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.
Tillamook (pop. 4,400), 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 (a Salish word meaning “land of many waters”) is dominated by the Tillamook Cheese Factory (4175 Hwy-101 N., 800/542-7290) 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 (6030 Hangar Rd., 503/842-1130, daily, $12 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.