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Oregon Coast: Wild, Affordable and Uncrowded Oregon's Scenic Coast

By: Joseph B. Frazier
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The Oregon's shoreline features rugged natural beauty and quaint coastal towns but remember to bring your raincoat.

Oregon's coast is still wild enough to be a windy wonder, tame enough for the squeamish, surprisingly affordable and uncrowded yet diverse enough to please at least someone in the car most of the time.

All beaches are public, and access is guaranteed by law.

Because the coastal highway didn't go in until the 1930s, much of the coast remains relatively free of commercial development and some is scarcely developed at all, although that is changing.

You can look for agates, watch whales, deep-sea fish, go crabbing, surf, play golf, explore shipwrecks and fishing fleets, hit a world-class aquarium and a family oriented marine science center, try your luck at tribal casinos, poke around for a legendary buried treasure or sit back and watch spectacular surf pound the rocks.

Or you can just stroll the beach, feel the cool, stiff wind on your cheeks and quite possibly see only a handful of people.

Not bad. And a lot of it is free.

The 363-mile coast is dotted with small villages plus a few medium-sized cities that by and large still are blue-collar fishing towns and seaports, not yet tarted up for tourism.

Don't try to see how fast you can make the drive. Take time to poke around and find your own favorite place or local festival.

Reasonable if not ritzy motel rooms are common in the $35-$50 range but can vary with the season. You can pay more a lot more but rarely have to.

There are plenty of state parks with camping facilities, ranging from the very basic to domed, cabinlike yurts. Rates vary, and in the summer especially, reservations are advisable through the Oregon State Parks Department.

A downside: It might rain in the summer. It will rain in the winter.

The ho-hum miles along Oregon's piece of U.S. 101, much of it two-lane, are more than offset by drop-dead beauty the rest of the way.

Watch out for bikes. Some hardy souls pedal the entire distance.

The drive from Portland to Astoria along the Columbia River takes about two hours. Astoria, at the river's mouth, is a town some visitors call quaint, but most residents don't.

A steep hillside of Victorian-era houses looms over what amounts to a riverfront main street lined with small, family-owned businesses. It has become a port of call for a few cruise ships.

It is unpretentious yet it has good restaurants and museums. Not to miss: the Columbia River Maritime Museum, open daily. You will learn why the nearby river's mouth is called the "Pacific Graveyard."

Nearby are the diminishing remains of the Peter Iredale, a four-masted barque that sits where it ran aground in 1906. There are other shipwrecks on the coast, some appearing and vanishing with the tidal patterns and winds.

Also just south of Astoria is Fort Clatsop (follow the signs) where the Lewis and Clark expedition spent the soggy winter of 1805-1806. It's part of the national park system now. It contains a replica of their fort and an interpretive center and bookstore. Archaeologists still work the site from time to time.

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