With sweeping ocean views, golden stretches of sand as far as the eye can see and craggy cliffs dotted with lighthouses, a journey down the Oregon coast is considered one of the world’s best road trips. The ever-changing scenery along Highway 101 means an epic viewpoint at literally every bend in the road, and with no shortage of Pacific shoreline it’s easy to find a deserted stretch of sand even in the height of the busy summer travel season.
While the drive time through the state is only about eight hours, it’s worth stretching the journey out over at least four days to enjoy some beach time, hiking through old-growth forests, relaxing in the quaint waterfront towns, and exhilarating adventures like tearing through blindingly-white sand dunes on a buggy. Here are some of the best stops to make on an Oregon coast road trip.
Oregon Coast drive: Cannon Beach
If you’re starting from Portland and going from north to south, Cannon Beach typically serves as the starting point on most Oregon coast vacations—problem is, the village is so adorable it’s hard to leave!
Best known as the place where movies like The Goonies and Twilight were filmed, the streets in this perfectly-kept seaside town are lined with beautiful clapboard houses and shops. Colourful flowers burst out of window boxes, rainbow-hued candy stores sell fudge and saltwater taffy, tourists unwind in quaint cafes, and seafood restaurants serve up steaming clam chowder tucked into fresh sourdough bowls.
A favourite pastime around these parts is relaxing on the expansive beaches, where soft white sand blankets the shoreline for miles. Visitors won’t want to miss a glimpse of the imposing Haystack Rock, which rises about 300 feet out of the water and is one of the most iconic landmarks along the entire Oregon coastline.
Cannon Beach accommodations:
- Surfsand Resort– This oceanfront, pet-friendly property has cozy rooms complete with balconies and Adirondack chairs, which are the perfect place to admire Haystack Rock. Guests also love the nightly bonfire on the beach. Click here to book
- The Waves– Located just a couple blocks from downtown and right on the beach, The Waves is a great pick for groups of any size since unit options include full kitchens, spa suites and multiple bedrooms. Click here to book
Even those who live a lactose-free life will want to make a pit stop at the cute and extremely popular Tillamook Dairy Co-Op. The award-winning dairy is owned by nearly 100 farming families (including many who’ve been farming in the area for several generations), and has grown into a massive production that distributes to companies including Starbucks.
Nearly one million people visit their expansive creamery in Tillamook every year, where free, self-guided tours allow glimpses into the factory, information about the co-op’s history, and of course plenty of cheese samples. There’s also a huge food hall with a cafe, restaurant and ice cream shop, making it the perfect place to fuel up before hitting the road again.
Lincoln City, Oregon
Next up on the Oregon coast trip is Lincoln City, which is technically a city as its name suggests but really feels more like a friendly, oceanfront town. You’ll find chain restaurants and a great outlet mall here, but once you step off the main strip and onto the sweeping beaches that stretch for an astounding seven miles, it’s easy to feel like you’re far away from it all.
Home to some of the best Oregon beaches, there are plenty of spots in Lincoln City to enjoy fun in the sun, including photogenic Siletz Bay which is marked by a wooden pier and frequented by fishers. It’s common to see playful sea lions frolicking in the surf, and kids love splashing around in the tide pools filled with still saltwater. Another option is Devils Lake, which spreads out over nearly 700 acres and is surrounded by parks which makes it the perfect place for a picnic or setting up camp.
Just past Lincoln City is a spot well worth pulling off Highway 101 for: Whale Cove, which is Oregon’s oldest marine reserve. A short walk through a mossy, old growth forest reveals a tucked away cove that offers refuge for harbor seals, seabirds and even whales. Birders will want to keep an eye out for the likes of pigeon guillemots and black oystercatchers.
Where to stay in Lincoln City:
- Salishan Resort & Spa: There’s no shortage of activities at this serene spot found about a five minute drive from town in Gleneden Beach. The perfect place to unwind for a couple of days, guests love the guided kayaking tours, spa, surrounding hiking trails and evening s’mores service. Click here to book
- Looking Glass Inn: This top-rated, pet-friendly lodge is located right on the bay with easy beach access, and guests love the friendly staff, and clean, bright suites which boast jacuzzi tubs. Click here to book
After a quick pit stop at the ridiculously-scenic Moolack Beach, pull into the seaside city of Newport which has plenty to offer seafaring folks. The main draw is the Historic Bayfront, which offers views of the massive Yaquina Bay Bridge, plenty of shops and restaurants, and a front-row seat to the harbour where fresh catch like dungeness crabs are pulled up all day long. The smell of fresh fish and saltwater hang in the air, and the sound of sea lions barking in the distance adds to the ambiance of this charming waterfront.
Some of the best things to do in Newport, Oregon include:
- Yaquina Head and Yaquina Bay Lighthouses- These picturesque lighthouses date back to the 1800s, and have strategic perches over the Pacific Ocean and Yaquina River to safely guide ships. Decommissioned at the turn of the century, they’re now open for visitors to explore and enjoy fabulous views of the surrounding bays and beaches.
- Oregon Coast Aquarium– Rated as one of the top aquariums in the entire United States with a focus on conservation and animal rehabilitation, kids love getting up close to creatures like sea otters, octopus, sea lions and harbor seals.
