Depoe Bay, a small town located along a rugged rocky stretch of coastline off Highway 101 offers some of Oregon’s best whale watching, the world’s smallest navigable harbor and an obvious love of pirate lore.
Throughout the year, annual events such as the Wooden Boat Show, an Indian Style Salmon Bake, a Fish and Chips Fundraiser and a Pirate Treasure Hunt demonstrate that Depoe Bay is definitely a fishing town. In fact it was the filming location of the fishing trip sequence in the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Lodging in Depoe Bay is void of any chains, offering everything from motels, hotels, bed and breakfasts to vacation rentals. For a homey experience, Harbor Lights Inn is an ideal choice. Located, as you might guess–in the harbor–this immaculate inn offers charming rooms with views of the bay, the bridge, pacific ocean and part of downtown.
Owners Bob and Beni make their guests comfortable and go out of their way in the morning to serve a gourmet breakfast with choices like eggs Benedict, hash brown casserole, French toast topped with fresh strawberry compote and homemade whipped cream as well as oatmeal pancakes topped with sautéed apples.
Begin your day by exploring town. Shopping is fun and although the main drag is only three blocks long you’ll find everything from gift shops with all things pirate to galleries featuring maritime collectibles and fine art as well as apparel shops and yummy salt water taffy.
Cross the street and head to the sea wall that runs the length of this amazingly small downtown. During low tide sit on the wall and take in the beautiful ocean and distant sailboats. If it’s high tide, you may have to stand back from the wall a bit and watch for gushes of water up to 60 feet high. Known as a spouting horn, these spurts of water are created when waves run beneath the lava beds on the ocean floor and are thrust up and out.
No trip to Depoe Bay is complete without a whale spotting which is possible nearly all year round as gray whales make their home here 10 months out of the year. At certain times the whales feed so close to shore that it makes viewing quite easy.
If you are not able to spot a whale or want to hone your whale watching skills, make your way to the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center run by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. A "Whale Watching Spoken Here" program is offered at the center. Park rangers are available to answer questions and share information about whale spotting techniques. [img_assist|nid=1067|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=188]
To get up close and personal with these amazing creatures, take an afternoon whale watching trip with Dockside Charters. Offering both large boat excursions and zodiac trips, Dockside offers reasonable rates and fun guides. A one-and-a-half hour boat excursion is only $20 for adults, $10 for children and free for kids under five.
Once aboard, you now have the distinction of knowing you are underway in the world’s smallest fishing harbor. Basalt cliffs that were formed millions of years ago and created Depoe Bay have provided a safe harbor for boats traveling the Oregon coastline for many years. It is the stone entrance less than 50 feet wide and just 100 feet long you are about to maneuver through that has caused many boat tragedies. Enjoy the beauty, but keep in mind the skill of your captain as he makes his way to the ocean.
Once out to sea, begin looking for whales. It’s a fun collaborative process with the captain up front as well as the crew and visitors all keeping an eye out for these mammoth and beautiful creatures of the sea. If a whale is in view, someone will yell the location so all passengers have a chance to experience the phenomenon.
Whales tend to surface every 45 seconds as they swim, and will usually stay under three to five minutes while eating. On these trips you may have the opportunity to see gray whales breaching, blowing and diving. We were lucky enough to find a pod traveling north and followed them for several miles watching for them to resurface every few minutes. It is an amazing site and totally exhilarating.
When the tour concludes, walk just a few paces to the Harbor Lights Inn. Head to the bar and order an Oregon Pinot Noir or Pinot Grigio and make your way to the deck where you can relax and continue to enjoy the beautiful panorama.
When the dinner hour approaches head up the hill to downtown. The Spouting Horn restaurant, known for their homemade fries and pies, is a place full of history including a great pictorial display of the town. While the menu tends towards the ‘fried’ side there are some wonderful choices beyond the fish and chips, such as the crab casserole, grilled oysters and a crab and cheddar melt. Of course, don’t forget to ask what pie was freshly made for the day.
Finish your day in Depoe Bay with a nighttime stroll and a peaceful sleep at the Harbor Lights Inn. The whales, the ocean and the small coastal town of Depoe Bay have created this one perfect day.
Check out the full Depoe Bay Photo Gallery!
What & Where:
Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center ( 541-765-3304; www.oregonstateparks.org/)
Dockside Charters (541-765-2545; www.docksidedepoebay.com)
Spouting Horn (110 SE Highway 101; 541-765-2261)
Harbor Lights Inn (235 Bayview; 541-765-2322; www.theharborlightsinn.com/)
Whale Watching Information: Whale watching takes place almost year-round on the Oregon Coast. We watch whales in the winter from mid-December through January. Spring watching begins in March with a peak in numbers the last week and finishes in June with mothers and babies being the last whales traveling north. Summer brings whales that feed along our coast from July to mid-November. For more information visit www.whalespoken.org