Oregon Coast: Is This Drive a Dream?

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The Oregon Coast spans about 363 miles from Astoria down to Brookings. You do not want to miss a single mile of this journey.  

Spectacular views include rocky shorelines standing firm against crashing waves, massive boulders dropped onto beaches, and lush forests filled with the fragrant scent of pine. The scenery is so beautiful it feels surreal. You will wonder if the Oregon Coast drive is a dream.

Julie and I had just visited Alaska and feared that Oregon might seem like a step-down. I must tell you that it did not. The Oregon Coast scenery blew us away. We will outline what you need to know so you can plan your Oregon Coast adventure.

Highway

You can start your drive at either Astoria in the north or Brookings in the south. Julie and I flew into Portland and drove to Astoria. So, we will cover places to visit beginning from the north.

Highway 101 runs the entire length of the state. If you are lousy with direction like me, it is a relief to know that a single road will guide you on your journey. You will find many pullovers with scenic views on this route.

Adventure

You can make your adventure whatever you would like it to be. The Oregon Coast has many things to do. You will find everything from casual beach towns to challenging hiking trails. There is a lot to explore here, and it can be as leisurely or as intense as you want.

There are several lighthouses along the Pacific coast. Tide pooling is popular with so many massive rocks on the beaches. Walking the beaches near sunrise and sunset is an absolute joy. The beaches feel delightfully mysterious when the fog rolls in through the colossal rock mounds.

Weather

The coastal region is typically breezy. In general, the climate is cool and wet. It is often foggy. The temperature may change throughout the day, so pack warm, light layers.

July and August are usually the driest months, while September is the hottest. Locals jokingly refer to September and October as “second summer.”

Winter months have an average high temperature of around 52 degrees Fahrenheit and an average low of 40. Summer months reach an average high of 64 degrees and a low of 52. The rainiest months are usually November through April.

What to Bring

Other than clothing layers, the top two things you need to bring are a windbreaker and your camera. As we said, it is often breezy. The wind makes it feel considerably cooler than the actual temperature. On the Oregon Coast, a good windbreaker will be your best friend.

The scenery here is gorgeous. After picking up your jaw from the ground, grab your camera. You will want videos and photos from your trip.

Places to Visit

There are many places to visit along the Oregon Coast. We will take you through the highlights of our trip, including scenic views, hiking trails, beaches, lighthouses, places to eat, coffee shops, and hotels. Consider this guide to be your three-day itinerary.

Since the coast is so long, we find it best to organize it into three sections.

  • Northern 
  • Central
  • Southern

Northern Oregon Coast

Astoria

The drive from the Portland International Airport (PDX) is about two hours. Astoria is a port city near the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River. You will find Victorian-style houses on a hillside overlooking the water.  

Goonies House

House from the 1985 film, Goonies
Julie in front of the Goonies house

One of these hillside houses was in the 1985 film, Goonies. Julie loves the movie. Naturally, she wanted to see the home of Mikey and Brand Walsh. I could see her face light up when she saw the Walsh home.  

It is a quick, fun stop if you are a fan of the film or movies in general. A friendly local advised us that over 100 people visit the house daily in summer.  

It is a private residence, so please be respectful. You are not permitted to drive up to the house. Street parking is available within a block of the house. The walk is short but uphill.

Location: 368 38th Street, Astoria, Oregon.

Sea Lions

You can hear obnoxious barking in the distance. You can see what is making all that noise in a short walk across the street. No, it is not dogs. It is sea lions.

There are several sets of docks in the water. Many sea lions hang out here, basking in the sun. You can accomplish two cool things in this area.

Fort Stevens State Park

The park has lovely beaches and trails for hiking and biking. However, the main attraction is a rusty ship hull on the beach.

Peter Iredale Shipwreck

Peter Iredale shipwreck
Julie standing inside the rusty hull of the Peter Iredale

The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel ship that ran ashore in 1906. It is hard to believe, but the ship has been slowly decaying on the beach for over a decade. The site is one of the most accessible shipwrecks on the west coast.

At high tide, you can see waves crash against what remains of the vessel. During low tide, you can walk directly up to the hull. It is a great photo opportunity.

