Travel

Salt, Storms, and Seafood Await in This Stretch of Pacific Northwest Coast

Ocean waves echo into everyone's business here.

halbergman/E+/Getty Images
halbergman/E+/Getty Images
halbergman/E+/Getty Images

The king tides pour into Netarts Bay in winter, forcing the Jacobsen Salt Company to pause pulling water out. It’s all part of the rhythm here on the Oregon coast, where so many local, small-batch businesses pause for nature to do its thing. And it’s easy to see why shops and people have been tempted by this parcel of land. Even through massive sheets of rain, the serenity of a quiet coast here in Tillamook county comes through: seemingly endless horizons of misty, pine-topped cliffs and honor-system farm stands offering eggs, U-pick oysters, and bags of foraged chanterelle mushrooms stapled to A-frame signs.

Though Tillamook shares a landscape with the tourist towns just an hour north-Cannon Beach, Seaside, Astoria-this region attracts about half the visitors. But its fierce waterways irrigate an ecosystem of unique creators and producers that make the Tillamook Coast an inspiring place to explore-even when the tumultuous deluge falls so hard that driving becomes an experience itself.

@jacobsensaltco
@jacobsensaltco
@jacobsensaltco

But keep driving, hugging Whiskey Creek Road as it skirts the mile wide waterway hemmed in by Cape Lookout State Park. The craggy rocks sticking up from the water and jagged cliffs looming over long beaches hardly give an impression of blank space waiting to be filled. But it clearly offers the room for people to set up something quintessentially their own and gives visitors a chance to explore those tiny, personal niches.

From a red seaweed grower to a boat museum offering seafood cooking classes, here are all the places along Oregon’s Tillamook Coast that will make you relish weathering the rainstorms.

Jandy Oyster Company
Jandy Oyster Company
Jandy Oyster Company

Find food flavored by the ocean

“This is not Downtown Portland,” says Todd Perman, the founder and owner of JAndy Oysters. Like Jacobsen, which uses water from Netarts to make its fancy salt, Perman takes advantage of the 99% salinity and clean water to let nature flavor his products. He harvests shellfish daily to sell to restaurants and distributors, and now serves them at his oyster bar in Tillamook, 20 minutes inland.

“There was no place in Tillamook to get raw oysters and a beer,” he noticed, despite the many growers in the nearby bay. So three years ago, he pulled the boat out of his warehouse, bought a keg, and started handing out free beers to people who came by to pick up shellfish or linger for freshly shucked oysters. “The goal was fresh seafood for an affordable price,” he continues, something helped by the impromptu location and lack of a liquor license.

It recently outgrew the garage, moving to a larger location in an old garden center and became a legit business (that now charges for the beer). But Perman is quick to remind visitors of his origins. “I’m just a farmer,” repeats the 30-year-veteran of the logging industry. He started JAndy, named for his son, Jacob Andrew, a decade ago, and thrived on the change. “I came from an industry where everyone hates you,” he says. “Farming in Netarts, everybody loves you.”

buttercup
buttercup
buttercup

Others have simpler reasons for coming to this quiet coast. “It was cheap,” says Naveen Malhotra, who owns Bayside Market and Deli with his wife Nidhi. They previously owned markets elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, but now they sell sand shrimp for crab bait, deli sandwiches, and chicken curry in the tiny town of Netarts.

The big orange building stands out through the grayness of clouds, ocean, and cement, as bright as the turmeric-tinged curry, equally cozy with scents of coriander, and both with soul-restoring warmth on a stormy day. The crisp shell of the samosa shatters to reveal tender meat and potatoes, bolstered by garlicky green chutney. It goes against my instincts to buy anything but seafood when I could roll a stone down Crab Avenue and land it in the ocean, but eating it in my car as torrents of water create a rhythmic soundtrack on the roof, the steamy dish feels essential.Half-an-hour north in Nehalem is Buttercup Ice Cream and Chowders. After ordering at the counter, I zig-zag through old toys and dog-eared books in an antique store to get to the covered and heated outdoor patio, where I watch the town’s eponymous river rise as I sip a chowder made of local razor clams. Herby and light, it tastes of the salty air that puffed out of the boiling cast-iron vats I visited at Jacobson and feels like the antidote to the dampness that seems to emanate from the streets.

Oregon Seaweed
Oregon Seaweed
Oregon Seaweed

Meet producers who forage from the sea

On the edge of Tillamook Bay, Alanna Kieffer finds a warm welcome from the region-once curious passersby figure out what it is she’s offering. Inside the dulse farm she manages for Oregon Seaweed, twenty enormous tanks circulate seawater around curly red algae, letting it bask in the sun and absorb nutrients. “We should get a sign,” she muses as she wanders over and explains what we’re seeing here: a completely sustainable aquaculture operation that requires little more resource than the energy to pump the water in from the ocean a dozen feet away. Here, they grow the salty sea green that slides easily into stir-fries or crisps up like chips in an air-fryer.

