots I found online. It's a wondrous trip that's hard to forget.It begins with this site Oregon Coast Beach Connection: rather new, but already huge and all-encompassing in its coverage of the upper half of the coast.

I started by goofing around the virtual tours (not all of them are completed), which have on average 60 different stops along various areas of the coast. I found some interesting hidden beaches near Cannon Beach, down in Newport and near Manzanita.The site has this awe-inspiring, sprawling news section, where I discovered some great restaurants and hotels. I used their weather page to check the forecast just before I left on this really sunny weekend in February - and just like one of their stories about "winter weather secrets" said it would be - it was exceptionally warm in February. See their news section at www.beachconnection/news.

So I head out for the coast, first gobbling up insane seafood on the scenic, pristine Tillamook Bay at Pacific Oyster. They have this cioppino to die for. It's thick, hearty and so stocked full of a variety of fish it puts a hatchery to shame. The oysters are like tender little chunks of beef: extremely rich and flavorful, quite powerful for their miniscule size. The smoked salmon burger was wonderful as well, and the view of the bay was magnificent. 5150 Oyster Drive.

(503) 377-2323.That night, I stayed at the Old Wheeler Hotel: a wildly romantic hotel in the tiny town of Wheeler that was carved out of an old building once ready to fall apart. This was totally amazing to discover, as the place has an extremely manicured, old world charm, with hard wood floors, chandeliers, clawfoot bathtubs and views of the untouched and pure Nehalem Bay.

It's been nicknamed the "Westin-Benson of the Oregon Coast." I'm addicted and will be back. Hwy 101 and Gregory.

http://www.oldwheelerhotel.com. 877-4theview.Practically next door, it's pure pizza heaven at a fairly new eatery called Guido's Ristorante. The staff here was constantly hilarious - a little like watching the cast of "Seinfeld" interacting.

But it's the grub that was the real star of the show, with a thick, even juicy crust beneath a forest-like covering of innovative ingredients. The main chef there (he called himself Guido, but I think that was part of the gags of the evening) said he'd help me decide on my pizza selection and just make something up for me.I shyly asked about meatballs on my pie, and he not only said "yes" but eventually brought me a masterpiece with various kinds of cheeses, a delicious marinara sauce drizzled on the meatballs and some kind of garden of vegetables which I can't even remember.

This place also had an outstanding view of the bay. 675 Hwy 101, Wheeler. (503) 368-7778.The next day, I wander up just north of Manzanita to check out one of the incredible hidden spots I'd found at www.

beachconnection.net. A set of grandiose cliffs and a small mountain hovers over the sleepy little beach resort, and on its north face lie some wild, weird slopes.

The website said it resembled Ireland in some spots, and scenes from "Planet of the Apes" in others. Somebody nailed it on the head. You walk down these steep, grassy areas to come across a strange seascape of jagged, freaky rock structures and boiling surf. It was absolutely remarkable.I again follow the website to a place called Hug Point, near Cannon Beach. I'd been here before, actually, but never seen the array of veiled pleasures and interesting details tucked away in one rocky area or another.

There's a waterfall, a few sea caves (one has some intricate structure inside that's fun to crawl), and this rather mysterious road going around the point. According to Beach Connection's site, the state had dynamited this road out of the rock in the early part of the century so old horse 'n' buggies and Model T's could make their way around during high tides.The area is a geologist's wonderland too - but that's another story.

Next up, I wander Cannon Beach and wind up in this tiny little wonder called Fultano's Pizza. I ordered the penne pasta with meat sauce - and meatballs, of course. These meatballs are exceptional, with a marvelously multi-layered taste to them, like the subtleties you find in fine wine. The meat sauce is partially responsible for this, also with a few layers of goodness all its own.

This place is a truly gourmet discovery, yet not only is it totally kid friendly but thoroughly has a romance element as well.I came back here for dinner too, having this seriously delectable pizza with a sauce made from mashed grapes. This was fabulous, and I must say I've never had anything like it.

200 N. Hemlock and Second Street. (503) 436-9717.That night, I bed down at a real charmer of a motel called the San Dune Inn in Manzanita, where I'm joined by my lady friend and her dog.

This place is super dog friendly.They have a large selection of movies, as well as other unique things I've never seen at a motel, like bikes for use of guests, volleyball gear, beach balls and other beachy equipment. Wow. We had a blast biking down to the beach (only a few blocks) and laughing as we got stuck in the sand.

That night, after drinks at Guido's beautifully hip little retro bar (just a few miles away), we dragged the bikes out again - although I'm not sure if this what the owners had in mind for these. 428 Dorcas Lane. http://www.sandune-inn-manzanita.com.

888-368-5163.In the morning, we scarf down a combo of leftovers from Guido's and Fultano's, and slowly make our way north towards home. We stop at a castle-looking bed & breakfast called Arch Cape House and take a look around, completely awe-struck. Antiques filled these rooms, and the place looks like something between a castle and a ski lodge. We make a vow to the owners to be back and stay here next time.

East Ocean Rd. - S. of Cannon Beach. http://www.archcapehouse.

com. 800-436-2848.

.For more information on the Oregon coast, make sure you go to http://www.

beachconnection.net. You'll find virtual tours, weather, lodging, dining, and as they claim, loads of "beach secrets.".

By: Ben Randall

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