Unlike the southern stretches of the USA's West Coast, the Oregon part can be pretty tame. California has its many sprawling seaside cities, but Oregon's oceanfront has just a handful of small towns spread out between scenic corridors, natural areas, and a few national parks. While the Oregon coast does offer fantastic ocean views, whale watching opportunities, and other attractions, some of its settlements might leave you wanting more from your road trip.
This being the case, we've put together an insider's list of things you should consider adding to your itinerary. Whether you're striking out from Portland on a coastal trek to Southern Oregon or heading from San Francisco all the way up the coast to Seattle, we hope the following suggestions make your trip one for the books!
The Perfect Oregon Coast Road Trip Itinerary
Starting in the North and heading South, here's a list of the cities you'll want to visit and the points of interest we highly recommend.
Astoria is right on the Columbia River east of where it meets the Pacific Ocean. As such, you can't miss it. Among its many restaurants and shops, you'll find the pizza parlor where Chunk is playing video games at the beginning of the movie The Goonies. Although it's not technically on the coast, Astoria is very much worth visiting. Its attractions include fun stops like the dizzying Astoria Tower and the Lewis and Clark National and State Historic Park. To top it off, there's also the Astoria Film Museum, which is also housed in the same prison used in The Goonies. Pull off in the tiny town of Warrenton, where Highway 101 curves toward the Pacific Coast, and head north. You'll arrive at Fort Stevens State Park, where you can see the shipwreck remains of the Peter Iredale and a historic fort that was operational during World War II.
You'll find the scenic Ecola State Park just north of the city of Cannon Beach. The park's excellent hiking trails weave through the windswept cypresses. It offers incredible views of the offshore Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. The majestic sea stack that is Haystack Rock is the same one the pirate ship passes at the end of The Goonies. So you definitely can't miss this famous rock formation.
Cannon is split into two parts, and most people are more interested in Old Town Cannon near Haystack. While we do suggest exploring Old Town Cannon, make sure to take a short walk North so you can see the city's less frequented delights. These include Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters and the Irish Table restaurant, both located in the same building. The Pelican Brewery is just a couple of blocks further.
Make sure to stop by the state's most famous dairy supplier, Tillamook Creamery, and take a tour. In the end, you get to stop by an ice cream counter that has nearly a hundred flavors to choose from! And if you drive out to the west side of Tillamook Bay at low tide, you'll find rocky tide pools of the Cape Meares Area brimming with sea life. Some trailheads will lead you all the way up through the Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge. Once you reach the top, you'll be able to visit sights like the Cape Meares Lighthouse and Oregon's famous Octopus Tree.
Lincoln City is an excellent place to stop for lunch. You should also definitely consider heading just a few miles inland to the tiny town of Otis and grab a coffee for the road at the hugely popular Otis Cafe.
Head to Newport to check out the fun and robust Oregon Coast aquarium that's more like a tiny zoo than a small collection of fish tanks. And you'll never see enough lighthouses along the Oregon coast, so stop by the Yaquina Head Lighthouse!
Cape Perpetua is a beautiful spot to have a picnic, take selfies, or both. And Devil's Churn is a tiny inlet of crashing waves just south of the Pacific city of Yachats. It's a dangerously beautiful thing to see, so you'll want to be sure to stand far, far away. You'd also probably recognize the strange sight Thor's Well from social media posts if you saw a picture of it. Rock and ocean come together to create the illusion of an epic bathtub drain. Don't worry. It's just an illusion. The sea ain't goin' nowhere.
As the name says, you get caves with sea lions in them at the Sea Lion Cavers. Just follow the signs and rules to make sure you live through the experience. Head a little north from Florence, and you'll find the historic beauty Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenice Viewpoint.
Although Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is south of the city, everyone knows Florence is the best base of operation if you're headed this way. Sand dunes dot the coast at this latitude, so reserve your dune buggy in advance. And if you're feeling a little lucky, head to the Three River Casino Resort to try your hand at winning some hard cash.
No offense to the folks of cities like Coos Bay, Bandon, and Brookings, but if Highway 101 is getting a little too windy and desolate for you, feel free to take the 38 east to the I-5 after you leave the Florence area. For better or worse, there's just not much going on along the 101 until you get well past the California border.
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READ MORE: John Day Fossil Beds: Explore Oregon's Vast National Park
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