April 2021

Our team members find their way to Headlands from all over and for many different reasons. For some, it’s our magical North Coast surroundings that drew them here first prior to finding a home within our Headlands Team, some were born here, and some moved to our coastal community enticed by an exciting job opportunity. Read on to learn about what inspires them, along with insider tips and suggestions for making the most of your stay on the Oregon Coast.


Team Members:

John Nelson, Executive Chef, Meridian Restaurant & Bar

Sandy Smith, Adventure Operations Manager



What brought you to the coast?

John: I grew up on the northwest coast near the mouth of the Columbia River among relatives who worked in the commercial fishing industry—my childhood was truly rooted in fishing and foraging. My wife Jennifer and I met at Cannon Beach, and I spent over 10 years working in Bend and Eugene, but once you’ve got salt water in your veins it’s pretty much impossible to get rid of it. We moved back to the coast in 2017 when Jennifer accepted the Director of Lodging position at the soon-to-open Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa. As they say, “The rest is history.”

Sandy: The first thing that brought me here was surfing! Second and equally important was the small-town community feel of Pacific City. I was raised in the small town of Packwood, WA. After living in Portland for many years I realized how much I missed the community I had during my childhood. My boyfriend Al had been coming here for years and introduced me to the area. A few years ago we bought property in Pacific City and started building our house. I’m so grateful to live in the midst of a community that I now consider to be my extended family.


What is your ideal day off?

John: My idea of a perfect day is pretty straightforward—fishing, clamming, boating, foraging, crawdading, ocean kayaking. I’ll take any or all of that, in no particular order.

Sandy: Surfing!  Particularly when the conditions are ideal with a mid-to-high incoming tide, glass waves, and a bit of an east wind. Al and I also enjoy going out on the river in our little boat. And hiking the amazing Oregon coast trails of course! There are so many great trails, but one of my favorites is definitely the Cape Lookout South Trail. I love the constantly changing view as you make your way down the path to the beach and the solitude of the beach (it’s also a great spot to search for agates!). Plus it’s a good cardio workout on the way back up the trail!



Our surroundings offer endless opportunities for adventure and exploration, what do you think visitors should not miss?

John: Get in a kayak! There’s nothing quite like getting out on our pristine bays and rivers and immersing yourself in nature. If I had to choose my favorite spots, kayaking in the estuary near Whalen Island and crabbing from my kayak at Sand Lake would be up there.

Sandy: Many guests who visit us have never experienced a beach bonfire, so I always suggest reserving a bonfire under the stars. When the tides are right, go clamming at beautiful Netarts Bay with an Adventure Coach. And nothing compares a Dory boat outing with one of our local Dory boat captains!


Can you share a favorite part of the Headlands experience from your perspective, perhaps an activity or an amenity?

John: The Seafood Butchery Class at Meridian! The class is fun for everyone and is a truly authentic experience that allows our guests to immerse themselves in the culinary bounty of our surroundings. It’s absolutely one of my favorite culinary experiences to share with guests.

Sandy: I love the hot outdoor shower. Its perfectly situated at the top of the path from the beach, just outside the entrance to our guest rooms, and it’s a great spot to wash the sand off after surfing or walking on the beach. It’s particularly popular for post-doggie beach excursions!



Anything else you’d like to share?

John: Try the char-grilled octopus at Meridian! It’s a dish that touches my personal heritage and brings back fond memories, but it’s not the easiest thing to prepare. I’m really proud that our chef team has mastered the art of cooking it correctly.

Sandy: If you’ve never tried surfing I highly recommend it! I love to connect our guests, especially first-time surfers, with the team at Moment Surf. They are avid surfers who love sharing their knowledge, and their enthusiasm is contagious.


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