Take a moment and picture a day at the beach. For many people, just the imagery alone is enough to put you in a vacation mindset. You might hear roar of waves crashing against golden sand, drowning out the distant call of seagulls flying overhead as you lay on a blanket under the warm sun. It might remind you of the trips you took as a kid, building sandcastles as tall as you could before the ocean swelled and flattened them once more. It might also remind you of spring break, playing volleyball or enjoying a few beers under umbrellas until the sun set beyond the horizon.
If it sounds like a beer commercial, you’re right.
There’s a good chance you’re not picturing cold wind, gray skies, and a steady, soaking rain beating against your jacket. If the word beach conjures that kind of image for you, there’s a good chance you are thinking about the Oregon coast. Oregon’s beach beer commercials look just a bit different from their warmer counterparts.
The Oregon coast tends to be wet, rainy, foggy, windy, overcast, and cold—although not necessarily at the same time. Like many places around the world, summertime in Oregon can feature absolutely perfect weather, but the lengthy offseason is a very different story. To put it in perspective, the average rainfall in the continental United States is 31 inches each year; Oregon’s northern coast averages 90 inches of rain each year, which is three times more than you’ll find in the rest of the country. There are some true benefits to that kind of weather: the rain creates a vibrant, emerald green landscape lush with evergreen trees and coastlines that boast beautiful windswept sand dunes and incredible rock formations. Sure, the Oregon coast weather might be more wild than Australia’s Bondi Beach and the coastline more harsh than the pink sands in Bermuda, but it provides the perfect backdrop for you to break out of your routine and reframe what it means to spend a day at the beach.
You may be familiar with the famous Highway 101, which runs along California’s coastline; that same highway extends north into Oregon and Washington. A road trip along the Oregon coast is a chance to experience the beauty of the Pacific Northwest’s landscape while including some fun, even off-the-beaten-path excursions and activities along the way. If you are planning a trip to the Oregon coast, here are some of our favorite places to include in your vacation itinerary.
Oregon Coast Historic Locations
The Oregon coast has a long, storied history brimming with interesting facts and surprising stories. Here are a few spots where you can immerse yourself in the local narrative.
► Lewis and Clark MonumentsSeaside, Oregon is home to the official end of the Lewis and Clark Trail, a journey commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson that took the explorers through more than 4,000 miles of uncharted land between St. Louis, Missouri and the Oregon coast. From 1804-1806, Merriweather Lewis and William Clark led a small group called the Corps of Discovery to explore the land acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Their journey ended in the town of Seaside on the Oregon coast, and a statue at a turnaround by the entrance to the beach on Broadway Street commemorates the trek’s conclusion.
The Corps of Discovery never visited the exact location of the Lewis and Clark Seaside monument, but they did visit what is modern-day Seaside to construct salt cairns. Essentially a furnace built with a mound of rocks, the structure allowed them to boil seawater to extract salt which they needed to cure meat for the journey home. According to their journals, the Corps of Discovery was able to extract 28 gallons of salt in this location over the course of two months. You can see a recreation of the salt works on display about a mile south of the Lewis and Clark monument.
► Fort Clatsop
Named in honor of the local Native American tribe, the Corps of Discovery constructed Fort Clatsop as an encampment to establish the USA’s presence along the Oregon coast during the winter of 1805. The group built the fort in just three weeks and stayed in this location for several months before returning east in the spring of 1806. Facing terrible weather and with few activities to pass the time, the group struggled to cope with the dreary and erratic weather conditions along the Oregon coast.
William Clark’s journals detailed the miserable conditions they encountered:
Although the Corps of Discovery intended to depart for the USA’s east coast on April 1, 1806, they ultimately couldn’t wait that long. They left on March 22 to escape the horrible weather, and Fort Clatsop was left to decay in the rain. A replica built in its place was lost to fire, but today visitors can explore a new replica that is open daily and provides a great overview of the fort’s significance in United States history. Although walking through is much nicer in the sun, don’t let a little rain keep you away: it will make it even easier to imagine what the explorers experienced during their time along the Oregon coast.
More Information: NPS.gov/lewi
► Peter Iredale Shipwreck
If unique Instagram photos in beautiful locations are on your Oregon coast itinerary, the Peter Iredale shipwreck will be the perfect stop!The coastline that extends from northern Oregon into Washington and onward to Vancouver Island in British Columbia is infamous for rough waters, dense fog, rocky terrain, and unpredictable weather patterns that can be devastating to boats. The Oregon coast is responsible for an estimated 2,000 shipwrecks, which is why the region has earned the ominous nickname the Graveyard of the Pacific. The Peter Iredale is one of the best-preserved relics on display in this turbulent region.
