July 30, 2008

Pacific City: Whispers of the Past

photo by Leslie Pugmire Hole/Copyright Redmond Spokesman

People don’t just get into a rut in their daily lives, often they fall into the same old patterns while on vacation.

Personally, my time at the Oregon coast has always had a serious northern slant, with very infrequent visits to the central or southern section of the shore. Marrying into a Pacific City-loving family, however, has made me a convert to the benefits of life beyond Tillamook Bay.

Pacific City seems to be a rather unique creature in coastal towns. Like many other longtime resort towns such as Seaside, Lincoln City and Florence, PC (as the locals call it) was a natural resources supported rural community that has transitioned slowly into a more tourism-based economy. But while the former have grown dramatically over the years, PC has shown more modest changes.

“When I was a kid we’d leave on our bikes in the morning with instructions to check in every four hours. We’d be gone all day, playing at the beach, the river, in the dunes. That’s all we needed and that’s all kids still need.”

For the inside scoop on life in PC I went straight to the source – my mother-in-law Jann Burelbach. Who better to hear the history and get tips on things to see and do in town than someone whose family has been coming to PC every summer since 1925?

That was the year Jann’s grandfather, a dentist from Dallas, Ore., built a ‘fishing shack’ for his family vacations, just like countless other refugees from the valley who came to call PC their second home. The cabin still stands and is used by the third generation of Burelbachs, a common occurrence in PC.

“There are people in town that I played with as a kid and now they have homes here,” says Jann. “We’re still unincorporated and most of the locals I know like it that way. We have a library, a fire station, a dentist and a doctor – the only thing we don’t have is mayor or city hall and who needs that?”

Pacific City has a handful of upscale inns and an expansive RV park, a scattering of fancy gift stores and art galleries, but mostly it's still about the hardware store, the bait and fishing tackle shop and the local burger shack. It's a town you can live in with nothing but two wheels for transportation because everything is within biking distance; traffic only requires a single stop light and that one only blinks. For every beachfront luxury home there must be three ramshackle cabins or doublewides, occupied by a mix of year-round residents and vacation home owners of more modest means.

We've come to love the eclectic mix of new and old, fancy and well-loved. Even the local thrift store, very clean and organized and occupying an attractive newer building, declares it does not sell used items but things that have “proven themselves.”

“I can remember riding my horse across the wooden bridge (spanning the Big Nestucca River) and he would freak out because of the load noise his hooves made,” says Jann. “We're on like the third or fourth bridge now – they've had to replace it several times since my grandfather used to cross it in the early days and drive his car with huge balloon tires to the Cape because there was no road.”

Some may argue but it's my belief that Pacific City must be the most photogenic spot on the Oregon coast. You have Cape Kiwanda's stark sandstone bluffs and wind-sculpted pines, its enormous dune face always populated with crowds of running children; Haystack Rock with its funny pitcher-handle arch, the stark stretch of dune and beach grass along Bob Straub State Park and the awesome Nestucca Bay.

Even if you can't click a shutter without cutting off someone's head, there's plenty of eye candy in Pacific City: dory fishermen charging through the surf from the beach, harbor seals sunning on sand spits, hangliders defying gravity by launching from the top of the cape and Technicolor tidepools revealed twice each day.

What has my new-found discovery of PC prompted me to recommend?

The dune. Suck it up and climb the mammoth slope, you'll be glad you did. The views are stupendous and the run down makes you feel 10 years old again. During our last visit my husband was racing one of the kids to the bottom, running at the full tilt when he ended his trip with a 20 mph face plant. Even so, he came up smiling.

Cape Kiwanda Marketplace. This is the spot where you'll find fresh-off-the boat seafood, if the season is right and catches are good.

Straub State Park. A four-mile long spit of sparsely visited trails between ocean and river, shared by diverse wildlife and flora.

Three Capes Scenic Drive. A can't-be-missed trip of 40 miles of rainforest, lighthouses, headlands, and beaches.

Jann has many, many favorite spots in and around Pacific City but the one she treasures the most, and the one she chooses to visit every year for her birthday, is the mouth of Nestucca Bay.

“It's the most beautiful place on any shore I've ever seen. It's spectacular – a must-see.”

Jann's Picks

Sportmen's Pub N' Grub (34975 Brooten Rd.)

“Great food and reasonable prices. Best fish and chips I've ever had.”

Riverhouse Restaurant (34450 Brooten Rd.)

“Right on the Nestucca and wonderful food.”

Greatful Bread (34805 Brooten Rd.)

“Best breakfasts and lunches in town. My favorite.”

PC Riverside Market (34595 Brooten Rd.)

“Great little market. They seem to have everything.”

Village Merchants (34950 Brooten Rd.)

“I go in there every time we have guests; I never get tired of it”

Dapper Frog Worldwide Art and Gifts (34930 Brooten Rd.)

“It's hard to describe and impossible to resist.”

Inn at Pacific City (http://www.innatpacificcity.com/)

“They're close to everything and cute and reasonable.”

Anchorage Motel (http://www.oregoncoast.com/anchorage/)

“I think of it as whispers of the past, an old-fashioned beach motor court motel.”

-- story by Leslie Pugmire Hole/copyright Redmond Spokesman

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