Ecola State Park

Ecola State Park with view of Haystack Rock
View of Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park

The park sits between the beach towns of Seaside and Cannon Beach. Your main attractions are isolated beaches, a lighthouse, and fantastic views of Haystack Rock in the distance.

There are two primary beaches:

  • Indian Beach
  • Crescent Beach

My experience with beaches has been primarily on the east coast. Although remarkable, most of the beaches are crowded.  

I realize we visited in September, a bit after peak tourist season. However, I have never seen beaches with so few people.  

Julie and I were shocked to have a beach to ourselves on multiple occasions. When we did see others, they were few and far between.

In full disclosure, we did not get the opportunity to visit Indian Beach.  

Crescent Beach

Crescent Beach Oregon
Julie at Crescent Beach

The Crescent Beach trailhead is well-marked in Ecola State Park. Parking is available at the trailhead. It is a 1.25-mile hike down to the beach.  

The wooded path piques your interest, with glimpses of rolling waves lapping against the rocky shores. As you get closer, you can taste and smell the salt in the air. It is invigorating.

The small beach is excellent. You have views of:

  • Rock formations in the ocean
  • Haystack Rock between two large sea stacks in the foreground
  • Tillamook Lighthouse

There is plenty of sand on which to walk, but there are rock formations for exploration and tide pooling. The hike is easily worth your time for all that comes with the isolated beach.

Cannon Beach

The coastal city has sandy shores and probably the most iconic geological feature on the Oregon coast.

Haystack Rock

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach
Evening beach walk to Haystack Rock

The monstrous rock rises 235 feet from the sand. It symbolizes the Oregon coast and is a home for nesting Tufted Puffins from May through August.  

I guess our timing is terrible. Julie and I are seeking an excuse to return. It looks like we found it. We must see the puffins. 

There is a lot of natural beauty here, even without the puffins. Haystack Rock provides an opportunity for fantastic sunset photos. Beach walks in the morning and evening are soul soothing.

At low tide, you can walk up to Haystack Rock. A whole new world is revealed.  

You can find sea stars in vibrant shades of orange or purple. Birds scope out the area for a meal. If you enjoy tide pooling, you may have found your new home!

As darkness settles in, you will see small beacons dimly light the beach. Huddling around a bonfire and eating s’mores is a popular activity in Cannon Beach. You can enjoy the warmth of the fire while listening to the peaceful sound of rolling waves. It is heavenly.

Tom’s Fish & Chips

Are you looking for a quick and tasty lunch or dinner? Tom’s Fish & Chips may not be fancy, but the food is hot and fresh. They stick with what they know and do it well. You get a quality meal at an affordable price.  

The menu includes fish and chips, fish tacos, classic burgers, chicken tenders, clam chowder, and salads. Oh yeah, they also have craft beer on tap. Bonus!

Location: 240 N. Hemlock Street, Cannon Beach, Oregon 97110.

Cannon Beach Bakery

Looking for coffee and pastries to start your morning? Check out Cannon Beach Bakery. They have a good selection of both.  

I had a Mexican mocha and a marionberry scone. The scone was bursting with berries. It was delicious. The mocha included a healthy sprinkling of cinnamon for extra flavor. Good morning!

The bakery is a short walk from the beach. Julie and I sat on a large log and enjoyed our breakfast with a view of Haystack Rock. It set the tone for a great day.

Location: 240 N. Hemlock Street, Cannon Beach, Oregon 97110.

Places to Stay in Cannon Beach

There are many options, including hotels, resorts, and vacation homes. 

Tolovana Inn

We stayed at Tolovana Inn, which is an oceanfront resort. The room was nice and clean. We found the staff to be friendly and helpful. 

Location: 3400 S. Hemlock Street, Tolovana Park, Oregon 97145. 

Julie and I often use VRBO for our trips. I recommend that you check out their listings when exploring your options.

Oswald West State Park

The park is about ten miles south of Cannon Beach. It offers a secluded beach and miles of trails.

Necarney Creek Trail

Suspension bridge on Necarney Creek Trail in Oregon
Julie crossing the Necarney Creek Trail suspension bridge

We thoroughly enjoyed the 0.8-mile round-trip hike on Necarney Creek Trail. The forested trail leads you across a wooden suspension bridge that sways back and forth a bit. Do not fear. The bridge has a low elevation and is fun to cross.

