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 housing stock.”

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 friendly.”

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. Hood Meadows.

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 bulletin board.

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 says.

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.”

Central Oregon

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, traditional villages.

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 rumbling 18-wheelers.

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.

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