Three years ago, before our “crazy” move to Seattle (crazy because we had no obvious reasons to move besides the sense of adventure), we knew nothing about Oregon. We were eager to see three places on the Pacific West Coast: California, Alaska, and British Columbia.
After our first trip to Portland and Cannon Beach, we discovered a whole new world, and we keep coming back there for more adventures and experiences. Exceptional scenery and little crowds (to compare with California) made the Oregon Coast one of our most beloved places in North America.
Table of Contents
- What to Expect from a Road Trip along Oregon Coast
- Oregon Coast Road Trip Map
- Oregon Coast Road Trip: 24 Amazing Adventures
- Planning: Weather, Clothing and the Best time to Visit Oregon Coast
What to Expect from a Road Trip Along the Oregon Coast
- Driving along the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is a pretty long journey – roughly 363 miles. You will also need some time to get there: about 3.5 hours from Seattle and about 1.5 hours of driving from Portland.
- The list of 24 must-see places below covers roughly 3/4 of the Oregon Coast. The most southern point on the list – Bandon, OR – is about 2 hours from the California border.
- We spent 7 days on this trip. And though we were a little bit exhausted from long rides, we could easily spend there another week or two. The Oregon Coast is full of natural wonders.
- Many exceptional places along the Oregon Coast are close to each other, especially in the northern part. All you need is drive 5-15 minutes between the sightseeing spots. Its a lazy traveler’s dream!
- All of the places and activities listed below are suitable for the little ones. 🙂
Oregon Coast Road Trip: Map
Oregon Coast Road Trip: 18 Amazing Adventures for the Entire Family
The full description of the northern section of the Oregon Coast road trip (Mile 0 to Mile 39) is here. It covers Astoria, Ecola State Park, Cannon Beach, Hug Point, and Oswald West State Park.
Below, you’ll find places we liked most, stretched from Oswald West State Park (Mile 39) to Bandon, OR (Mile 274). From well-known to our family’s hidden gems:
Kelly’s Brighton Marina, Rockaway Beach
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 (kids of all ages are welcome) or an experienced one, you will definitely enjoy the stop at Kelly’s Brighton Marina in Rockaway Beach. We had no time for crabbing but liked the place and the seafood very much.
The place is open year-round. Summer is the busiest time. Double-check hours during wintertime and holidays.
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 and hundreds of international, vintage and odd items to explore. Kids liked the place very much. Admission is free.
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. The food is quite simple, homelike and affordable. You’ll have an opportunity to meet and interact with the locals.
Tillamook Creamery Dairy Co-Op, Tillamook
A cheese factory is probably not a typical thing to do at the Oregon Coast but it was one of the highlights for our kids during our first visit to Oregon.
The mild wet climate of the Oregon Coast is perfect for grass and as a result, for cows: they have loads of premium grass year-round. A long time ago, the Morning Star (photo bellow) was shipping dairy products from the Tillamook Bay to the markets of Portland:
Try different kinds of cheeses, check out each step of the cheesemaking process in action and learn more about the milking farms of Oregon. Great cafe and gift shop. Plan about 2 hours for a visit here.
Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, Tillamook
Cape Meares is a truly scenic place, with dramatic Pacific Ocean views from every angle. The weather was pretty bad during our visit there. We’ve enjoyed only a few brief moments of the crashing waves below until getting soaking wet (me).
You can spend a good couple of hours here:
A popular attraction at Cape Meares is an unusually large Sitka spruce named for its unique shape “Octopus Tree”. I’m glad that kids decided to stay in the car (it was pouring outside). We told them that they can climb an “octopus”. Well, you can’t! It is Oregon’s heritage tree and is protected even from being touched, so future generations can also have the opportunity to see it standing.
