Home Away from Home
Sharp contrasts and unique lifestyles distinguish mountains, coast and high desert
By Gary Corbin
At one time, an Oregon vacation meant going to the Oregon coast. Heavy development in
favorite destinations such as amenity-rich Cannon Beach, family-friendly Seaside, and seafood
capital Newport demonstrate these areas’ long history of luring the I-5 corridor’s city dwellers to
the continent’s westward reaches.
But today’s Oregonians also seek adventure, particularly in the outdoors. Greater mobility and
availability of information have led many families inland to Oregon’s equally beautiful mountain
and high desert retreats, lured by the variety of mountain and wilderness attractions. As a result,
there are now as many variations of the “ideal vacation getaway” as there are Oregonians. But
they all have one thing in common: For the most part, Oregonians still get away to Oregon.
The Oregon Coast
Coastal communities have long been the respite of those seeking quietude and scenic beauty. But
even when relaxing, Oregonians like to be active — or at least, entertained. “We picked
the Oregon coast
for its diversity of scenery and activities and the great sense of space,” says Mercy Corps
executive Laura Guimond, who bought a cabin getaway in Astoria. “We especially like the ‘real
town’ nature of Astoria as a year-round community and its attractive Victorian and Craftsman
Golf remains immensely popular, up and down the coast, from Bandon Dunes to Gearhart Golf
Links. Seaside’s arcades entertain kids while draining their parents’ spare coinage, and Cannon
Beach is replete with restaurants, candy stores and brew pubs.
Other coastal cities have responded to fill niches. Rockaway Beach, for example, has evolved as
a haven for writers and artists to get off the grid. It’s one of the few towns whose hotels boast
about not having Internet access or good cell phone coverage. The Oregon Writers Colony’s
rustic cabin is dedicated to hosting writers’ retreats and workshops. Along Highway 101, tiny
galleries and shops sell local arts and crafts. On a recent visit, a resident bubbled with excitement
about how the town would soon have — count ’em — three good restaurants for dinner.
Pacific City, Oregon, is a century-old, quaint fishing village on the Oregon Coast between
Tillamook and Lincoln City. With a population of about 900, Pacific City hardly ranks among
the major resort destinations in the Pacific Northwest. But to the lucky few who have discovered
its secluded beauty, Pacific City is an unspoiled haven, a getaway still worth getting away to.
“So much of Highway 101 is congested,” says Pendleton-based East Oregonian publisher
George Murdock, owner of two Pacific City properties — a custom-built house and a time-share
at the Shorepine Resort. “Pacific City is a little gem three miles off 101. There is no traffic or
congestion, and there’s a tremendous amount of privacy.”
Eight years ago in July, while Murdock and his wife were driving up the coast, they spotted a
sign for Shorepine Village. “Donna,
I have to go see this,” he said to his wife, and he took an
immediate detour. “It was everything I wanted it to be,” he says. They bought eight weeks of a
timeshare that day, then traded it for 10 weeks in another unit they could use right away.
Still it wasn’t enough. Some weeks later, Donna marched George into the office of The Cottages
at Cape Kiwanda. “Sell this man Lot 47,” she told Buck Jensen, the salesman.
“Hey!” George told her. “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be my cold dash of reality!”
Nevertheless, he needed no convincing. They bought the property.
Retired fifth-grade teacher Serita Zimmerman of Sammamish, Wash., says Pacific City’s
gorgeous views and broad beaches with “sand that goes on and on and on” reminds her of
Hawaii. “The water’s not as warm, and we’re not as hot and sweaty,” she says. “But it’s like
driving five hours to get to Maui.”
Most would find a number of differences between the famous South Pacific island and the small
town surrounding Cape Kiwanda. The population of a single hotel in Maui dwarfs that of the
entire Pacific City area.
