Oregon Coast

Find a Wild Writer’s Retreat and The Ring Vibes in Newport

Lincoln City has the casino and the kite festivals, but Newport has that certain air of mystery.

By Conner Reed Published in the June 2022 issue of Portland Monthly


queezed along US 101 between the Pacific and Devils Lake, Lincoln City can feel like Seaside with a casino thrown in (Chinook Winds, at the north end of town). Home to an outlet mall, annual kite festivals, and plenty of vacation rentals and family-friendly beachfront hotels (like the colossal Surftides) with fire pits and s'mores gear, it offers a generic tourist-town beach experience that is often just what you want out of the coast, but could be anywhere there's sun, sand, and sea. 

For more of an only-in-Oregon experience, go 25 miles south to Newport. The second-most populous city on the Oregon Coast—a bit behind Coos Bay, and just ahead of Astoria—Newport can court a drab reputation compared to sleepier, more beloved hamlets like Manzanita or Rockaway. For some, it’s merely home to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Ripley’s Believe It or Not!. When I returned from a recent visit, an old friend put it bluntly: “I have literally never had a good experience in Newport.”

Well, to each their own. With the proper itinerary, a trip to Newport can harness all the best things about Oregon’s beach towns: the foreboding, the fresh seafood, the Ursula K. Le Guin–size fantasy that maybe one day you’ll move into a misty bungalow and crank out a few novels in full view of the Pacific. It’s big enough to offer a modest diversity of activities, and quaint enough to still feel like an escape.

A note on that foreboding. The Oregon Coast has had its fair share of Hollywood shine, but few blockbusters have painted as grim a portrait as The Ring. Though it’s set in Washington, the 2002 horror hit about a cursed videotape and a prepubescent well-dweller was shot all over the Northwest, and pulls one of its most haunting images from the Beaver State: a painterly shot of Newport’s Yaquina Head lighthouse slicing through a fog-choked coastline, presumably illuminating sights best left unseen. 

Sylvia Beach Hotel

You might, on occasion during a Newport visit, feel like an extra in The Ring, but if you play your cards right, you’ll be too blissed-out to notice. Key starting point? The Sylvia Beach Hotel, situated on a 40-foot cliff over Nye Beach, a section of town with a higher quotient of galleries and boutiques. The three-story building has been standing since 1912. First a reputable vacation spot, then a sophisticated boardinghouse, then a flophouse, it's existed in its current form since the mid-'80s, when Goody Cable, founder of Southeast Portland's Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, transformed it into a literary haven. Each of the TV- and Wi-Fi-free hotel's 21 rooms is named after a different writer and decorated by a different artist. The Jules Verne room sports octopus tentacles protruding from the ceiling; the Agatha Christie suite has bullets in the walls and a bottle labeled “poison” in the cupboard. Breakfast is included, and guests can add a prix fixe dinner, both served in an airy oceanfront dining room called the Table of Contents.

Few places in Oregon—or, frankly, on planet earth—feel as specific as the Sylvia Beach Hotel. It’s like walking into a restaurant where the waiter says they “do things a little differently,” but for once, it’s not bullshit. An upstairs lounge, which is plastered with “No Cell Zone” signs, serves free spiced wine nightly, has the cozy disarray of a grandparent’s game room, and sports an ominous pair of communal binoculars. The attic library is a treasure trove of perfect shelving juxtapositions, like Katharine Hepburn’s Me sitting next to Existentialism and the Modern Predicament. Much of the staff (and clientele) are Medicare-eligible, and their quiet, plus the overwhelming proximity of the ocean, conspire to make you feel like you’ve wandered into an uncomplicated alternate universe where it mostly just matters whether or not you’ve read This Side of Paradise. It’s the kind of place you visit once and then decide you’ll return to regularly for the rest of your life.

On the off chance that you would like to leave the hotel, consider dinner at Local Ocean, a lightly swanky restaurant/seafood market at the edge of the Bayfront District, and take in views of the Yaquina Bay Bridge and the ships that caught your meal. An assortment of oysters (with a helpful flavor guide) awaits, plus a robust cocktail list and broad range of classic, well-prepared entrees. (Do not listen to the voice in your head telling you you “don't need the espresso and candied orange flan.”) For a slightly more down-home seafood experience just across the bay, there's the long-standing South Beach Fish Market, which slings so-fresh-it-remembers-swimming aquatic fodder. Try the addictive salmon candy, or tuck into no-nonsense fish and chips at one of the picnic tables. While you're down south, sip a sour at Wolf Tree Brewery, tell the Brute Squad key lime ale I miss it, and check out the sprawling Pirate's Plunder, an impressively on-theme antique mall that feels like Newport's answer to Hawthorne's House of Vintage.

Yaquine Head Lighthouse

The lighthouse-hungry have two options. Yaquina Bay Light, functional only for four years back in the 19th century, is currently closed for renovations. You can still walk up to the building, but your best bet is to head north to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, seen in The Ring. Even when  tours are on hiatus, just standing and marveling at it while waves gather below casts a spell not unlike the Sylvia Beach Hotel's. While you're there, walk down to the water to check out some very fruitful tidepools—a recent jaunt revealed four starfish, several anemone, the distant cry of seals, and about a million mussels—and take a quick hike up Salal Hill, which pays off in a stunning panoramic view of the coastline.

After standing there, rain or shine, with the lighthouse spinning in the distance, you’ll be hard-pressed not to return to your room at the hotel and write about it beside a cup of hot, weak tea. If that’s not a “good experience in Newport,” I don’t know what is.