Kieffer, a marine biologist by training, moved home to the area at the beginning of the pandemic and heard about the operation. But much of her job involves explaining to people what it is and how it grows so well in Garibaldi.

Victoria Ditkovsky/Shutterstock
Victoria Ditkovsky/Shutterstock
Victoria Ditkovsky/Shutterstock

That’s a lot of what seafood procurer Kristen Penner’s work includes, too: figuring out how these uniquely special local food products could make their way into more local restaurants and find outlets further afield. “We’ve been really accustomed to just getting food that’s easy to prepare off the shelf, and not really seeking out the things that are very local or regional specialties.” Her one-boat fishing operation sells fresh catch directly to shops and restaurants. She hopes to make it easier for people in or visiting the Tillamook Coast to do that. “It’s not that there’s not a demand for local food,” she says. “It’s just getting it from point A to point B, there’s so many steps in the process.”

The Salmonberry, a restaurant in the town of Wheeler, does the best job so far: it serves the same local Wolfmoon wild yeasted sourdough bread as Buttercup does with its chowder, and JAndy’s Netarts Sweetheart oysters come with a red dulse mignonette from Kieffer’s seaweed. My experiences trekking across the salty bay all come together in one rich bite.

Dee Browning/Shutterstock
Dee Browning/Shutterstock
Dee Browning/Shutterstock

Explore old boat lore

Penner has her own pet project, too: the Garibaldi Boathouse, a museum that capitalizes on the location by offering experiences like boatbuilding and seafood cooking classes. It’s situated in an old 1936 Coast Guard rescue station, perched over the Pacific.

To get there, visitors walk 750 feet along the pier that stretches out over-depending on the time of day-either the tideflats or waves, passing multiple generations of families tucked into the wooden crabbing turnouts, hoping to catch dinner. After ducking through the gauntlet of sea birds posing on posts, threatening to divebomb those who pass before flying away, you reach the building.

Garibaldi Maritime Museum
Garibaldi Maritime Museum
Garibaldi Maritime Museum

The Coast Guard decommissioned the building in 1980, giving the Port of Garibaldi what turned out to be more burden than boon: It lacked easy access for use as a marina or a residence and fell into disrepair. In 2015, Penner led a group of locals in forming a non-profit and secured grants to upgrade the building, turning it into a historic site.

Hand-built kayaks hang from the ceiling, and white paint from the recent remodel give it a Nantucket feel. But the history of this scrappy stretch of the Oregon shoreline-quite literally written on the walls via archival photos and articles-prevents any glossing over of the ferocity of the area’s environment and inhabitants. The many stories told here include the luxury resort Bayocean falling into the sea in the 1930s, and the dramatic rescues launched for doomed fishing boats trying to snake through the dangerous entrance to Tillamook Bay.

John Elk/The Image Bank/Getty Images
John Elk/The Image Bank/Getty Images
John Elk/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Let waves lull you to sleep

When the storm clears and the tide recedes, the time is ripe for a walk along Oceanside Beach. Only a few other people dot the seven miles of beach: a family searching tidepools for interesting sea creatures, two teenagers crawling nefariously into a cave on the side of a cliff, and an elderly couple, bundled against the wind as they walk their small, fluffy dog. The wind and the waves provide a constant white noise, loud enough to drown out conversation, but not thoughts. They dominate the soundscape the same way the towering sea stacks steal the show from the rest of the scenery, the enormous rocks rising from the shallows like the long, chubby fingers of a submarine giant.

Three Arch Inn
Three Arch Inn
Three Arch Inn

The hotel across the street, the Three Arch Inn, is a “self-service” facility, adding to the feeling of nature so big it crowds out other people: it’s unlikely to run into other guests here, nobody watches from the front desk as I come and go. Rooms have their own kitchen, where I bring in takeout from a taco shop in Netarts that’s inside a general store and shares space with the Post Office. It’s just me, staring out the enormous picture windows over the wide water as the invisible sun, hidden among the clouds, presumably sets and the night darkens.

My city girl instincts curl up in my suitcase and thoughts expand into the wide-open space-the same space that gives people like Penner, Keiffer, Perman, and Malhotra room to put down their own dreams, to put their own spins on the standard narratives. It’s a space that also provides a home for unique events, like the best excuse I’ve ever seen for a return trip: watching the local crabs race down chutes like tiny crustacean thoroughbreds.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Naomi Tomky is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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