The official website for Tillamook County, Oregon says “Welcome to the land of Cheese, Trees, and Ocean Breeze,” which is (by my estimation) a fairly accurate tagline. I recently drove all over Tillamook County with my three kids in tow—our goal was to see as much as possible without feeling completely frazzled at the end of the trip. Over the span of three days, we counted license plates from 28 different states. In my experience, once you encounter people from 15 uniquely different parts of the country, you must be somewhere worth writing home about.
In no particular order, here are a few different places to get you going on your own Tillamook family vacation:
Bay Breeze Golf Putting Course
Adjacent from the Tillamook Cheese Factory on Latimer Road North, Bay Breeze Golf features an eighteen-hole real grass putting course–something I have never seen in our many travels across the country. Duplicating the scenarios golfers encounter on traditional putting greens, Bay Breeze has added a few fun obstacles to keep kids engaged. While we did not personally visit this attraction, the grounds appear to be meticulously maintained; we spotted a multi-generational group out on the course and everyone appeared to be having a good time. Each golfer pays $8, rentals are included.
Naval Air Station / Tillamook Air Museum
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Tillamook-based Naval Air Station is the world’s largest wooden structure. One of a handful of remaining World War II blimp hangars scattered around the county, the Tillamook Air Museum easily fits inside the bunker that once held up to eight massive “K” Class Navy Blimps. We timed our visit to the Tillamook Air Museum with lunch, dining at the Air Base Cafe before entering the museum. Because much of the experience is “look don’t touch,” I didn’t think my kids would last long. However, one of the first exhibits is a row of fighter cockpits where smallish people can climb inside and get a feel for what it might be like to be a jet pilot.
Adding to the cockpit experience, we gained an appreciation for the magnitude of cargo transport inside the belly of the Mini Guppy (this giant aircraft is stationed outside the hanger). My favorite part of the tour was the helium room where you can see the giant engines that once filtered and pumped clean helium into the blimps. General admission is $9, and families of four (two kids, two adults) receive a price break at $25. Plan to spend more time here than you first anticipate.
Tillamook Forest Center
The Tillamook Forest Center was the most unexpected and pleasant surprise on our adventures in Tillamook County. Located off Highway 6 about twenty-or-so minutes East of downtown Tillamook, the Tillamook Forest Center is situated in the heart of the Tillamook Forest. If you are mapping out your trip, visit this destination on your way into or out of town (or on a rainy day). Maintained and operated by the Oregon Department of Forestry this “interpretive and educational center showcases the legacy of the historic Tillamook Burn and the public spirit behind a monumental reforestation effort that left a permanent imprint on Oregon history while also shaping sustainable forest management today.”
Trip highlights include (1) a trip to the top of the lookout tower, (2) an award-winning fifteen minute documentary detailing the fallout and comeback from the region’s three massive forest fires, and (3) interactive exhibits that teach visitors of all ages about the forest, the region’s early settlers, and modern-day sustainability initiatives. Our visit coincided with the 12:30 Plant Walk, one of the four educational programs running throughout the day. Museum admission and program attendance are both free (donations are both appreciated and tax-deductible). We met another family who planned their entire visit around attending all four educational programs; eating a picnic lunch and exploring grounds between sessions. A family could easily spend two hours just exploring the facility and wandering the grounds.
Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint
Located closer to Oceanside than Tillamook, Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint is worth the scenic detour. This free attraction is home to Oregon’s smallest lighthouse (measuring in at 38-feet-high) and current largest Sitka spruce tree (nearly four times the height of the lighthouse at 144 feet tall). In the summer months, visitors can tour the lighthouse between the hours of 11AM and 4PM. All-year-long, the lookout point offers sweeping views of the ocean and coastline for as far as the eye can see.
Cape Meares Scenic Viewpoint is also home to the “Octopus Tree.” As the name implies, the tree has branched out in a way that is more horizontal than vertical; a combination of wind and genetic confusion caused this spruce tree to deviate from its taller siblings. Note that the trail leading up to the Octopus Tree passes modern restrooms. Past the tree is another breathtaking view of the coastline.
Munson Creek Falls State Natural Site
Cascading 319 feet to the valley floor, Munson Creek Falls is the tallest waterfall you’ll find in the Coast Range. Look for road signs directing you to the trail-head a few miles south of downtown Tillamook. A word of caution, we found the drive in to the small parking lot quite rutted out and bumpy (go slow and consider the limits of your vehicle). If you are pulling an RV, you won’t have much room to turn your vehicle around once you dead end at the end of the road. The site has a small and pretty picnic area, but no restrooms.
The hike back in to the falls vantage point is about 1/4 mile (look for slugs, we counted four) and weaves and winds along the rocky creek bed and through a canopy of red cedar and Sitka spruce trees. We were somewhat disappointed when the out-and-back trail came to an abrupt “end of trail” point quite a ways back from the base of the falls; regardless we enjoyed the short hike and were able to zoom the camera lens in for a few nice photos.
Blue Heron French Cheese Company
If your cheese palate leans more towards the smelly and squishy, consider a stop at the Blue Heron French Cheese Company. Billboards advertise this destination mention a “petting farm.” In my opinion, this claim is a bit misleading for anyone who promises their kids one-on-one time with cute and cuddly barn friends. Farm animals, yes. Petting farm, not unless an animal is standing right next to the fence. One nice thing about the Blue Heron complex is the addition of a just-opened art gallery featuring the works of local artists and craftspeople; providing tourists and locals with a place to purchase one-of-a-kind items that support and sustains the local artisan community.
Tillamook Cheese Factory
Probably the most well-known of all the attractions in Tillamook County is the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Read the full story detailing our dairy overload here: http://www.roadtripsforfamilies.com/2015/07/visiting-the-tillamook-cheese-factory/