Dory Captain Mark Lytle kills the motor and points across the choppy surface of Nestucca Bay. “There, see behind that brush?” he asks. “There’s an egret over there.” I gaze across the water, and sure enough, I see a flash of white moving behind a thicket of alder and snowberry. Then, flushed out by another, smaller bird, the flash hops into the air and resolves into an enormous, crane-like creature as it hops its way towards a more peaceful roost.

If it were to ask me, I’d tell it that just over that rise to the north, there’s a place designed to unwind even the most uptight personalities: Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa. Before boarding the dory just a few minutes ago, I’d been happily simmering in a steaming hot bath in my room at Headlands, complete with eucalyptus bath salts and a mug of peppermint tea from Portland tea maker Steven Smith. Headlands had thoughtfully left a book by the side of the tub called, How to Split Wood, Shuck an Oyster, and Master Other Simple Pleasures. I’m not sure about splitting wood, but I can tell you that soaking in hot water while watching the turbulent ocean pummel the base of Haystack Rock outside the window is a simple pleasure I’d be happy to dedicate 10,000 hours to in pursuit of true mastery.

But that’s Pacific City: everywhere you look, there are pleasures to be had. This small community on the Oregon coast is just two hours’ drive from Portland, but the perpetually drippy slopes of the Coast Range seem to provide an insurmountable barrier to the buzzing, bustling, frenetic action of Oregon’s largest city. And if you ask the locals, that’s exactly how they like it.

“You can really embark on a serious love affair with the ocean,” says Mark, as he pilots the boat towards the mouth of Nestucca Bay, where the open ocean sends turbulent surf crashing in. “I just love being out here.”

Captain Lytle has been offering charter fishing tours, birding trips, and other sundry types of sailor-for-hire services for the past 18 years. It’s long enough to have developed some strong opinions. Many of his guests love seeing bald eagles, but he thinks of them as more like raccoons with wings, pests that get into garbage and harass other wildlife.

The humble surf scooter and bufflehead, however, are birds of great esteem, at least in Mark’s eyes. “They’re not bullies, like eagles,” he laughs. “And buffleheads are just so dang pretty when they fly across the water like that.” To starboard, a flock of buffleheads dances above the surface of the bay, moving so quickly they look like little more than a streak of high-contrast black-and-white plumage.

Originally, our Headland’s Adventure Coach had planned for Mark to take us out into the Pacific via the surfside launch the dory fleet is famous for. But 14’ waves are just too high, even for an intrepid sailor like Mark, so we called an audible and decided to try our hand at crabbing in the calmer, more protected waters of Nestucca Bay. We struck out—six pots revealed just two skittering crabs, both far too small to keep—but the hundreds of birds we saw were more than enough of a consolation prize.

One of the reasons Pacific City is such a good place to get outside is its unique geography. The town itself sits on a spit of land flanked by Nestucca Bay to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Just north of town, the most famous local landmark, Cape Kiwanda, projects from the coast at a near-perpendicular angle. Over the millennia, this stunning sandstone cape has not only been sculpted by the elements, it’s actually influenced the landscape around it, providing protection from the battering sea that has allowed the basalt sea stack called Chief Kiawanda Rock, or Haystack Rock, to remain standing proud. It’s also home to a robust community of resident and nesting birds, including a major winter colony of Aleutian Cackling geese.

I’d had the chance to get up close and personal with some Aleutian Cacklers earlier that morning. Summoning my most intrepid spirit, I dragged myself out of a very comfortable bed at Headlands well before dawn, strapped on my best rain gear, and headed out for an early-morning climb of the sand dune on the south side of Cape Kiwanda. From the beach, the dune looked impossibly vertical, but up close it turned into a steep yet eminently do-able 10-minute climb. Huffing and puffing, I arrived at the top to see a huge V-shaped flock of Aleutian Cacklers peel off their nighttime roost on Chief Kiawanda Rock and fly directly over my head on their way to their feeding pastures near Nestucca Bay.

