Manzanita Beach

On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.

Gitanjali 60, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)
Arriving first, we catch a quiet walk toward town and Neahkahnie Mountain

Waves of beach memories roll in when I’m at the coast. My parents frequently took the long drive over the coast range to spend the day on the Pacific shore. I reveled in long hours playing, digging, splashing, diving, and shouting by the vast ocean; laying on a warm towel on hot sand as my shivering subsided; sandy egg salad sandwiches, sweet lemonade, salty potato chips; wonder and joy.

Lonely beaches are the best

Alan’s birthday is as good an excuse as any to gather family at the beach. We’ve been together forty odd years (both meanings, yes). It all worked out somehow, and here we are, with a family we love, in a new state we’ve learned to love, and a coastline we’ve loved since childhood.

Now I’ve discovered my new favorite Oregon beach town. Manzanita is the perfect ratio of beach to town – seven broad miles of soft pale sand, flat and firm, and a short few blocks of town. It’s less than a square mile with about 600 residents. It has just what we need and no more – groceries, a few eateries, a surf shop. It doesn’t draw the crowds of the larger beach towns with endless tchotchke stores and overpriced fish restaurants.

On the south side of town where we’re staying, large weathered shingled homes line the blocks skirting the beach, many of them vacation homes. Nehalem Bay State Park lies nearby. To the north, hills and homes slope up to Neahkahnie Mountain. And… oops, I just spent an hour looking up beach house rentals for the future.

I’m a fan of the off-season with its sparse crowds, though water temperatures in the mid-50s make swimming questionable for all but the staunchest hearts. But no matter the weather, the lure of the beach gets the whole family to join us.

The ever changing shoreline is mesmerizing as colors reflect and dance on sand and sea, morphing with sunlight and fog, creating patterns that appear and fade. 

Ezra stands hip deep in the bone-aching waves, staunchly focused on each one as it rolls in, hits his thighs and tummy with a slap, then stands mesmerized as the water tugs at his calves on its way out. He is my beach soulmate, taking pleasure in ocean nuance, plowing through water, completely present, oblivious to discomfort of temperatures and grit. “Today’s a great day,” he says to anyone who will listen.

We’re driven to repeat childhood activities, or perhaps it’s something deeper, more ancient and archetypal, so we roast marshmallows and make s’mores around the open firepit, recall spooky stories, and poke sticks into the flames. The days flow one into another, eating, talking, laughing, foosball. A silent sibling truce occurs, moods are even and lighthearted, and we all have what we need.

While the others wind down by playing computer games, I have time to walk, read, and write. The kids brought Harry Potter books, and although I have my own novel, I curl up with The Deathly Hallows and read all 759 pages of it for the first time since it came out, quickly enmeshed in hidden horcruxes, the cloak of invisibility, avada kadavra, and enviable friendships. The beach house pulls me into reading for pure pleasure and escape.

Alan and I take an exploratory drive up 101 to Neahkahnie Mountain and Oswald West State Park, checking out views and potential hikes. The entire Manzanita coast lies at our feet, and I read about Oswald West, an early 1900s governor, who made sure the Oregon coast was preserved for you and me. He was also part of the anti-gay sentiment of the times, signed eugenics into law, and passed tough prohibition laws, so he’s a mixed bag.

Looking south to Neahkahnie Beach and further to Manzanita Beach

At the Cape Falcon Lookout trail we decide to save the hike for our homeward drive. It’s 4.8 miles round trip, and called “easy” on the page, which I no longer trust, adjusting their ratings up a notch for my aging four-mile body.

As we prepare to drive off, a young backpack wearing couple emerges from the trail and asks for a ride to Manzanita. They’re hiking the 362 mile Oregon Coast Trail but timed it badly and high tide is blocking their way to town. Charmed by their youth, their sturdiness, and their foreign accents, we invite them to hop in, and get acquainted with Elise and Sebastian from France.

It’s a tiny injection of adventure into our own soft meanderings. We all wax enthusiastically about the Oregon coast, and they seem as excited by our travels in France as we are by their adventures here. Borders and differences disappear when one travels. They ask about a local pizza place. “Yes, it’s great!” I say, but then stop, doubtful. “Well, compared to French food, maybe not.” But for them the culinary adventure is as interesting as the new vistas.

It’s a quiet mid-September Tuesday when we return to the trail, starting with a pleasant chill that warms along the way. Sitka spruce soar overhead and salal, salmonberry, and ferns fill in below, with huge drooping spreads of skunk cabbage near the trickling creeks. The ocean whispers in the distance and a welcome fresh breeze sails through the trees.

The hike isn’t steep, but I clamber over the obstacle course of gnarly tree roots, and once again, where are my hiking sticks? In the other car of course. I remind myself to lift my tired feet higher as they catch on edges of rock, root, or stump, and to tread more carefully on the trail edges. I leap off a stump and the landing is surprisingly hard. Were roots this huge on the Sierra or Coast mountain trails I hiked in my youth? Maybe we just notice and remember the things that challenge or enthrall us. And aging is something I have to get used to over and over.

We’re rewarded with dramatic views and ocean breezes. Jutting into the sea to the south is Neahkahnie Mountain. To the north is Cape Falcon. A sculpted cliff of rock stretches steeply into the churning water below where brown pelicans rest. Glorious.

Home is for rest and recovery, and I get ready for the next adventure under infinite skies over restless waters, where we shout and dance.

Check out Alan’s beautiful photos here!

13 thoughts on “Manzanita Beach

  1. “Manzanita is the perfect ratio of beach to town” I could not agree more. I discovered how wonderful it was after I retired and have been back several times since. From our family trips as a kid, and again when my niece and nephew were young, the Oregon coast has always felt like “vacation”. Manzanita felt like home. When I hiked there a couple different times I thought what you did about the rating. Who decides such things? Beautiful and dramatic yes, but easy? Nope. Happy Birthday Alan! Did I ever mention that is my brothers middle name? (Same spelling too!) I think it’s the perfect place for a writing retreat/girls weekend. Yes?

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  2. Pingback: Manzanita Beach, September 2022 – Discoveries

  3. Pingback: 100 Things That Made My Year | Rivers and Roads PDX

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