Costa Oregon

Things to do on the Oregon Coast: a road trip in discovery of the state’s incredible places

April 8, 2022 /

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

If you’re thinking about planning your Oregon vacation, you can’t help but start planning your Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary with one of the many magnificent natural attractions that stretch along the state’s coastline.

Stacks that rise from the waters of the Pacific Ocean, observation points that allow you to admire the entire coastline that stretches out below you, cities with a historic past like Astoria, beautiful parks where nature still stands unspoiled; in short, the Oregon coast has everything you need to make your vacation memorable.

Oregon Coast Road Trip Map

Cannon Beach

Oregon coast road trip

There must be a reason why in 2013, National Geographic magazine included Cannon Beach in the 100 most beautiful places in the world. In addition to being a lovely seaside town, its immediate surroundings are home to some of Oregon’s most beautiful attractions and natural parks.

Haystack Rock

Oregon coast trip

Definitely the most visible rock formation in all of Cannon Beach and the most popular on the Oregon coast. It’s actually a magma rock that stands just over 210 feet above sea level. For the most observant, it might remind you of Morro Rock which is located in the town of Morro Bay on the Californian coast.

During low tide, especially in summer, it is possible to reach it on foot and get a close-up view of its many natural cavities where many marine species have formed their natural habitat. It also made an appearance in the popular 1980s movie The Goonies.

Chapman Point and Bird Rocks

oregon coast drive

It is from here that you can see the distinctive rock formations of the Bird Rocks that emerge from the waters of the Pacific Ocean and that, over time, have become the home of the common murres that nest in this area (hence the name of the rocks). If you have binoculars with you, it’s not uncommon to spot the distinctive white-headed eagles flying over the area in search of their prey.

Ecola State Park

oregon coast drive itinerary

This natural park covers more than 9 miles of coastline. If you have time, don’t miss the trails that reach the Pacific Ocean from inland. In particular, try to enjoy the view from Ecola Point and the fascinating Indian Beach. Entrance to the park costs 5$ per vehicle.

From the highest vantage points at Indian beach you can also catch a glimpse of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, one of the most beautiful Oregon Coast lighthouses, in the distance.

You can reach these two vantage points either by hiking along the trails or, more conveniently, by car. If choosing the latter, pay attention to the road, which is narrower and more winding than normal American roads.

Where to Stay in the area

Cannon Beach offers many accommodation solutions. If you want to check availability during your visit, just click on the link below.

Search a hotel in Cannon Beach and surroundings

Three Capes Scenic Route 

This 36 mile-route takes you across three parks in Oregon, reaching as many fascinating headlands, allowing you to enjoy beautiful views of the coast. Never more so than in this case, images speak louder than words, as a single glance makes you understand the beauty that awaits you.

Cape Mears

Three Capes Scenic Route oregon

Located within the Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, this is perhaps the most famous cape of the three, because it houses one of Oregon’s most beautiful lighthouses, because you can also find the strange Octopus Tree here, and because of the Three Arch Rocks. The latter are three peculiar rock formations that emerge from the ocean in front of the town of Oceanside, which can be easily photographed from the top of Cape Mears.

Cape Lookout State Park

Three Capes Scenic loop oregonIf you’re looking for a campground, you’ve come to the right place because this is one of the most popular campgrounds in Oregon. If you’re just passing through, be sure to park up and take one of the trails that branch off into the interior of Cape Lookout, a long, narrow strip of land that extends out to sea.

Particularly recommended is the Cape Trail (about 4.6 miles round trip) which will take you to the tip of the cape. Along your route, you will be surrounded by trees until you pop up on the shoreline enjoying the view of the Ocean in front of you.

Cape Kiwanda State Park

oregon coast must stops

Although it is the smallest cape, this does not mean that it is the least fascinating. It is located in the Pacific City area and the view of the coast below is enhanced by the peculiar stack that emerges from the sea; one of the three Haystack Rocks that can be seen in Oregon, although the one already mentioned in Cannon Beach is the most famous.

One of the most famous non-natural attractions in the area is the Pelican Pub & Brewery located directly on the beach which, besides offering a dream view, is particularly renowned for the quality of its beer and food. A great choice if you want to treat yourself to a moment of refreshment along your itinerary.

God’s Thumb

best places to stop along the oregon coast

This peculiar rock formation with its curious shape stands out so imposingly along the coast that it has earned its prestigious name.

The path to this scenic viewpoint on the Oregon coast does not officially exist, but is still walked every year by hundreds of people. It begins at the end of Port Drive in the small town of Roads End. Getting to the start of this trail can be a bit tiresome as there is no parking along the narrow Port Drive road, which only serves private homes. Therefore, if you really want to take on this hike, you’ll need to leave your car at the Roads End State Park parking lot and walk to the trailhead.

The last section is also particularly challenging due to the incline to God’s Thumb and because there is very often mud along the trail especially in the winter. You will have to cover at least 4.5 miles round trip (starting and returning to Roads End State Park). Until recently, there was also a shorter version of this trail that started at the end of Logan Road, but since it crossed a stretch of private property, stricter controls have now ruled it out.

Cape Perpetua

must see oregon coast

This is where the forest meets the ocean. In this area, south of the town of Yachats, there are at least three attractions not to be missed within the scenic Siuslaw National Forest. For more information on all that the area has to offer, our advice is to go to the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center, a short distance from the US-101.

To access the trails and visit these natural attractions you will need to purchase a pass at a cost of $5 per vehicle or have an Oregon Recreation Pass which you can also purchase online.