You will enjoy the peaceful sound of the flowing creek as you trek through the forest. The path leads you to Short Sand Beach.

The secluded beach has plenty of sand and a great view of the rocky shoreline. You will find rocky sections to explore and some large logs in the area. It is a short, fun hike that leads to a beautiful secluded beach. Sign me up!

Rockaway Beach

Continue south on Highway 101 to Rockaway Beach. Stop here for a view of Twin Rocks.  

It is a set of offshore sea stacks nearly 100 feet high. One is a natural arch, while the other is solid. Your view is spectacular.

Neskowin Beach State Recreation Site

There are two primary attractions here:

  • Proposal Rock 
  • Neskowin Ghost Forest

Both are in the same area, but one can only be seen at low tide.

Proposal Rock

Proposal Rock in Oregon
Proposal Rock

The massive sea stack is named after a local legend about a sea captain proposing to his beloved at this very spot. Proposal Rock is covered with grass and trees at the top. You cannot miss it.

At high tide, it is surrounded by water. Low tide will reveal tide pools at its base. You can also walk into a sea cave inside Proposal Rock at low tide. 

Neskowin Ghost Forest

Neskowin Ghost Forest in Oregon
Neskowin Ghost Forest

The Neskowin Ghost Forest was one of the things I was most excited to see. It is only visible at low tide. When we arrived, I ran off so I would not miss it.  

You must cross a creek to access the ghost forest and Proposal Rock. The water was much deeper than I expected. It was way above my ankles and ran down into my shoes.  

Learn from my ignorant mistake. Take off your shoes when crossing the creek.

So, what is the Neskowin Ghost Forest? It is the remaining stumps of an old Sitka spruce forest.

The area is often foggy in the mornings and evenings. An ominous feeling creeps over you as you walk through the stumps in the fog. Although there are not a lot of stumps, it is an incredible experience if you get the opportunity.

After leaving Neskowin Beach State Recreation Area, we made our way a little further south to Lincoln City. It is considered by many to be the beginning of the Central Oregon Coast. 

Lincoln City

The town is known for its kite festivals.  Thousands of people flock to the city to attend.  It is so popular they hold one in summer and another in fall.

Places to Stay in Lincoln City

Although there are many places to stay, we have a recommendation based on our experience.

Whistling Winds Motel

We stayed at the Whistling Winds Motel. The staff could not have been any nicer.  

We were running late and did not arrive until after their office closed. The staff made arrangements for us to obtain our room key. If you want a clean room and excellent customer service, the Whistling Winds Motel will take good care of you.

Location: 3264 NW Jetty Ave, Lincoln City, Oregon 97367.

Central Oregon Coast

Depoe Bay

The small Central Oregon Coast town has two claims to fame:

  • World’s smallest navigable harbor
  • Whale watching capital of the Oregon Coast

Whale Watching

Whale Park in Depoe Bay, OR
Whale Park

The area has resident gray whales but also gets migratory whales. Gray whale sightings are the most common. It is possible to spot humpback whales, orcas, and blue whales.

When waters are calm, gray whales regularly swim close to the town’s shoreline. The whales stay out a bit further if the seas are rough.  

Unfortunately, the water was rough when we visited. We spotted spouts spraying into the air several times. A couple of friendly whales gave a fluke (tail) wave.  

Whale-watching is something that Julie and I enjoy. It was a thrill to see a few spouts. We would like to return in hopes of having calm waters.

Access to whale watching is simple. In the tiny downtown area, across the street from the shops, you will see a statue of a whale and a parking lot. That is Whale Park.  

Park your car here and look upon the Pacific Ocean. You can either do this from the comfort of your car or hop out and enjoy the fresh air.

Arch Rock Caffe

Grab some coffee and pastries from Arch Rock Caffe. The coffee shop was invitingly warm and cozy. We grabbed ours to go since we were whale watching.

The cafe carries coffee, espresso drinks, smoothies, pastries, bagels, oatmeal, breakfast sandwiches, and burritos. Everything we had was delicious.

Location: 112 Oregon Coast Highway, Suite B, Depoe Bay, Oregon 97341.

Whale Cove

You can also search for whales at a place called Whale Cove. It is located just down the street.  