On October 25, 1906, the British ship Peter Iredale was driven ashore by high seas and heavy winds along the Oregon coast. No casualties occurred during the grounding, but the bad weather locked the ship in place, permanently embedding it on the beach in Warrenton, Oregon. Amazingly, the ship was never removed, although the weather has taken its toll and eroded a significant portion of its hull. You can still see the rusting, broken shell in the same place it came ashore over 100 years ago.
Oregon Coast Lighthouses
Although you might be more likely to picture the rocky Maine coastline when you think about lighthouses, Oregon has plenty of beacons scattered along its shores. Here are a few of our favorite lighthouses to visit when exploring the Oregon coast.
► Yaquina Head LighthouseAny list of the most picturesque lighthouses along the Oregon coast must include the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Located in Newport, Yaquina Head is Oregon’s tallest lighthouse, and you can climb to the top for a panoramic view from 161 feet above sea level. It’s a long way to the top, but successful visitors earn a button that declares, “I survived the climb!” There are walking trails around the lighthouse as well as a gift shop with souvenirs and educational items to help you enjoy and remember your visit.
More Information: YaquinaLights.org
► Heceta Head Lighthouse
Heceta Head Lighthouse, located near Florence, is a popular destination along the Oregon coast. Aside from the beautiful construction and stunning views, the lighthouse is also known for having the strongest beam on the Oregon coast; it shines up to 21 nautical miles. If you’re looking to extend your stay, there is a bed and breakfast next to the lighthouse. Don’t get too comfortable, though; there are legends warning that the B&B is haunted by a former resident known as Rue—a name supposedly spelled out by the ghost on a Ouija board. There are a few variations of the story, but it’s commonly believed that Rue was either the mother of a child who fell to her death off the nearby cliffs or was the wife of a lightkeeper. Many people have reported seeing an elderly lady in a dark Victorian-style dress roaming throughout the house looking for her child. Supposedly, Rue is a friendly ghost who watches over the lighthouse, but you might want to stay alert just in case.
More Information: HecetaLighthouse.org
► Cape Meares Lighthouse and the Octopus TreeStanding only 38 feet tall, Cape Meares Lighthouse in Tillamook is the shortest lighthouse in the state. There are some wonderful viewpoints around Cape Meares Lighthouse, making it a great place to add to your Oregon coast itinerary, but our favorite reason to visit is the nearby Octopus Tree. Thought to be close to 300 years old, the tree has branches that extend like tentacles and is believed to have been a burial place for local native tribes who may have used the tree to hold corpses during special rituals. While natural conditions and the harsh Oregon coast weather may have also contributed to the tree’s unusual shape, the ghost stories and spooky legends are more fun to consider, and on a foggy day so typical of the Oregon coast it’s a beautiful place to visit.
More Information: FriendsOfCapeMearesLighthouse.com
► Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
Perched on top of a small island near Ecola State Park, Tillamook Rock Light is a deactivated lighthouse that dates back to the 1880s. Known for its close proximity to especially turbulent waters and harsh weather conditions, the lighthouse was notoriously difficult to access for both lightkeepers and suppliers. In January 1881, just after the lighthouse was completed, dense fog and strong winds caused the British sailing ship Lupatia to violently collide with the rocky island, killing all 16 of its crewmembers. The shipwreck earned Tillamook Rock Light the nickname “Terrible Tilly,” and it was eventually decommissioned in 1957.
Oregon Coast Caves and Natural Formations
Natural wonders can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest, and the Oregon coast is no exception. Here are a few examples of nature in its most impressive forms along the coastline.
► Sea Lion Caves
The Oregon coast is home to the largest sea cave in the United States, which also happens to be the home of almost 200 Stellar sea lions! Located near the town of Florence, the Sea Lion Caves are a great destination to add to your road trip along Oregon’s Highway 101. A short walk from the gift shop will bring you to an elevator that takes you down 200 feet to the cave’s entrance. Discovered in 1880, the cave itself is enormous, soaring to the height of a 12-story building. It’s filled with not only a colony of sea lions but also birds, fish, and other marine life. Gray whales are also commonly seen in the vicinity outside the caves as they pass through the area each year during their migrations.
More Information: SeaLionCaves.com
This video from Travel Lane County shares some additional history, stories, and visuals that help to show why the Sea Lion Caves are worth a stop.
► Devils Punchbowl
Devils Punchbowl is located on the Oregon coast near the town of Depoe Bay. The large rocks arch over the ocean, creating a cave-like formation that makes for a beautiful photo and highlights the scenery along the coastline. If your road trip starts toward the southern end of Highway 101, you may find it reminiscent of coastal rock formations found in San Diego, California.
