January, February, March 2016
Stranded scientist’s guide to Newport, Oregon
I know I’m not the only scientist who experienced an extended work-related stint in Newport Oregon, so why not sum up what I learned during my 42 days at this coastal tourist town for future visitors like me?
Newport - the layout
It’s a pretty simple town - spread out north of Yaquina Bay (pronounced: yah KWIN ah) and right on the edge of the coast (tsunami zone!). Newport bridge extends over the bay to South Beach (pretty much a “neighborhood” of Newport). The tourists zones are the Bayfront (first and foremost), which is located on the north shore of Yaquina Bay, and Nye Beach, located east of highway-20 along the beachfront. Along highway-101 and north of highway-20 is mostly strip malls and sprawl (e.g. Walmart). The Bayfront is an odd mix of commercial fisheries, tourist traps (e.g. Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Wax Museum), charter boats, kitchy shops and seafood restaurants. Nye Beach has access to the sandy beach, more seafood restaurants, art galleries, and odd little shops. Both places make great grounds for a stroll if it’s pleasant out.
I can only speak for a few months out of the year - and only for the winter months - but it can get damn stormy in Newport! Sleet and wind are a common combination. Sleet alone seemed like a daily occurrence some weeks. I also experienced what it would be like to get caught in a hailstorm on the beach with no cover (hint - it’s not pleasant!). However, during my last week there (of course), I could understand why tourist flock to this town in the summer. When the sun comes up and it warms you enough to want to venture outside, it’s actually pretty pleasant to be on the beach even with a breeze.
Things to do
I didn’t go to any of the tourist traps on the bayfront, but those are always the option for those interested. Along the bayfront, next to the Under Sea Aquarium, is a dock for the sea lions to haul out on. Even though there maybe only a few of them, they are so loud! It can be entertaining to watch them bicker and fight for the best locations.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium is small, but the exhibits are well put together, and they have some fun demonstrations during the feeding time for the sea lions and sea otters. Adjacent to the aquarium is the Yaquina Estuary trail with a nice boardwalk and path that skirts the marshes and a small portion of the bay.
Hatfield Marine Science Center has a pretty impressive public display. Some good displays on the work going on at the center and some interactive exhibits for the kids.
Of course there are the beaches - miles and miles of sandy beaches - great for a walk, sunning, sand castle building, surfing, and kite flying, but not much for tidepooling. The best place to tidepool in Newport is probably the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. Winter’s not the time to tidepool so I don’t know how good it is.
For nightlife, I would expect you either create your own on the beach or head to the local bar. Bier One has pool tables, shuffleboard and darts.
Places to eat
Local Ocean Seafood - my favorite Newport restaurant. I could eat here several nights in a row (which believe me I did) without getting tired of it. The food is consistently cooked well. They have daily specials which is a nice change every once and a while. The grilled calamari, the tuna mignon, and the crab cakes were my favorites.
South Beach Fish Market - don’t let the outside fool you (or in the inside for that matter). The side grill off this small grocery store is a great place for fried seafood. The seafood was fresh, cooked well (fried calamari was still tender), and not heavily battered. It’s a great place for your fish and chips fill (although I really like their fried oysters and calamari too).
Nana’s Irish Pub - good place to go if you want outdoor seating. Has Irish food, good if you like meat and potatoes. Also has burgers and fish and chips.
Rogue Brewery - I think there’s a reason they make beer and not open chain restaurants. It’s your typical pub food (with more beer cooked into the food). People go here for the beer, the food is secondary.
Asiatico - Newport’s best sushi*! *And only sushi restaurant. I ate here once. The rolls were fishy - sushi should never taste fishy.
Georgie’s Beachside Grill and Saffron Salmon - both upper class places. But if I wanted to spend money I would spend it at Local Ocean Seafood. Both places were OK, but the food didn’t stand out.
Chowder Bowl at Nye Beach - ate here once. It must have been kid night because the place was packed with kids. Food was nothing fancy, also not outstanding. Chowder was pretty good though.
Mo’s - ate here once. Again nothing fancy, no bells and whistles. By the way, what’s up with adding a pad of butter to chowder? Seems excessive.
La Roca Mexican Restaurant - ate here once for lunch. Super cheap food. Your typical Mexican restaurant. Nothing stood out.
Sorella - I was surprised by this one. I only ate here once. Service was slow, but the food that came out was great. People I was with raved about the lavender infused cocktail.
Kum Yon - okay, normally I stay well away from Asian cuisines in small towns, but I was taken here by my Korean-American co-worker who insisted. It’s an “oriental” restaurant (meaning there are Korean, Chinese, Japanese items on the menu). My co-worker ordered a couple of Korean-Chinese dishes for us to share. They were pretty good, but since I’ve never had them before I can’t say how they measure up. My co-worker seems to think they were okay.
