It just doesn’t get any more rugged than the Oregon Coast. The landscape is diverse with endless opportunities to explore on an epic road trip. Every view along the coast is met with words of wonderment. How can waves lapping at a sandy shore or crashing over volcanic outcrops be so spectacular? How can a forest smell so good! Our tour takes you on the journey to discover just that – and of course where to find the creature comforts in the towns along the way. From top-to-toe, the coastline beaches are all classified as public and yours to explore.
Most visitors coming to Oregon use the Portland International Airport. It is serviced by most major airlines including Alaska, American Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, British Airways, WestJet and Air Canada.
Rental cars are readily available at the airport and from there, beginning your tour in Astoria is only 2 hours away.
Because the audio tour covers nearly 200 miles of the Oregon Coast, there are many places to join the tour.
Arriving from Washington State along the coast, just feed onto the Astoria-Megler Bridge for an impressive arrival into Oregon.
From Portland, use the I-5 north and then 30 to arrive in Astoria to begin the full tour experience. You can of course choose to join the coast at points south of Astoria if you wish.
For those making their way up the coast from northern California, keep following 101 and you will join tour commentary at the pretty town of Florence.
Depending on the state park you visit, there could be a small parking fee and each is clearly marked. The vending machines will use your Visa or MasterCard, and attendants are stationed at the popular parks. For more information or to buy a year-long pass,visit the Oregon State Parks website.
Consider purchasing the Oregon Pacific Coast Passport. It’s a multi-agency day use passport covering entry or day use fees at dozens of sites along the coast. You can pick it up ahead of time, or ask at the first state or natural area where fees are paid.
The coastal towns host a variety of accommodations from tenting under the stars to five-star hotels but the most important tip we can offer is to plan far in advance for any overnight stays. Reservations are highly recommended from March through November.
Summertime is peak season for the Oregon Coast and you can expect constant crowds from Memorial Day through to Labor Day weekend. With fewer visitors and cooler temperatures, spring and fall are generally the best times to visit. April tends to be the best time for wildflower viewing and fall colors usually peak in early October. Winter or “storm watching season” can also be an excellent time to visit – the waves are amazing!
Without stopping, you can drive from Astoria to Florence in under five hours. But what’s the fun in that? You need to build in time to stop for a visit to an aquarium or to stroll the beach, take a hike or build a sandcastle. And what would a visit to the Oregon Coast be without a bowl of slumgullion or a Pronto Pup? Consider savoring the adventure and plotting out places to stay over for two or three nights.
Don’t worry if summer is the only time you have to visit the Oregon Coast, there’s plenty of ways to escape the crowds. The towns and top scenic attractions will get busy but that’s your cue to pull off at one of the beaches and take a stroll. Look for hidden floats on the beach at Lincoln City, or poke around a tidal pool. It’s a great place to just breathe.
If you need to check places like the Tillamook Creamery tour off your list, consider visiting first thing in the morning.
Astoria is the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies with picture-perfect Victorian-age homes overlooking the port. Climb to the top of the Astoria Column to get a birds-eye view of where the Columbia River dumps into the Pacific Ocean. Visit the Riverwalk Trail to find a perfect spot for lunch. And just for fun, drive across the Astoria-Megler Bridge. The four-mile (6.4-kilometer) long bridge was the last link to connect Highway 101 between the Canadian and Mexican borders.
Fort Stevens State Park was once the primary military defence installation right at the mouth of the Columbia River. It was manned for 84 years, but now sits silently with many artifacts waiting to be explored. Wander through the displays at the military museum then explore the concrete gun batteries. Underground tours take you into the chilling past. And don’t forget to stop along the shore to see the remains of the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale.
What may have been the end of the road for Lewis and Clark, Seaside is the beginning of fun for us. Seaside is Oregon’s answer to well, seaside fun. An old-time amusement park attracts the crowds but so does the 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) promenade and the restaurants and shops. That beach though is home to endless beach volleyball tournaments, clam digs and long walks in the sand. If you are looking for signature craft beer or Oregon clam chowder, this is your starting block.
Cannon Beach is exactly why you are visiting the Oregon Coast. It’s a quaint yet bustling town with a wide-open beach with spectacular views of Haystack Rock. The massive basalt outcrop rises from the shore over 235 feet (72 meters), it’s surrounded by smaller sea stacks called “The Needles” and in low tide, the tidal pools are perfect for discovering tidepool creatures and sea birds. Sunsets here are spectacular.
Can it get any tackier? In other words, this is a roadside attraction you don’t want to miss in Rockaway Beach. Pronto Pup is the original battered hotdog on a stick. While you wait for your Pronto Pup, take a ride on the coin-operated hotdog. Oh, yes… you want to!
Tillamook is more than just cheese, it’s ice cream too! The Tillamook Creamery draws in the crowds offering free tours and samples, but the town offers much more. Check out the air museum housed in the last remaining WWII blimp hangar, which is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. There are a few craft breweries in town with one boasting a beer fermented using locally sourced yeast and microflora. This is also your gateway to the Three Cape Scenic Loop.
Ssssh! It’s a secret. Tunnel Beach near the town of Oceanside is not exactly a secret but it does lead to a secluded little beach. Back in the 1920’s some folks thought it would be fine to blast a hole in the base of the cliff to take visitors to a hidden beach. The 90-foot-long tunnel is accessed through what looks like an old war bunker where rocks and stray driftwood litters the floor. Its fun to go through. The shore leading to it is also a gem of a beach. No kidding, people love strolling this one to look for treasures like clear agates, green and bule jasper and marine fossils.
