The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Another old fishing community turned tourist nexus, Newport (pop. 9,989) became popular in the 1860s on the strength of sweet-tasting Yaquina Bay oysters, which were in demand from San Francisco to New York City and are still available at local restaurants. Oysters, crabs, and clams, along with sea otters, sea lions, sharks, and seabirds, are the stars of the show at the large and modern Oregon Coast Aquarium (2820 SE Ferry Slip Rd., 541/867-3474, daily, $19.95 adults), south of Newport across the Yaquina Bay Bridge. The aquarium includes an aquatic aviary, where tufted puffins and other shorebirds cavort in a simulated rockbound coastal habitat, and over 40,000 square feet of similarly ecofriendly exhibits, many of them outdoors.
On the north side of the US-101 bridge over Yaquina Bay, turn onto Hurbert Street and head for the bayfront, where boatyards and fish-packing plants service a working harbor. Though it’s still one of the state’s largest fishing ports, much of Newport’s bayfront has been consumed by souvenir shops, a wax museum, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and other tourist traps. But you’ll also find the original Mo’s (622 SW Bay Blvd., 541/265-2979), a locally famous seafood restaurant.
North of the harbor is Nye Beach, an interesting mélange of old-fashioned beach houses and destination resorts on the western side of US-101. Nye Beach is home to hotels, motels, and the bohemian Sylvia Beach Hotel (267 NW Cliff St., 541/265-5428, $115 and up), the place to stay in Newport for anyone of literary bent. All rates include breakfast. Sumptuous dinners are available, too.