Breakfast was on my mind, too. After a beautiful, breezy moment at the crest of the dune, I headed back down the hill towards Meridian, Headlands’ in-house bar and restaurant. Twenty minutes later, I was tucking into a plate of smoked salmon benedict draped with dill-caraway hollandaise and accompanied by a salad of local greens. “I think of our style as technically precise comfort food,” says Executive Chef Andrew Garrison, formerly of The Allison Inn & Spa. “I want it to look nice and clean and inviting on the plate.” Meridian’s menu rotates weekly, depending on the season, and features local vegetables, meats, and seafood as well as wild and foraged ingredients. The bar follows the same cues, showcasing beer, wine, and spirits from around the Northwest.

“I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” Mary Jones, co-founder of Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa, tells me over glasses of Walla Walla Syrah at the Meridian bar that night. She flips through some photos on her phone in search of several shots of a family of raccoons she’d observed from her kayak earlier that week.

Mary and her husband and co-founder, Jeff Schons, arrived in Pacific City in the 1990s and fell in love with the peace, quiet, and natural beauty of this little stretch of the coast. In 1996, they found themselves talked into purchasing a dilapidated restaurant right on the beach. After some discussion, they decided that what the space really needed to be was not a restaurant after all, but one of those new-fangled micro-breweries that were starting to pop up over the hill in Portland. And so, Jeff and Mary’s first hospitality venture, the award-winning Pelican Brewing Company, was born.

Today, Pelican has expanded throughout the state, adding a pub in Cannon Beach and a production facility in Tillamook. Yet I’d wager real money that their original Pacific City brewpub has the best view of any brewery in the nation, if not the world. The experience of tucking into a frosty pint of Kiwanda Cream Ale while gazing at the beer’s namesake directly outside the windows is enough to send even the most jaded lifelong Oregonian into gibbering fits of happiness, and it’s probably responsible for a not-insignificant percentage of recent transplants’ decision to migrate to the Beaver State. Heck, if the Aleutian Cacklers are willing to travel 2,000 miles to get to Pacific City, you know the place is special.



Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa offers luxurious surroundings, 33 oceanfront guestrooms, Meridian Restaurant & Bar, and Tidepools onsite spa and wellness center with daily wellness classes and “adventure coaches” to help you get the most out of your visit. For larger groups, rent one of the 18 adjacent cottages, two- and three-bedroom condo-style homes with full access to the Lodge’s amenities. Looking for something a little bit like camping, but without the cold toes or the inevitable tent pole fumble? Across the street, Hart’s Camp offers tricked-out Airstream trailers with private fenced yards, fire pits, barbeques, and bicycles included with every stay.


Meridian inside Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa offers brunch, lunch, dinner, and drinks seven days a week. Look for fresh seafood dishes like Dungeness crab agnolotti with preserved lemon and dulse (a kind of seaweed), or Oregon black cod served with parsnip puree and black truffles. For a more casual setting, Pelican Brewing Company offers an upscale selection of pub favorites with a coastal twist, like Pacific Northwest cioppino or steamed clams with fresh herbs accompanied by bread made from spent grains.


Get out on the water with Captain Mark Lytle at Pacific City Fishing. Daylong charters can be built around fishing for salmon, halibut, ling cod, and crab, or you can leave the rods at home and take a spin around Nestucca Bay for world-class birding. Don’t miss the exhilarating climb up the dune at Cape Kiwanda, where you can scan the horizon for Dory boats and humpback whales. To recover, schedule a rejuvenating massage or facial at Tidepools Spa, then top it off with a soak in the outdoor hot tub.


Located in south Tillamook County, Pacific City is less than a two-hour drive from Portland, and even closer to Salem. More Info at:


Stop by Cape Meares Lighthouse to enjoy its momentous views, Munson Creek Falls for one of Oregon’s biggest waterfalls, or Neahkahnie Mountain for a spectacular view.


See the Oregon wildlife. The many estuaries and forest land lends itself to all types of birds and animals while the oceanview offers year-round whale watching.


If you’re looking for the most breathtaking views of the Tillamook Coast, the Three Capes Scenic Loop is the perfect place to start, especially with a stop at Cape Meares Lighthouse.



Seafood Bisque


Pan Seared Scallops