The beach at Lincoln City seems to take the brunt of the winter storms leaving massive logs and driftwood washed up on the shore. It’s a perfect place to beachcomb. Especially on the days the volunteers have hidden signature glass floats amongst the beached logs and tall grasses for you to discover. What a find!!! If you don’t find one on the shore, Lincoln City has many glass blowers with shops full of beautiful ornaments to take home as a souvenir of your trip down the Oregon Coast.
Cape Meares State Park offers you a chance to go for hikes, watch for whales, visit an old lighthouse and see a sacred octopus tree. Yes, that’s what we said. At the end of a short trail is an old Sitka spruce that looks like an octopus with giant limbs pointing to the sky.
Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area near Depoe Bay is a perfect example of the erosional powers of water. What might have been caves in the cliff have been beaten by relentless wave action that finally collapsed the roof. Now winter waves gush through the openings churning and foaming like a evil brew. But, if you are there in low tide, it’s a splendid spot to explore the tidal pools and even dare to explore the caldron.
The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area’s shore features like the Devils Churn, Thor’s Well and Spouting Horn are the perfect stops to see the rugged edge of the Oregon Coast. Waves smash over the jagged volcanic rocks casting a mist high into the sky. At low tide, trails take you closer to the action. If the tide is high, go inland on trails rich with thick coastal forests of Sitka spruce. Take a deep breath in to enjoy the best air possible before you drive a few miles down the road to visit the Sea Lion Caves. This attraction takes you into the largest cave on the west coast to see hundreds of rowdy (and smelly!) sea lions and birds.
Newport Beach is home to two incredible learning facilities. Stop in at either the Oregon Coast Aquarium or the Hatfield Marine Science Visitor Centre to learn about the species that live on or under the shores of the Oregon coast.
Cape Lookout hosts a wonder and gentle trail to the very tip of the cape. The 5-mile (8-kilometer) return trail wanders through thick stands of Sitka spruce and Hemlocks overhead and wild lilies and bright skunk cabbage at your feet. Depending on the season, bring your binoculars to look for migrating whales or, if the sky is clear, you can see all the way to Cape Foulweather, 39 miles (63 kilometers) to the south.
God’s Thumb might be for the hearty and those willing to take on a steep climb. At 4.4 miles (7 kilometers) long, it has an elevation gain of 1,400 feet (427 meters). But the views of the strange thumb-like cliff hovering over the crashing waves way, way down keeps compels you to keep going. A stop along the journey at The Knoll gives you a beautiful view of Lincoln City. Reaching God’s Thumb might be a leap of faith for some as the trail is very exposed. Once you are there, the view is spectacular.
Oregon Coast beaches are wonderfully easy to hike. Centers like Seaside, Cannon Beach, Lincoln City, Rockaway Beach, Beverly Beach, Manzanita, Tillicum Beach and almost every other coastal center offers parking and access close to the beach. Walk as long and as far as you want between the impassible volcanic outcrops that bookend the sandy shores. With the beaches all designated as public property, it’s up to you to decide when to turn around.
A bucket, a shovel and imagination are all that is needed on a majority of the beaches on the Oregon Coast. And kids and kids at heart alike will love the sand for building sandcastles. If there are gumboots in the car and an investigative attitude, head to the tide pools at Yaquina Head during low tide.
If amusement games and bumper cars are needed, the stop has to be Seaside. The amusement park is legendary. And to fuel the family and have fun at the same time, stop in at the original Pronto Pup in Rockaway Beach. While the pups are cooking, take turns riding the mechanical hotdog.
An afternoon would be easy to spend at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport Beach where touch pools with sea stars and limpets are waiting to be explored. For the adventure seekers, head south to the sand dunes near Florence to spin around the dunes on ATVs.
Look west. Seriously, look west from anywhere on the coast and you are in for a treat that repeats every day at dusk. The best of the best however, might be at Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach. But, let’s you decide.
Warm Layers: Pack plenty of layers including some warm ones regardless of the time of year you visit. You can always remove layers if it’s warmer than you expected and add them if you get cold.
Raingear: Coastal Oregon weather can be wet, or really wet so you’ll also want to make sure you have a jacket, rain gear, waterproof shoes, a hat, and even mittens.
Footwear: Comfortable, sturdy shoes are a must even if you’re not planning hiking. Flip flops or sandals for the beach make things a lot easier. Maybe bring a canvas tote to throw the beach shoes in so to minimize the sand dunes brought into your car.
Daypack: A comfortable pack makes all the difference. In addition to carrying an extra layer, water, and headlamp, it’s a good idea to throw a few snacks in there as well.
Sun Protection: Summer temperatures are typically pleasant on the Oregon Coast, but, there’s usually is a constant breeze from the ocean so consider a light cover even on hot days. Regardless, the sun can be intense and you’ll want to come prepared with a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Rain gear should only be a arms-reach away.
Water Bottles: Always bring water – refillable water bottles are recommended. And make sure you drink it!
Headlamp: You never know when a hike is going to take longer than planned – we always throw a lightweight headlamp in our daypack just in case.
Portable Phone Charger and Cable: If you’re taking pictures with your phone, running out of batteries may result in missed opportunities. A DC car charger is best, so that you can charge your phone while driving.
Plastic Bag: We always carry a plastic bag when we hike, so we can do our part and help keep the trails, beaches and waterways clean. If you see some trash along the way – especially that dang plastic, pick it up, drop it in the bag. When you get back to the trailhead, simply drop your bag in the recycling or trash bin and voila! You’ve helped keep the parks and coast beautiful for everyone who visits. And most importantly on the Oregon Coast, the marine life will thank you.
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