Traveling the Oregon Coast

by Emmalyn McCarthy

A gorgeous stretch of coastline with unique beaches and scenic highway makes a versatile landscape for many different adventures and experiences. Welcome to the Oregon Coast. This must-see destination is home to some of the most popular beach towns and underrated discoveries in the Pacific Northwest. Sure, you can buzz down the coast with only essential stops, but why would you? Take the time to savor all 363 miles. Whether you are hotel-hopping, staying in vacation rentals or camping, explore this magnificent coastline your way.

North Coast

Where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, the stunning Oregon Coast begins. When exploring the northernmost Oregon Coast, you will stumble upon many well-known destinations and places full of unique adventure experiences.

Mile 1: As the first city along the northern coast, Astoria has a rich history. Founded in 1811, it is the oldest U.S. settlement west of the Rocky Mountains and showcases the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, Fort Clatsop and Fort Stephens. Their historic trolly, “Old 300” built in 1913, offers scenic rides all along Astoria’s waterfront, or take the Riverwalk trail for the same river views on foot. Kick back at Clementine’s Guest House, a Victorian style B&B built in the 1800s, where you can soak in one of their jacuzzi tubs in a private, pet-friendly room. Or warm up by the lobby fireplace at Cannery Pier Hotel and Spa and get cozy with an Aveda spa treatment.

A retro feel of Seaside, Oregon’s downtown area.

Mile 20: Advertised as a place for fun, the welcoming town of Seaside does not disappoint. Check out the largest arcade on the Oregon Coast at the Funland Arcade for contemporary and vintage games and ride the wildly popular carousel at the Carousel Mall. You can also feed the playful seals at the Seaside Aquarium. Just make sure to walk along the historic Prom, a 1.5 mile-stretch that borders the Pacific Ocean and detour along the downtown streets for shopping and grab some saltwater taffy for a sweet treat. The Necanicum River runs right through town and is perfect for paddleboard or kayak water adventures.

Mile 30: Best known for its iconic Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach is one of the most charming villages along the Oregon Coast. Haystack Rock hosts diverse tidepools and various bird populations that ensure the beach is always busy with life. Ecola State Park offers famous views of its own. Take one of the many hiking trails to see panoramic coastal views including the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, a decommissioned lighthouse on a large rock off shore. Or bring along a picnic and visit Indian Beach, a more secluded spot that is very popular with local surfers.

Mile 43: If you’re trying to find a more secret spot along the Oregon coast, look no further than Manzanita Beach. Stroll this small coastal town for boutique shopping and excellent eateries.  You can slow things down at the Manzanita Golf Course and give their driving range a shot or check out a local spa and boutique, Spa Manzanita, which offers a variety of relaxing packages.

Mile 66: The city of Tillamook offers a wide variety of events and activities as well, one of the most popular being the Tillamook Creamery. Take a tour around the factory to get a peek into how cheese is made. Finish off your tour at the visitors center for a fresh scoop of the famous Tillamook ice cream. After, check out the walkable wetlands and forests of nearby Sitka Sedge State Park.

Mile 90: For those interested in adventure, Pacific City is the go-to stop on the North Coast. It houses Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, a giant, hikable sand dune which, when at the top, reveals 360-degree views. Pacific City also has opportunities to explore the coast from above. Check out one of the schools for paragliding and hang gliding in the area to get a stunning, bird’s-eye look at the coast. If surfing is more your style, this is a popular spot to hang 10. Or, if you fancy sport fishing in a dory launched directly from the surf, now’s your chance.

Central Coast

As the heart of the coast, the Central Coast has many unique experiences to offer with hip beach towns, unique lighthouses and rugged natural attractions.

Mile 113: The first stop along the Central Coast is Lincoln City, a perfect shopping destination. With a large outlet mall and even Chinook Winds Casino Resort which welcomes big-name entertainment, you will never be bored. On the water, there’s a long stretch of beach between two headlands, perfect for flying a kite or walking your dog. Nearby at Devil’s Lake State Recreation area you can even stay a night or two in a cute and cozy yurt.

Mile 128: Known as the “world’s smallest harbor,” Depoe Bay offers many on-the-water attractions. Relax along the ocean enjoying beautiful panoramic views at Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint or take a walk down offshore rocks at Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint to watch the wild surf. Stop at Whale Cove, the oldest marine reserve in Oregon, where whales, sea birds and other marine life are often spotted. The best view of the Whale Cove comes from a room at the Whale Cove Inn, or stop at Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint for a small hike to a balcony overlooking the cove. For more wildlife, you’ll find OPRD Whale Watching Center with whale interpretive displays and large windows for the opportunity to spot whales.

Mile 133: One of the most popular destinations along the Central Coast is Otter Rock. Here, you’ll find Devil’s Punchbowl, a large rock formation where you can watch the waves churn and explode as the tide comes in. Nearby, Beverly Beach State Park has year-round camping, a long stretch of beach and the Spencer Creek Nature Trail that leads into the nearby forest.

Mile 138: The Yaquina Head Natural Area just before the city of Newport has an interpretive center for an interactive history lesson, a lighthouse that dominates the shoreline and plenty of trails and tide pools to explore.

