A User’s Guide to the Oregon Coast

Yaquina Head Light House in Newport, Oregon

Humorist and author DAVID VOLK takes a light look at vacationing on the Oregon Coast.

When you don’t know the Oregon Coast well, one of the biggest challenges to finding the right beach rental is being able to tell the towns apart. We’re not saying rentals are interchangeable or that the towns are all the same (because they aren’t), but when a single national vacation rental website lists 30 dog-friendly homes, 10 cozy houses and five cozy dog-friendly places between Astoria and Bandon, it helps to have an idea of the type of town you’re looking for.

That’s why we’ve provided this handy user’s guide to the Oregon Coast to help you find the place that’s right for you and yours. From us and ours. Without further ado, here’s a quick snapshot of the top towns from north to south and why you might want to hang your hat at each one for a few days.

The place where “Goonies” was filmed isn’t exactly a beach town, but it’s worth mentioning because it fits the definition of being a coastal town, what with being on the coast and all. Sitting at the mouth of the Columbia River, it’s more port town than resort town, and its attractions tend to appeal to hipsters looking for small city grit as well as to a more mature crowd interested in arts and history.

The city boasts the remarkable Columbia River Maritime Museum, Riverfront Trolley and the Oregon Film Museum in an old jail. You can also climb the spiral staircase in the 125-foot-tall Astoria Column for a view of the city and the Columbia River and go on to get a taste of town history at the vaudeville production of “Shanghaied in Astoria.” History buffs will want to drive to Fort Clatsop, the winter encampment for the Lewis & Clark expedition from December 1805 to March 1806.

Oh, yes, and there’s the beer—Astoria is the proud home of five craft breweries at last count.

If Astoria were a person, it would be a marine pilot, or maybe a tugboat captain. Go online at travelastoria.com.

Sure, there are plenty of coastal cities that claim to be family friendly, but Seaside has been a big family destination since the turn of the 19th century when Oregon families came to summer at the shore. On weekends, a “Daddy Train” would bring fathers from their jobs in Portland to spend a few days with the family before heading back to the grind.

The father transport may be a mere memory now, but the old-school resort feel lives on in its downtown souvenir shops, Funland (with its timeless game “Fascination”), bumper cars,
a 1.5-mile promenade next to the beach and the small, old fashioned, slightly gritty aquarium complete with seals that beg for treats. There’s also great razor clamming, crabbing and logging roads for mountain biking. And don’t forget paddling on the Necanicum River that flows through town.

If Seaside were a person, it would be a little kid. Go online at seasideor.com.

Cannon Beach
Nature and charming gallery-lined streets are the big attractions in this small beach town. Not only does Cannon Beach boast 7.5 miles of beach, it also has bragging rights for being home to one of the coast’s most iconic rock formations, Haystack Rock, a 235-foot-tall sea stack on the beach about a mile south of downtown.

Cannon Beach is popular with nature lovers, foodies and artlovers, most of whom land squarely in the boomer generation.

If Cannon Beach were a person, it would be that guy with the ‘fro who used to have a painting instruction program on PBS. Check out cannonbeach.org.

If you thought Cannon Beach was small, you haven’t seen anything yet. There’s not much to do in this small town other than go to the beach, shop at a few artisan stores and hang
out, but isn’t that what a beach getaway is all about? It’s a bit more popular with adults who don’t mind just chilling rather than kids who are always looking for something to do. It’s also the gateway to even smaller Rockaway Beach and Garibaldi. If you sneeze as you drive by, you just might miss them both—and that’s their charm.

If Manzanita were a person, it would be a barefoot beachcomber. Find out more at the
Tillamook Coast website: tillamookcoast.com.

Lincoln City
What is now known as Lincoln City is the result of the merger of six distinct communities that are now referred to as historic districts, each with their own flavor. Roads End, for example, is a laid-back beach area just north of the population center that escapes the notice of most crowds. At the same time, Taft, at the city’s southern end, features art galleries, gift shops and restaurants. In between are a highly popular outlet mall, an ocean front casino and the seven miles of beaches that tourism officials call “seven miles of smiles.”

While the Chinook Winds Resort Casino is an attraction, its location off the main highway keeps it from dominating town. The result is an unpretentious place that appeals to younger families as well as those in their 30s and 40s. There’s even a culinary center where visitors can take cooking classes, a gallery where people can blow glass and an annual event where folks visit the beach in hopes of finding locally produced glass orbs.

If Lincoln City were a person, it would be a younger, not quite so famous Dale Chihuly. Go to oregoncoast.org.

Depoe Bay
Although it’s small, you’d have to blink two or three times to miss it, and that would be a shame. Where else will you find the world’s smallest navigable harbor?

This tiny town is a huge destination for whale watchers. Not only is there a resident pod that swims near the shore, but Depoe Bay also has a Whale, Sea Life and Shark Museum; a Whale Watching Center where you can watch the giants from the shore; and a whole fleet of boats ready to take you on a whale watching excursion, making it great for whale-friendly families.

If Depoe Bay were a person, it would be Maris Sidenstecker, the woman who started “Save the Whales” in the ‘70s. Find out more at depoebaychamber.org.

Because it’s one of the largest towns on the Oregon Coast, Newport is many things to many people. Its state-of-the-art Oregon Coast Aquarium, two lighthouses and sea lion docks make it appealing to kids of all ages.

There’s deep-sea fishing for sportsmen, kitschy attractions for ironic hipsters, restaurants for romantics, a lively art scene and boutique shopping at Nye Beach. It can either be a destination or the perfect place for a day trip from a smaller coastal town to get away from all that family time usually associated with family vacations.

Did we mention there were two lighthouses?

If Newport were a person, it would be a lighthouse keeper. To find your Newport, go to

A natural retreat for all ages with a focus on soft adventures including riding dune buggies, beach walking, hiking, camping and sandboarding (think snowboarding, but on sand dunes). The Sea Lion Caves are also a popular option if you don’t mind the noise and (ahem) the scent of nature.

In addition, historic Old Town Florence is a perfect place for a stroll and a meal, and it holds a number of festivals near its boardwalk throughout the year.

If Florence were a person, it would be a thrill seeker strapping in for a dune buggy ride. For sea lions and sand dunes, go to eugenecascadescoast.org/Florence.

Coos Bay
Coos Bay’s location near the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area makes it a popular spot for nature lovers, especially hikers who are happy to walk on dunes where
they don’t have to dodge motor vehicles cresting the summits because they’re prohibited.

The area’s beaches are pristine without much of the development found on the beaches of neighboring towns to the north. And, for adventure lovers, Coos Bay has more federally designated wild and scenic rivers than any other part of the country.

If Coos Bay were a person, it would be Indiana Jones. For coastal and river adventures, check out oregonsadventurecoast.com.

In case you were wondering, this is the place that some tourism officials call Bandon-by-the-Sea, even though it’s really by the ocean. Besides being a romantic destination and a good place for families, Bandon’s cranberries, locally produced cheeses and Wild Rivers Coast Farm Trail make it a big draw for foodies as well. It just proves the old saying, “Oh, what a friend we have in cheeses.”

If you’re a foodie, a nature lover and a golfer, you’ve hit the jackpot. Bandon is home to Bandon Dunes, one of the most acclaimed courses in the world.

If Bandon were a person, it would be Dustin Johnson (if you’re not a golfer, Google him). Check out bandon.com.