You will find a pretty park here. A short walk along the marked path leads you to a viewing deck. Whales are known to hang out in this cove.

Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area

View of Devils Punchbowl from below
Devils Punchbowl

Julie and I love Devils Punchbowl. The tide levels will impact your experience during your visit. We arrived when the tide was still low but quickly rising.

At high tide, you can only view the punch bowl from above. You can watch water rush into the sides of the rock formation and violently swirl around.

At low tide, you can enter the base of the punch bowl. It heightens your excitement, knowing the surge limits your time.

Inside the bowl, you can see waves rolling toward you through a hole in the wall. It is surreal.

The beach is rocky with a gorgeous view. Massive sea stacks can be seen offshore. Some rocks on the beach are coated with bright green algae. We saw many different types of birds, including great blue herons.

It is a great area for tide pooling. You will find bullwhip kelp on the ground. We had not seen this previously. As the name implies, the giant kelp looks like a long bullwhip.

One word of caution. Pay attention to the tide.  

Julie and I pressed our luck as the tide was quickly rising. Thankfully a fellow traveler got our attention. Had we waited another five minutes, we would have been trapped.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Drive south on Highway 101 from here. In short order, you will see Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.  

The area stretches about a mile into the Pacific Ocean. Here you will find the tallest lighthouse in Oregon at 93 feet. It has been around since 1873.

The lighthouse stands above the beautiful stretch of sand rippled with small dunes. Beyond the lighthouse, the beach offers tide pooling, birdwatching, and another chance to appreciate a rugged shoreline.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse in Newport, OR
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

In Newport, you will find another lighthouse with a similar name. Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was built in 1871.

It is unique for two reasons:

  • Only existing Oregon lighthouse with living quarters attached
  • Only historic wooden Oregon lighthouse

Cape Perpetua State Scenic Area

Spouting Horn in Cape Perpetua
Spouting Horn

Just south of Yachats, you will find Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. There is a lot to see here:

  • Devils Churn
  • Thor’s Well
  • Spouting Horn
  • Highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast

Cape Perpetua’s slogan is “where the forest meets the sea.” It is accurate as you are enveloped by the Pacific Ocean and the Siuslaw National Forest.  

The scenery is gorgeous. Julie and I enjoyed our time here immensely. It houses 2,700 acres of coastal habitat and 26 miles of hiking trails.

You can see the first three highlights nearby, a short walk from the parking area. Devils Churn is a narrow inlet where waves are channeled and sent soaring into the air upon hitting the jagged surface.

Thor’s Well looks like a giant sinkhole about to drain the ocean. Spouting Horn functions as an ocean-powered geyser. Waves funnel into a hole and then are shot high into the air.

Each of these on its own is fun to observe. Having all three in one area is the icing on the cake. I was fascinated by these natural phenomena and could watch them for hours.

Try to visit at high tide. The stronger waves will perform a much better show for you.

Before leaving the park, drive up to the Cape Perpetua headland. At 800 feet above the ocean, you have the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head Lighthouse on the Oregon Coast
Heceta Head Lighthouse

In north Florence, you will find Heceta Head Lighthouse. The 56-foot tower was initially lit in 1894.

You will discover a pretty beach with a cave only accessible at low tide. Look away from the ocean and spot a beautiful arch bridge called Cape Creek Bridge.

It is a great area to relax on the beach, hike, explore, or learn about the lighthouse. You can even stay at the Heceta Lighthouse B&B.

Sea Lion Caves

Now is your chance if you have not yet observed sea lions on your journey. You can find Sea Lion Caves in Florence. It is the largest sea cave in the United States.  

In summer, sea lions hang out in the cave. During other months, they typically bask in the sun on the rock ledges outside the cave.

Regular hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. The cost is $16 per person. It is a little touristy but drastically improves your odds of observing sea lions.

Location: 91560 Highway 101, Florence, Oregon 97439.

Bridgewater Ocean Fresh Fish House and Zebra Bar

Looking for a tasty, relaxing dinner? Visit Bridgewater Ocean Fresh Fish House and Zebra Bar. It is fantastic!  

We had fish and chips. The fish was piping hot, thick but tender, and delicious. It may well be the best fish we have ever had. 

The menu includes salads, soups, pasta, burgers, sandwiches, and surf and turf. Of course, they carry a variety of drinks.

