When a van full of college kids pulls up at the beach, there are expectations.

A couple months ago, I was at the trailhead for a hike at Leadbetter Point in Washington on a drizzly day when a van of students from a Washington college rolled up.

Why these kids had made their way from Ellensburg to a narrow finger of tidal bogs and brown sand, I couldn't figure. I imagined them hopping out in flip-flops, with a cooler full of Coronas and a boombox blaring "Jammin'," only to find themselves swatting at sparrow-sized mosquitos under a gray sky.

Turns out, I'd underestimated them.

The doors popped open to reveal a very hardy crew. They wore slickers and tall rubber boots, carrying buckets and short-handled shovels. One extra-salty dog had mended his yellow slicker with duct tape. These kids were going clamming, and they weren't messing around.

Those college kids understood the nature of our coast in a way too few Portlanders do.

Our coast is changing, and getting more nice things than ever, but it ain't California. The shores of Oregon and Southern Washington have taffy and fudge and sandy beaches, but if you want to really experience the magic of this place, you're going to need rubber boots.

Our coast always feels a little damp and chilly. It's a place of windswept dunes and brackish tidal marshes. A place of muck, rust and beer. A place where people drink bourbon and cola instead of margaritas. A place where most of the people you interact with aren't paid to be nice to you, where you'll drink next to fishermen who've seen things amazing and terrible, and who've lost friends fishing for the tuna made into sushi for folks in the Pearl. A place where the oysters are nearly free if you're willing to shuck them yourself.

Going Coastal is our second-annual guide to the coasts of Northern Oregon and Southern Washington. We've focused on the places you can get to from Portland in about two hours, a stretch that takes us from Washington's Long Beach Peninsula to Lincoln City.

We've organized this year's guide as a series of ideal weekend trips to the coast, peppering in our favorite hikes, museums, shopping and dining. Along the way, we'll take you to classics like the Otis Cafe, the last ferry on the lower Columbia and the Goonies House. We'll tell you how you can spend the night in the Stamper family homestead from Sometimes A Great Notion and pedal down 7 miles of abandoned railway in Tillamook. We also visited some cool new spots, like the new pub in Gearhart, the new brewery in Astoria and the new wood-fired pizza spot that grew out of a camp store in Ilwaco.

Our coast is wild. Those who've tried to tame it have failed, sometimes spectacularly. Don't make the same mistake. Grab your boots and a slicker—there's a lot of great stuff for those willing to do a little shoveling.