Cape Perpetua Overlook

oregon coast sights

This is a privileged vantage point from where you can enjoy a splendid view of the entire coastline below. It also has the not inconsiderable advantage of being one of the highest viewpoints in the state that can be easily reached by car. Coming from Yachats drive along US-101 until the intersection with Forest Road 55, turn onto it and then turn right onto Cape Perpetua Lookout after half a mile, that will take you to the promontory. At the end of the road you will find a parking lot.

Devil’s Churn

The waves breaking on the coastal rocks in this narrow inlet causes a particularly evocative phenomenon. On windy days, the waves breaking on the rocks produce sprays that reach tens of feet in height, so be careful.

The parking lot to access the trail that will take you to sea level is on US-101. The route you will need to take is the short Restless Waters Trail.

Thor’s Well

thor's well oregon

What looks like a bottomless chasm that swallows ocean waves and spews them back out in a steady stream is known as Thor’s Well. In reality, it is a crater no more than 20 feet deep that, thanks to the continuous emptying and filling of water, forms a fascinating perpetual motion, especially during high tide.

Perhaps it goes without saying that you are in a very dangerous place, so do not get too close or you will run the risk of being sucked into the vortex (as unfortunately has already happened in the past). For this reason, the advice is to stay at a safe distance and ask for information from the rangers at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center.

Where to Stay in the area

As mentioned, the closest town to this fascinating coastal area is Yachats. You can check hotel availability by clicking on the link below.

Find a hotel in the area

Oregon Dunes National Area

Oregon Dunes National Area

This natural park extends for more than 35 miles along the Oregon coast. Bordered to the south by the Coos River and to the north by the Siuslaw River near the city of Florence, it is the perfect opportunity to visit sand dunes and forests overlooking the Pacific Ocean in one fell swoop.

Given its extensive size, if you want to visit here, we recommend you stop at the Oregon Dunes NRA Visitor Center located at 855 Highway Ave in the town of Reedsport. Here you can find information about the trails, park conditions and find useful tips on how to optimize your visit.

Some of the dunes are over 300 feet high, so if you’re short on time, you can observe some of them by simply driving along US-101 and stopping at the rest stops. If you can afford a break, a dune buggy tour along the sand hills is a must.

The cost to access the many areas of the Oregon Dunes National Area is $5 per vehicle.

Where to stay

The city most equipped with hotel facilities is certainly Florence, which also has a small downtown where you can also enjoy a pleasant stroll.

Search for a hotel in Florence

Oregon Coast Cities

The Oregon coast is dotted with large and small towns. To list them all would be scattershot, so I will mention the main ones with the activities they offer and the curiosities they hide.

Astoria

Oregon Coast Cities

Astoria is one of the most famous cities on the Oregon coast, especially renowned for its history. Not everyone knows that the arrival point of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition is now the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. Also related to this event is the Astoria Column, built in 1926, where the walls depict stories that refer to the epic exploration and colonization of the West. You can even climb to the top of the column and enjoy a splendid view from above of the entire surrounding area.

Walking along the Astoria Riverwalk, it’s impossible not to notice the impressive Astoria-Megler Bridge that connects the state of Oregon with Washington State across the Columbia River. Still on the subject of history, Fort Stevens State Park is definitely worth a visit. Among other things, it houses the spectacular wreck of the Peter Iredale.

Search for an hotel in Astoria

Newport

Newport oregon

The best known view of this area is from Yaquina Head Lighthouse, which we talked about in more detail in our article on Oregon lighthouses.

The two state parks that face the ocean north and south of the Yaquina River (South Beach State Park and Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site) are perfect places for a walk along the coast. The distinctive bridge that connects the two sides of the river is practically the symbol of the city.

Newport is also the city that hosts the Oregon Coast Aquarium. A visit here is particularly recommended if you are traveling with children in tow, who will surely be impressed by the underwater tunnel and the many marine species that can be observed, including lovely otters and sea lions.

Search for a hotel in Newport

Depoe Bay

Depoe Bay oregon

This small town of just over a thousand inhabitants is famous for being the world capital of whale watching and for hosting the smallest port in the world. For this reason it is a must to visit the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center (119 SW Highway 101) and consult the official website to find out the best time of year to observe these beautiful mammals.

The views from Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint just north of Depoe Bay are highly recommended.

Search for a hotel in Depoe Bay

Bandon

best things to do on the oregon coast

Bandon is one of the favorite towns for storm watchers. The old town with its typical restaurants and stores is particularly suggestive compared to other towns in Oregon. Don’t miss a visit to the Bandon Fish Market and the characteristic Tony’s Crab Shack, in business since 1989.

It is also worth visiting Kronenberg Park, where the famous Coquille Point offers spectacular views.

oregon coast best attractions

The Coquille River Lighthouse is one of the many lighthouses that can be found along the Oregon coast, located between the mouth of the Coquille River and the long Bullards Beach, it is open to the public from mid-May until September. The lighthouse can be visited daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, take a look at the official website to avoid surprises.

Search for a hotel in Bandon

Finally, a little fun fact; the only town in the continental United States “bombed” during World War II stands along the Oregon coastline.

This is Brookings, where a single Japanese pilot dropped incendiary bombs on the nearby forest to cause a huge fire but the mission failed as it has rained heavily the day before.

In 1962 the pilot, Nobuo Fujita, was invited to visit the city and he donated the samurai sword that his family had been handing down for 400 years as a sign of friendship and peace to the town, which today is on display in the local library. Shortly after his death, the city administration decided to give him honorary citizenship.


Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Warning: Operating hours can change and closures for extraordinary events can occur, so we strongly suggest to check the venues official websites.

filippo nardelli
Filippo Nardelli

I have a degree in History of North America and have always been fascinated by the United States.

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