GLENEDEN BEACH — As I gazed from the cedar deck of my second-floor guest room at the Salishan Spa & Golf Resort, I felt as though I were in a rainforest.
A steady April drizzle was shellacking an old-growth forest of spruce, hemlock and fir. Rain dripped from the leaves of rhododendron bushes just coming into bud. I reclined in an Adirondack chair and watched as tiny birds flitted like dragonflies in and out of the dense foliage on the forest floor.
I could discern at least a dozen shades of green, from the celadon-hued lichen clinging to the textured bark of the conifers, to the darker moss that cloaked their visible roots. Oregon grape and sword ferns, brushy salal and salmonberries, covered the ground beneath the trees, here and there parting to allow the rose-colored early blossoms of azaleas to come into view.
The drumming of the rain, interrupted only by the twitter and chirp of sparrows and wrens, drowned out any sound rising from traffic on U.S. Highway 101, a few hundred yards downhill. Indeed, coupled with the nurturing scent of saturated earth, it was almost hypnotic.
I can think of few better places for a relaxing weekend on the Oregon coast than Salishan. The resort, just south of Lincoln City, was built in 1965 by developer John Gray, who subsequently established Sunriver Resort. Managed since 2014 by Crescent Hotels & Resorts, Salishan has been updated in recent years with a luxury spa, a Peter Jacobsen-redesigned golf course, and most recently a reconceived fine-dining restaurant serving “Coastal Range Cuisine.”
Rain fell diagonally on the day of my arrival at Salishan with photographer Barb Gonzalez. That didn’t bode well for golf the following day. But the storm broke by late morning, and longtime golf director Mark Swift was glad to welcome me to his 18 holes — the front nine embraced by coastal forest, the back nine extending nearly to the wave-washed Pacific beach.
To say the fairways of the Scottish-style links were soggy would have been a gross understatement.
“It’s been a wet winter,” Swift apologized. “Dating back to last October, we’ve had 88 inches of rain in the last six months.” That averaged out to about half an inch a day. And while this particular afternoon yielded temperatures in the mid-50s and a light ocean breeze that helped to gently dry the course, the par-71 layout was a long way from being tournament-ready.
I quickly learned that the way to play a waterlogged course is to hit long and straight. While I was able to clear all but one bunker, I did lose a ball in a creek guarded by a thriving colony of flowering skunk cabbage. A bigger hazard were the fairways themselves: A high, arcing drive was likely to land with a kerplunk in a boggy area, burrowing into the sludge like a clam in wet sand.
But I loved the course. I look forward to playing again on a drier day.
The back nine were especially charming. In particular, the 10th green and 11th tee stand beside shallow Siletz Bay, and the bird life here makes it evident why the course has been designated by the Audubon Society as a cooperative sanctuary for its environmental stewardship. The signature 15th hole, a 158-yard par 3, plays downhill from a bluff of dunes to a row of homes facing the Pacific Ocean. The ensuing 16th hole, a 332-yard par 4, plays away from the shore (and with the ocean breezes), but the backward view from the pin toward the tee and the ocean is one of the finest on the course.
There’s been golf here since Gray first opened Salishan 52 years ago. But it was redesigned by Portland native and PGA Tour veteran Jacobsen in 2004. His multimillion-dollar restoration improved drainage, enhanced the playability of the greens and recreated the 10th and 15th holes. Another overhaul is being contemplated as well as a redesign of the resort’s nine-hole putting course.
While I played golf, my photographer partner was immersed, quite literally, in the Salishan Spa, no doubt a more intelligent choice for a soggy day.
The 8,000-square-foot, full-service spa sits beside Siletz Bay, a sheltered, tidal estuary fed by three freshwater streams. An army of harbor seals guards a beach at its mouth, opposite Lincoln City’s Taft neighborhood, while a variety of waterfowl and wading birds patrol the salt marshes and mudflats to the south and east. The shoreline spa strives to blend into that natural community.
From the moment Gonzalez crossed the covered, open walkway to the spa’s front doors, surrounded by placid pools and a waterfall spilling across a stone wall, she was unclear whether she was outside indoors, or inside outdoors. Built of polished red cedar, mahogany and teak — accented with indigenous river rocks, locally quarried slate and poured concrete embedded with beach glass — the spa was designed to reflect the landscape in which it resides.
The hostess gave my friend a tour of the locker rooms, with their dry and wet saunas and their gender-specific whirlpool spas looking toward the bay, and the hearth room, its glass walls surrounding a stone fireplace. An infinity pool in a covered enclosure was exposed to the elements, created such that the water of the pool appears to merge with the water of the bay. Gonzalez learned about eight different treatment rooms, including a pair set up for couples massages, along with a light therapy room and a salon.
I found my companion still in the spa when my golf afternoon had ended. She was relaxing in a terrycloth robe in the hearth room, scouring Siletz Bay for ducks and blue herons as she waited for her nails to dry after a mani-pedicure. I hated to disturb her reverie, so I quietly meditated upon the infinity pool until our stomachs told us it was getting close to dinner time.
We were fortunate to be among the earliest guests to Salishan’s newly renovated fine-dining restaurant. Chef Andrew Garrison, a Midwesterner who spent the previous three years as Sunny Jin’s sous chef at the Allison Inn and Spa in Newberg, has done a masterful job in establishing his own culinary style at the restaurant now known as “Samphire.”
