From its famous cheese to its cape-sheltered coast, Tillamook attracts visitors from around the world. Less than 100 miles from Portland, it’s an ideal spot to spend the day. Tillamook sits nestled in a valley of pastures between coastal mountains and the sea. Tillamook Indians gave the town its name: "Land of many waters." Its countryside, dotted with dairies, is lush and serene.
Tillamook County Creamery Association
Start your day with an espresso or a delicious scramble of potatoes, peppers, onions, and eggs at the Tillamook County Creamery Association’s Visitor Center Farmhouse Café. Tillamook Cheese is a farmers’ cooperative that formed in 1909 and entertains one million guests a year. Sample their cheddar, Colby, jack, peppered, and smoked cheeses set out in tubs in the Visitors Center for you to enjoy. Words cannot do justice to the mellow and sharp flavors local dairies have perfected over a hundred years.
To see cheese prepared for market, wander upstairs to view the packaging line where 40 pound cheddar blocks are cut, weighed, and wrapped. Tillamook produces 167,000 pounds of cheese a day at this factory, and packages a million pounds a week. The Tillamook warehouse can age 50 million pounds of cheese at a time. After watching cheese whisked off to market, or to age in the warehouse, you can review the entire cheese making process, from cow to table, with videos and interactive kiosks.
In addition to cheese, Tillamook makes its own ice cream-a legend on the Oregon coast. If picking a flavor is your problem, why not pull out all the stops and go for "Sweet Centennial". It was made to honor the association’s 100th birthday and is laced with tiny, peanut butter filled, chocolate cows. You may not be hungry when you’re ready to leave, but before departing, stop by the café and make a lunch to go. You can build your own sandwich on one of four kinds of bread. The sandwich includes meat and one of Tillamook’s famous cheeses.
Tillamook Air Museum
To work off some of the morning’s calories, head over to the Tillamook Air Museum to see their collection of World War II planes. Take 101 S, turn left on Long Prairie Road, and follow the signs for Hangar Road. The air museum proudly displays a P-38 Lightning, one of the few left in the world that can fly. The P-38 flew in the war as both a bomber and an escort fighter. Its dives were so fast they approached the speed of sound, something little understood at the time. These fast dives caused stalls that froze the plane’s controls. Until designers corrected this problem, there was little a pilot could do to recover when this occured.
The most spectacular sight at the museum, however, is the blimp hangar housing the planes. This all wooden structure is made from 3.3 million board feet of Douglas fir. If imagined as 2x4s laid end to-end, the wood in this hanger would extend 1,000 miles. The US Navy built 17 of these gargantuan hangars during the war to house air ships that patrolled the coast for Japanese submarines.
Tillamook County Pioneer Museum
Next, take a look at the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum whose artifacts reflect pioneer life, natural history, and travel in the county from the mid-1800s forward. Wind your way back onto 101 N and turn right at Second Street. The museum’s ground floor contains its first exhibits, modeled on a pioneer house, a barn, and a home in a hollow tree. When the county’s Pioneer Association members constructed these exhibits, many had lived and worked in similar structures.
The museum’s second level presents a rich assortment of animal specimens, including Pacific Northwest birds. The nests are exquisite, the eggs varied and surprising. Bald eagle eggs don’t suggest the majesty of the adult bird and look like big chicken eggs. The feisty rufous hummingbird, with its pipe bowl nest, warms an egg the size of a breath mint.
For a glance at how people in Tillamook County traveled 150 years ago, proceed to the museum’s lower level and re enter an age when horses ruled the road. The North Yamill and Tillamook stage coach is in beautiful condition. So are the treacherous (but upholstered!) sidesaddles for ladies who dared to mount a horse.
Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint
A perfect place for lunch is the north end of the Three Capes Scenic Loop, 10 miles west of Tillamook. Head to First Street, turn left, and follow signs for the scenic loop. Once there, find a picnic table and bask in the beauty of the Oregon coast. Camera and binoculars are a real boon here. Cape Meares lighthouse views are breathtaking and can include the spotting of migrating whales. Also, you won’t want to miss the spooky Octopus tree, reputed to be an Indian gathering spot.
Latimer Quilt and Textile Center
Another cooperative steeped in Tillamook history is the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center. To find it when you return from the coast, retrace your steps to Tillamook, stay on OR-6, and turn left at Wilson River Loop Road. You can tour the center to see spinners, weavers, knitters, quilters, rug makers, or other artisans at work, depending on which day you visit. While quilters work in a former two room school house, over 200 unique quilts reside in a climate-controlled repository behind the school.
