Oregon Summer Weekend Trip: Tillamook

The North Coast’s country cousin is home to some of the best stuff made by nature or humans in the region.

Tillamook (Jordan Hundelt)

Unless you’ve spent some quality time there, it’s easy to pigeonhole Tillamook. Ask anyone who has only passed through or passed entirely on the idea of visiting the small coastal town to sum up the place: “Cows and cheese, man. Cows and cheese.”

Well, sure. A beacon of light for cheese lovers and house of horrors for the lactose intolerant, the Tillamook Creamery remains the primary draw for out-of-towners. And if you’re producing a full line of dairy products for the Pacific Northwest and beyond, you’re going to be somewhat bovine reliant. So, yeah, “cows and cheese” is not an inaccurate assessment as viewed from Highway 6 or 101.

However, as in any number of coastal towns, if you do a little digging or venture away from the main drag, it won’t take long before you start turning up some good stuff. And in Tillamook County, there’s plenty to speak of—from spectacular natural wonders in and around the city to plenty of the aforementioned off-highway attractions. Not to mention the fact that this is an area where five rivers, the Coast Range and the Pacific Ocean all converge.


Into the Wild

Admittedly, nobody is going to confuse Tillamook with Tokyo when it comes to nightlife. But downtown is walkable and home to enough restaurants and bars that it’s easy to patch together a delightful progressive happy hour. Start off with a little pregaming at de Garde Brewing (114 Ivy Ave., 503-815-1635, degardebrewing.com), which is a product of the city it resides in. The wild-fermented beer is shaped by the regional microflora, which gathers character from the flowing estuaries and Pacific brine. Even after 10 years in business, de Garde’s use of historic traditions—like dropping the temperature of boiled wort in an open-top coolship—combined with modern experimentation still makes it one of the country’s most unique and sought after breweries. Anything made with stone fruit here tends to reward, like The Sixth Peach, a spontaneously fermented ale aged for two years in oak.


Pay Big Bird a Visit

When you’re ready for more beer but you’ve also drunk up an appetite, saunter a block around the corner to Pelican Brewing Tillamook Taproom (1708 1st St., 503-842-7007, pelicanbrewing.com), where there is a full kitchen, though a smaller menu than those at its sister brewpubs at the front of every long line you see from Lincoln City to Cannon Beach. That’s not the only thing setting this location apart: Tillamook has ditched the conventional coastal dining room feel in favor of an industrial atmosphere defined by a massive production facility with a bar and small, casual seating area hovering above the equipment. A crack staff slings beers and seafood for a roughly 60-40 blend of locals to out-of-towners. Go with the fried Alaskan cod tacos and a Pelican Pilsner because it’s still early.

Nail Down Dinner

The vacant lot next to True Value Hardware wasn’t always a happening place. But in 2018, a little village of food carts took up residence, transforming the slab into a thriving pod. If you’d like to explore more of Tillamook’s gustatory scene, Flavors on 1st (1812 1st St.) is just a block east of Pelican. There you’ll find around a half-dozen carts specializing in everything from brats and Georgia sweet tea to birria tacos to “sannys” stuffed with a variety of meats and cheeses. There’s simple but serviceable seating under an angled covering, so you can still enjoy your meal al fresco even if the coast is seeing its typical drizzle.

Shots, Shots, Shots!

If you’re looking for a nightcap, there are two choices. Almost across the street from each other, like sentries of good spirit along Highway 101, are Rendezvous Bar & Grill (214 Pacific Ave., 503-842-5453, rendezvousbarandgrill.com) and Kitty’s Food & Spirits (204½ Main Ave., 503-354-2463, kittysfoodandspirits.com). Rendezvous is the perfect local watering hole: It is somehow dark yet well lit and serves a food menu that punches above its weight class, and the company is always friendly. Oh, and there are Jell-O shots, which could be the source of everyone’s good mood. Then there’s Kitty’s, which still caters to the locals but tends to draw a broader fan base. Either is a perfect place to hunker down or turn things up, depending on your mood, so might as well bag ‘em both before bed.

Live Large in a Tiny House

It’s most assuredly quiet hours at this point at Sheltered Nook (7882 Warren St., Bay City, 503-801-2999, shelterednook.com), a peaceful collection of six reservable tiny homes on Tillamook Bay. Each diminutive dwelling is very well appointed with all the creature comforts you’d expect in a larger space (full-size appliances and walk-in showers), and no two have the same theme, so birders may want to book the abode dedicated to winged creatures while the sea foam green residence decorated with mermaids is perfect for fans of the mythical half-human creature. There’s a main fire pit for all to share, and each house has its own patio for morning coffee or evening happy hour. The owners always go the extra mile, making it the kind of place that is always the perfect home away from home since here your “hotel room” is literally a house—albeit one that is 385 square feet.


