Oregon is a state with an enormous natural diversity: volcanoes, Sand Dunes, Painted Hills, the deepest lake in the USA, and a dramatic coastline. After our first trip to Cannon Beach, we discovered scenery we never knew before, and little crowds to compare with California. We keep coming back every year. This post – an Oregon coast road trip guide: best time to visit, where to go, and what we (and kids) loved about a particular place.
What to expect from an Oregon coast road trip with a family
Hours and current conditions may change any time, especially during Covid-19. Please verify all the essential information for the destinations before you go.
- Driving along the Oregon Coast Scenic Byway is a long journey – 363 miles. You will also need time to get there: 3.5 hours from Seattle and about 1.5 hours of driving from Portland.
- We spent 7 days on this trip, but could easily spend another week or two. The Oregon Coast has tons of natural wonders.
- Many exceptional places along the Oregon Coast are very close to each other, especially in the northern part. All you need is to drive 5-15 minutes between the sightseeing spots, – lazy traveler’s dream!
- All of the places from the Oregon Coast road trip guide in this post are suitable for the little ones and were tried by our kids.
- The list of 18 must-see places below covers 3/4 of the Oregon Coast. Nothern, 1/4 of Oregon Coast points of interest is here.
Oregon Coast Road Trip: Map
Oregon Coast Road Trip: 18 Amazing Adventures for the Entire Family
1. Kelly’s Brighton Marina, Rockaway Beach. Crabbing and oysters
Time to explore: from a brief visit to a couple of hours.
Activities: go crabbing or stop for steamed crabs, clams, and oysters:
Whether you are a first-time crabber or an experienced one, Kelly’s Brighton Marina is a great spot for big and small. We had no time for crabbing, bought all the seafood, and had a feast :). In the picture below Artem trying to figure out how to eat the crab:
2. International Police Museum, Rockaway Beach
While in Rockaway Beach, make a stop at the International Police Museum. Attached to the local police department, it’s a lovely place to spend a couple of hours or warm-up on a rainy day.
History of policing, women in law enforcement, dress-up station, hundreds of international, vintage, and odd items to explore. Our kids liked the place very much:
3. Grumpy’s Cafe, Rockaway Beach
Looking for a non-touristy place for a quick bite? Try Grumpy’s Cafe in Rockaway Beach, next to the Police Museum. Nice opportunity to meet and interact with the locals, plus simple and homelike food.
4. Tillamook Creamery: cheese factory with a story
The mild and wet climate of the Oregon Coast is perfect for grass and cows, – they have loads of food year-round. A long time ago, the Morning Star, ship in front of the factory, was delivering dairy products from the Tillamook Bay to the markets of Portland.
Try different kinds of cheeses, learn about the cheesemaking process in action, and milking farms. Kids were excited! Great cafe and gift shop. Save about 2 hours for Tillamook factory.
5. Cape Meares Scenic viewpoint and Octopus tree
Cape Meares is a scenic place, with a cool lighthouse and dramatic Pacific Ocean views from every angle:
You can easily spend a couple of hours at Cape Meares: walk the trails, read information displays, and marvel at Sitka spruce named for its unique shape “Octopus Tree”.
We told the kids that they can climb an “octopus”. Well, you can’t! It is Oregon’s heritage tree and is protected even from being touched. The tree is approximately 300 y.o. and the forces that shaped it into an “octopus” still remain a mystery.
6. Boiler Bay Scenic Viewpoint or “a place that looks like California”
Boiler Bay viewpoint is a rocky oceanfront destination with panoramic views and many birds. It is good for a quick stop and popular storm-watching destination. Depends on the time of the year, you may spot the gray whales!
This place reminds me of California a lot:
7. Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint, Otter Rock
Otter Crest State scenic viewpoint in Otter Rock located 500 feet above the ocean. Like Boiler Bay, it has dramatic views and was almost empty during our visit: we had the entire place to enjoy ourselves. It is a popular whale-watching spot and provides good views of the Devil’s Punchbowl.
8. Devils Punchbowl Arch, Otter Rock
During our visit in late April, Devils Punchbowl was very quiet. Though, during winter storms (from November until February), water from the ocean slams with a roar into a hollow rock formation shaped like a punch bowl. Good for a brief stop.
In the picture below: amazing views from the opposite side of Devils Punchbowl Arch:
9. A place to spend a day: Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
Newport is a lively city on Oregon’s central coast, where you can easily spend one to two full days. The top destinations in Newport: Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Newport Historic Bayfront (nice place to walk, get seafood, watch the sea lions and fishing boats come into port), and Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Yaquina Head is a premium location for tide pooling, ocean views, learning the history, and checking out the lighthouse. The interpretive center on-site is very worth a visit. There are limited ranger-led tours available at the lighthouse for the public.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Oregon’s tallest:
In the pictures below: Cobble Beach, sweeping views around Yaquina Head Lighthouse, and sea urchin:
10. Ocean Bleu Seafoods at Gino’s, Newport
Fishing boats provide fresh, locally-caught seafood year-round in Newport. Crabs, all variety of fish, oysters – make sure to try some while you are there.
We liked our crab lunch at Ocean Bleu Seafoods at Gino’s and were impressed by best looking, healthy, and tasty kid’s meal (in the picture below) we ever had:
11. Seal Rock, favorite tide pooling beach
Seal Rock was our favorite place to explore tide pools. It was very quiet and serene during our trip to the Oregon Coast. The views are majestic! Stop for a brief visit or spend a couple of hours. A short and easy hike leads to the beach. Restrooms and parking are close to the trail.
We visited Seal Rock during the low tide.
