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The Best Beaches Near Portland, Oregon

Featuring candy-colored towns and hikes peppered by ocean spray, here are some local tips on where to find the best beaches near Portland.
Going to the beach is such a popular pastime in Oregon that a law was passed in 1967 to make all beaches public property. Found in the state’s northwest, you might not be able to catch a sea breeze in Portland itself, but the city is only 60mi (97km) from the swirling Pacific on Oregon’s west coast.

1. Cannon Beach: The approach to Cannon Beach is quiet. The tangles of the Ecola State Park silently barricade the edges of the highway leading into it until the road reaches the gloriously rugged, wide coastline. There’s certainly a conception that this beach is one of the northwest’s best-kept secrets. The pièce de resistance is Haystack Rock, a dome-shaped monolith rising some 235ft (72m) out of the sand. A gentle westerly wind makes this a popular kite-flying spot, too.

2. Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area: Carved out of sandstone cliffs, this craggy stretch of coastline, a 2hr drive west of Portland, is best seen from the sand dune piped atop of the layered cliffs. At dawn, the views are bewitching. Steely waves froth around rocky contours and mingle with the morning fog curling above the water and shimmering in the early light. Later on in the day, this is also a favored spot for hang-gliding and sand-boarding.

3. Indian Beach: This small beach sits at a secluded point where the volcanic rock of Tillamook Head cascades into the ocean. To reach the seafront, it’s a gentle hike through 2.5mi (4km) of thick Sitka spruce forest. Once you’re there, spend a few hours watching foolhardy surfers battling the Pacific’s mighty swell and – if you’re lucky – you might spot a few whales, too.

4. Short Sand Beach: There’s plenty of evidence that Short Sand Beach is ‘where the forest meets the sea’, from the gigantic sitka spruces crammed onto the hillside to the splintered driftwood scattered across its sands. You get the impression that this wild beach has been the same for centuries, and with good reason: some of these huge trees are over 300 years old. The only evidence of human activity is a wooden bridge hanging over the river on your hike in, although this only adds to the atmosphere of wild adventure.

5. Manzanita: A colorful seaside town that hugs the base of Neahkahnie Mountain on the Pacific coast, Manzanita’s blustery seafront is a lengthy swipe of dove-white sand. You’ll want to bring your binoculars, swooping bald eagles can often be seen above, flying from their nests in the nearby mountains. Make sure to visit Manzanita itself while you’re there for freshly caught seafood (try the crab cakes at Big Wave Cafe) served by ultra-welcoming residents.

Sometimes, the best holiday celebrations aren't the most famous or obvious ones.

This is especially true on Oregon's coast, where one big secret is that this time of year doesn't just mean the area's notoriously stormy and wild weather, but that it has many days that are unusually dry and warm compared to the rest of the state. But the most delightful secrets lie in the realm of holiday celebrations, which make for some memorable discoveries along this famously pristine stretch of shoreline.

On the northern Oregon coast, the holidays begin not with the usual celebrations, but with a major wine event and loads of signature Lewis & Clark commemorations.

Fort Clatsop - the replica of the Corps' winter camp - will feature various "Wintering Over Events" between the Fort and Cannon Beach. This replica tragically burned in early October, but the visitor center there is still the center of many of the winter events, including a living history program about their Christmas at the camp on December 25. On January 7, the celebration comes to Cannon Beach (some 25 miles south), marking the day that Clark, Sacegawea and others traveled to the ocean to see a beached whale.

The adorable resort town of Seaside - which boasts broad, immaculate beaches, the "million dollar walk" of Broadway Ave., and a cove famous for surfing - will be one of the few cities to host a major traveling exhibit on Lewis & Clark. From November 19 to November 22, you'll find the "Corps of Discovery II, 200 yrs. To The Future," with a mobile 250-seat auditorium showing multimedia programs on Lewis & Clark's troupe of travelers. Free. 503-861-4403. http://www.destinationthepacific.com.

By late November, Seaside really gets lit up with the "Yuletide at Seaside" , where the entire town is decked out in all sorts of light configurations. Highlights include the Holiday Gift Fair on November 25 - 27 at the Seaside Civic & Convention Center, the famous Holiday Caroling & Lighted Float Parade on November 26, the Holiday Lights Tour aboard a bus on December 10 and 11, and the Seaside Children's Christmas Party at the Seaside Convention Center on December 11. Call 800-394-3303 for more information on all these, or go to http://www.seasideor.com.

If you want to stay in a castle on Oregon's coast and enjoy some special holiday events, you need only look about 15 miles south of Seaside to St. Bernard's Bed & Breakfast. This stunning beauty is built to look somewhere between a medieval structure and a Swiss ski lodge, filled with antique furniture and a spicy sense of romance and adventure - in an exceptionally upscale way.