I want to call it “sapphire,” because it really is a gem. But samphire, as it turns out, are edible sea beans, native to salt marshes such as those of Siletz Bay. The name is an English-language corruption of the French St. Pierre, who happens to be the patron saint of fishermen. And yes, Garrison will often use them in his recipes, along with locally foraged black-trumpet mushrooms and nasturtium blossoms.
Samphire, which opened March 31, is open nightly for dinner. It’s one of four dining establishments at Salishan, including The Sun Room, which offers breakfasts and lunches. The Attic, which serves a lighter menu, is an upscale sports-bar atmosphere while The Grill is a burger and sandwich joint in the golf clubhouse.
The resort’s management is counting upon Garrison to make his mark in a competitive dining market that includes the acclaimed Restaurant Beck (at the Whale Cove Inn near Depoe Bay), 7 miles south, and The Bay House in Lincoln City, 4 miles north.
“Salishan was once the culinary epicenter of the West Coast,” said general manager Steve Hurst. While that may be a slight exaggeration, it’s certain that Gray’s, as Samphire was most recently known, was a destination restaurant for many coastal visitors in its first years, a half-century ago. And Hurst sees no reason why it can’t be so again.
Garrison has given that effort a kick-start with what he is calling “Coastal Range Cuisine.”
A recent menu offered a three-course tasting menu ($59) that might include a salad of forest greens with spruce tips, a seafood chowder and a sliced duck breast with fennel, green garlic and blood orange. I moved from local Netarts Bay oysters to caramelized cauliflower (with Dungeness crab) and a lamb rib chop with turnips and Corona beans, and I was delighted every step of the way.
On days that don’t include golf or spa treatments, Salishan is a fine base for exploring Oregon’s Central Coast.
Immediately north is the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Where slough-like channels of the Siletz River weave an intricate web through a sodden grassland, countless birds make their presence known in any season, any weather. Trails depart from a parking area less than a mile north of Salishan. A turnoff on Immonen Road, on the south side of the slough, leads a short mile to Mossy Creek Pottery and Gallery, a surprising and off-the-beaten-path showcase for local artisans.
Lincoln City spreads for miles along U.S. Highway 101, beginning 4 miles north of Salishan. I don’t like to subject myself to the coastal version of urban sprawl, but I take a certain pleasure visiting the Taft neighborhood at the southern end of this city, a conglomeration of several villages. Taft has numerous restaurants and gift shops, a beach popular among crab fishermen, and the Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio, where owner Kelly Howard and her staff are glad to help visitors blow their own glass floats or bowls.
The drive south, through Depoe Bay and Otter Crest, is considerably more interesting. State natural areas offer a certain amount of drama: At Fogarty Creek, wooden footbridges lead to a cliff-rimmed beach where the creek dives into the sea beside a large rock. At Boiler Bay, named for the boiler of a shipwreck still visible at low tide, a waterfall pours directly into the ocean over mossy, multicolored rocks. At Devil’s Punchbowl, churning surf swirls into a chasm formed by the collapse of the roof of a double sea cave.
Depoe Bay, a community of about 1,500 with a tiny, keyhole harbor that it claims is the world’s smallest, is a center for whale watching during the winter and spring gray whale migrations. Several whale-watching excursions depart from here, and interpretive displays at the Oregon State Parks’ Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center are open year-round.
Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint occupies a bluff 500 feet above the Pacific. A trail to the Cape Foulweather lookout — notable as the first Northwest promontory sighted by Captain James Cook on his third voyage around the world in 1778 — offers wonderful seascape views. Nearby is the Flying Dutchman Winery, whose award-winning grapes are sourced from the Rogue and Umpqua valleys but turned into award-winning vintages in this maritime climate.
When native Oregonian and World War II veteran John Gray (1919-2012) envisioned Salishan in the early 1960s, he perceived a resort that would be a part of, but not separate from, the beautiful Oregon coast. Beginning in 1961, the Oregon State and Harvard graduate purchased land and began developing homes on the Salishan Spit on the southwest side of Siletz Bay. He built a nine-hole golf course and followed in 1965 with the resort of Salishan.
It was designed by Portland architect John Storrs in distinctive mid-century modern style with a Northwest sensibility — with locally sourced woods and an awareness of natural light and the coastal landscape. Covered walkways link every building on the east side of the highway, winding and climbing from the main lodge, with its restaurants and lounges, to fitness facilities and residential units. The spa, the pro shop and the Shops at Salishan, a block of retail stores currently in search of additional tenants, may be reached by a highway underpass.
Over the past five decades, Salishan has seen several remodels and updates. Today, it has 205 rooms: Hurst (previously of Portland’s luxurious Heathman) considers it a “small romantic hotel” that places an emphasis on personalized service. In addition to golf and spa, it has a three-court tennis center, a full-size indoor swimming pool, a weight room, hot tub, and sand volleyball and basketball courts.
All those exercise offerings are wonderful. But truth be told, I’d just as soon sit in an Adirondack chair, on the second-floor deck of my guest room, watching the rain fall on an old-growth forest of spruce, hemlock and fir. That seems to be the perfect relaxing Oregon coast getaway.
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at email@example.com .