But the Oregon resort is not lacking for things to do. The annual “Dory Days” festival in July
features a parade, fishing contests, and hundreds of the tiny namesake fishing boats. Hiking and
biking trails provide quiet but easy access to the dunes and beaches, and the townsfolk are proud
of the national awards earned by their local watering hole, the Pelican Brewpub.
The unpredictable coastal climate is also a draw, sometimes as much for its drama as for the
mild, sunny days. “We were there for a storm last October when the winds were 60 to 70 miles
an hour,” Zimmerman says. “It looked like smoke was flying through the air. We thought we
were in ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’”
Snug inside their three-bedroom, top-floor condo with vaulted ceilings and all-modern
appliances, the Zimmerman family felt perfectly safe. “I wish I’d been there for the storm in
December, when they had 120-mile-an-hour winds,” she laments. “How exciting!”
Ten years ago, and a couple hundred miles down the coast, Beth Weigand and her husband drove
up Highway 101 from the Oregon-California border, seeking an escape from the Arizona
summer heat. They made it all the way to Canada before deciding to settle in the first place they
had seen: Gold Beach, Oregon. She marveled at the area’s quiet, natural setting. “Deer walk
down the street as if they belong there,” she says, adding, “which they do.”
Just north of the California border, Gold Beach, or the “Gold Coast” as Weigand calls it, offers
sunnier weather and milder temperatures than its north Oregon coast competitors. “We seldom
break the 80s here,” she says. “But it feels warmer because of the sun.”
One of the most popular sites that Weigand’s company, Wild Coast Vacations, manages is the
“Hilltop Round House,” an octagonal house perched on the side of a hill. She notes that the
newly remodeled home is gorgeously appointed, relatively affordable, and boasts a wrap-around
deck with a panoramic view. “It’s very private,” Weigand says, which may also explain why it’s
the choice of so many honeymooners and couples celebrating anniversaries.
They’re certainly not there for the shopping. Weigand and her husband recently attended a
conference in Eugene and “we went from store to store to store,” she says, not realizing until that
moment how shopping-starved she’d become. Weigand adds, “We tell people, ‘Come to the
Gold Coast – and do absolutely nothing.’”
Mark Humphrey and his wife Vickie wanted a mountain retreat to supplement their skiing
addiction. Their first inclination was Government Camp, but they were shocked by both the
skyrocketing prices and the crowding. “The more we thought about it,” Humphrey said, “the
more we asked ourselves, why fight the traffic on U.S. 26 all the time?”
They happened upon the “neat little town” of Parkdale on the northeast slope of the mountain —
250 people nestled into a 4-by-5 block grid of downtown. “But it’s not the type of ‘small town’
where everyone knows each others’ business,” he says. “It’s the good kind — very charming and
Humphrey bought a two-bedroom cabin that also sported a finished garage and studio apartment.
The studio serves as their ski shack. The house they rent to vacationers and employees of Mt.
Like the Oregon coast, Mt. Hood is a traditional draw for Oregon vacationers. Besides skiers, outdoor
enthusiasts who love hiking, go camping and fishing flood the mountain year-round. But the dearth
of accommodations means it remains a day trip for many. Even in the more highly developed
Government Camp, new offerings like Collins Lake Resort sell out as soon as they’re offered.
Humphrey rents his house by word of mouth, having posted only a single ad on the Meadows
That strategy has its trials and tribulations, however. Their first renters were “young party girls,
who trashed the place.” Now they’re more careful to screen potential cabin users. “We’re not
renting to party girls any more,” he laughs.
While the rental unit is a nice bonus, Mark and Vickie bought the place mostly for their own use.
They love the small-town agrarian feel of the place. “I sleep like a rock when I’m up there,” he
An early episode illustrates Parkdale’s small-town charm. Soon after buying the property, they
suffered a leak that turned their front yard into a small lake. “We were an hour and a half away,”
he says. “So I got an idea; I called the Elliot Glacier Public House. The bartender calls out,
‘Anybody here a plumber?’ We heard a ‘yes’ and the next thing you know, he went right over
and fixed it — for no charge. Just small town folks taking care of each other.”