- Mo’s– Known across the country for its creamy clam chowder, Newport is home to the original Mo’s Restaurant which has looked out over the harbour since 1946. Their Mo’s Annex location across the street is right on the water, and diners can watch the catch of the day come in while tucking into Mo’s favourites like fish ‘n chips or peanut butter cream pie.
Places to stay in Newport, Oregon:
Inn at Nye Beach– The gem of a spot is right on the beach, and the inn makes the most of it with a gorgeous rooftop soaking tub and a private staircase leading right down to the sand. Some rooms also have freestanding baths, gas fireplaces and kitchenettes. Click here to book
Hallmark Resort– Rooms at the Hallmark Resort have private balconies offering sweeping ocean views, and guests love inclusions in the room like gas fireplaces, a kitchenette, and that it’s pet-friendly. Click here to book
The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, Heceta Head Lighthouse and Sea Lion Caves
Cape Perpetua is a great place to hop out of the car and stretch those legs, with a series of easy walking trails right off the highway. Some of the best are:
- Captain Cook Trail- Less than a mile round trip, this gentle pathway leads to a viewpoint of Cook’s Chasm and the Spouting Horn, a spectacular geyser that sprays during high tide.
- Cape Cove Trail- This quick trail goes right to the beach, for those wanting to feel the sand between their toes
- Trail of the Restless Waters- The half-mile walk heads to Devils Churn, where thunderous waves crash into a naturally-formed chasm and make a huge booming sound, similar to a fireworks show. The best time to see it is during high tide and storms, but keep in mind it can also be extremely windy.
A bit farther south is the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, found in a cove at the mouth of Cape Creek. There are plenty of spots to picnic around the expansive beach, explore the tide pools and caves, or even fly a kite thanks to the windy conditions. A short trail leads up to the lighthouse which soars 1,000 feet above the ocean, and depending on the season visitors might even be able to look down and see gray whales migrating between Alaska and Baja California.
End your time in the area by dropping into the Sea Lion Caves, a wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary which is the best way to get up close to those adorable sea lions. An elevator takes guests 200 feet down to a viewing area in the cave, where there are sometimes hundreds of Steller sea lions lounging about, and it’s also possible to see gray whales.
Florence is billed as one of the best places to visit on the Oregon coast, thanks to its mix of amenities, an adorable historic centre, great dining options, beautiful beaches and awe-inspiring, mountainous sand dunes. Beloved by adventure addicts and sun seekers alike, there’s plenty to do in these parts including crab fishing (visitors can rent crab pots and give it a go themselves), relaxing on windswept Heceta Beach, or enjoying a boat ride on the Siuslaw River.
The main draw is the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which is North America’s largest expanse of coastal sand dunes. An exhilarating way to explore them is by booking a wild ride with Sand Dunes Frontier, where a professional driver rips up and down the Florence sand dunes on a sandrail. The experience is similar to a roller coaster ride with plenty of twists and turns, so drivers make a few stops during the half-hour excursion to give guests an opportunity to catch their breath and soak in the stunning scenery. Those who are concerned about motion sickness and don’t think they’re up for it can book a Big Buggy tour instead, which is much slower-paced but still explores about 10 miles worth of the Oregon dunes.
Places to stay in Florence, Oregon:
- Driftwood Shores Resort and Conference Center– The expansive ocean views are the main perk of this place, with each unit enjoying its own private balcony overlooking the surf and sand. Many of the spacious units have full kitchens and multiple bedrooms which makes this a great choice for families, and it’s about a 10 minute drive into historic Florence. Click here to book
- River House Inn– Located right on the water, the River House Inn is just steps away from the town centre and boardwalk, and guests love watching the boats go by from the comfort of their private balconies. Click here to book
Port Orford and Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor
En route to the final stop on Highway 101, pull over at a couple southern Oregon beaches. Up first is an attractive rock formation called Kissing Rock, which is framed by sand dunes and long, sweeping grass. A bit farther down the highway road trippers will find Meyers Beach, which has long stretches of golden sand and huge boulders that rise dramatically out of the ocean waves.
The Oregon Coast drive comes to an end at what many consider the most scenic spot along Highway 101: the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor between Gold Beach and Brookings, OR. Just 15 minutes from the California border, the 12-mile long forested park clings to a spectacular, craggy coastline dotted with sandy beaches and sea stacks, which colonies of birds like oystercatchers, gulls and nesting cormorants call home.
Parts of the Oregon Coast Trail winds through the corridor making it popular with hikers, and many photographers make a special trip here to capture Arch Rock, and the Natural Bridge with its series of seven rocks and blowholes.
Where to stay near Port Orford:
- WildSpring Guest Habitat– This serene, eco-friendly resort is just a couple minutes outside of Port Orford, and is the ultimate romantic getaway. A handful of cozy cottages are tucked into a grove of trees, and amenities include a walking labyrinth, a fantastic breakfast spread in the morning, and a slate hot tub overlooking the ocean which is perfect for a late night dip and stargazing. Click here to book
- Best Western Inn at Face Rock– Many of the clean, modern rooms boast ocean views, and guests love the peaceful ambience and proximity to the beach. Click here to book
Have more time to spare? Check out these great things to do in the Columbia River Gorge which is just a few hours away.
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