Tillamook (pop. 4,935), where cows outnumber people, sprawls over lush grasslands at the southern end of Tillamook Bay. Its motto, “Land of cheese, trees, and ocean breeze,” conjures a clear sense of a place where the high school football team is cheered on by shouts of “Go Cheesemakers!” Tillamook (some say the name is a Salish word meaning “land of many waters”) is dominated by the Tillamook Cheese Factory at the north end of town, one of the busiest tourist draws in the state. Inside, a self-guided tour with informational placards traces Tillamook cheese-making from the last century to the present, and a glassed-in observation area lets you watch the stuff being made and packaged.
Tillamook’s other attraction is east of US-101 and south of town. One of the world’s largest wooden structures—296 feet wide, 1,072 feet long, and nearly 200 feet tall, enclosing more than seven acres of open-span floor space—has been preserved as the Tillamook Air Museum (503/842-1130, Tues.-Sun., $9.50 adults). Built in 1942, the structure is now a museum telling the story of the World War II surveillance blimps kept here by the U.S. Navy. There are also displays about other dirigible craft (like the ill-fated Hindenburg) as well as a world-class collection of vintage airplanes (from MiG fighters to an elegant, twin-tailed P-38 Lightning), plus a theater and a restaurant, all making for a fascinating and unusual stop. The building used to be one of a pair of hangars, but the other one burned down in 1992.