Oregon Coast

Oregon, the Beaver State

Ask a Europeans what is their favorite part of the Pacific Coast and almost certainly you'll heard these two words: Big Sur. Ask the same question to an American. The answer will still be of two words, but two very different ones: Oregon Coast.
The divergence of views is hardly surprising. Not many Europeans go north of San Francisco, let alone as north as Oregon. They do not know this area and, allow me a little sarcasm, it's better this way. For this reason the Oregon Coast is still relatively unknown to mass tourism and anyone willing to try something other than the traditional southwest will enjoy arguably the most beautiful stretch of Pacific coast, experiencing it just the way Oregonians live it every day of the year.
The Oregon Coast is a jewel that it is better to enjoy without rush. 340 miles seem to be relatively few, but the amount of things to see is impressive and my recommendation is to plan at least 3 days to enjoy this trip. With few exceptions, you can see all the attractions of the Oregon coast staying on Hwy-101. This road follows the coast, at times right on the ocean, at times a little more inland.
Another unique characteristic of the Oregon Coast is the impressive variety of attractions you will see. From fishermen towns to lighthouses, from whales migrating to sand dunes, from sea stacks to waterfalls, you'll see it all.
Even though, as I said, the Oregon Coast is relatively unknown to European tourism, don't think you'll find bargain lodges without reservations, especially in July and August. This area is famous among Americans and if you plan to visit during summer you should book a motel at least a couple of months in advance.
Our virtual journey on the Oregon Coast starts on the border with Washington and will end on the California border.
If you start from Seattle, the fastest way to get to the coast is via I-5 to Kelso (2 ½ hours from Seattle) and west on OR-30. A slower alternative is to head west towards the Washington coast just after Olympia. The division between northern, central and southern Oregon Coast varies depending on which book or site you consult. So don't be surprised if you find something different from what I'm adopting here.

Oregon Coast

Cannon Beach

Northern Oregon Coast

Astoria is the very first stop on the Oregon Coast and I wouldn't continue without having taken a few minutes to visit some of the attractions. Astoria is famous for being the destination of Lewis and Clark' expedition. If these names do not ring a bell, try doing a search on the internet and you'll understand the historic importance of this expedition, the first to reach the Pacific Northwest by land (1804-1806).
Even if you are not a big fan of history, Astoria will not disappoint you. The most famous attraction is the Astoria Column, a column on top of a hill from which you will enjoy a unique view that sweeps from the Cascade Range to the Columbia River Gorge and north to Washington. From here you can also admire the Megler Bridge, the long green bridge that connects Oregon and Washington. Another couple of attractions that you might consider, depending on much time you have are Fort Stevens SP (where, among other things, you can see the wreck of the Peter Iredale) and the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
After having climbed the Astoria Column and visited the other attractions continue south to Seaside.

Seaside is a charming seaside town with many motels and restaurants. Downtown (basically one road that connects the beach to Hwy-101) is worth a stroll, but what you should not miss is the waterfront. The beach is really pretty and if the timing is right you might be able to watch the World's Biggest Beach volley Tournament or the famous Sand Castle Festival.
Seaside and Cannon Beach are excellent choices to stop for the night. The Seaside Hillcrest In Seaside is really good, almost on the beach and I would not hesitate to recommend it.

Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach is located a few miles south of Seaside, but the stretch that separates them is perhaps the most interesting part of the area. Between Seaside and Cannon Beach do not miss beautiful Ecola SP. This park is essentially divided in two areas. Indian Beach, to the north, gives access to the beach. From here you can see the famous Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in the distance and walk among the diverse and rich tide pools.
Ecola Point, on the southern part of the park, offers one of the best views of the Pacific coast. From here you can admire the coast south of Ecola SP, with huge sea stacks, miles of beach, and the town of Cannon Beach and its famous Haystack Rock (a tall sea stack about 250 ft tall!!!).
Once you get to Cannon Beach, visit the beach and Haystack Rock and take the time for a walk through the various local craft shops and galleries located in downtown. This town is perfect for relaxing. If you have time, take it easy, even a couple of days are well spent.

Continuing south, you plan a short stop in Tillamook. The town is nothing special but here you'll find the Tillamook Cheese Factory , where Tillamook cheese, one of the most popular cheeses in the Northwest, is produced. Don't forget to try the different ice cream flavors and indulge on what for many consider the best ice cream of the Northwest.

Oregon Coast

Depoe Bay's World's Smallest Harbor

Central Oregon Coast

Cascade Head
If the northern Oregon Coast has some beautiful towns and the southern Oregon Coast is considered the wildest part of the coast, the central stretch of Oregon Coast offers a combination of both.
A short diversion into the inland takes you to Munson Creek Falls, among the highest waterfalls on the coast. Be careful though, during summer this waterfall tends to dry out and, under these conditions, is probably not worth the detour.
But what you should absolutely not miss is Cascade Head. This is a promontory, accessible by a 3 miles round trip hike, which offers a view over the coast that many people consider the most beautiful view of the Pacific Coast. The hike is not too hard and will take you two or three hours, but that is absolutely well worth it. Once you get to the top of the promontory, stop and enjoy the view, this is a magical place that you will have a hard time leaving.

