A Different Kind of Coast

Having lived most of my life in Georgia, many of the vacation days I spent outside the state were on the Atlantic Florida coast, with a few excursions to the Gulf Coast in Florida and Texas thrown in the mix. I have friends from my hometown who speak rhapsodically of the azure and green color variations of the water and the bleached white sand of the Eastern Gulf. They save up all year for a week at the beaches of Panama City, Pensacola, Gulf Shores, or Clearwater. With all due respect to their idea of paradise, the Gulf just doesn’t compare to the Atlantic side of Florida for me, mainly because of nostalgia and my personal sense of aesthetics.

My experience of the Atlantic coast in Florida is limited to the northern quarter of the state: Amelia Island, St. Augustine, Ormand-by-the-Sea, and New Smyrna. However, I have spent more time at Daytona Beach and Daytona Beach Shores than all those other locations combined. I still have old black and white photographs of me as a toddler playing in the sand at Daytona back when my family would make the pilgrimage almost every June in the 1960s and 70s. The waves are generally higher and the beaches much wider than at any other location I have visited in Florida. The sights and sounds of the crashing surf there touch me at a very deep level, which I wrote about in an earlier post.

I have visited beaches in other places, such as the coastal islands of Georgia and South Carolina, Huntington Beach in California, and Brighton Beach on the southern coast of England. My wife and I have spent a bit of time together along the rocky cliffs around San Francisco, Monterey, and Carmel-by-the-Sea. I must admit that the west coast has a powerful attraction of its own, and my appreciation for it expanded considerably in the summer of 2021 when we spent a week in Oregon, which included several days at Netarts, a small village on the shore of the Netarts Bay on the northern coast of the state near the town of Tillamook. We rented a small house boasting a spectacular view of the bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond it.

Netarts Bay, Oregon (right) and the Pacific Ocean
Netarts Bay, Oregon (right) and the Pacific Ocean

There are a several features of the Oregon coast that distinguish it from the beaches of Florida. Most of the northern Oregon coast is bordered closely by a rainforest, with thick stands of conifers and hardwoods lining the winding roads that offer access to the collection of seaside resort towns. The landscape of the north Florida coast is mostly characterized by palm trees, palmetto, and sea oats. The northern Oregon shoreline is guarded by the Coast Range, a series of cliffs and ridges that rises dramatically from the Pacific to average heights of 2,000 feet and peaks ascending over 3,700 feet. By comparison, most of Florida is incredibly flat, especially along the Atlantic coastline. For that matter, the highest elevation in the state is Britton Hill in the Northern Florida Highlands, which logs in at a whopping 345 feet above sea level and is almost 50 miles from the Gulf. Lastly, the north Oregon shore contains a mix of light-colored sand, black pebbles, sedimentary rock, and intertidal sea-stack formations of volcanic basalt ranging from modest to enormous size that bulge up from the sand and water. Most of the north Atlantic Florida coastline is buffered by a narrow strip of low sand dunes that quickly levels out to the sandy beaches, with few rocks or outcroppings at all. The fine sand is composed of ground quartz, with a bit of iron oxide mixed in, which gives some areas a light to even dark brown tint.

Manzanita Beach, Oregon
Manzanita Beach, Oregon
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon

We took the opportunity while we there to make day trips up the coast to visit some of the beaches between Netarts and the Columbia River. Among the features the two coasts share is the look and feel of the towns that thrive on tourist dollars in both locations. Although the resort towns in Florida tend to be larger and flashier, there are still some villages along the northern shore that remind older generations of the way things used to be when they were young, what many folks refer to as “Old Florida.” The quaint seaside village at Fernandina Beach is a fine example. Most of the beach towns in northern Oregon look more like Fernandina than Daytona, such as Oceanside, Rockaway, Manzanita, Cannon, and Seaside. They all seem to be family friendly and pleasant places to visit or even live full-time.

Seaside Beach, Oregon
Seaside Beach, Oregon

In the final analysis, the landscape of the north Oregon coast is far more dramatic than that of the north Florida coast. For those who love the mountains and the beach, Oregon features both in the same place – a twofer! The natural resources seem more diverse too, especially the flora. The cliffs offer better and more expansive views of the coastline and the ocean. There is much less development between the beaches, giving the appearance of a more pristine environment. I will always love visiting the Atlantic beaches of Florida, but I can definitely feel a strong affection growing in me for this different kind of coast.