► Haystack RockThere’s a good chance Haystack Rock will look familiar to you, even if you have never visited before. Prominently featured in movies including The Goonies, Point Break, Kindergarten Cop, and Twilight, and featured as a default wallpaper in Microsoft Windows 7, Haystack Rock is one of the most famous locations along the Oregon coast. Located in Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock is a major tourist location along highway 101 and it’s an essential stop to add to your road trip. Climbing the rock is prohibited, but you don’t need to climb it to enjoy the 235-foot tall monolith up close!
The rock can be seen from miles away, but if you’re looking for a great photo spot to get a panoramic view, check out nearby Ecola State Park and Indian Beach, which is about 2 miles north of Haystack Rock. This location was featured in the movie Goonies, and you’ll find a parking lot with a nice observation area and hiking trails to explore the beaches and cliffs along the coast. On a clear day, the views will include Haystack Rock as well as smaller rock formations along neighboring beaches.
► Thor’s Well and Spouting Horn
We had the chance to see Thor’s Hammer during our trip to Utah’s Bryce Canyon, so we couldn’t miss the chance to see Thor’s Well during our trip to the Oregon coast! Located near the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center, Thor’s Well is a natural wonder that appears to be a bottomless pit along the coastline. While it’s definitely not bottomless—it’s really about 20 feet deep—you’ll still want to use caution if you plan to walk up to the hole since the ocean’s waves can quickly sneak up on you. Stop by Thor’s Well about an hour before high tide to watch as it slowly fills and drains.
Not far from Thor’s Well you’ll also find Spouting Horn. As the waves roll in, the seawater combines with air inside tunnels and crevices below the rocks until the pressure eventually pushes it above ground, resulting in a geyser-like spray that looks like the spout of a surfacing whale. The location is walking distance from Thor’s Well, making it another great reason to stop during your road trip.
This clip from Oregon Public Broadcasting provides a great video of these locations along with some additional information.
Oregon Coast Beaches and Sand Dunes
Sure, you might not be driving along the Oregon coast in pursuit of the perfect beach day, but there are a few great reasons why a stop to walk along the sand might be just what your vacation itinerary needs!
► The Oregon DunesThe windswept sands along the central part of the Oregon coast are part of the Oregon Dunes Natural Recreation Area. The coastal sand dunes are some of the largest in the world, covering approximately 40 miles in area with some of the tallest dunes topping out around 500 feet above sea level. Walking along the dunes reminded us a bit of our time in White Sands, but the Oregon Dunes have their own unique beauty that combines deserts, beaches, and forests and results in undulating mounds of sand. The area provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the dunes through hiking, camping, horseback riding, and picnicking, but the main event might just be ATV dune buggy tours!
If you’re planning to visit the dunes, start your day at the Oregon Dunes Visitor Center in Reedsport to check out the exhibits and grab a few tourist pamphlets. The staff can help you with any necessary permits or answer questions while you’re there.
► Neskowin Ghost Forest
The Neskowin Ghost Forest is not necessarily haunted, but it is a bit creepy if you’re on the beach at low tide on a foggy day! The “forest” is actually a collection of ancient, petrified tree stumps that poke out of the beach near Proposal Rock in the town of Neskowin. The trees have been carbon dated to around 2,000 years old, buried for centuries until an especially powerful storm rolled through in the late 1990s and severely eroded the sand. With the coastline changed, the tree stumps were once again visible along the Oregon coast. Stop by during low tide for the best chance to see the Neskowin Ghost Forest in all its glory.
More Information: AtlasObscura.com/places/neskowin-ghost-forest
Oregon Coast Food and Drink
With so much to see and do during your Oregon coast vacation, you’ll need a few great meals to keep your energy up. Here are some of the tastiest spots to add to your itinerary.
► Tillamook CreameryTillamook Creamery is a fun (and tasty) stop to make along the Oregon coast. You can have a snack or a full meal in the dining hall, sample a nice variety of the cheeses they make, and wrap up with a few scoops of ice cream before continuing your trip. If you’d like to learn more about the dairy process, there are interactive exhibits throughout the building, and you can even watch how the cheese is made from a viewing area above the factory. During our weekday visit, the Creamery wasn’t very busy, giving us a leisurely experience that included a stop at the huge gift shop and with no wait at all to order and receive some truly delicious milkshakes to take with us. We spent more time choosing from the more than 25 available flavors than we did for the shakes to be made!
