September 17, 2012

How to have fun in Seaside and Portland, Oregon

Our room on the top left.
While we were having dinner with friends one night in Madison, they told us their daughter was attending grad school in Eugene, Ore., and they were going to meet her on the Oregon Coast in August for a vacation. "Say, why don't you meet us there?" they suggested. They also mentioned their ocean-front room had a kitchenette and their daughter (who we first met when she was a toddler) was an excellent vegan cook. They had picked the town of Seaside because they liked the name, and I kind of liked the name, too. "We'll see," I answered. Once we got back to Seattle, one thing led to another and we found ourselves with hotel reservations in Seaside. Maybe.

We planned to leave about 1 p.m. for the 3-hour drive, after spending the morning caring for Miss E, but my husband had a sudden bad feeling about the hotel when he realized he'd never received a confirmation. He hastily called the hotel, and they had no record of our reservation, no rooms for Thursday or Friday, and nothing open until Saturday. He reserved for Saturday and Sunday and went to take care of Miss E while I started searching the Internet for a place to stay. Seaside is a very popular place, and not a room was open. I tried nearby towns, but nada. Suddenly a room opened up in Seaside and I grabbed it. It wasn't on the beach with an ocean view balcony like the first hotel, it was in town with a river view balcony ... and a hot tub! With enough hot water to fill it.

Part of the downtown Seaside atmosphere.
My husband describs Seaside as a polite honky-tonk, and that seems about right. Although there were hoards of people, restaurants, bars, touristy shops and amusements like a small-scale train ride, bumper cars, a tilt-a-whirl, a shopping mall with a full-sized carousel and an huge, beehive of a gallery full of old arcade games, it wasn't too rowdy or excessively loud on the street. Just a little bit crazy, and we loved it.

This makes me want to pack up the car and head to the beach in Seaside.
Although our friends were a mere six blocks away, they were in a whole different world of quiet beach and ocean vistas. But for two days, we enjoyed the split personality of the friendly coastal town of Seaside, spending time both on the enormous, serene beach, and in the busting town center. I even found a resale store called Tri-City Spay and Neuter Thrift Shop — right up my alley, with all profits going to spay and neuter rescue dogs and cats. Had to buy something, of course.

The temperature farther inland may have been in the 80s, but that wasn't the case on the coast, where for most of our visit we needed sweatshirts on the beach, but that didn't stop us from having a great time.

Our friends came prepared for cool weather, and ventured into the chilly ocean in wet suits! They said it was amazing, and having a wet suit made all the difference between enjoying the water or freaking out.

Lisa, as our friends had said, was a fabulous cook. I don't know how she did it in the tiny kitchenette, but armed with a copy of Robin Robertson's Quick Fix Vegan for inspiration, she produced two stellar meals. The first was Sicilian-style pasta and the second an amazing lentil and Swiss chard soup.

On the third day of our visit, we moved to the hotel on the beach, completely altering our Seaside ambiance. No more hustle and bustle outside our door, but the change in locale didn't totally alter the nature of our experience. Seaside's aura had a compelling influence on our friend, John, who decided that we had to rent a pedal surrey and ride around town for an hour, like the other crazy tourists. He was right about that.

The fire-builders at work.
We also succumbed to the lure of  building a fire on the beach at night and having a cookout. We cooked potatoes, corn-on-the-cob and tofu pups on sticks.

Our hotel room was on the top floor just kitty-corner to our friends' room one floor below. We could stand on our balconies and make plans. Or see interesting activities like flying radio-controlled helicopters. John, who describes himself as an electronics geek, looks slightly dismayed here because he had just lost control of his helicopter, and it was about to make an unscheduled landing three floors below. John doesn't just play with this stuff — he builds it.

More fire-builders at work — boiling seawater to make salt.
Seaside has a historic 1-1/2 mile-long promenade bordering the edge of the beach. We did quite a bit of walking up and down the Prom, and on one of our walks we visited a historical re-enactment of the Seaside saltworks, which was originally built about 1805 by a group of men from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. We were allowed to take photos with our phones but not use them for any other purpose. Nor were we supposed to discuss anything that wouldn't have been a topic of conversation in the early 19th century.

We didn't spend all of our time in Seaside, as there were interesting nearby towns to explore. Cannon Beach is known for the impressive 235-ft. Haystack Rock, which is only accessible during low tide. At low tide you can access the tide pools to see glorious examples of sea life.

Starfish and sea anemones clinging to Haystack Rock.