View of Manzanita Beach from Neahkahnie Mountain in Oregon
View of Manzanita Beach from Neahkahnie Mountain in Oregon

Galveston Beach Deserves Better Press

Being a lover of the seashore and all things beach-related, I take every opportunity to dig my toes in the sand and soak up the salt and sun.  We try to make a trip to the beach at least once a year if possible.  I even play the sounds of waves on my computer at work for background noise.  It’s better than music sometimes.  For a good portion of my life, the highlight of my summers was a trip to Florida, usually to Daytona Beach, for a family vacation.  I have also visited beaches in Alabama, South Carolina, California, and southern England.  I know people who drive 24 hours from Texas just to spend a couple of weeks on the beach in Daytona, passing by numerous other locations along the Gulf to get there.  They say that Texas beaches are dirty and run-down.  They claim there’s no entertainment.  Specifically, they are talking about Galveston Island.

This summer, my wife and I were invited to spend a week at Galveston Island with some close family who live in Kansas.  We don’t get to see them very often and really enjoy spending time with them.  The plan involved them driving down to the Gulf in a couple of vehicles, loaded down with everything we could possibly need for a week at the beach.  We flew into Houston, rented a car, and made the short trip down to meet them at a large, rambling house on the beach we had all rented for the week.  I was expecting to be underwhelmed when we got there; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find Galveston’s beaches full of life with plenty of attractions.  There are water parks, an impressive amusement park on a huge pier, gardens, theaters, historic areas, some good restaurants, and more.  The beaches are clean, the waves are better than the Florida Gulf, and the house was perfect for our group of ten people, which included two children under the age of three!

Galveston Beach
Galveston Beach

The house was separated from the beach by a lawn and a some grassy dunes, but the sand was easily accessible by a raised, wooden walkway.  There was plenty of beach area to set up a permanent tent canopy for relief from the mid-day sun.  The porch looking out to the ocean extended the entire width of the house.  There was a large kitchen/eating area, numerous bedrooms, three bathrooms, two televisions on either end of the house set far enough apart to avoid any bleed-over effect.  It was such a relaxing place that was well maintained and nicely furnished.  We had a wonderful time with people we love in a setting that was just perfect.

Before heading back to Houston to the airport, we drove around the more developed area of the beach.  The hotels and condos looked very nice.  Most were probably built after Hurricane Ike devastated the area in 2008.   There are even a few resorts on the far east section of the island and what looks like a residential community development that is just getting started.  The old downtown section of Galveston is full of character typical of a port town.  There are even a few structures that predate the huge storm of 1900,  America’s worst-recorded hurricane disaster, that brought a massive surge across the island killing at least 8,000 people. Now there is a substantial sea wall that serves as the foundation for the major highway that runs along the beach, which helps protect the town from surges.  The highway separates the hotels from the beach, but it is a necessary barrier in case of storms.  For those who still think Galveston is not such a great destination, I suspect they are thinking of an older Galveston that doesn’t exist anymore.  The place has reinvented itself, and it is definitely worth considering.  Galveston is too far away from us for regular beach trips, but if this opportunity came open again, I would definitely want to go back.

Summers Past

Some families have favorite places that they go each year for vacation. I suspect this is still a trend as it was in the 1960s and 70s when my family vacationed almost every summer in Daytona Beach, Florida. It was a magical place with so much to see and do — almost like an extended amusement park with the main attraction being the incredibly popular beach.  I learned how to swim in Daytona; how to body surf, throw a Frisbee, play miniature golf, and so much more. Some of the happiest times I remember with my family growing up were spent there.  

  

It’s no surprise that going back as an adult, with my own children, was a completely different experience.  The carefree hours on the beach were replaced with keeping constant watch on children to make sure they were still in sight in the breakers or on the sand.  Sleeping late was replaced by getting up early enough to watch the sun rise over the ocean horizon — a spiritual and peaceful moment.  Begging for money for snacks on the beach gave way to worrying about how I was to pay the inevitable credit card bill that would all-too-quickly follow the one week of family fun.

Now that my sons are adults (or almost), my visits to the beach are different yet again.  The commercial overload of the Boardwalk and Highway A1A are not quite as appealing as they once were.  My wife and I live farther away from the coast now than I ever have lived before.  I need time at the beach occasionally for my sanity, so I get there as often as I can.  I am sure that I will get back to Daytona at some point in the near future, and I want to take my wife with me because she has never been.  I have to wonder if some small portion of the magic from my childhood will still be there.