Walk Through Time

Now that you’ve slept off last night’s buzz, today’s goal is getting active and spending as much time as possible with Mother Nature. Warm up with an undemanding walk around Kilchis Point Reserve (Spruce Street, Bay City, 503-842-4553, tcpm.org/kilchis-point-reserve.html), just two blocks from Sheltered Nook. The County Heritage Area, owned and maintained by the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum, is home to approximately 200 very historic acres that you can explore via a set of interpretive trails. The winding paved paths mixed with traditional trails explore the deeply wooded lands where the very first settler in these parts homesteaded. It’s also the building site of the first ship registered in the Oregon Territory (yup, we weren’t even a state yet), which was used to carry tons of dairy to Astoria and Portland before returning with necessary provisions.

Haystack Without the Crowds

From there, head south and take the Three Capes Scenic Route down to and over Cape Lookout. Then, just before arriving at the mecca for human congestion that is Pacific City, pull off into the Sitka Sedge State Natural Area (Sandlake Road, Cloverdale, 800-551-6949, stateparks.oregon.gov). This little chunk of land represents the diversity of coastal habitats as well as any place around here that you can easily or legally access. In addition to traditional beaches and forests, there are tidal flats, saltwater marshlands, wetlands, coniferous forests, dunes and more. Plus, you’ll find beach access with a view of Haystack Rock a mile down the road in Pacific City, sans the clog of humanity.

Stroll to the Tallest Falls

At just about a quarter-mile total, the walk to Munson Creek Falls State Natural Site (503-842-3182, stateparks.oregon.gov) might not qualify as an actual hike. But if ever there were a walk of less than a mile worth taking, this is it. The stroll to the attraction is set among massive old-growth Sitka spruce and other giants that drip with moss and lichen. The waterfall itself is 319 feet of three-tiered, awe-inspiring, cascade goodness. It is the tallest in the Coast Range and perhaps the tallest in the state west of the Willamette River.


Travel Back to the Future

You’ve earned a burger at this point, and Dutch Mill Cafe (206 Main Ave., 503-354-2636, dutchmillcafe.com) is here to deliver it with nostalgic, ‘50s diner style. With checkerboard floors, old-time booths, soda fountain stools, and even the front clip of a ‘57 Chevy, you half expect Biff Tannen and his ruffians to burst through the doors and muck up the works. Instead, what you get are perfectly executed burgers, fries and shakes. The standout stack is the Bel Air: a hand-pressed patty topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion stuffed in a bun slathered with Thousand Island.

Go on a Souvenir Hunt

After rest and a caloric refill, get a little shopping done. Salty Raven (109 Main Ave., 503-354-3501, saltyraven.net) is a store that melds “here are some keepsakes from your trip to Tillamook” with “hey, that’s real art—local art—displayable art!” You’ll undoubtedly find some sort of tchotchke that will fit perfectly in that empty nook back at home.

Get Inked

Mike Toth is one of the most renowned tattoo artists on the Oregon Coast. His realism-style art typically employs a dynamic color palette that attracts a wide range of people looking to turn their bodies into a canvas or add to the mural they’ve already invested in. And since you’ve fully immersed yourself in Tillamook, this town is now you and you are this town. Commemorate your visit in ink at Toth Art Collective (1816 3rd St., 541-207-7477) with a portrait of a cow, a wedge of cheese or your favorite pint of ice cream.


The perfect way to wind down the afternoon is with a round of golf at the very recently reopened (April 1) Alderbrook Golf Course (7300 Alderbrook Road, 971-289-4653, themook.com), which has also been renamed “The Mook.” A longtime favorite among locals, the venue closed in October 2021, but it was acquired by Patrick Zweifel and his group of partners, who gave it plenty of TLC with the intention of turning it into a destination location. And if you can’t golf with a fresh tattoo on your forearm, you can just leave that Oregon ID of yours at the door and don’t look back. Feel free to go easy by tackling just the front half of the 18-hole course and then start thinking about dinner. Approximately 6.5 miles north along Tillamook Bay is Crab Rock Pizza (604 Biak Ave., Garibaldi, 971-265-1122, crabrockpizza.com). Get your three-day fermented dough topped with any combination that includes the housemade sausage.


