Upon escaping the Portland traffic vortex, we headed first for a quick two night stop in a tiny town that does Oktoberfest right, before heading for the coast, where we combined some sightseeing, hiking, and the devouring of cheese.
Oktoberfest in Mount Angel
Located about one hour south of Portland, the tiny town of Mount Angel, Oregon throws one epic party every year. For four days each September, over 350,000 people descend on this minuscule village of 3,500 residents to eat, drink, dance, and sing. It is the biggest such event in the Pacific Northwest, it is seriously authentic, and it is a ton of fun.
The town’s German heritage is on display all year long, from authentic shops and restaurants to the large glockenspiel in the town center (that would be a four story clock tower that contains occasionally animated and somewhat creepy carved dolls that tell the story of the town):
The town is anchored by the Mount Angel Abbey – home to a large contingent of Benedictine monks. The monks have made the town their home since 1881, when they arrived with a small group of German immigrants. The abbey is currently home to a seminary, a college, a library, and, most recently, a brewery.
We skipped the church part and went to the brewery….
Turns out the rumors are true: monks know how to brew a solid beer.
Oktoberfest is HUGE…. the entire town takes part in the festivities and, somehow, it all just works. There are multiple enormous festival halls with different themes where local and international performers entertain the crowds all day.
We saw everything from modern rock bands to Partridge Family style polka bands to professional alphorn players.
All manner of arts and crafts are on display, there are car shows, 5K and 10K races, and tons of food – from the authentic sausage, sauerkraut, and schnitzel you’d expect at such an event to standard fried festival fare. In the meantime, many attendees break out their lederhosen and traditional accessories to get in the spirit.
During the day, the festival halls feature older couples dancing to traditional music…
while at night, they are bursting at the seams with joyous revelers singing along to traditional German drinking songs, modern rock anthems, and Sweet Caroline.
So much Sweet Caroline…
Bottom line: if you’ve ever wanted to see what a real Oktoberfest celebration is like, but flying all the way to Munich seems like a hassle, check out Mount Angel.
Newport is about halfway down the Oregon coast. While there are some touristy aspects to it, overall, it is still very much a working town where visitors can watch commercial fishermen unload their daily haul for processing at the dock.
The unquestionable belle of the ball in Newport is the Yaquina Outstanding Natural Area. This BLM administered park is home to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, a beautiful 1873 lighthouse perched on a rocky spit over the Pacific.
There is an interpretive center onsite where you can get free tickets for a guided tour. The guide explained the history of the lighthouse, the various duties of the lighthouse keeper, how management of the light changed over the years, how the lighthouse worked then and now, etc. The tours are limited in size and well worth the time, so get there early if you’re interested.
As a matter of course, the coast of the Pacific Northwest is subject to earthquakes and tsunamis and there are evacuation routes all along the Oregon coast. However, if you’ve ever read the 2015 New Yorker article about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, you know that such routes are going to be woefully inadequate when the proverbial shit hits the fan. (Note: if you are unfamiliar with the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and you currently have any desire whatsoever to see the Pacific Northwest, do yourself a favor and don’t read it. Actually, if you’re blissfully unaware of what I’m talking about right now, and you really want to visit the Washington, Oregon, or the Northern California coasts, it’s probably best if you just forget this whole discussion and skip down to the next subheading. Seriously… off you go…. scroll, scroll, scroll…. See you in a couple paragraphs….)
If you know about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, then you know that at some point there’s going to be a massive earthquake out in the Pacific and the entire western edge of the Pacific Northwest is going to be destroyed. Like, all of it. It’s not an “if,” it’s a “when,” and the likelihood of it happening is increasing with each passing day. (Here’s a good summary article if you don’t want to delve into the much lengthier New Yorker article). When it does happen, it will be akin to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
However, unlike Japan which, for decades, has built its infrastructure to withstand earthquakes and which has a robust early warning system, the Pacific Northwest has done very little to prepare for this event. While seismologists have known about the issue for years, until the infamous New Yorker article came out in 2015, the general public had no clue. The reaction to the publication of the article was complete panic, followed by everyone shrugging their shoulders and going about their business.
Actually, that’s not completely accurate. Down on the docks in Newport, there are informational displays hung from an enormous concrete block. The block was part of a dock in Japan that, after being ripped clean off during the 2011 tsunami, floated all the way across the Pacific and landed on the beaches of Oregon.
The city used the block as an exhibit to encourage tsunami awareness.
My favorite part of the above panel is the line that says: “It is very unlikely that the next Cascadia tsunami will occur while you are visiting Newport, but the good news is that there is probably no safer place to be than the Newport Bay Front when the next tsunami does arrive.”
