SEASIDE - It's been a long while since folks called this seashore town "Sleazeside," a reference to the rough-and-tumble atmosphere in the late 1960s and early 70s. Fortunately, Seaside has discarded that unflattering identity in favor of a more family-oriented, pedestrian-friendly feel.
As recently as a decade ago, however, many visitors figured downtown was stagnating and taking a back seat to the outlet mall at the north end of the city. Much has happened lately - what with the spate of new lodgings and restaurants, even a growing gallery scene - and revitalization continues unabated in the downtown core between U.S. Highway 101 and the beach.
A key player in this urban hoopla is the rejuvenated Gilbert District, roughly defined as the swath of storefronts and restaurants bounded by First Avenue to the north and Avenue A to the south, and sided east and west by U.S 101 and the Necanicum River.
There's energy aplenty in this easy-strolling section of town, with Holladay Drive and Broadway at its epicenter. Anchoring the intersection are a couple of well-regarded restaurants: the beachy-casual, year-old Kalypso (619 Broadway, (503) 738-6302), a fine stop for skewered salmon and halibut, baby back ribs, rotisserie chicken far superior to anything available in the grocery store and Seaside's yummiest desserts; and the Cajun-Creole Lil' Bayou (20 N. Holladay Drive, (503) 717-0624), which oozes deep-South noir and hosts live jazz, blues and zydeco in its Magnolia Lounge.
A few storefronts away is Tsunami Seafoods (7 N. Holladay Drive, (503) 738-3322), a seafood retailer (don't miss the live crab tank) and cafe, with a menu ranging from oyster shooters and salmon on a stick to a lineup of exotic meats - ostrich burgers or buffalo hot dogs, anyone? Next door is the Gilbert's hippest hangout, Seaside Coffee Roasting Company (5 N. Holladay Drive, (503) 717-8300), a cavernous coffeehouse staffed by savvy baristas and hung with edgy art. Scones and pastries are top-drawer.
Galleries calling the Gilbert District home include Artful Expressions (613 Broadway, (503) 717-8400), an establishment displaying local paintings and sculpture, and Sunrose Studio and Gallery (10A N. Holladay Drive, (503) 738-7788), a cheery pint-sized space exhibiting mosaics.
In a nearby corner building that has housed a drug store for almost 90 years, Holladay Drugs (616 Broadway, (503) 738-3053) features an old-fashioned soda fountain with counter seating. A few storefronts west are a couple more veteran businesses: Harrison's Bakery (608 Broadway, (503) 738-5331), home to fluffy breads and sweet treats; and Granderson's (612 Broadway, (503) 738-8265), an emporium for kitchen and bathware and gifts galore.
Other eateries have staked a claim to the Gilbert's turf. McKeown's (714 Broadway, (503) 738-5232) affords patrons delightful sidewalk seating and purveys a voluminous menu - everything from broccoli-artichoke frittatas and Philly cheese steaks to a mixed-seafood Alfredo. Pasta takes center stage at Guido & Vito's Italian Eatery (604 Broadway, (503) 717-1229), including a plate of gnocchi awash in a chunky-with-tomatoes pomodoro sauce. Burgers and shrimp cocktails can be had at the Tiki Cafe Bistro & Lounge (607 Broadway, (503) 738-7662), a bar and restaurant with a South Seas vibe that fronts the Necanicum.
A couple blocks south on Holladay Drive, Bagels By The Sea (210 S. Holladay Drive, (503) 717-9145) operates out of a reconverted bank (the building formerly housed the now-defunct Ambrosia restaurant). Here you'll find multiple varieties of doughy orbs, every flavor from raisin and poppyseed to spiced apple and berry bagels, the latter hybrid goodies halfway between bagels and baked confections. Across the way, In Pursuit of Chocolate (752 Ave. A, (503) 440-0551) showcases white and dark morsels molded into sundry shapes including birds, shells and even alligators.
The newest members of the Gilbert community are both home decor specialists: Middle Eastern themes are apparent at Mediterranean Bazaar (1 N. Holladay, (503) 738-3737), while Cosa Bella (810 Broadway, (503) 738-2026) offers an eclectic collection of furniture and such. According to the local scuttlebutt, an indoor boutique mall and a brewpub may be forthcoming in buildings currently undergoing refurbishing.
For a tranquil respite from the Gilbert's bustling milieu, stroll Quatat Marine Park, a linear greenway with benches, piers and wooden walkways that parallels the Necanicum River shoreline. And don't miss the Coast's prettiest pocket gardens, situated throughout the Gilbert and all around downtown.
During the past five years, Astoria has been garnering most of the local ink for its downtown revitalization efforts. The emergence of the Gilbert District demonstrates that Seaside's civic and business leaders are following a similar successful course and are duly focused on making downtown a destination for locals as much as for tourists.
Contact the Mouth at The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or phone (503) 325-3211 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Seaside's Gilbert District
What: A revitalized section of downtown sided by First Avenue, Avenue A, U.S. 101 and the Necanicum River
See and do: Restaurants, galleries, shops, Quatat Marine Park and the Coast's prettiest pocket gardens
Parking: Along Holladay Drive, particularly north of First Avenue; or in the Chamber of Commerce parking area, a few blocks away on the east side of U.S. 101
Details: Contact the Seaside Visitors Bureau at (888) 306-2326, www.seasideor.com