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Exploring Oregon's Coast, One Dune at a Time

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Oregon's rough-and-tumble coast is all about exploration.

It's learning about life on the edge of the American experience, in a place that features desolate beaches, famous cows and sea fairies. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, maybe it's time for a visit.

I admit I didn't know much about the Oregon coast before we started our drive north from California. We'd seen Bend and visited the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and Crater Lake National Parks last summer for our family travel blog, so when we had the opportunity to tour the Beaver State's coast, we jumped at it.

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What to do in Neskowin?

Neskowin, Ore., also known as the forgotten city, is true to its name. If you blink on the drive north between Lincoln City and Tillamook, you might miss it.

It's a place you go to breathe in salt air, watch the waves, look for curious harbor seals, find sand dollars, dig up clams and wiggle your toes the waves. The water's ice-cold even in August, so that's probably as far as you'll want to go into the Pacific. Neskowin is best known for Proposal Rock. Can you guess what happens there?

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Our vacation rental clung to the hillside above Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge in an even quieter community just north of town. We followed a steep, narrow path cut into the hillside to access a pristine swath of sandy beach, which gave it a little Indiana Jones appeal. We spent time on the shore almost every day, watching the fog roll in and out with the winds.

The Pacific emits an almost constant dull roar -- there's also an inescapable solitude. It's a place where minimalists would vacation, as one observer noted. (I happen to know this observer very well. He's the father of my children.)

A day at the creamery

One of the biggest tourist attractions along this stretch of the Pacific coast is the Tillamook Cheese Factory. If you come during the right part of the day you can watch factory workers process the local cream into various cheese and dairy products, practically from cow to container.

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The self-guided tour doesn't take long but that's not the most compelling part of the cheese factory tour. We took our time tasting free fromage samples before ordering an ice cream tasting platter in the cafeteria. Needless to say, we brought home several blocks of local cheese.

This co-op has been around since the 19th century. Pioneers settled in the area because of the great growing conditions, importing cows from Britain and eventually working together to build a community ship that delivered their products to Portland and other coastal areas.

The area surrounding Tillamook is mostly rural. Many of the farmers who provide the most important ingredient to the creamery are located nearby. It makes for an unexpectedly beautiful country drive from the south.

What's a "float fairy" anyway?

There's a funky tradition in Lincoln City, just south of Neskowin, that keeps everyone interested in the coast. Between the the months of October through May, more than two thousand hand crafted glass floats are hidden along the beaches between Cutler City and Roads End for visitors to find.

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Who would do such a thing? Why, the float fairies, of course.

It started in 2000 for the new millennium and each year they add an extra orb to the Finder's Keepers program pile. Finders Keepers is the official name of the program. Local glass artists help create the colorful works and if you don't find one there are a few shops that will let you make your own to bring home. While exploring the historic Taft district we learned about this tradition.

Lincoln City bills itself as a great place to try new things. I think that's probably true of the whole Oregon Coast. Too late in our trip we learned about dune surfing, or tumbling down one of the many dunes along the beaches. Our kids, who are avid skiers, can't wait to try that in the near future.

Maybe next summer?

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