In the picture below: Seal Rock, OR was named after this rock:
12. Oregon Coast Road Trip Guide. Hobbit Trail and Beach
I can’t remember another trail like the Hobbit Trail. It feels like it was dug out on purpose for tiny people. 🙂 A relaxed roundtrip hike through the lush coastal forest and tunnel took us about an hour.
The beach is sandy and secluded, but the trail is what really makes this place so unique and worth the time spent here:
13. Heceta Head Lighthouse, Cape Creek Bridge, and lighthouse keeper’s house to spend a night
Oregon Coast is a paradise for lighthouse lovers!
Heceta Head lighthouse, in the picture below, is one of the most photographed lighthouses along the entire Pacific West Coast:
You can easily spend half a day and even night at Heceta Head. Popular activities: hike to the beach, take pictures of the Cape Creek Bridge, participate in ranger-led lighthouse programs, and spend a night at the historic assistant lighthouse keeper’s house. It was built in 1893 and now serves as a bed and breakfast.
14. Oregon Coast Road Trip Guide. Hear them roar: Sea Lion Caves
Sea Lion Caves is America’s largest sea cave full of sea lions most of the year. It is a naturally formed underground cavern accessible by the elevator. The short trail reaches the cavern from the visitor center with wonderful views of the Pacific. The cave is well-lit and has a huge glass window to watch the sea lions:
Up-close view of hundreds of Steller sea lions and their cubs:
The smell was ok, but the noise level is pretty high as sea lions stay in an enclosed area. Great visit overall and a unique experience for animal lovers and kids!
15. Umpqua Lighthouse and Oregon Dunes, Reedsport.
Sand play, beachcombing, surfing, mountain biking, camping, swimming at Lake Marie, ranger programs, and much more available at Oregon Dunes. Come for a couple of days or stay a couple of hours. We made a stop at the Umpqua River Lighthouse (info about tours here) with a wonderful overviewing platform:
Kids ran to play in the dunes immediately, despite being exhausted after the long ride.
16. Great for kids: Sunset Beach, Coos Bay
Sunset Beach is one of our favorite beaches on the Oregon Coast. It is very spacious, located in a little cove, and has calm, shallow waters. Parking is close to the water; restrooms, fire pits, and picnic tables also nearby. Nice place to go camping and exploring tide pools!
Local kids were splashing in the freezing (53F) water when we were there in April!
17. Cape Arago: breathtaking beauty and wildlife. Coos Bay
Cape Arago State Park is a breathtakingly beautiful park, providing great scenery and plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching: sea lions, seals, and whales. If you need to refuel, there are a couple of secluded picnic tables with a dream view:
The trail to the overviewing deck was a little bit steep but short and rewarding: a colony of sea lions up close, – brownish spiky like creatures in the middle of the picture:
18. Oregon Coast Road Trip Guide. West Coast Game Park Safari
West Coast Game Park Safari is the southernmost point we got to during our trip along the Oregon Coast. Bandon is a 9-hour drive away from Seattle (on the Oregon Coast Hwy) and in less than 2 hours from California.
Since our summer trip to Alaska, our son, Artem became passionate about lynxes. Finally, at West Coast Game Park Safari, he got a chance to interact with one!
One of the most precious places was a group of wallaby moms with their little ones and some youngsters, already too big for the pouch. I was very happy to hug an opossum, in the picture below:
Overall the West Coast Game Park is a great and quite unique place to visit. We would come again without hesitation. A lot of animals, many of them roaming free: lamas, alpacas, deer, goats, etc. The only concern – spaces for big primates and big cats could be much bigger.
Oregon Coast road trip guide. Planning: weather, clothing, the best time to visit
Wet, windy, and foggy weather may occur during any time of the year on the Oregon Coast.
1. Weather and the best time for Oregon Coast road trip
Early Fall and late Spring are the best time from our perspective for Oregon Coast vacation. Although it could be wet, windy, and foggy, there is a big chance of clear weather. Plus long daylight hours and little crowds.
Summer brings more crowds and a chance of hot weather. Speaking about temperatures, I would rather build a bonfire at the Oregon Coast, than lay at the beach during summer. 😀
Winter: from mid-October through May be ready for the rain season. Wet, windy, foggy weather is common for this time of the year. The biggest disadvantage for us is the short daylight hours.
2. Swimming at Oregon beaches
Swimming in the Pacific is bitterly cold. When our friend took a dip into the ocean in the first days of June, locals were applauding her up at the beach! Local kids, though, used to splash and play in the ocean more than anyone else.
3. How to dress for the Oregon Coast road trip
Dress in layers, even during summer. A waterproof jacket, shoes, and warm sweater are a must for the October-May months, rainy season. I wear Dr. Martin shoes for 90% of the trips year-round in PNW. Unless it’s pouring rain, they serve great. I love those boots.
Don’t forget an extra change of clothes, especially for kids – they will be wet for sure any time of the year!
4. Oregon Coast Road Trip Guide. Great movies and books for kids/adults we love and recommend
“Goonies” (1985), is a Steven Spielberg movie that took place in Astoria, Oregon. Pirate treasure, friendship, booby traps, etc. 😀 It is fun to watch with the entire family and the best possible introduction to the Oregon Coast! IMDb 7.8.
“Overboard” (1989) is another cool and hilarious movie about Oregon Coast. It is one of my favorite “If you have a bad day movie”:). IMDb 6.9.
Thanks for reading! 🙂
How to make the most out of your visit to Portland. Astoria: so much more than Goonies! Cannon Beach, the USA coastal gem
Crater Lake National Park in one day: how we explored it with a family