With over a million visitors a year, the Tillamook Cheese Factory (4175 U.S. 101 N., 503/842-4481, 8am-6pm daily Labor Day-mid-June, 8am-8pm daily summer, free) is far and away the county’s biggest drawing card. The plant welcomes visitors with a reproduction of the Morningstar, the schooner that transported locally made butter and cheese in the late 1800s and now adorns the label of every Tillamook product. The quaint vessel symbolizing Tillamook cheese-making’s humble beginnings stands in contrast to the technology and sophistication that go into making this world-famous lunchbox staple today.
In 1894, Peter McIntosh introduced techniques here to make cheddar cheese, whose long shelf life enabled it to be transported overland.Inside the plant, a self-guided tour follows the movement of curds and whey to the “cheddaring table.” Whey is drained from the curds, which are then cut and folded. These processes are coordinated by white-uniformed workers in a stadium-size factory. As you look down on the antiseptic scene from the glassed-in observation area, it’s hard to imagine this as the birthplace of many a grilled cheese sandwich. Tastes of a few samples, however, prove it’s true.
User-friendly informational placards and historical displays recount Tillamook Valley’s dairy history from 1851, when settlers began importing cows. The problem then was how to ship the milk to San Francisco and Portland. Even though salting butter to preserve it allowed exportation, ships still faced the difficulty of negotiating the treacherous Tillamook bar. In 1894, Peter McIntosh introduced techniques here to make cheddar cheese, whose long shelf life enabled it to be transported overland.
In the early 1900s, the Tillamook County Creamery Association absorbed smaller operations; the modern plant opened in 1949. Today, Tillamook produces tens of millions of pounds of cheese annually, including monterey jack, swiss, and multiple variations of the award-winning cheddar. Pepperoni, butter, cheese soup, milk, and other products are also available. There’s a gift shop (more Holstein-themed tchotchkes than you’ve probably dreamed of) and a full-service restaurant, but the big attraction is the ice cream counter. Have a double-scoop chocolate peanut butter cone—worth every penny.
Blue Heron French Cheese Company
A quarter million people per year visit Tillamook County’s second-most-popular attraction, Blue Heron French Cheese Company (2001 Blue Heron Dr., 503/842- 8282, 9am-6pm daily Labor Day-mid-June; 8am-8pm daily mid-June-Labor Day, free), a mile south of the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Housed in a large white barn, Blue Heron is famous for its briestyle cheese (though it’s not produced on-site). In addition to cheeses and other gourmet foods, the shop sells gift baskets; over 250 varieties of Oregon wines are available in the wine-tasting room. A deli serves lunches of homemade soups and salads. For kids, there’s a petting farm with the usual barnyard suspects.
Tillamook Air Museum
South of town off U.S. 101, you can’t possibly miss the enormous Quonset hut-like building east of the highway. The world-class aircraft collection of the Tillamook Air Museum (6030 Hangar Rd., 503/842-1130, 9am-5pm daily, $12 adults, $11 seniors, $8 children ages 6-17) is housed in and around Hangar B of the decommissioned Tillamook Naval Air Station. At 1,072 feet long, 206 feet wide, and 192 feet high, it’s the largest wooden structure in the world, and it’s worth the price of admission just to experience the enormity of it. During World War II, this and another gargantuan hangar on the site (which burned down in 1992) sheltered eight K-class blimps, each 242 feet long.
Inside the seven-acre structure, you can learn about the role the big blimps played during wartime as well as how they are used today. In addition, there’s a large collection of World War II fighter planes (many one-of-a-kind models) as well as photos and artifacts from the naval air station days. Be sure to check out the cyclocrane, a combination blimp, plane, and helicopter. This was devised in the 1980s to aid in remote logging operations; it ended up an $8 million bust.
To get there from downtown, take U.S. 101 south two miles, make a left at the flashing yellow light, and follow the signs. If you want to see the historic aircraft in Tillamook’s hangars, then do so soon. The air museum will move to Madras, in central Oregon, by 2016.
Tillamook County Pioneer Museum
East of the highway in the heart of downtown, Tillamook County Pioneer Museum (2106 2nd St., 503/842-4553, 10am-4pm Tues.-Sun., $4 adults, $3 seniors, $1 children ages 7-10) is famous for its taxidermy exhibits as well as memorabilia from pioneer households. Particularly intriguing are hunks of ancient beeswax with odd inscriptions recovered from near Neahkahnie Mountain, which are thought to be remnants from 18th-century shipwrecks. The old courtroom on the second floor has one of the best displays of natural history in the state. There are many beautiful dioramas, plus shells, insects, and nests. The Beals Memorial Room houses a large rock, mineral, and fossil collection.
Latimer Quilt and Textile Center
The collection at the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center (2105 Wilson River Loop Rd., 503/842-8622, 10am-5pm Mon.-Sat., noon-4pm Sun. Apr.-Oct., 10am-4pm Mon.-Sat. Nov.-Mar., $3) includes quilts from the 1850s to the present as well as looms, spinning wheels, and a variety of woven items. On Friday, you can see weavers at work; lessons can be arranged by calling ahead. The center, housed in a restored school, is just south and east of the cheese factory.
Munson Creek Falls
The highest waterfall in the Oregon Coast Range is lovely Munson Creek Falls, which drops 266 feet over mossy cliffs surrounded by an old-growth forest. A steep 0.25-mile trail leads to the base of the falls, while another slightly longer trail leads to a higher viewpoint; wooden walkways clinging to the cliff lead to a small viewing platform. This is a spectacle in all seasons, but come in winter when the falls pour down with greater fury.
To reach the falls, seven miles south of Tillamook turn east from U.S. 101 on Munson Creek Road and drive 1.5 miles on the very narrow, bumpy dirt access road that leads to the parking lot. Note that motor homes and trailers cannot get into the park; the lot is too small.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Coastal Oregon.