Places to stay
Elizabeth Street Inn - great place if you can get a room. They do have government rate rooms, if available, and breakfast is included. Rooms are comfortable and each one has a view of the ocean, which is a big bonus. Breakfast was good with a variety of the typical continental options plus scrambled eggs and sausage/bacon.
La Quinta Inn - close to the Hatfield Marine Science Center and Aquarium, but that’s the best it has going for it. They also have government rate rooms, if available, and breakfast is also included. This is a dog friendly hotel (and sort of smells like it), which is OK, unless those 4-legs are in a room directly above yours. Then you get to enjoy the running and jumping. Room itself was OK, you either get a view of the parking lot or the brambles behind the hotel. The included breakfast was bearable. Mostly carbs (and I am not at all worried about carbs). Yogurt was all nonfat variety (ick) and orange juice was watered down. Another minor irksome thing about my stay - Housekeeping took away my soap bar every single day, that was a lot of wasted soap!
I bounced around a lot at several vacation rental houses. Some were great, some were just OK. I won’t go into detail about which houses exactly we stayed at, but I can say something about the vacation rental house companies.
-Oregon Shores Vacation Rentals - they were super easy to work with and very accommodating. When it came to splitting the bill (which we had to do to keep costs under per diem), it was not a problem at all. Invoices they sent were clear.
-Oregon Beach Vacation - also an easy company to work with and they split the bill without any hesitations.
-VRBO - this is a tricky one because sometimes you end up dealing with another vacation rental company or directly with the owner. When it came to dealing with the owner, it was OK in the end. The VRBO website made billing a little tricky and the automatic invoices it generated weren’t good for government reimbursement, but we had the owner generate invoices for us.
-Vacasa - avoided this one after one bad dealing. At first, they were reluctant to split the bill for us. When they finally agreed to split the bill, not only did they take away the discounted price, they also charged us 5% more for the “extra” credit card charge. If you only deal with this company online (one person paying) and if you don’t have problems with your vacation rental, then Vacasa works. They also seemed bad at returning phone calls if you left a message on their voicemail. It’s better to keep trying to call them until someone picks up (we did have a problem with the rental as you can tell).
In my spare moments of down time I was able to do a bit of exploring beyond Newport.
Ona Beach State Park - I had fun exploring the beach starting at this park and walking down to Seal Rock. There are some interesting sandstone formations along the beach (when the tide is low enough). Also fun is picking through the rocks to look for agates and shells. A by-the-wind sailor (velella) wash up event happened when I was there. Millions - and I’m not exaggerating - millions of the hydra colonies washed up on the beaches. The by-the-wind sailors were tiny, ranging from 1 mm to 1 cm, but the outgoing tide left large amounts of the velella in mounds of sea foam. Days after the initial wash up, I returned to the beaches and could smell the ones that weren’t luck to wash back out. Who would have thought they could smell so bad!
Seal Rock State Recreation Site - A neat viewpoint to scan the ocean for alcids, sea ducks and cormorants (on a clear day!). Also some pretty rock formations.
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area - this is about a 30 min drive south from Newport. I would like to return to this area. They had a nice campground with sites right along side the creek. There were many hiking trails to explore, plus access to the beach with potentially some great tide pooling. Also some interesting rock formations along the coast makes for a great place to watch the waves. I was there for high tide, but it wasn’t high enough to make the spouting horn (a hole where the water spouts up during a large wave) really blow. A road or hiking trail takes you up to a scenic viewpoint where you can supposedly see 37 miles out into the ocean on a clear day.
Simpson Reef/Cape Arago State Park, Coos Bay - is a even farther drive - about 2.5 hours south of Newport (I had one day off). I went out here to see the largest marine mammal haul out. It was pretty impressive. Lots and lots of sea lions and seals. It’s fun to scan the rocks looking at them, but I can image it being boring without the lens to help see them. Very cool to see the Elephant Seals - they are huge!
Agate Beach - where are all the agates? Have the jetties really messed up the beach this far north? No agates, just sand.
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area - a neat place to stop and stretch the legs. Good views into the ocean. Pretty popular place though.
Devil’s Punch Bowl - cool if the tide were up. Neat rock arc during low tide.
Depoe Bay - very touristy. More so than Nye Beach
Boiler Bay Wayside - supposedly a good place to watch for whales. I was there on a rainy day, so watched a surfer who seemed to have mixed feeling about being out in the waves.
Birding the area
Shamefully, I didn't spend an extensive amount of time actively birding the area. I'm sure there are many wonderful locations as mentioned in the Oregon Coastal Birding Trail, but I simply didn't have the time or energy to put a lot of time in to exploring these sites. On the times I did have free time, the strong rain and wind storms were greatly discouraging. On several occasions I saw birders at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. And the bay does seem very productive for viewing ducks and marsh birds.
I somehow think that this isn’t may last visit to Newport. While I did have some enjoyable moments mixed in with all the work, I’m happy to be home for the time being.