What’s a trip to the Coast without an ice cream cone or little samples of squeaky cheese at the Tillamook Cheese Factory? Millions of visitors flock to this palace of dairy worship while adventuring on the North Coast but often overlook other sites just as engaging. Here’s your guide to five of those secret spots on the North Coast, all of which are less crowded but awe-inspiring in their own right.

Curiosities in Astoria

You’ve climbed the Astoria Column and explored Fort Stevens State Park, but for a different take on history — a more eclectic one, for sure — visit the Museum of Whimsy (open weekends only, age 6 and up) in downtown Astoria. The vast collection of quirky souvenirs is housed on two floors of a refurbished 1924 bank building. Opened in June 2016, curator and owner Trish Bright filled the space with own collections over the years — from beaded African, Native American and Chinese headdresses to wax statues, Japanese dolls, graffiti art from the 1980s and more. Stop at the gift shop and candy counter on the way out.

Cheese and wine in Tillamook

There’s a whole other world of cheese goodness at the Blue Heron French Cheese Company, the little white house with blue trim just a mile south of the ubiquitous Tillamook Cheese Factory. Tillamook’s visitor center is temporarily staged in its parking lot while they build a new one, due to open in 2018. At Blue Heron’s remodeled tasting room, you can try their famous brie and other flavors while you sip Oregon wines in the cozy space. Four flights of five tastes are available at $5, offered each day. Relax over a steamy bowl of homemade chowder and bread for lunch, and let the kids say hi to the goats at the petting farm out back for a true connection to the land.

Coastal hike in Pacific City

Yes, climbing the giant sand dune at Cape Kiwanda to take in the panorama from above is a classic Oregon Coast experience, but it’s not the only epic trek in Pacific City. Just 1.5 miles south, at Bob Straub State Park, you’ll find the enchanting family- and dog-friendly trailhead to the Nestucca Spit Loop Hike — a 5-mile loop with stunning views of the dunes, wildlife, the working fishermen and the pristine coastline. Take your time and meander along sandy bluffs, through mossy woods and into the mouth of Nestucca Bay, with Cascade Head shining ahead like a beacon. Bring your binoculars; harbor seals love this spot too.

Paddling in Seaside

The high-energy buzz of the Seaside Aquarium and Seaside Carousel Mall are exciting, to be sure, but when it’s time to get away from it all, take a kayak or stand-up paddle board for a gentle paddle along the Necanicum River. Wheel Fun Rentals at Quatat Park, by the Seaside Convention Center, rents equipment by the hour and offers tips and maps on where to go. You’ll see a different side of Seaside as you travel upriver to the Neawanna Creek and the Necanicum Estuary, a large tidal flat surrounded by dunes, a Sitka spruce forest and numerous species of migratory birds.

Catch live theater in Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach is world-famous for its lively arts scene, but most often it’s studio art and glass-blowing that catches visitors’ attention. Since 1972, the nonprofit Coaster Theatre Play House — housed in a 1920s roller rink at the center of town — has entertained audiences with live plays, musicals and special performances by artists and musicians. The theater marks its 45th anniversary in 2017; during April and May 2017, catch Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” murder mystery and Neil Simon’s classic romantic comedy “Barefoot in the Park.”

Photo by Justin Bailie