Exhilarating Oregon coast beckons you

You enter Newport via the impressive 600-foot Yaquina Bay Bridge, a combination of art deco and art moderne with touches of gothic architectural style that opened in 1936. It sits a thrilling 135 feet above sea level.

With so many things to do, Newport, Oregon, is a perfect place for a quick getaway or a family reunion. Plus, you can fly direct from Alaska to Portland's sweet and user-friendly airport with a mere 60 gates and dodge the complexity of Seattle's 111 gates and that darned train-to-nowhere.

Newport is on the central coast and a historic fishing and shipping town, so of course there's a lighthouse.

Shining bright for over 150 years

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse was built in 1872 and has been guiding ships ever since. At that time, the oil burning fixed white light was displayed from sunset to sunrise. Today, the fully automated first-order Fresnel lens runs on commercial power and flashes its unique pattern of two seconds on, two seconds off, two seconds on, 14 seconds off, for 24 hours a day. The oil-burning wicks have been replaced with an LED stack of 36 individual LED bulbs.

If you have never seen a Fresnel lens, it is a beautiful thing - almost art deco-like but also like a crystal spaceship.

At 93 feet, Yaquina Head Lighthouse is the tallest tower on the Oregon coast and shines its light 162 feet above the ocean and can be seen 19 miles out to sea.

The lighthouse is open from October to February, noon to 4 p.m., except holidays, and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Two flights of stairs lead to the watch room, but the lantern room is closed to the public. The basement features an interpretive display with educational items and a video about the lighthouse history.

In addition, the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is home to one of the west coast's largest nesting colonies of common murres. Also frequently spotted are black brants and pelagic, meaning mostly at sea, cormorants, pigeon guillemots, western gulls, black oystercatchers and bald eagles. Yaquina Head is also home to a mated pair of peregrine falcons, visible most days on the cliffs above the Interpretive Center.

See Alaskan whales pass by, delve into tide pools, hit a ball

For over 100 years, Newport's Agate Beach has drawn families for its majestic setting and big rollers. Now surfers have found it, but they're encased in Neoprene. For those who like to swim, beware the undertow, rip tides and 58 F temperature.

Better to gaze into a tide pool and all the creatures that live there - huge starfish, sea anemones and sea urchins. Best viewing is at low tide.

On the migration path of "our" gray whales returning to the Bering Sea in March and April after migrating south to warmer waters in December and January, they can be seen off Agate Beach. Take a whale watch trip on Marine Discovery Tours (541-256-6200) or Newport Tradewinds (541-265-2101).

Nearby is the Agate Beach golf course, a nine-hole public golf course that opened in 1931. Designed by Frank Stenzel, it measures 3,002 yards from the longest tees and has a slope rating of 107 and a 33 USGA rating. If you're a golfer, you'll understand this.

Nye Beach, closer to the center of town, is filled with shops and places to dine. The more than 40 businesses, restaurants and lodging are rich with variety. The farmers market offers seasonal fruits and vegetables, but who knows how much the organic eggs cost now.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is an imaginative facility where you can walk through a clear tunnel surrounded by water and sharks, stingrays and more. There's also an aviary with tufted puffins, horned puffins, rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots, common murres, and black oystercatchers. Yes, you can see many of these birds in Alaska, but not so easily as here.

Free for ages 2 and younger, otherwise $14.95 to $24.95 and receive 10 percent off with proof of military service or AAA membership.

And believe it or not, the town has a Ripley's Believe it or Not! World of Adventure with 11 mind-blowing galleries filled with outrageous art, hard-to-believe animal exhibits, pop-culture memorabilia, and weird stories of people and places. Adults $24.99, child (4-11) $19.99 and children 3 and under free.

Eat and sleep

Nestled into Nye Beach since the 1980s, the Chowder Bowl has been serving milk-based, award-winning chowder with local ingredients. There's also fish and chips, certified Angus burgers, salads, seafood dishes and handmade desserts on the menu.

With an ocean front view, Georgie's Beachside Grill serves Yaquina Bay oysters or local Dungeness crab.

Hotels large and small dot the coast, with the usual names: Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge, Motel 6,and Best Western.

But locally-run inns and hotels offer coziness and personality. Try the 1912 Sylvia Beach Hotel, a literary themed accommodation on a cliff top (note it has no telephones, Wi-fi or TVs, for the ultimate unwind and unplug experience), or the dog-friendly Agate Beach Hotel with individually unique rooms with full kitchens and decks.

Fall asleep to the sound of waves, the cry of seagulls.