Ask to see the Tyler Eagle quilt (1859), the Craig Jacquard coverlet (1851), or the turn of the century carriage blanket made entirely of horsehair. There’s also a beautiful ribbon quilt the center has shown in several exhibitions, and their ever popular balloon quilt, with its whimsical raised appliqués. The well-known Latimer Center has 300 members nationwide. Their work is superb and some is for sale.
Blue Heron French Cheese Company
Your last stop in Tillamook is the family-run Blue Heron French Cheese Company that’s been selling specialty cheeses, Bries and blues, for 30 years. Brie is a soft or liquid cheese you’ve probably enjoyed with fruit or crackers as party-fare. From Wilson River Loop Road, return to OR-6 and turn right on 101 North. Blue Heron Drive will be on your right about a mile up the road.
Like the Tillamook Cheese factory, Blue Heron will build you a gift basket from items in their shop. Things to put in it before you leave are plain, herb garlic, peppered, or smoked Bries. If you like blue cheeses, Blue Heron carries Oregon, traditional, and smoked blue cheeses.
While you’re selecting from their hot sauces, jams, jellies, mustards, truffles, and wines, send your kids outside to the petting zoo where they can feed grain to the resident menagerie. Blue Heron provides grain bags for their donkeys, sheep, goats, ponies, rabbits, cows, and even llamas. Friendly businesses like these and the beauty of this area will with stay with you long after your visit. Tillamook is a small town with a lot to offer.
What and Where
Tillamook County Creamery Association (4175 Hwy 101 N, Tillamook; 503-815-6713; Web: www.tillamookcheese.com)
Hours: Labor Day-Mid June 8-6; Mid June-Labor Day 8-8; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas
Tillamook Air Museum (6030 Hangar Rd, Tillamook; 503-842-1130; www.tillamookair.com) Hours: Daily 9-5; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas
Admission: Adults including seniors $7.50; Youth 6-17 $4.00; Children under 6 free
Tillamook County Pioneer Museum (2106 Second St., Tillamook; 503-842-4553; www.tcpm.org/)
Hours: Tues-Sat 10-4; closed Sun, Mon, and major holidays
Admission: General $3.00; seniors $2.00
Cape Meares Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge (www.capemeareslighthouse.org/)
Viewpoint hours: Daily 7 AM to dusk (admission free)
Lighthouse hours: Daily April-Oct 11-4 (admission free)
Latimer Quilt and Textile Center (2105 Wilson River Loop Rd, Tillamook; 503-842-8622; www.oregoncoast.com/latimer textile)
Hours: April-Oct, Mon-Sat, 10-5, Sun 12-4; Nov-Mar, Mon-Sat, 10-4, closed Sun
Holiday closures: 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day
Admission: Adults $3.00; seniors $2.50; children under 12 free
Blue Heron French Cheese Company (2001 Blue Heron Dr, Tillamook; 503-842-8281; www.blueheronoregon.com)
Hours: Memorial Day-Labor Day 8-8; Labor Day Memorial Day 8-6
Directions: Portland to Tillamook on I-5
Take I-5 S toward Beaverton/Salem.
Take the exit on the left for 405 N toward Beaverton/US-26.
Take the exit for US-26 toward Beaverton and drive about 20 miles.
Stay left at OR-6/NW Wilson River Road.
Follow OR-6 about 49 miles.
Turn right onto Hwy 101 N.
The Tillamook Cheese Visitors Center will be on your right.
Tillamook to Portland and I-5
From the Blue Heron, take Hwy 101 S into Tillamook.
Turn left at 3rd Street/OR-6/Wilson River Highway.
Follow the signs for OR-6, about 52 miles.
Stay right to merge onto US-26.
Take the exit for St. Helens/Seattle.
Stay right for 405 S and I-5.
•Pick up Triple A’s map "Polk County and Tillamook County" for a thumbnail map of Tillamook
•Take camera and binoculars
•Call the friendly Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA) in Newport for more tourist business information. Tel: 541-574-2679
Local Hospitality Options
Inn at Cape Kiwanda (33105 Cape Kiwanda Drive, Pacific City; 503-965-7001 (Stimulus Café on site for breakfast)
Pelican Pub and Brewery (across from the Inn on Cape Kiwanda Dr; 503-965-7007
Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high-tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, and published two award-winning chapbooks of poetry. She lives and works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington.