Oregon Coast: From Agates to Octopus

I grew up in a coastal town on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and the Long Island Sound. One of the things I miss most about this peninsula-abundant region is that it’s loaded with opportunities to get in the water in the summertime. I often explored the hidden beaches there and have always felt most relaxed just listening to the sound the waves make. Now that I live on the west coast, making a trip to the Pacific Ocean is necessary for my inner relaxation levels. It’s like hitting the reset button.

I’m lucky to have family who live right on the ocean in a small town called South Beach, Oregon. South Beach is the first town south of Newport along the Pacific Coast Highway or Highway 101. I say I’m lucky because I can pop in on my family whenever I need to and I never need to worry about a hotel with vacancies or anything else required when arranging a getaway.

I guess you could say I like to visit at least once in every season, but when I go I have special spots I like to get to. One of my favorites is the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The exhibits change regularly, but even if they didn’t I would still go anyway. I especially love the octopus tank and the Passages of the Deep, an underwater tunnel where you can experience different ocean depths and the creatures who call them home. OCA has otters, seals and sea lions, puffins, sharks, and so much more.

I’m not just lucky to have family to visit here, but I also have a special connection to the aquarium. My uncle is the Director of Animal Husbandry there. Luckily, he knows that I love the octopus. So, on special visits, I get to go behind the scenes to meet these intelligent creatures in person.

On my last trip with my friends, we did just that. My friends Cassie and Terra were excited to get out of town for the afternoon. It had been a long time since my last visit, so we met up with my family for lunch and planned to make a  trip to the aquarium with them.

We ate lunch at my favorite seafood deli, a place known for the constantly steaming crab pots out front and the UFO on the roof. My uncle and I affectionately call it the “porn deli” because of the once large section of adult novelties in the market next door. It’s located just over the Newport Bridge, on the right, after the turn to the aquarium. It’s my favorite spot for halibut and chips, but their fresh Dungeness crab cups are incredible, too. I have tried just about everything there, but I highly recommend trying the salmon “candy” for a sweet treat you can’t find anywhere else.

After lunch, we made our way to the aquarium. With my uncle and six-year-old cousin Una as our guides, we checked out the progress made on the upcoming exhibit and briefly found ourselves at the otter feeding. After catching a few minutes of the seal and sea lion action we wandered into the dark corner where the octopus lives. From the tank view you could see that he was trying to hide among the rocks, but the visitors watching were about to get an amazing look at all of him.

We stepped inside his lair. A small, roped-off path leads to the interior of the tank where only an outdoor carpet and the surface of the water kept him from us. Most of the octopi held here are released into the wild before they fully mature. This guy was young and full of energy. As soon as he heard us walking up the stairs, he began to move toward the surface of the tank, probably expecting to be fed. A small splash at the surface got his attention and he quickly extended his long arms across the surface. It was almost as if he were going to sneak out of the water just to touch us.

First, the tips of his tentacles curled around our fingers. We were all thrilled to feel his slippery skin and suction cup feelers. Terra, a fish biologist, was eager to play with him because she’d never touched one before. I enjoyed watching her get a little nervous as he started to pull her in. Most people squeal when they realize it’s hard to detach those suckers from your skin. Octopi really are strong: so strong, in fact, that without help she may have been eaten. No, not really, but I think the thought had crossed her mind.

At this point, we’d had our fun. The aquarium’s visitors had an amazing look at the creature from under the water’s surface as he preoccupied himself playing with us. What a treat it was for all of us. While I don’t expect you to have this opportunity, I know you will enjoy thinking about this when you visit the aquarium for yourself. Make sure to spend some time with the sharks in the underwater tunnel and try to make it to the feeding times. It’s the best way to see the amazing animals in action.

Of course our coast trip didn’t end there. We stopped at the beach to wander, collect agates, and listen to the sound of the ocean before heading back to Portland. This trip, like many others I have made, was just what I needed and I think my companions agreed. So, even if you don’t have time or money for a weekend trip, consider making the 5-hour round trip from Portland. It’s worth every second.

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