Lined by All-American Highway 101 to the east and the wild Pacific Ocean to the west, the Oregon Coast is 363 miles of rugged shoreline, where tide pools and hiking trails share sunsets with beach towns and lighthouses, and where visitors can connect with a frontier that promises to never fade away. That assurance comes from Oregon state law, which stipulates that from the surf to the brush, “the public has free and uninterrupted use of the beaches.”
Twice a year, approximately 18,000 whales can be seen migrating in both directions along the length of the Oregon Coast. The Whale Watching Spoken Here program stations volunteers at prime viewing spots along the coast for a week in December and in March. Visit the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay for whale info and spotting tips year-round.
Hiking and camping
All along the coast, dozens of Oregon state parks offer great spots for hikers and campers. Favorite parks for camping include Fort Stevens and Nehalem Bay (both on the north coast) and Honeyman on the central coast.
For hiking, the north coast’s Ecola State Park, Neahkahnie Mountain, Cape Lookout and Cape Perpetua all offer trails that pay off with gorgeous views. On the central coast, check out the Umpqua Dunes Area, where you’ll find the state’s highest dunes and widest beach — and no off-road vehicles.
Find out why locals love to visit the coast in the winter, too: Storm watching at one of Oregon’s many beachfront resorts is an exciting and romantic off-season pastime.
In Oregon’s northwestern corner, the gritty fishing city of Astoria is the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Home to art galleries, restaurants and antique shops, the city’s man-made art is only rivaled in beauty by its charming environs. Don’t miss the towering 125-foot Astoria Column, with its breathtaking views and murals depicting Oregon’s early history, and the reconstructed Fort Clatsop, where living history demonstrations depict Lewis and Clark’s 1805-06 winter encampment.
About 15 miles (24 km) south, the beach town of Seaside is where locals go to soak up the sun and cool off with ice cream on hot summer days. Stroll or bike the two-mile-long oceanfront promenade with its Coney Island-like attractions.
Cannon Beach, 20 minutes further down the road, can seem a world away, with a laid-back, artsy beach-town vibe that compels visitors to take it slow — especially when the sun is setting behind picturesque Haystack Rock. Wondering where you’ve heard the town name “Tillamook” before? Taste the answer at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, where samples of cheddar, cheese curds and delectable ice cream demand a stop.
For a taste of the dramatic Oregon coastline, drive 10 miles (16 km) west of Tillamook to Cape Mears, the first stop on the popular Three Capes Scenic Drive. Enjoy Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda before rejoining Highway 101 about a half-hour south of Tillamook.
The Oregon Central Coast starts at Lincoln City where you can fly a kite or roll the dice at popular Chinook Winds Casino. Watch for the world’s shortest river, “D” River, here, too, as well as shopping at the 65+ stores of the Lincoln City Outlets.
Continuing south 25 miles (40 km), you’ll find the historic fishing and shipping town of Newport. There’s lots to do here, from coming face-to-fins with hundreds of sharks at the Oregon Coast Aquarium to sampling chowder at Mo’s and sipping locally crafted Rogue beer or spirits. Newport is also home to an active arts community, as well as one of the state’s nine historic lighthouses. Illuminated in 1873, Yaquina Head Lighthouse stands 93 feet (28 m) tall and still guides ships today.
Another 25 miles (40 km) or so south on Highway 101, Yachats State Recreation Area and Cape Perpetua Visitors Center are favorite stops for their tide pools teeming with starfish, sea anemones and crabs.
Florence, 49 miles (79 km) south of Yachats, marks the gateway to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, a 40-mile-long (64 km) playground for sand-boarders, dune buggies and off-highway vehicles (OTVs).
The Southern Oregon Coast includes the towns of Coos Bay, known for its botanical garden and busy retail center; Bandon, home to the acclaimed Bandon Dunes Golf Resort; Gold Beach, the sunniest spot on the Oregon and Washington coasts; and Brookings-Harbor, renowned for its reliably warm weather.