Depoe Bay
A short stop I'd strongly recommend is at Depo Bay. In addition to beautiful views you will enjoy while driving on Hwy-101, Depo Bay harbor is the real attraction. The harbor is known as "The World's Smallest Harbor". Looking at the boats entering and exiting the harbor is lots of fun.

The area around Newport is one of the most varied of the entire coast, providing a little bit of everything within a few miles. One of the most famous attractions is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, one of the most photographed lighthouses on the coast. There is an entry fee but the few dollars are really well spent. Newport itself offers a couple of beautiful attractions, as well as being a good choice to stop for the night. Agate Beach is a pretty beach which extends for almost 4 miles. If you have time, stop at least for a walk. If you are a photographer and are looking for a memorable shot, the Newport Bridge at dawn, half hidden in the fog, is perhaps what you are looking for.

Yachats is considered by many one of the prettiest towns of Oregon Coast, in addition to being one of the best places to practice one of the favorite hobbies of Washingtonians and Oregonians: storm watching. The rocky coast of Yachats is constantly being hit by huge waves, and if you are lucky and it rain (yes, I know it seems strange to have the words luck and rain in the same sentence) you could witness a memorable demonstation of Nature's power. Another unique sight along the coast, in addition to the lighthouses, are covered bridges. The Yachats River Covered Bridge is located not far from Yachats and is one of the most photogenic bridges in the area (though you'll need at least a 28-70mm lens).
Yachats is the place that I'd recommend as your second stop for the night. The Overleaf Lodge is not cheap, but is considered one of the most beautiful hotels on the coast. Rooms with views on the Ocean are fantastic.

Southern Oregon Coast

Heceta Head Lighthouse
A few miles south of Yachats be ready for two stops. The first attraction you'll meet along the road is the famous Heceta Head Lighthouse. This is considered among the most photographed lighthouses in the world!The entrance to the park cost a few bucks. There isn't really much to do other than park your car and take the short walk (uphill) that will take you to the lighthouse. If you are looking for a shot to capture the lighthouse with the coast in the background then there are several pullouts along Hwy-101 that are just perfect. One of the best, the Heceta Head Lighthouse Viewpoint, is located about a mile south of the park.
Continuing south you will reach the second stop I mentioned. The Sealion Caves (the ticket sells for around ten dollars) appears to be a classic touristic attraction, with the usual huge gift shop and all the frills, but it is also a beautiful small natural oasis worth visiting. From the gift shop you'll take the elevator that takes you to the famous caves where hundreds of sea lions live. The experience is definitely worth the time and cost of the visit, and do not forget to check out the view of Heceta Head Lighthouse, located just on the other side of where the sea lions viewpoint is.

Just 26 miles south of Yachats it's definitely worth to stop in Florence. Old Florence, as the old town center is called, is full of charm and offers excellent opportunities to dine in one of the many restaurants or just enjoy a relaxing stroll along the streets and the Florence's harbor.
South of Florence is the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which I personally have not spent much time visiting but that should provide several of the classic opportunities American NRAs offer (in particular, the dune buggies are pretty much an institution here!).

Oregon Coast

Bandon Ocean State Wayside, one of the most spectacular beaches on the whole coast

Coos Bay
Almost 50 miles south of Florence you'll pass by North Bend and Coos Bay, not the most charming towns along the coast but do not get discouraged. Leave Hwy-101 (which in this part is inlands), head towards the coast and you will find some of the wildest stretches of coast. The loop that leads to Sunset Bay SP, Shore Acres SP and Cape Arago SP is certainly worth the detour. The first and third of these three parks provide different views on the coast. Shore Acres SP is a beautiful botanical garden, really interesting even for those of you who, like me, are not huge flower and plants fans.

We are almost at the end of our trip when we get to Bandon, but is probably my favorite part of the coast. Bandon is the essence of what the Oregon Coast represents. The town itself and its pier are delightful, but it is the coast that makes Bandon absolutely unforgettable. In particular do not miss Bandon Ocean State Wayside, a coastline with HUGE stacks of the strangest shapes. You must absolutely stop in the area and enjoy a long walk along the coast between the stacks, where you'll see amazing tide pools or you can enjoy the show the waves breaking on the sea stacks. A good hotel is the Windermere by the Sea. It is located exactly south of Bandon Ocean State Wayside, with fantastic ocean views and direct access to the beach.

After leaving Bandon Brookings will not impress you too much, but there are at least another couple of stops to make. The first, in Gold Beach, is a gem for photographers. Just enter Gold Beach and head towards the harbor where you will find the wreck of the Mary D. Hume .
Brookings is the real last stop along the Oregon Coast. In this area I'll mention Harris Beach SP, another park State with access to the beach and beautiful views of the coast. If you are heading to California, keep in mind that in the next 100 miles, down to Eureka, you won't come across any big city. Brookings offers two major supermarkets (Fred Meyer) where you can  shop, fill the tank and get a snack.