More Information: Tillamook.com
► Oregon Seafood
There is no shortage of incredible seafood along the Oregon coast! No matter what town you visit, you’re sure to find a restaurant with fantastic options, including Chinook salmon, steelhead, Pacific halibut, Dungeness crab, rainbow trout, and more. One of our favorites is the Bowpicker in Astoria, which serves some truly memorable fish and chips! It’s a walk-up spot housed in a converted fishing boat on wheels, what a food truck might be if it were instead a boat. The lines are often long, but it’s absolutely worth the wait. We also had amazing oyster shooters and a delectable grilled salmon BLT at Seaside Brewing Company; coupled with cold beers it was the perfect Oregon coast lunch. You’ll find fresh seafood pretty much anywhere you go along the coast, and for us seafood is a wonderful compliment to a day driving along the shore.
► Oregon BeerOregon has a reputation for incredible beer—and rightfully so! With more than 280 breweries in more than 75 cities throughout the state you’ll have no trouble finding a place to enjoy a local pint. The Oregon coast has some great breweries, and they’re the perfect place for a pit stop during your road trip. McMenamins Lighthouse Brewpub in Lincoln City, Pelican Brewing Company in Pacific City, Seaside Brewery in Seaside, and Buoy Beer Company in Astoria are four of our favorites, and each of them are within a short distance of some of the coast’s highlights. If you’re visiting a different town along the coast, be sure to check out the Oregon Craft Beer website to see which breweries will be near you.
More Information: OregonCraftBeer.org
(Don’t worry if beer isn’t your preferred drink of choice; you’ll find equally great Oregon wine featured at most restaurants!)
► Tillamook Country Smoker
Just north of the Tillamook Creamery is a small shop that produces some of the best beef sticks and beef jerky around. The Tillamook Country Smoker has distribution throughout the United States, but this location is where it all started and is a great, quick stop to make for some local road trip snacks. We’re fans of beef jerky, finding a true love for it while visiting a fun spot in Albuquerque, and Tillamook Country Smoker sells jerky and beef sticks similar to Slim Jim and Jack Links—only much better! Many flavors are available to sample and all of them are on display for purchase.
More Information: TCSjerky.com
► Oregon CoffeeIf visiting the beach on a cold, windy day sounds daunting, picture yourself holding a warm cup of coffee while you explore. The Pacific Northwest is famous for its coffee culture, and one of our favorite coffee shops is located right along the Oregon coast! We stopped into Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters early on a Monday morning and found ourselves in a surprisingly long line for a quiet coastal town, but its popularity is a testament to the delicious coffee and baked goods they serve. When we reached the counter, we were warmly greeted as we placed our order, and the savory blue cheese and bacon scone and rich, flavorful coffee were well worth the wait. We purchased a bag of coffee beans to bring home and greatly appreciated the staff’s offer to seal it for freshness so it would be at its best when we arrived home. Although you’ll find plenty of great coffee shops along the Oregon coast, Sleepy Monk is one that is worth adding to your itinerary as a destination in its own right.
More Information: SleepyMonkCoffee.com
Map of Places to Visit Along the Oregon Coast
If you are planning a trip to the Oregon coast, this map details the places we visited and might be helpful as you plan your own route!
Oregon Coast: Where to Stay
The Oregon coast has plenty of hotels and bed and breakfast locations to consider. We stayed at the Hallmark Resort and Spa in Cannon Beach, a fantastic location right on the beach. The spacious room was perfectly comfortable and just a few moments away from a great view of Haystack Rock (which we saw at sunset), and we warmed up over beers at Pelican Brewing Company just around the corner from the hotel.
More Information: Booking.com/Hallmark-Resort-Cannon-Beach
We found the Hallmark Resort and Spa on Booking.com while researching hotels along our route; you may find a great hotel in just the right location on Booking.com as well! You can use this search box to find hotels in whatever city you’re planning to visit along the Oregon coast.
Enjoy the Oregon Coast!
Cold, windy, and rainy are not the words most people want to hear when planning a beach vacation, but it’s amazing how they add to the ambiance of a trip to the Oregon coast. Although we were fortunate to have some sun during our trip, it was the moments when the clouds rolled in—when the sky felt like it was closing in on us, blending with the swirling gray waves crashing onto the sand—that we got to see the coast’s true character.
A visit to the Oregon coast is about adventure and admiring how beautiful our planet can be. Whether it’s hiking, photography, or great food and drink near some amazing natural landscapes that beckons you, the Oregon coast will provide plenty of proof that it’s a great vacation destination—and reasons why it might be perfect for a return trip in the future!
Are you planning a visit to the Pacific Northwest? Check out these posts for more ideas!