Cool towns along the 101

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Beginning with Eureka in northern California and ending with Sequim in Washington state, each town along the 101 has its own distinctive vibe.  Some are quaint, some are quirky, but all are fun places to chill out while doing some typical “tourist” activities, i.e., dining, shopping, and sightseeing.  With the largest city having a population of well under 20,000, you don’t have to fight the big city traffic nightmares you find in LA, Seattle, or San Francisco.  And did I mention the incredible scenery???  With the Pacific Ocean to the west, majestic mountain ranges to the east, and idyllic river valleys inland, it is a gorgeous part of the country.

Though we generally gravitate toward more remote locations that are away from cities, we were very comfortable with touring the small towns along the 101.  Of course, it was January and the off-season, so there really were no crowds to speak of.  I would imagine in the summer crowds would be a lot bigger.

To prevent this post from turning into a novel, I had to whittle down the number of towns I’m highlighting to just five.  My apologies to Forks, Astoria, Seaside, Florence, Gold Beach, Crescent City, and Eureka—all delightful places you should definitely visit!

Bandon

Driving north on the 101 towards Bandon, we kept passing these large, rectangular shaped sunken fields.  Hmmm, strange.  They contained some kind of red berries, but as we were traveling along at 50+ mph, I couldn’t get a good enough look at them to identify what they were.  Then we passed the Ocean Spray processing plant and the light bulb came on. Of course!  They were cranberry bogs!  And of course, we’re on the coast, so why wouldn’t you name your company Ocean Spray!  It all made perfect sense. (And that’s another reason why you travel—so you can see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together!)

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Henry the Fish, fashioned from marine debris. A colorful reminder for all of us to think before we toss.

Bandon is a delightful little coastal town where you can get your fill of fresh seafood, incredible ocean views, and beautiful beaches.  The cool January day we visited, we had to forgo the beachcombing and instead spent the day in Old Town Bandon, 10 square blocks of dining, shopping, art and culture right on the Coquille River waterfront.  We had an enjoyable time browsing through the many art galleries and gift shops including Second Street Gallery, Bandon Card & Gift Shop, and Cranberry Sweets—a gift and candy store that features, you guessed it, anything made from cranberries.  Full-size and I mean FULL-SIZE samples of sweets and treats enable you to “sample your heart out.”  (Seriously, don’t go there before lunch—you’ll ruin your appetite).  The Washed Ashore Art to Save the Sea exhibit features many sculptures fashioned from marine debris collected by volunteers who clean Oregon beaches.  Pieces, such as Henry the Fish, serve as a reminder to us all to think before we buy, use, and then discard.

Old Town Bandon has several excellent restaurants and coffee shops.  We ate lunch at Sea Star Bistro and it was absolutely delicious!  Since each menu item is prepared to order, you can’t be in a hurry for your food, but it is totally worth the wait. We stopped in Coastal Mist Chocolate Boutique and oh, my, if you only visit one shop in Bandon, this is the place!!!  You can choose from a wide array of cakes, desserts, pastries, breads, and artisan chocolates.  Everything is made on site from scratch and it is exquisite!  It was difficult to choose just which delectable treat we should indulge in.  Our server suggested we try a flight of drinking chocolate.  Drinking chocolate is more chocolatey than sugary-sweet and the consistency is somewhere between that of hot cocoa and Hershey’s syrup.  We ordered the plain chocolate, the salted caramel chocolate, and the orange chocolate.  All were topped with fresh whipped cream with crushed vanilla beans.  Yum, yum, yum!  What a luscious way to end the day!

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Our flight of drinking chocolate

Coos Bay

About 25 miles north of Bandon is Coos Bay.  Besides being a great jumping off point for the Oregon Dunes, the town itself is quite charming and has many eateries, shops, and museums.  We spent a couple of hours wandering through the Coos History Museum learning about the lumber and fishing industry that employed so many of its residents.  At only $7 per ticket, it is well worth the price of admission and has many wonderfully attractive and educational displays.  We strolled around the docks in between rain showers and filled our bellies with a delicious lunch of clam chowder and fish and chips.

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Tillamook

After hugging the Pacific coastline for miles upon miles, in northern Oregon the 101 turns inland, winding its way up and down hills and through lush forests.   And then the road descends into one of the most beautiful, picturesque river valleys we’ve ever seen, the Tillamook Valley.  Several rivers meander through the plain, making it an ideal spot for agriculture and dairy farming.  The valley is sheltered by the mountains of the Tillamook State Forest, protecting it from harsh weather and also providing some spectacular scenery.

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We pulled into the Blue Heron French Cheese Company, a Harvest Hosts member, to spend the night.  We were warmly welcomed by the staff and spent some time shopping in their attractive and well-stocked gift shop and store.  After picking up some tasty food for dinner and a few gifts for family, we headed back to the camper to eat and do some reading before heading for bed.  It was a chilly night, so we dug out the propane heater to warm up before crawling underneath the feather quilt.  Sunrise was spectacular as it peeked over the mountains to the east and slowly began warming up the valley.  Though we were chilled, this Harvest Host spot ranks as one of the best.

You cann’t stop in Tillamook without visiting the Tillamook Cheese Factory.  Tillamook cheese is a very popular brand throughout the west—kind of like Guggisberg is in Ohio.  The factory offers free self-guided tours with interactive displays educating visitors about the cheese making process, start to finish.  And yes, there are FREE samples!!!  My husband was in heaven!  (What is it about guys and cheese??)  Large windows throughout the factory give you a close up view of the whole production and is quite interesting.  A gift shop, cheese store, and café are also on site.  We indulged in a scrumptious breakfast and capped it off with a dish of Tillamook ice cream.  (Who says dessert is only for dinner?).  The Tillamook Cheese Factory has a very large parking lot with a separate area for bus and RV parking.

*******Please note:  The Tillamook Cheese Factory is constructing a brand new visitor center which will open in Summer 2018.  The current visitor center will be closed March 6-18, 2017, while the transition is made to a temporary visitor center adjacent to the existing structure.  Check the website for operating hours.

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The picturesque Tillamook Valley

Also in Tillamook is the Tillamook Air Museum which houses an incredible array of vintage civilian and military aircraft.  There is ample bus and RV parking on site and overnight RV dry camping is available.  And of course there are abundant opportunities for outdoor activities, hiking, kayaking, camping, beachcombing, and the Cape Meares Lighthouse.

We are so glad we followed the advice of our Seattle kids and planned a stop in Tillamook. Next time, we’ll stay a week instead of just overnight.

 

Port Angeles and Sequim

 

Sprinkled along the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula are more than a dozen lovely little towns that offer recreation, lodging, eateries, and educational museums all while providing stunning views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Canada to the north and the Olympic Mountain Range to the south.  Port Angeles and Sequim (pronounced “squim”) provided us with daylong entertainment as we roamed around the city streets, soaking in the scenery and patronizing some of the local businesses.

Port Angeles

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A view of Port Angeles from the pier

Port Angeles, besides being a convenient base camp for numerous outdoor adventures in the Olympic National Park, brings in a lot of tourist dollars from the Black Ball Ferry which offers walk on and drive on ferry rides to Victoria, British Columbia, one of the most beautiful towns in the world.  Be advised the ferry line operates a reduced schedule in winter and even closes down for a couple of weeks in January for its annual dry dock maintenance.

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There’s snowy Hurricane Ridge

We hadn’t really planned on doing much in Port Angeles.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and we thought we’d grab a to-go lunch and head on up to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.  When we got to the visitor center to get my Passport stamped we found out that even though it was a lovely day in Port Angeles, Hurricane Ridge was experiencing a blizzard and the road was closed.  That’s crazy coastal mountain weather for you.  So, onto Plan B.  Thankfully, Port Angeles has no shortage of things to do.