Location: 1297 Bay Street, Florence, Oregon 97439.

Sunset Oceanfront Lodging

After dinner, we went to Bandon Beach and spent the night at Sunset Oceanfront Lodging. The place is nice and clean. Their staff members are friendly and helpful.

We love the location. Simply walk across the street, go down a set of steps, and you are on the beach.  

Location: 1865 Beach Loop Road, Bandon, Oregon 97411.

Southern Oregon Coast

Bandon Beach

Bandon Beach, OR
Foggy morning walk on Bandon Beach

As we continued down the coast, I thought it had to feel like a step down at some point. Certainly, things could not get better.

As much as we love Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock, it was dethroned as our favorite. Bandon Beach won our hearts, and we will never be the same.

What is so special about Bandon Beach? There are many sea stacks here. Two of the most popular are called Face Rock and Wizard’s Hat.  

These fantastic, massive rocks are littered along the beach. At low tide, you can walk around them and, in some cases, through them.

You can access caves, tunnels, and coves when the waters recede. It opens up a new world for you to explore.  

Naturally, tide pooling is on full display. Sea stars appear hand painted on the lower edges of the sea stacks.

Sunrise and sunset are stunning. Fog often rolls in, making the beach feel mysterious as you walk along the sea stacks. The foggy morning beach stroll is one of our most cherished memories.

Sisters Rock

Sisters Rock in Port Orford, Oregon
Sisters Rock

Sisters Rock State Park was hands down the most pleasant surprise of our coast drive. We did not know of its existence.  

Driving south from Bandon Beach, we saw a pullover in Port Orford. So, we took it. Everyone else seemed to go by as if they did not see it.

In the distance, you can see two large hills, part grass-covered and part rocky. A third, smaller rocky structure sits offshore.  

When we arrived, the sun burnt off the remaining fog and lit the landscape in bright tones. The water was highlighted in aquamarine, while the hills proudly displayed bold green hues.

We took the short hike to the mounds to see them firsthand. The trail took us through a field of tall, yellow grasses. Then we saw berries and wildflowers of various colors.

Soon we were past the vegetation and walking on a dirt path. On each side below, you could see secluded sandy beaches with views of a rocky shore. It looked like a private paradise.  

Straight ahead, one of the mounds revealed a sea cave. We scrambled up the side and peered into the cave to spy crashing waves.

After that, we walked around to the outer edge of the massive hills to watch waves slam into the rocky coast. Beauty surrounds this place. It is a sanctuary of pure, wild nature. In every direction, there was something upon which to marvel. 

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

Samuel H Boardman State Scenic Corridor, OR
Samuel H Boardman State Scenic Corridor

Brookings is home to Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. The 12-mile stretch contains beautiful forests along the steep, rugged coast. You can find a few small sandy beaches in the area as well.

For us, the highlights were:

  • Arch Rock
  • Secret Beach
  • Natural Bridges
  • Whaleshead

Samuel H. Boardman primarily gives you spectacular views from above, whereas Bandon Beach puts you next to giant sea stacks. Arch Rock, Natural Bridges, and Whaleshead are appropriately named beautiful geological formations that deserve your attention.

Secret Beach requires a little work to find, but it is a stunning, isolated beach. The parking area is a little north of Natural Bridges. It is on the ocean side but is unmarked. You can also park in these areas but will have a longer hike: Spruce Island, Arch Rock, and Thunder Rock Cove.

Try to visit during low tide. You will not find much of a beach at high tide.

Harris Beach

Our final stop on the Oregon Coast was Harris Beach State Park in Brookings. One last time, we savored tide pooling and exploring rocky structures on a beach with a beautiful view.  

Although not as spectacular as Cannon Beach or Bandon Beach, it is lovely and offers plenty to do.

More Adventures

If your schedule allows, we recommend tacking on one or both of these adventures as part of your Oregon Coast drive.

Wrap-Up: Oregon Coast

Every mile of the Oregon Coast offers beautiful scenery. Coniferous forests, secluded beaches, rocky shorelines, and massive sea stacks are waiting to be explored. Do yourself a favor and take this road trip. The drive is a dream where you do not want to wake up. Sweet dreams!

About the author

We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.

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