East Coast is different than West Coast. Food is different: The East boasts some homeborn eats like lobster rolls, cheesesteak, and chowder, while the West is more fusion-y and fresh ingredient centric with the sushiritos of LA and avocado toast of San Francisco. Style varies drastically: All black everything in New York contrasting against the slouchy tees and washed denim in California and the Nirvana chic flannel that still reigns supreme in the Northwest.
Differences between the regions pile up and up, and not to be omitted from that list are the beaches.
“Vacation” in the East is often synonymous with the shore. Families load up their hatchbacks with boogie boards and beer coolers then unload in a seaside motel for a week. Typical beach protocol consists of getting too hot sitting in the sun, frolicing in the water to cool down, drying off on your towel till you get too hot again, repeating the process for hours and days on end. Evening is full of strolls down the boardwalk and dinners in restaurants with names like “Dirty Pete’s” or “Wild Bill’s”
Summer in the Chesapeake sees water temperatures climbing past 80. That’s the Northern end of the coast too, mind you. The hottest the Pacific gets is around 70 and that’s Southern California. Towards Seattle where this little lady lives, I’m lucky if temperatures reach 60 at any point in the year.
This leads to the West not having that same “beach” mentality as its rival coast. Here vacation is more travel oriented. Instead of unwinding near the waves people city swap — they’ll leave their Los Angeles apartment for a suite in Palm Springs or Vegas, hop down from the hipster haven of Portland to the hippie chic land of San Fran.
Where does this leave the beaches on our coast then? Sure Santa Monica gets some love due to its iconic pier, and Southern Cali is surfing city, but towards the top of California and beyond it’s cold. Cold and foggy. Cold and foggy and rocky. This takes us to the third notch in my “Seven Wonders of Oregon” belt: The Oregon Coast.
We drove more than half the state’s length along the 101, divvying up our journey into small towns and local attractions: South Beach’s Aquarium will have you looking derpy fish and horrifyingly large crabs in the eye. In Lincoln City, $150.00 will get you an oceanside suite with a private balcony con hot tub, and a stairway onto the beach (Romantic sunset walks ensued followed by the uncorking of a Cascade sour ale in the tub — Hubba Hubba). Pacific City will have you witnessing dozens going “Full Oregon” as they park their Dodges and Jeeps onto the beach itself when the parking lot at Pelican Brewery is full.
North comes Cannon Beach which you may have seen before. Keanu and Patrick surfed on this shore in Swayze’s attempt to capture an endless summer in Point Break. The Goonies burst out of their underground prison onto the safety of its sands, and one of Twilight’s 30 installments was filmed here. The beach is recognizable due to the monoliths that sporadically dot the waters and reach out past the surf. They have an imposing attitude, and seem noble as they loom over visitors, but if they had hands I’m pretty sure they’d be forming fists only to shake them and yell at everyone to get off their lawn.
Skimpy bikinis are not the norm here. Beach goers tend to trek onto the sand in full garb. It’s mostly athletic shorts and capris on bottom, and the women wear bras under their button downs and cardigans (yes, cardigans), not swimsuits. Those who actually brave the 50 degree waves are children too young to know the ocean doesn’t have to be that cold. Even on the sunniest and hottest days in July the fog rolls in, swallowing up neighbors just 50 yards away, causing kids to build sandcastles in hoodies.
Pushing up past Cannon, past where highway 101 turns off for Washington, we come to our final stopping point: Fort Stevens State Park to see the rusted wreck of the Peter Iredale. Bound for Portland from Mexico, the Iredale never arrived, crashing instead onto the Northernmost tip of Oregon in 1906. Miraculously, none of the crew were seriously injured, and while eulogizing his ship the craggly and sentimental Captain Lawrence, a bottle of whisky in hand, lamented “May God bless you and may your bones bleach in these sands,” before turning to his men and stating “Boys, have a drink”. The wreckage has since sunk deeper into the sands, now rusted and barnacled Peter’s bones serve as a playground for small children (who may now be in need of a tetanus shot).
There’s fun to be had back East, that’s for sure. As trashy as the Jersey Shore is, illuminated in neon and reeking of funnel cake and corn dog oil, I’ll always be nostalgic for my childhood in Jersey, Delaware, and the Carolinas. But on the west there’s real beauty to be found. At dusk, rocks cast shadows as the sun ducks behind them and paths to the waters are carved and cobbled into the hills. You won’t sweat and gleam in the heat and you won’t find cotton candy, but in the moments you’re actually here, you won’t want to.