As you stroll along Rockaway Beach’s laid-back main street — amidst the ice cream shop, candy shop, pizza shop and vintage treasure shops — don’t be startled when you stumble onto what looks like a circus.

The bubble machine, sandbox, mini volcanoes and blaring punk music are part of the zany ambiance at the mini golf course designed in summer 2016 by the owners of Troxel’s Rock Garden.

Kids and adults can enjoy the nine-hole mini golf course at $3-per game on the honor system, a metal box that simply says “Pay here.” It’s also an actual rock garden, furnished with rocks and minerals from around the world that people can take home to keep. The price? You decide what it’s worth, and deposit money in the metal box.

The new attraction is just the latest addition to Rockaway Beach, an off-the-beaten-path destination smack dab in the middle of the Northern Oregon Coast (midway between Manzanita and Oceanside) that’s full of charm, beauty and quirky family fun.

There are plenty of things to eat, do and see in Rockaway.

On the beach, see a piece of history at the Emily G. Reed shipwreck, the sailing vessel that ran aground just offshore in 1908. Part of the 215 feet of wood ribs can be seen if they’re exposed at low tide, making it a secret treasure, for sure. It’s illegal to dig at the wreck or take anything from it, but is still an impressive sight.

While the kids fly kites and build stick dams across the creek on the beach, marvel at the geology of the Twin Rocks, Rockaway’s most recognizable natural landmark. The sandstone rocks were formed 20 to 30 million years ago when the Coast was undersea, then pushed up against the mountains as the earth’s plates crashed together. The tides wore away parts of the rock, leaving the striking arch and rock formation we love to photograph in the sunset today.

When it’s time to take a break from the sand, find the secret trail that leads to one of the only old-growth cedars on the Oregon Coast. A mile-long hike from the trailhead not far off Highway 101 leads to the Cedar Wetlands Preserve, where the nonprofit Ascending the Giants just measured Rockaway’s tallest cedar to be 154 feet tall and 49 feet wide, which qualifies it for “champion” status.

Let the kids play at the pirate-themed playground near the beach parking lot, right next to the Rockaway Beach Chamber of Commerce — the bright red caboose chock full of handy brochures, tide table books, beach gear and friendly volunteer.

At day’s end, enjoy a beer and a bowl of chowder on the beach-side patio at the Sand Dollar Restaurant & Lounge, or drive a few miles north to Kelly’s Brighton Marina, where you can catch, cook and eat your crab dinner on site, from a boat or the dock ($95 for a two-hour boat rental includes the motorized boat and gear).

Before you leave Rockaway, make sure to eat at Pronto Pup, both for the novelty of it and for the tastiest, freshest corn dog you’ve eaten in awhile. The original pup (100-percent beef) is tasty, but try the Spicy Pup (chorizo battered) or the Zuchi Pup (zucchini battered) if you’re brave enough; cheesy pups, pickle pups and half-sized kiddie pups are also fun. Designed like a 1950s-style diner, the claim to fame here is that Rockaway is the birthplace of the corndog, invented by George and Versa Boyington at their hot dog stand in the 1930s and popularized after World War II through franchises, which spread to carnivals, county fairs and from street vendors. For 50 cents, kids can hop on the World’s First Riding Mechanical Corndog outside the shop doors. From across Rockaway Beach, Pronto Pup is easy to spot: Just look for the World’s Largest Corndog on the roof.

Story by Jen Anderson

Photo by Nickie Bournias