We headed there very early one morning so we could view the amazing, colorful star fish, sea anemones, etc. that cling to the rock or live in the tide pools. I had my camera with me but had neglected to notice my card was nearly full, and this was the only shot I got before I had to start deleting photos, so I could take a few more pictures.

In addition to the underwater creatures, there were tons of seagulls. Here you see a juvenal seagull who hasn't yet learned that he's supposed to be afraid of people.

Since I was unable to take photos with my usual abandon, I ended up being in them, instead.

One morning, we spent a couple of hours in the nearby town of Manzanita. As we approached the beach, we could see a huge crowd gathered near the water's edge. What was it, I wondered — a beached whale?  — sharks? an injured swimmer? Upon entering Manzanita, it was clear that this was a subtler, more upscale village than Seaside, but not so upscale that they wouldn't host the annual festival of Muttzanita, complete with a dog parade, dog fashion and talent show, doggy spa and more. The first part of the festival takes place on the beach, hence the crowd. 100% of the proceeds go to United Paws and the Rotary Club, so I'm happy to wear the Muttzanita t-shirt I got talked into buying by a very serious volunteer. Who wouldn't want their own Muttzanita t-shirt?

Not just in Manzanita, but everywhere we went on the coast, the welcome mat was out for dogs. They were welcome at the hotels, on the beach, the Prom — every place we visited was filled with dog-love. It was nice.

We went back to Manzanita the next night for vegan Mexican food from Left Coast Siesta. Everyone else had burritos, but I had a giant taco salad in a huge fluted corn tortilla. I thoroughly enjoyed it both for dinner and the next day for lunch.

This is a partial view of the condiment (i.e. hot sauce) table.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, I made friends with a seagull who came every day to peer at me from the overhanging roof.

I'm sure he was trying to enroll me in some sort of food donation program, but I didn't have any fish to offer. I placed a piece of carrot on a chair but he never expressed interest in that. Not a vegan, I guess.

You can see groups of people with their fires.
One last sunset.

And one last morning on the beach — a beautiful, warm (!) morning. We went out very early so we could walk along the beach at low tide. The beach is so wide at low tide it feels like you're miles from the town. We had a wonderful walk, and even found a few sand dollars for souvenirs, then sat on the beach for a while working up the courage to leave such a beautiful and relaxing place.

After four great nights in Seaside, we headed to Portland. I was on a mission to eat at Blossoming Lotus and a couple of food trucks — Homegrown Smoker and Native Bowl. I'd eaten at Blossoming Lotus when I attended Vida Vegan Con, but I'd missed the food carts, and wanted to atone for that.

For lunch, my husband and I headed to the Homegrown Smoker food cart, and we shared an enormous platter of smoked soy curls, tempeh ribs, sweet potato fries and chipotle slaw. The two of us enjoyed every gluten-free bite, but I sincerely hope no single person attempts to eat this alone.

We had our farewell dinner with John, Yvette and Lisa at Blossoming Lotus. Although I tried to order something I hadn't had before, I couldn't stop myself from ordering Crispy Thai Barbecue Salad. I think I can move on to something else next time (now that I know what I know about barbecued soy curls — future post).

My husband had (I think) Wok Tossed Tofu and Greens. Both of us were content. The other popular dish at the table was Vindaloo Masala. No complaints about Blossoming Lotus on this trip.

John, Yvette and Lisa departed early the next morning, but Ken and I had one more food truck to visit. We went to Native Bowl, and loved our very fresh and crunchy lunches. Honestly, I don't remember which bowls we ordered, but I think any of the choices would be fabulous.

Much to our surprise, Homegrown Smoker has a second food truck location right by Native Bowl, and I'm embarrassed to admit that we bought another big platter of Smoker food to take back to Seattle for dinner. This greatly amused our Homegrown host.

Well, that's all I've got. Maybe I should have saved it for vegan mofo. At one photo per day I could have gone the whole month instead of just one day. :)

Now head over to Helen's blog for a great take on Portland vs. Portland. (Nope. Not a typo.)


  1. Wow. What a great place.....just a wee bit jealous!

  2. looks like an amazing time!

  3. We were just in Seaside recently and had a very quiet and lovely walk on the coast with the dogs. Maybe my favorite spot ever.

    My favorite thing to order at blo-lo is the roasted beet salad with cashews with a side of soy curls on top. so good.

    i can walk to the carts at Mississippi, a very dangerous proximity. especially now that HGS is there too.

    wanna meet for carts next time you come to town?

    1. I liked Seaside so much — a perfect blend of peaceful beauty and crazy town. Can't wait to go back, but they could use a vegan eatery or two.