Take in a Modern Movie at a Classic Theater

You probably walked by it more than a half-dozen times on your pub crawl last night, but there’s a wonderful piece of history nestled among downtown’s shops, restaurants and bars. The historic Tillamook Coliseum (310 Main Ave., 503-842-6111, tillamookcoliseum.com) was recently renovated to restore its 1920s charm. The remodel included original early 20th century light shades, black-and-white art deco-style tile in the lobby, and a refurbished vintage neon sign. To top it all off, the owners expanded the concession selection, which now includes locally made food, beer and wine. There’s no better venue on the North Coast to catch a screening of the latest blockbuster featuring an old Tom Cruise doing uncomfortably young person things.


Trees, Tall and Twisted

Kick off your final morning in Tillamook with some low-impact sightseeing. Head back out along the Three Capes Scenic Route, but peel off toward Cape Meares this time. After a handful of distractingly beautiful miles, you’ll arrive at Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint (3500 Cape Meares Loop, 503-842-3182, stateparks.oregon.gov). This spot is the epitome of “North Coast bang for your buck.” The views are killer in every direction. You get the Cape Meares Lighthouse and, not for nothing, a shot at spotting whales, along with the legendary Octopus Tree (human-made? Wind-formed? What is happening here?). Don’t miss a short trail leading to the biggest Sitka spruce tree in Oregon, which measures 144 feet tall and is more than 800 years old. That’s a quality side trip.

Tillamook (Jordan Hundelt)
Tillamook (Jordan Hundelt)
Tillamook (Jordan Hundelt)

Say Cheese

Before you visit Tillamook’s most popular landmark, Blue Heron French Cheese Company (2001 Blue Heron Road A, 503-842-8281, blueheronoregon.com), though much smaller than the self-dubbed “House Cheddar Built,” boasts its own charms. The cheese shop and deli, inside what appears to be a white barn, also offer an impressive assortment of gourmet foods, wines and gifts. Beyond that, there’s a keep-your-head-on-a-swivel petting zoo outside, making Blue Heron, in a sense, the Oregon Coast’s most beloved version of a gourmet mullet.

Now, you can’t go to New York and not visit the Empire State Building, so in that same vein a trip to Tillamook simply wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Tillamook Creamery (4165 N Highway 101, 503-815-1300, tillamook.com). It’s one of a handful of truly top-tier destinations in Oregon. And, yes, you kind of have to go. Not every time. But you need to cross the threshold of the mega-modern cheese factory at least once, especially now that it has an expanded ice cream counter and an exhibit where you can learn about cow milking and farm life in general. There are also still self-guided tours of the production space and a market where you can order dairy products in various forms: hot and savory or smooth, creamy and cold. Stock up on everything from the Maker’s Reserve 2012 Extra Sharp White Cheddar to the brand’s coveted cheddar cheese curds, which aren’t sold in grocery stores. Finally, get a selfie in the cheese van and call it a weekend. Almost.

Tillamook (Jordan Hundelt)

Go to Grandma’s

If you happen to be heading back to the Portland area on Highway 6, stop at Alice’s Country House (17345 Wilson River Highway, 503-842-7927) for one last meal on the road. Located just a few miles out of town, the quaint blue building along the banks of the Wilson River is precisely what you think it is: your grandmother’s house if it happened to be a greasy spoon for the neighbors. A meal here feels like the perfect way to cap a weekend spent with the North Coast’s cordial country cousin, Tillamook.

Top Scoop in Town

Tillamook Creamery

4165 N Highway 101, 503-815-1300, tillamook.com. 10 am-6 pm daily.

There’s a chance I’d get run out of town on a rail for not stating the obvious here: The best ice cream in town can be found at the city’s namesake creamery. But any thinly veiled threats aimed at my well-being aside, it is kind of a no-brainer. Cup or cone? Single, double or triple scoop? Chocolate dipped with sprinkles? The possibilities seem endless. No fewer than 25 rotating flavors are available on a daily basis and frozen custard, to boot. Sure, there are some other solid options out there. Ice cream is kind of like pizza that way. When it comes down to choosing between “when in Rome” or staunchly “representing local,” buying a scoop at Tillamook Creamery allows you, happily, to do both.

Tillamook (Jordan Hundelt)


Rendezvous Bar & Grill - Jell-O shots $2

Kilchis Point Reserve - Free entry!

Dutch Mill Cafe - Bel Air burger $11.95

This story appeared as part of Oregon Summer, our annual free magazine out now all over Portland. See where to pick one up here.

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