Mile 140: Unique to Newport, there are the three districts for exploration: the Art Deco District along Highway 101, the Bayfront District for fresh seafood restaurants and views of the fishing fleet, and the Nye Beach neighborhood for the arts. Nearby is the Yaquina Bay Estuary Trail which is perfect for bird watchers who want to stay close to the beach. For closer wildlife experiences, see and hear the sea lions at the Sea Lion Docks in the bay or stop by the Oregon Coast Aquarium for walkthroughs, tours and encounter programs.

Mile 164: For a quieter, lesser-known spot, look no further than Yachats. As a charming, coastal town named after the nearby Yachats River, there are many opportunities to explore. Cape Perpetua is the highest car-accessible viewpoint along the Oregon Coast. If the stunning views weren’t enough, it offers many hiking trails leading to other natural attractions such as Devil’s Churn, a tidal chasm, and Thor’s Well, rock formations right off shore that fill and spout with ocean water as the tides change.

Mile 190: Farther south is Florence, the perfect adventure destination on the Central Coast. For those who want to see the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area in a unique way, try the Sand Dune Frontiers off-roading adventures for the dune-buggy experience. Another way to become one with the dunes is sandboarding—think snowboarding without the snow— at Sand Master Park. Or slow it down with beachfront horseback riding with C&M Stables. For on-the-water experiences, rent a kayak at Siltcoos Lake and follow the Siltcoos River trail toward the Pacific Ocean. The Sea Lion caves are a great way to get up close and personal with the local wildlife with an excursion into a breathtaking sea cave. After your day of adventure, settle in the charming town along the Siuslaw River with waterfront shopping, great restaurants and lodging.

South Coast

Along Oregon’s South Coast there is adventure at every turn, accented by colorful landscapes and picture-perfect towns.

Mile 216: If you blink, you might miss Winchester Bay. But this tiny port town harbors big adventures. Adrenaline junkies will love seeing the sand dunes from speeding  ATVs or rafting down the scenic North Umpqua River. Stop at the Umpqua Lighthouse on your way to one of the many trails at Lake Marie. Pull up your RV or pop up your tent in one of the many campgrounds and RV parks near the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

Mile 235: A trio of towns—North Bend, Coos Bay and Charleston—situated on an estuary and bay, offer historic charm, local color and contemporary vibes. Take the Coos Bay historic walking tour to learn more about the history behind the buildings dating from the 1880s. Or make your way to the site of a former estate, Shores Acres State Park, to find many formal gardens such as the Japanese-style garden or a trail leading to an ocean cove. You can also explore the coast by car on the Cape Arago Beach Loop, which takes you along many viewpoints and beaches. Finish your day at Coos Bay on the boardwalk, a 5-mile walkway featuring historical interpretive displays.

Mile 274: One of the most popular destinations along the South Coast is the “Cranberry Capital of Oregon,” Bandon. Take a farm tour to find out where Bandon gets its name or try your hand at a round on the greens at Bandon Dunes Golf Course, a famous Scottish link-style course. For a family-oriented adventure, check out the year-round camping or beach trails at Bullards Beach State Park or gaze at the collection of dramatic sea stacks off shore.  For a wildlife excursion, visit Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge to spot a variety of birds.

Mile 329: For quieter beaches and recreation areas, Gold Beach has a lot to offer. One unique experience is the prehistoric garden which offers a stroll through Oregon Coast’s rainforest and is home to over 20 life-sized dinosaur figures, a great place for kids. To see one of the most historic trails in Oregon, you can hike along the Rogue River Trail which was originally built to help mules deliver supplies to miners. Or rent a fat-tire bike to take on the beach for a 7-mile Banana Belt Loop in Cape Sebastian State Park. For a scenic river excursion, take a cruise with Jerry’s Rogue Jets on the original mail-boat route up the Rogue River.

Mile 356: If you’re looking for somewhere to relax, the warmer air of Brookings, a small coastal city located along the Wild Rivers Coast, should be on your list. The Crissey Field State Recreation Site offers a long stretch of beaches with nearby wetlands as well as an interpretive visitors center. If you’re looking for forests, you’ll find a year-round camping spot at the Alfred A. Loeb State Park located along the Chetco River and hidden in the ancient Myrtlewood trees, allowing a quiet night, serenaded by owls away from city sounds. 


Historic Lighthouses of the Coast

  • Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, Terrible Tilly, a decommissioned lighthouse (1881).
  • Yaquina Head Lighthouse, located near the Yaquina River (1873).
  • Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, which has a haunted history (1871).
  • Heceta Head Lighthouse and B&B in the lightkeeper’s residence (1894).
  • Umpqua River Lighthouse, on the mouth of the Umpqua River, with an attached museum (1892)
  • Cape Arago Lighthouse, located on a small island visible from the coast (1866).
  • Coquille River Lighthouse,visitor access through Bullards Beach State Park (1896).


Nature and Wildlife along the Coast

  • The Nestucca River is a haven for fishing and kayaking.
  • Neahkahnie Mountain at Manzanita Beach has hiking trails with gorgeous ocean views.
  • Ecola State Park and Cannon Beach are perfect for elk spotting.
  • There’s bird watching at the Bird Rocks off Chapman Point.
  • The Octopus Tree, a 330-year-old spruce lives at Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint.
  • Depoe Bay and Whale Cove are excellent whale watching spots from shore.
  • Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area near Reedsport attracts large elk herds.


When You Go: