Sunday, January 31, 2010

Winter Beach Getaway in Seaside

Gone are the crowds; gone is the traffic; gone the carnival atmosphere of video arcades, bumper cars, t-shirt and Surf Dog stands. Still, Seaside offers the long, flat expanse of sand and stunning setting that have made this town Oregon’s oldest beach resort. In the middle of a wild winter storm or on one of those rare sunny February days, Seaside has none of the lonely, deserted feel of an off-season beach town. On the contrary, it’s the ideal time for a coastal getaway.

Seaside has been hosting visitors since the local Clatsop and Tillamook tribes greeted members of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery in 1805. A few of the men established a salt works in the area, and by boiling down sea water were able to extract several bushels of salt for the long trek back to St. Louis.

In the early 1870s, Ben Holladay, a Portland developer, built a luxury resort hotel here known as the Seaside House. With heavy promotion throughout the West, the resort became a popular destination and the growing town took on the name Seaside. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, city folks from Portland would travel by ship down the Columbia River to the Astoria area and then by stagecoach, and later by train, south to Seaside. While families stayed at the beach all summer, working fathers would commute back and forth from Portland on the weekends. Trains arriving at Seaside early Saturday and returning late Sunday became known as the “Daddy Trains.” By 1938, the Sunset Highway (US 26) was completed to the Coast and the rail service closed.

All this history is interpreted in detail at the Seaside Historical Society Museum with displays of American Indian artifacts, photos and memorabilia of Seaside’s early hotels and resorts, a diorama of the town in 1899, and some unusual, old fire fighting and printing equipment. Next door is the Butterfield Cottage where volunteers lead tours through a restored beach cottage furnished and decorated in 1912-style. Available at the museum is a brochure, “Walking Tour of the Historic Seaside Prom,” which describes some of the interesting sights along Seaside’s most famous manmade attraction.
The Promenade, or Prom as it is known locally, was built in 1920 to replace an earlier wooden boardwalk. The 1.6-mile concrete walkway parallels the ocean offering panoramic views of the beach and Tillamook Head to the south. It’s the perfect spot for a leisurely stroll or bike ride. Where Broadway meets the Prom is a traffic roundabout called the Turnaround. In the center, a bronze statue of Lewis and Clark occupies the most prominent spot in town. From here, broad staircases lead down to the beach.

A few blocks north of the turnaround is a small, quaint aquarium. Originally built in 1914 as a natatorium or indoor, saltwater pool, it was converted to an aquarium in 1937, making it one of the oldest on the Pacific Coast. It houses a collection of northwest marine life. To the south, the inland side of the Prom is lined with attractive Arts and Crafts style bungalows and English cottages built in the early 1900s as summer homes for some of Portland’s prominent families. About eight blocks south at Lewis and Clark Way is a reconstruction of the Corps’ salt-making operation.

After a walk along the Prom, it is time to sample some of Seaside’s fresh local seafood. Some of the popular standbys in the center of town include Norma’s Ocean Diner offering famous clam chowder, fish and chips, and crab melts; Dooger’s Seafood, a casual family style restaurant serving a variety of seafood followed by homemade marionberry cobbler; and the Pig ‘N Pancake with popular breakfast items all day and chowder and other seafood at lunch and dinner.

As might be expected, Seaside has a variety of accommodations from charming bed and breakfasts to upscale, luxury hotels. Many offer attractive, reduced winter, mid-week rates. To learn more, check out the Seaside Visitors Bureau .

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