Given this video:
which shows what happened to a similarly situated coastal area in Japan in 2011, I’m reasonably confident that statement is not entirely accurate.
Indeed, I decided to go ahead and write up a comprehensive guide for you all to print out and take with you next time you visit Oregon.
List of places that will be safer than the Newport Bay Front when the Cascadia tsunami arrives:
1.) Literally anywhere else.
Newport’s tourism board touting the safety of their town when the Cascadia tsunami hits is like the manufacturer of the Hindenburg marketing a new airship under the slogan: “Because nobody understands passenger safety better than us!”
According to the scientists, over the past 10,000 years there have been 40 subduction zone earthquakes, averaging out to one every 243 years. The last one occurred in January of 1700, putting us 318 years into a 243 year cycle. Hence, the panic. Even more disturbing are the strength of the earthquakes that have occurred along these particular faults. In all, 19 of them have been greater than magnitude 9.0, while almost all of the remainder have been over 8.0.
As of now, scientists are pegging the odds of an 8.0 to 8.6 magnitude earthquake occurring within the next 50 years at 1 in 3, while the chances of an 8.7 to 9.2 quake are 1 in 10. Either version would be utterly catastrophic for the region, resulting in some 13,000 deaths and 27,000 injuries – unless it occurred during the summer tourist season in which case the numbers would be exponentially higher.
On that happy note, Bandon – another coastal town located about 120 miles south of Newport – is super cute!!
Bandon doesn’t even bother acting like you’ll be safe if you’re there when the earthquake happens. They’re all: “Enjoy your life while you’ve got it. Here… have some cheese and chocolate!!”
Face Rock Creamery is located in the downtown area. Cheeses are made onsite, so if you’re there at the right time, you can watch the employees making everything. Even better, they have a huge sampling section where you can try just about all of their specialties. The standout for us was the Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar. If you like garlic and you like cheese, you’ll want to swim around in a vat of this stuff.
Another notable stop for us was local chocolate shop Coastal Mist. Known for their decadent desserts, they also offer various hot chocolate drinks as well as a large selection of chocolate candies.
We also enjoyed a fantastic meal at Alloro, a small wine bar and restaurant downtown. The restaurant features a different winery every week or two and offers lovely flights and food pairings. It was outstanding.
Pro-tip: go at happy hour when everything is 25% off.
Washed Ashore is a gallery of artwork constructed entirely of plastic waste that has washed up on the shores of Oregon. The owner began collecting the plastics several years ago and has built numerous pieces of art since. Unfortunately, the supply of plastic garbage in the ocean is endless and work continues on new pieces as volunteers collect, clean, and process the plastics.
It is spectacularly disheartening.
Just north of Bandon are three contiguous state parks conveniently connected by a trail that hugs the ocean. We started at the northernmost park, Sunset Bay State Park and walked the trail to Shore Acres State Park. The walk and views were almost enough to undo the caloric damage of Coastal Mist and the emotional damage of Washed Ashore….
Shore Acres State Park features a gorgeous set of gardens that were originally installed by a wealthy couple who built a mansion on the property in the 1940s. After they left, the mansion and gardens fell into disrepair. Eventually, the property was taken over by the state. The mansion was removed entirely, but the gardens were returned to their former glory.
If you’re looking for a beautiful coastal path that will provide a taste of three different state parks, the coastal trail is a great option.
Redwoods State and National Parks
Our final stop on the Pacific coast was to see the Redwoods State and National Parks.
As you can tell from their names, these forests are managed by both the National Park Service and the California State Park system. Altogether, the protected trees account for just 5% of what used to grow in this region, before they were almost logged into extinction in the early twentieth century. Fortunately, some forward thinking citizens worked hard to get Congress to protect the remaining trees, and now, we all get to enjoy these magnificent forests.
Coast Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, which is hard to comprehend absent seeing a person standing next to them for scale:
We checked out a number of different trails in the Jedediah Smith State Park near where we were camped. Our favorite was the Boy Scout Trail, a 5 mile out and back path that ends at this monstrous Redwood tree.
And yes, this is Kevin’s “I am so tired of having to stand in front of trees so you can take pictures for your blog” look.
Also, if these forests look familiar, you may be remembering them from a rather famous movie that was filmed nearby…
We only had time to check out a very tiny portion of the Redwoods. We spoke with a ranger who told us the various individual parks were worth visiting because each has its own feel (some are closer to the coast and overlook the ocean, some are less forested and more open, etc.) If and when we return to the area, (which we probably won’t because I’ve now spent way too much time reading about the Cascadia Subduction Zone), we’ll check them out.
Where we stayed:
South Beach State Park, Newport, Oregon
Bullards Beach State Park, Bandon, Oregon
The Redwoods RV Resort, Crescent City, California