Nestled in Seaside, Painted Rock Beach is a ‘sacred place’

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A gray stone is painted with a big green heart and a simple message: “I love you grandpa”. A rock painted gold appears to mark the death of a beloved pair of cats, Marvin (12) and Maybe (17). A round stone, painted blue with an image of a bird on a branch, simply reads “Taylors 2003”.

Seaside’s painted rocks seem to have a lot to say.

Nestled off the beach at the south end of town, the collection of brightly painted stones has become one of Seaside’s best little attractions. And while many neighbors seem to have forgotten its origins, locals and tourists continue to come together to carry on the beloved tradition they call Painted Rock Beach.

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Lightly promoted as a “secret spot” by the town of Seaside, Painted Rock Beach has become more well-known in recent years, locals said, and is now featured on Google Maps as a top tourist attraction on the south side of town. .

Robin Montero, who moved to Seaside in 2001 and now works as a curator for the Seaside Historical Society Museum, as well as one of the owners of nearby Hamilton Market, said he heard the trend started in the 1980s or 90 by the family who owned the beach house next to where the rocks are placed today. People started adding their own and over time it became more and more popular.

“When you see a display of multiple [painted rocks] you kind of want to be part of it, and I think a lot of people have,” Montero said. “It’s a fun little thing. I’m not sure how unique it is to any particular city, but it’s definitely a little undiscovered gold nugget in Seaside.”

The painted rocks are at a local beach access point near the intersection of Ocean Vista Drive and Avenue W, an area that is technically a public right-of-way between private land, the deputy manager said. of the city, Jon Rahl. The rocks do not block access, serving rather as decoration for those descending to the sand from neighboring houses.

Rahl said the city hadn’t received any complaints about Painted Rock Beach, at least not in the 11 years he worked there. If someone considers rocks to be trash or is worried about paint leaching into the ecosystem, they’re not bringing those concerns to the city, he said.

“My experience there is that it’s clean, it’s unobstructed, it’s accessible,” said Rahl, who considers the attraction a “magical little wonder.”

Hundreds of brightly painted rocks are left at Painted Rocks Beach in Seaside, some reminiscent of family vacations, others commemorating deceased loved ones. Jamie Hale / The Oregonian

Painted rock beach

Hundreds of brightly painted rocks are left at Painted Rocks Beach in Seaside, some reminiscent of family vacations, others commemorating deceased loved ones. Jamie Hale / The Oregonian

Painted rock beach

Hundreds of brightly painted rocks are left at Painted Rocks Beach in Seaside, some reminiscent of family vacations, others commemorating deceased loved ones. Jamie Hale / The Oregonian

Painted rock beach

Hundreds of brightly painted rocks are left at Painted Rocks Beach in Seaside, some reminiscent of family vacations, others commemorating deceased loved ones. Jamie Hale / The Oregonian

Joshua Heineman, director of tourism marketing for Seaside, said he’s been walking Painted Rock Beach regularly since he heard about the place from a colleague. His family left a boulder there after moving to town three years ago, and every now and then they return to look for it, now surrounded by all the other boulders people have added over time.

With so many messages of loss, love, and years gone by, Painted Rock Beach is like a cross between a graveyard and a family photo album. It often feels like a sentimental or even sacred place, locals say, and it’s not uncommon to see people sitting quietly alone, rummaging around the rocks or staring at the ocean.

“There are very heavy rocks out there, and I don’t mean the rocks are heavy, but the messages are heavy,” Heineman said. “It’s kind of like an ember burning there that people are a part of.”

He said the city has so far been reluctant to promote the attraction more explicitly, partly because it’s a bit out of the way, and also because there are so many other big attractions in town. . Most tourists visit places like the Seaside Carousel mall, the Turnaround or the Seaside Aquarium, he said, not to mention the expansive beach and long promenade that runs along it.

Painted Rock Beach is more like a second- or even third-tier attraction in town, Heineman said, one of those places you only find if you look for it or spend enough time in town to stumble upon it.

“I kinda like the mystery aspect of it,” he said. “It’s like a quantum particle, you don’t want to look at it or recognize it, otherwise it will disappear.”

Montero said that although it stands out among the driftwood and sand, Painted Rock Beach fits perfectly, spiritually speaking, with the beach, a place where people usually go to relax or let things go. She said she saw more people visiting the Painted Rocks during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the early days when the Seaside community felt the most stress.

There, people could be seen placing rocks, peering through the painted stones, or gazing quietly down to the water. It’s something she says she sees at all times of the year, in good times and bad, among locals and tourists alike.

“Something about that salty air just cleanses the soul,” Montero said. “That’s what Seaside does for people, it just lets people offload, and if they want to leave behind a memorial for their stay or just a little keepsake, Painted Rock Beach is the place to do it .”

–Jamie Hale; [email protected]; 503-294-4077; @HaleJamesB

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