When Portland native Chris Pippin decided to leave his adopted state of California after two
decades, he recalled with great fondness his family’s vacations to central Oregon. He also
noticed the area’s booming economy and wealth of activities and amenities. “There’s so much to
do here,” he says, “and there is still lots of opportunity.”
While Central Oregon has been a popular vacation spot since at least the 1960s, its explosive
growth is a more recent phenomenon. As a result, its resorts have a more modern feel than many
of the rustic offerings at the Coast. They also tend toward the all-inclusive “destination resort”
variety — packaged communities rather than individual homes scattered throughout older,
Take Ranch at the Canyons, a 1,700-acre spread with its own equestrian center, side-by-side golf
courses built by Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus, and tennis courts. The property includes two
miles of exclusive access to the Crooked River and several private lakes and ponds for flyfishing,
boating and swimming. They even have their own winery and vineyard — the first in
Central Oregon. “It’s a working ranch without having to do the work yourself,” explains broker
Pattie Serbus of Cushman and Tebbs Sotheby's International Realty.
Or take Remington Ranch that Pippin is developing. The resort spreads over 2,200 acres and will
host 800 single-family houses and 400 timeshare condos. Similarly, the nearby 40-year-old
Sunriver Resort sits on 4,000 acres with 600 homes and another 54 holes of golf. “It’s a big
summer camp,” says Sunriver Resort’s Director of Real Estate John Fettig.
By comparison to the coast’s “do nothing” escape mantra, Central Oregon appeals more to
outdoor enthusiasts. Skiing, mountain biking, wilderness trails, fishing, whitewater rafting, rock
climbing, tennis, and exploring underground lava river caves broaden the appeal to all age
groups and adrenaline levels. “That’s the great thing about Sunriver,” Fettig says. “Fun is right
outside your front door.”
Even the most sullen teenager can find a way to entertain him or herself without having to hang
out with dull parents or pesky younger siblings. Vehicle-free bike paths help parents breathe
easier too, knowing their kids can get around independently without risk of getting crushed by
Buyers and renters pay for the privilege, of course. Landholdings start just under $800,000 at
Ranch at the Canyons, “and that’s just the dirt,” explains Serbus. Better-situated holdings can run
as high as $1.25 million. By adding a house, one can expect to triple that amount, or more.
At those prices, who’s buying? Ranch at the Canyons markets nationwide, mostly through Wall
Street Journal ads. For Remington Ranch, the largest group — more than 90 percent — is city
dwellers from Ashland to Vancouver, B.C. But a fast-growing market is the snowbirds: people
who winter in southern California and the Southwest U.S. who are looking for a cooler but still
sunny place to spend the summer.
The growth in the snowbird market is one reason Pippin is so optimistic about investing in the
area, despite the recent cooling in area real-estate prices. “There is a lot of upside remaining,” he
says. “People might freak out to hear me say this, but properties are still undervalued here,
compared to similar western mountain resort sites like Aspen and Sun Valley.”
A Bounty of Choice
The Oregon coast remains a popular draw for many vacationers seeking to relax to the sound of
crashing waves and the simplicity of sand castles and beach walks. But competition from the
now-developing areas around Mt. Hood and Bend has changed the equation. You’re as likely to
find a brew festival or outdoor blues concert as a quiet spot to soak up some Vitamin D.
While the opportunities to grab open land are greater in the center of the state, the proximity of
the coast to Portland and other cities in the Willamette Valley keeps its economic engine
humming, too. “The choice for us,” says Guimond, “was between the Coast and Mt. Hood,
because we wanted to be close enough to make it an easy, non-stressful drive for a weekend or
even a day.”
Ah, but how much nicer is it not to worry about driving back the same day, knowing you have a
safe haven to sleep in, to the sound of crickets or pounding waves?
As long as the party girls haven’t trashed the place, of course.