If you stayed on U.S. Highway 101, it would be easy to mistake Warrenton for little more than a collection of big box stores and fast-food options.

As with most locations, however, venturing off the main highway leads you to not only well-known recreation sites like Fort Stevens State Park and Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, but also hidden gems where you can stop for a meal, enjoy the peaceful Skipanon River or go shopping. From its wide expanse of beaches to its connection to the Corps of Discovery’s expedition, Warrenton offers more than initially meets the eye.

Places to explore

Where Warrenton shines is in its abundance of natural and historical attractions. On the Clatsop Spit near Fort Stevens, you can see the remains of the four-masted Peter Iredale, which wrecked off the Oregon Coast en route to the Columbia River in 1906.

Get a bird’s eye view of the coast’s verdant timberland and a seven-acre lake by gliding through the air with High Life Adventures Zip Line Tours.

Travel in the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by walking the 6.5-mile Fort to Sea Trail, built around the beginning of the century for the bicentennial celebration of the Corps of Discovery.

You can begin the trail from the Sitka spruce forest near the fort replica in Lewis and Clark National Historical Park or at the Sunset Beach State Recreation Site, a 120-acre park along the Clatsop Plains. From Sunset Beach — which provides visitors with vehicle access to the shoreline — you can see Ecola State Park and Tillamook Head to the south, and Cape Disappointment to the north.

While you’re in the Warrenton area, include a stop at Cullaby Lake County Park, just south of the city. The entrance fee is $5 for day-use. With a shallow wading area on the west shore of the lake, an interpretive trail, picnic areas and a playground, the lush park is a welcoming respite for families. The park also offers public access to a boat launch and docks, and is the site of the Lindgren Cabin, a Finnish-American heritage site.

Places to eat

One of the most popular spots in Warrenton, which has rave reviews from both locals and visitors, is Dairy Maid, located off East Harbor Drive. Primarily a hamburger joint that currently offers drive-through or to-go ordering, Dairy Maid is also popular for its extensive milkshake menu and crispy fries. Something to be aware of before you stop for a bite to eat: Dairy Maid is cash-only. Enjoy your meal at one of the picnic tables on a small grassy area to the west of the eatery or at Lighthouse Park across the street.

Another hidden gem in the Warrenton area is Mé Latte Espresso, a small roadside coffee stand off Highway 101. Mé Latte is notable not only for its reasonably priced espresso drinks, smoothies and teas, but also its friendly service.

If you’re in the mood for ethnic cuisine, head to Nisa’s Thai Kitchen, located in a simple, unassuming building — which more closely resembles a house — near the Warrenton Marina. The restaurant is currently take-out only but that doesn’t stop you from dining on traditional and inventive Thai dishes at a nearby park.

Before starting your day of exploring in the Warrenton-Hammond area, you can also fill up on a hearty breakfast at Arnie’s Café. Whether you order chicken fried steak with eggs and home fries, traditional eggs benedict or a stack of pancakes, you are almost guaranteed to receive an unpretentious breakfast that’s easy on the wallet and satisfying to the stomach.

Places to stay

Lodging options are not as abundant in Warrenton as they are in nearby coastal cities. Warrenton, however, has something special in Fort Stevens State Park, which offers camping on its sprawling 4,300 acres in addition to several miles of walking and biking trails, beach access and a military history museum.

The fort was formerly a part of the three-fort, Harbor Defense System installed at the mouth of the Columbia River. It was used for approximately eight decades from the Civil War to the end of World War II and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now the park hosts approximately 170 full-hookup camping sites, 15 rustic yurts and 11 deluxe cabins, not to mention access to Coffenbury Lake, which has two swimming areas, a boat ramp and a picnic area. Two smaller lakes also provide opportunities for canoeing and fishing. KOA in Warrenton also offers a bounty of space to camp.

For more traditional accommodations, you can get a room at Shilo Inns’ Warrenton location on East Harbor Drive, just south of the New Youngs Bay Bridge. The hotel offers the expected assortment of rooms and suites, some of which have a small kitchenette.

Finally, the South Jetty Inn, in Hammond, gives off a vintage vibe from its charming exterior to the cozy interior. The no-frills budget motel is under new management and offers conveniently located lodging. You can also pop over to the Buoy 9 Restaurant & Lounge, situated next to the inn, for a drink or a meal.

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