If you’ve ever traveled along Highway 101 between Newport and Florence, you may recall feeling the grandeur of the Alsea Bay Bridge and its soaring arch over the sparkling bay. It’s actually the fanciest part of Waldport — an under-the-radar coastal town that doesn’t put on any pretenses, just a deep connection to their history and fishing roots. There are no boutique shops here, no farm-to-table restaurants, and no major attractions — unless you count the bakery and hot dog shop with lines out the door. If you’re looking to spend a quiet weekend immersed in the natural beauty of the Coast, Waldport just may be for you.
We chatted with Cameron Rauenhorst, a former Oregon State Parks ranger of 13 years who now runs a tour guide business, “Captain Clameron,” out of Waldport. Here are his top recommendations on how to spend a weekend in his favorite spot on the Coast.
Get acquainted with Waldport’s amenities at the Alsea Bay Interpretive Center, located at the site of the old Alsea Bridge, which had to be replaced. The interpretive center is a one-stop shop for visitors, who can find information about local trails and points of interest, boating and local water activities, as well as friendly volunteers to help you get started. History buffs will love the timelines of the town from natives people’s use of dugout canoes to the bridge-building boom in the 1930s and beyond.
Many of activities in Waldport are visible to everyone — such as hunting for agates and fossils on the beach. Others are more hidden, so it helps to be in the know. Rauenhorst highly recommends playing a round of disc golf or two — a family-friendly activity that involves tossing small, hard Frisbees into buckets for points through the trees. Think of it as part sport, part nature walk. The former competitive player on the world circuit is now helping to install tournament-level courses at Oregon State Parks, envisioning the Coast as a world-class destination for the underground sport. Visitors can now play 18 holes through the woods with elevation changes at the brand-new Red River Disc Golf Course, just north of Woodland Park and Waldport Skatepark. Bring your own discs or purchase one for $10 at South Beach State Park, 12 miles north in Newport.
In town, you can explore the shops and make your way to Old Town Waldport, where you can rent a boat and crab trap at the Port of Alsea and catch your own dinner. You can also try your hand at clamming on Alsea Bay — one of the most pristine bodies of water on the Coast, known for its clean and tasty clams. Prefer a simple hike? Year-round, venture through woodsy coastal habitat on the 1.6-mile out-and-back Woodland Trail. And during the drier months, bring your kayak, paddleboard or canoe and find rejuvenation on the brand-new Lint Slough Water Trail, a small area of backwater off the Alsea River estuary. Find nearby rental information at the port or interpretive center. If you prefer a guided experience, Rauenhorst leads custom excursions of some of his favorite spots for clamming and crabbing, fishing, mushroom hunting, fossil digging and more on the Central Coast.
Insider secret: One of Waldport’s most popular breakfast destinations, artisan bakery Pacific Sourdough, is only open for limited hours Thursdays through Saturdays (and scheduled to take a holiday Jan. 5-Feb. 14, 2019) — so line up early when you can to ensure the best pick of croissants, tarts, rolls and cakes before they run out. They’re that good. For lunch, it’s all about simple and classic comfort food — Rauenhorst considers the hot dogs at Lazy Dayz Cafe to be some of the best on the Coast. The cafe is also known for their smoked ribs and brisket. For dinner, Azul Mexican is a family favorite that works with fresh, local produce, meats, and cheeses from their network of family-owned farms. When it’s time for a cold beer and plate of fish and chips after a day outside, head to Salty Dawg, an Old Town institution.
Enjoy your morning coffee overlooking Alsea Bay at Alsi Resort, a sprawling two-story hotel with a lovely restaurant and bar, Waves, conveniently located on site. Alsea River RV Park makes for a quiet home base if you want to pull up the camper van. And budget-friendly vacation homes with a view are plentiful here — try Bayshore Rentals to explore your Waldport options. March through November, you can camp nearby at Beachside State Recreation Site, which offers 42 tent sites and two yurts (one of which is pet-friendly for an added fee).
By Jen Anderson
Photo of the Alsea Bridge by age fotostock / Alamy Stock Photo