Tiny Nehalem (pop. 205), occupying just a few blocks along U.S. 101 on the north bank of the Nehalem River, has developed several gift and antique shops and restaurants and a few surprise attractions in keeping with its new identity as a tourist town.
Sizable runs of spring and fall chinook salmon and winter steelhead make this a popular destination for anglers. In August, locals claim you could just about cross the river stepping from boat to boat when the fish are in. Just southwest of town, the county maintains a boat-launch facility and dock, providing access to the river and to the bay downstream.
The bay and slow-moving river also invite exploration by kayak and canoe; bring your own, or rent them in nearby Wheeler. Be sure to pack the binoculars: The Nehalem River is a good place to watch birds.
The Nehalem Bay Winery (34965 Hwy. 53, 503/368-9463, www.nehalembaywinery.com) offers tastings and sales of its varietals, as well as fruit and berry wines (pinot noir, gewürztraminer, and blackberry). You can tour the grounds and picnic 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily or enjoy the tasting room’s welcoming milieu. To get to the winery, look for the Highway 53 sign on U.S. 101 and head east 1.5 miles.
Nehalem offers a couple of interesting lodging choices. If you’d like to overnight close to the river—on the river—try the Ripple Run Resort and Marina (35165 Hwy. 101 N., 503/368-3865 or 877/655-0623, www.ripplerunresort.com, $100 and up). Choose among four one-of-a-kind floating lodgings, including a 35-foot barge that sleeps 4–6 for $135 nightly, or a 47-foot converted tug that sleeps two. If a night on the water doesn’t entice, opt for a room in a riverside cottage. All units include linens, towels, kitchenettes with dishes, gas barbecues, cable TV, and videos. Reservations are recommended.
An easily overlooked hideaway a short drive off U.S. 101 southeast of Nehalem is The Nehalem River Inn Lodge (34910 Hwy. 53, 503/355-2301 or 800/368-6499, www.nehalemriverinn.com, $105–185). Perched right on the South Fork of the Nehalem, this onetime roadhouse dating back to the 1930s has been converted into a five-unit riverside retreat with a surprise trump card—an outstanding restaurant serving gourmet Northwest cuisine made from local ingredients.
Each of the sunny comfortable units has a private bath, cable TV, and a deck affording views of the river, the surrounding pasturelands, and the mountains. The inn also rents kayaks, which you can launch from the private dock to paddle up and down the river on a wildlife safari; you may spot otters, elk, bald eagles, and even seals that venture upriver from the bay.
The Nehalem River Inn (34910 Hwy. 53, 503/368-7708, hours vary, call for reservations, $27–31) is one of the best places on the coast to experience fresh and inventive Northwest cuisine. The inn’s sophisticated menu blends Northwest seafood, game, locally grown organic produce, wild mushrooms, and other ingredients to create dishes that will turn the heads of even the most discriminating diners—such as Muscovy duck breast served with black truffle potato gnocchi or Piedmontese filet mignon with potato and parsnip gratin. Complement your meal with a bottle from a well-selected wine list favoring Oregon wineries, including Nehalem River Inn’s own private-label wines. Reservations are recommended.
On the highway in Nehalem, Wanda’s (12870 U.S. 101 N., 503/368-8100, 8 a.m.–2 p.m. Fri.–Tues., $7–12) is a popular breakfast and lunch spot with old-fashioned granny’s-attic decor and delicious omelets, tuna melt sandwiches, and baked goods. Stop in for a muffin if nothing else.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel