Post image for Depoe Bay, Oregon

Depoe Bay, Oregon

by Foster Church on January 14, 2011

Travelers on the Oregon coast know Depoe Bay mostly for saltwater taffy and for the crowds of people haphazardly crossing Interstate 101. It actually has a deep culture with an abiding sense of voluntarism and a population deeply committed to the area. Of the 1,400 or so people live there, many are retirees who came to enjoy the waves, the birds, the crabbing, the fishing and the feel of a place hanging on the edge of wildness but close to shopping and hospitals.  It’s impossible to capture the flavor of the town without venturing down to the bay, said to be the smallest natural, navigable harbor in the world. It’s a flavorful place to stroll, chat with locals and maybe drop in on Dockside Charters, which takes anglers and whale watchers out across bar. Whales are as important here as deer, horses or bears in other Oregon communities. The Whale Watching Center on the ocean side of US 101 offers exhibits and brochures and a helpful staff.
Getting There: From Portland, the easiest way is to take SR 99 W and then SR 18 to Lincoln City. From there, travel south on US 101 to Depoe Bay.
The Past: The most curious aspect of the town’s history concerns its name. A fairly common account is that a Siletz Native American who was associated with a nearby supply depot was named Charley, and later he got the name Depot Charley. The name evolved to Charley Depot and later to Charles DePoe – hence Depoe Bay.
First Stop: Carole Barkhurst, the volunteer office manager at Depoe Bay Chamber of Commerce on the west side of US 101, is a tireless advocate for her town, and she’ll load you down with brochures, tips, opinions and her pride and enthusiasm for the place.
Someone to Meet. Hector Cruz makes taffy at Ainslee’s, a candy shop that since 1947 has sold the taffy, fudge, chocolates and caramel corn that sweetens a stroll along the ocean. Cruz speaks little English, but he knows the language of taffy.

Taffy at Ainslee's

Visitors can watch him whip up a batch Thursday through Monday sometime between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.. He begins by cooking the syrup in a copper kettle, then cooling it and adding flavoring and color. This is loaded on a rotating pulling machine that works it over for about a half hour and then it’s delivered to a long, red machine that pulls a slab of candy into a strip, cuts and wraps it. The shop sells 32 flavors of taffy at last count with licorice and peanut butter the favorites.

Depoe Bay Boat Basin

Where to Stay:

It depends on the view you prefer. Several good oceanfront motels, including the Surfrider Resort, offer vast views of sea and sky and easy access to downtown shops, art galleries and the  Whale Watching Center.  A lodging that is more removed from the highway bustle, is the Harbor Lights Inn. Rooms look out on the boat basin, the Depoe Bay Bridge and the entrance to the harbor, which is a 50 foot by 300 foot notch cut in basalt cliffs.

Where to Eat: Tidal Raves and Gracie’s Sea Hag are popular for seafood. Neither place gives it away, but the atmosphere and company are good. In the morning, the Sea Hag and the Spouting Horn, both serve breakfast. The latter offers views of the harbor from a lengthy wall of windows.

Nightlife: Thursday through Sunday nights at 6 or 7 p.m., Michael Dane sits down at the piano at the Sea Hag. Early customers can snag a seat at the fire pit which is close to the action on the dance floor.  Dane plays jazz, country, soft rock, rhythm and blues and songs from his native Hawaii. The place cooks when musician friends from up and down the coast pop in to sing and jam.

Otter Crest Loop

A Stretch or a Drive: For a bike or car ride, the Otter Crest Loop takes off just south of Depoe Bay on a way road that leads to Cape Foulweather, spotted first by Captain Cook in 1778. The road continues to the Devil’s Punchbowl, a hollow rock formation formed by the collapse of the roof over two sea caves. For an early morning outing, go to Depoe Bay City Park at the south end of the harbor and take the South Depoe Bay Creek Nature Trail. It penetrates only about 100 yards into the forest, but it’s a different world where the air is tinted green by leaves, moss and rushing water, and trees soar to the sky or lie on the forest floor and feed new sprouting trees and bushes.

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