      I don't think I'd want to be able to walk to the carts, unless it was a very l o n g walk. If we head to Portland again in the near future I'll let you know!

  4. What a great trip. I remember Cannon beach and loving the Oregon coast so much. Thanks for brining back those memories. I do get a little confused about summer pictures from Seattle where people are always wearing sweatshirts and such. Obviously it has been awhile and I've forgotten. ;-)

    Mmm Homegrown Smoker. I do remember my husband eating most of a box when he ordered it, but being pretty full for the rest of the day. I regret not trying the soy curls.

    Glad you shared now instead of Mofo, I can't wait that long!

    1. I'm still confused about the need for sweatshirts in summer but I suppose I should be used to it by now.

      Maybe Chris got a smaller box than we did. Hope so.

  5. Funny you noted Helen's blog; I just read that one.. This looks like it was a ton of fun, and it's nice to see you in a couple photos! Also love the shot of the starfish in the tide pools.
    I've got to make it to the PNW sometime, it looks so beautiful.
    Gorggeous takeaway from the Homegrown Smoker (and, yes, huge.)

    1. I hate to be in photos, and since I'm usually holding the camera, it's not much of a problem. My husband has started using his phone camera more and I ended up in quite a few pics. Maybe someday you'll post some photos of yourself. Jenny said she has a good one!

  6. What a great time! I love towns that are a bit unusual & Seaside sounds like a place I'd like.

    That's terrific that Lisa cooked for you in the hotel. I'm impressed!

    The seagull that was peering at you is just too cute. I love the picture of the young one, too. They tend to be less scared of humans when they're younger here, too.

    1. It was a very small kitchen with an electric stove but Lisa made cooking look so easy. Maybe I should get the cookbook.:)

      The seagull seemed to be listening to me — it definitely felt like a conversation. I kept expecting him to join me on the balcony since seagulls can be aggressive, but he kept his position about 10 feet away.

  7. Holy smokes that hot sauce table is crazy! I don't think I could handle it, lol.

    The Starfish and sea anemones are so beautiful! That is an amazing picture.


    1. I could only fit about half of the hot sauce bottles in my viewfinder so what you're seeing is only half as crazy as it actually was!

  8. There's so much great information in this post. I also love that you included photos of yourself - so pretty! Are those historical reenactments a permanent thing? We love going to those.

    I would be very drawn to a town called Seaside. Nice name.

    1. I always worry that I'm including too much and people won't want to read it all! I think they do re-enactments on a regular basis but I don't know how often. It was on the beach and included a tent with young woman dressed as a Native American who was weaving bracelets and trading them for food. You could purchase the food (with modern money!) cheaply to use for barter. Your kids would have liked it. I think Seaside would be a great family destination if you don't mind a little glitz. I love that you can so easily get away from the more commercial aspects, but even they are attractively presented. It's a pretty old town with a lot of charm.

  9. What a great trip and a great post; I'd love to explore Seaside(and more of Blossoming Lotus). Your travel posts are just as inspiring as you cooking posts; I really need to get out more. Or maybe my MoFo theme will just be to be more like you- I need to stop overcomplicating cooking AND vacationing as you do- to wonderful result.

    1. Thanks, but what are you talking about? I love your posts — you always provide such a great window into events — like the recent Vegfest. Or the eye-opening forays into baked goods purveyors and fab food trucks! As a matter of fact, one of your cooking posts may be inspiring one of my mofo posts, that is, if I do mofo.

  10. How could you NOT have fun on such an adventure? That looks like the trip of a lifetime!

    1. It was a really fun trip — ultra relaxing, and calling for a repeat!

  11. Oh, my goodness! What fun! It looks like such a revitalizing and delicious trip! Those are the best kinds of vacations. I'm so eager to try out the many restaurants and food trucks in Portland this coming May. Also, I'm curious to find out what you learned about BBQ Soy Curls...

    1. The weather wasn't perfect, and we had the hotel snafu, but for some reason the trip was the most fun and relaxing in recent memory.

      Portland surely has an astonishing collection of vegan restaurants and food trucks. I'm sure you'll be pleased. :)

  12. Seaside makes me think of that place where Clint Eastwood was the Mayor (?) or something.. I don't think it's the same place. That beach looks beautiful. And deep fried twinkies - well, I wouldn't say no...

  13. I would (and did) say no to deep-fried Twinkies, but I hold no judgement whatsoever towards those who indulge. And I've known some. Deep-fried Oreos, too.

    Seaside was the perfect intersection between quaint and tacky. Loved it!


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