Our first stop was the Arthur D. Feiro Marine Life Center.  In existence since the early 1980’s, the center educates visitors about local marine life through the use of displays, aquariums, youth and adult classes, and lots of “touch tanks” that allow you to get up close and personal with the many varieties of marine animals.  Very articulate, well-learned, and friendly docents are on hand to answer questions and share their knowledge.  What is unique about the Marine Center is that all their specimens are local, having been collected within a 20-mile radius of Port Angeles in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  So, the crabs, scallops, anemones, fish, octopus, and sea stars are all native to this locale.  We did hear some sad news, though.  On our previous visits to the Olympic Peninsula and the Puget Sound area, we were astounded and amazed by the number, color, and variety of sea stars populating the shoreline.  In all our beachcombing on this trip in January 2016, we came up emptyhanded.  Where were all the sea stars?  We learned from one of the center’s volunteers that a bacteria had spread through the sea stars and nearly wiped them out.  She wasn’t sure when or if they would make a comeback.  Let’s hope the scientists and biologists can find a way to help the sea star population recover from this terrible tragedy.

Strolling around town, we popped in a couple of shops, walked the length of the city pier, drank in the views, and worked up an appetite which was deliciously satisfied at La Belle Creperie, a cute little restaurant with a spectacular view of the harbor.  The menu is small, featuring savory and sweet crepes.  We each ordered a savory crepe, which was a generous portion and decided to split a dessert crepe.  Everything was scrumptious and the service was outstanding.

Sequim

Known as “Sunny Sequim,” this little gem of a town sees over 300 days of sunshine a year!  This was just what we needed after spending three unbelievably wet, cold, and dreary days in Forks.  Sequim (pronounced “squim”), lies within the “rain shadow” of the Olympic Mountains.  Moist air blows in from the Pacific Ocean, dumping 12 feet or more (yes, you read that right, FEET) of rain along the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula in towns like Forks.  That same moisture travels up the Olympic Range where it gets hung up on the mountains covering them with a deep blanket of snow before eventually petering out.  On the north side of the range lies Sunny Sequim and the Dungeness Valley, a once arid and barren region now transformed into an abundant cornucopia of vegetation thanks to irrigation.  The mild climate coupled with abundant irrigation allows fruit and vegetable crops to thrive.  But the crop that has put Sequim on the map is lavender.  With over 30 farms, Sequim is known as The Lavender Capital of North America.  In the east, towns and businesses landscape with daylilies and hostas.  In Sequim, they use lavender!  Shops and restaurants in town sell and use lavender in everything from body lotion to scones. There is lavender EVERYWHERE!  The Sequim Lavender Weekend is held the third weekend in July and is the largest lavender event in the country.  Many of the farms open their gates for visitors, allowing them to pick-your-own as well as providing lodging, food, and shopping.

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Native American culture on the Olympic Peninsula

Sequim has a very charming little downtown located several blocks north of the 101.  Quaint shops, including book stores and antiques, restaurants, and coffee shops line Washington Street.  We browsed through several shops including Purple Haze Lavender Shop where we were amazed at the number of products that utilize lavender.  We made a few purchases, stopped in Sunshine Cafe for a yummy lunch, had a cup of coffee at Hurricane Coffee Company, and picked up a loaf of bread from Pane d’Amore for our evening pasta meal back at the camper.

During our stay in Sequim, we also visited the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.  An easy half mile trail winds through the forest and down to the shore line giving spectacular views of the Dungeness Spit, the Lighthouse, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Interpretive signs dot the trail and a set of stairs with a couple of large landings help hikers make the descent to the shore.  On our way down the stairs we were thrilled to see not one, not two, but three bald eagles!  Two were adolescent eagles, not yet sporting the snow white cap.  We weren’t sure if they were all siblings or mother and children, but they were amazing!  We unfortunately didn’t get any photos.  It was one of those times in life when you have to choose between “being there” and embracing the moment OR taking several blurry, substandard photos of said event.  We chose the former.

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Lovely towns, beautiful scenery, loads of activities,…that’s what we encountered on our drive up the 101.  Though we’ve traveled thousands of miles since, we still reflect on that trip as one of the highlights of our full-time RV life on the road.  To read more about all the fun waiting for you along the 101, check out my other blog posts about The 101 Redwoods, The 101 Coastline, and The 101 Rain Forest. Get out of your chair and go explore this big, beautiful world of ours!

 

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine

 

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