Sure, all the cool kids head to Astoria or Manzanita for their coast getaways. You can read about those in the surrounding pages. But face it: Seaside is more fun. Seaside, Oregon, is a magical place where the sunset looks like watermelon saltwater taffy and you can feed sardines to barking, clapping seals at a defunct Gilded Age natatorium. OK, yes, if you ask why the wolf eel is depressed someone might respond, “They just look like that,” and the teens running the vintage carousel a few blocks away might be high. That is the charm of Seaside.
Built in the 1870s as a beach resort town by rail baron Ben Holladay, the town was conceived as a playground for Portland's social elite. Offering the invigorating, salubrious effects of salt water and bracing ocean breezes, Seaside was once a proper Sanditon—though the Jane Austen Masterpiece soap opera in the fictional British beach town is set earlier. Multiple indoor saltwater pools, or natatoria, were built here between the 1910s and '30s; the Seaside Aquarium is at the site of one of them. Admittedly, the town has lost some of its luster since then and today can feel like being at a Beach House show at the Keller, where the people in front of you won't stop farting. And that's OK! You're still gonna have a good time.
Start your trip off right before you even leave Portland by hitting a metro-area Bi-Mart for a crab license ($10 for Oregon residents; they're good for a year). Yes, you can get a license online or at the coast, but Bi-Mart is 100 percent Seaside vibes and also sells crab traps if you don't want to rent one. On your trip, bring a cooler of snacks, a couple of folding chairs, and a stack of magazines, and hang out on the 12th Avenue Bridge for a few hours while you wait for dinner to wander into the traps hanging in the inlet below.
If it's sunny, take an edible and fly a kite. You can find decent ones (kites, that is) at pretty much any gift shop on the main drag (get an oversize fluorescent tie-dyed Seaside hoodie and a bag of candy while you're at it), and it really does feel like walking a dog in the sky. If it's crappy out, take an edible and go drive the bumper cars or visit that charmingly sad aquarium instead.
Adventurous visitors can forage their own sea rocket and pickleweed to supplement whatever's in season at the Bell Buoy; otherwise, don't delude yourself into thinking you're going to get great seafood unless it's deep fried and comes in a plastic basket. You're here for Pig 'N Pancake (the Dungeness crab Benedict is better than it needs to be) and Pronto Pup. Pub grub reigns supreme, and everything else is trying too hard. Seaside Brewery has the bonus of being housed in the old jail.
Ultimately, the great thing about Seaside is that it's close enough to Portland to just make a day of it and you can be home in time for Sanditon on Masterpiece Classics, but sometimes you want to stay for the whole weekend. When I was a kid we'd always just get the cheapest room at whichever motel had the beach-punniest name, but if you can book Seaside Wonderland's Scout's Cottage or the smaller Birdie's Cottage, you're in for a treat.
The historic cottages were lovingly restored by a former art professor with an eye for collectibles; they're dripping in tastefully curated 1940s kitsch. Or opt for something a bit further from the action, like the Clay Miller House, a few minutes north in Gearhart and just a half a block from James Beard's childhood summer home.
Top photo of Seaside Promenade and traffic turnaround courtesy Bob Pool/Shutterstock