It’s approximately 300 y.o. and the forces that shaped it into an “octopus” still remain a mystery:
Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint, Depoe Bay
Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint in Depoe Bay is a rocky oceanfront quick stop destination with panoramic views (including sightings of gray whales and many birds). It’s a popular storm-watching destination. This place reminds me of California:
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 was almost empty during our visit. We had the entire place to enjoy ourselves. It is a popular whale-watching spot, also provides a good view of the Devil’s Punchbowl. There is a cute gift shop on-site (check hours online):
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 huge punch bowl. Good for a brief stop:
Amazing views from the opposite side of Devils Punchbowl Arch.
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Newport
Newport is a lively city on Oregon’s central coast. You can easily spend there half a day or two full days with the entire family.
These are the top destinations in Newport: Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Newport Historic Bayfront (nice place to walk, get seafood, watch the fishing boats come into port and meet sea lions), and Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Yaquina Head is a premium location for tide pooling, ocean views, 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.
Check out the tide schedule before you go!
Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Oregon’s tallest:
Cobble Beach is just a short hike away below the lighthouse:
Ocean Bleu Seafoods at Gino’s, Newport
Fishing boats provide fresh, locally-caught seafood all year round in Newport. Crabs, all variety of fish, oysters – make sure to try some while you are there. We liked Ocean Bleu Seafoods at Gino’s for one particular reason: they served the best looking, healthy and tasty kid’s meal ever!
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.
Seal Rock, OR was named after this rock:
We visited Seal Rock during the low tide.
Hobbit Trail and Beach, Florence
I can’t remember another trail like the Hobbit Trail. It feels like it was dug out on purpose for tiny people. 🙂 The beach is sandy and secluded, but the trail is what really makes this place so unique and worth the time spent here:
A relaxed roundtrip hike through the lush coastal forest and tunnel took us about an hour. Height of the Hobbit Trail tunnel to compare with a tall 8 y.o.:
Views at the Hobbit Beach:
Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, Florence
Oregon Coast is a paradise for lighthouse lovers!
Heceta Head lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses along Pacific West Coast:
You can easily spend half a day and even night at Heceta Head.
Top activities: hike to the beach, take pictures of the Cape Creek Bridge, participate in ranger-led lighthouse programs, visit Sea Lion Cave nearby, and spend a night at the historic assistant lighthouse keeper’s house.
The historic assistant lighthouse keeper’s house (built 1893) offers bed and breakfast. A room with a view of the Pacific Ocean goes for about $365/night:
Sea Lion Caves, Florence
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 and the Heceta Head lighthouse in the distance:
The cave is well-lit and has a huge glass window to watch the sea lions:
Up-close view of the 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 great experience for animal lovers and kids.
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 were there for a brief visit but liked the place very much.
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.
Umpqua River Lighthouse near US Coast Guard community (yellow buildings on the left):
Sunset Beach, Coos Bay
Sunset Beach is a huge sandy beach in a little cove with calm and shallow waters. It is one of our favorites on the Oregon Coast. Parking is close to the water; restrooms, fire pits, and picnic tables were also available. It’s a nice place to go camping and exploring tide pools!
Local kids were splashing in the freezing (53F) water when we were there in April!
Cape Arago State Park, Coos Bay
Cape Arago 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:
West Coast Game Park Safari, Bandon
West Coast Game Park Safari is the southernmost point we got to during our trip along the Oregon Coast. Located in Bandon, it’s a 9-hour drive from Seattle (on the Oregon Coast Hwy) and in less than 2 hours from the California border. It’s family super-friendly and a gem for wildlife lovers!
Since our summer trip to Alaska, Artem became passionate about lynxes and bobcats. Our trip to Oregon Coast began with a search for a place where he could interact closely with wild cats. That’s how we ended up in southern Oregon. It was an unforgettable experience for our boy (and us).
On the picture below: wallaby with a baby in the pouch. There actually was a whole group of wallaby moms with their little ones and some youngsters, already too big for the pouch:
One of my personal dream-come-true – hugging with an opossum =)
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:
In some US states you can keep this beauty on your backyard: capibara, the biggest rodent in the world:
Planning: Weather, Clothing and the Best time to Visit Oregon Coast
Wet, windy and foggy weather may occur during any time of the year on the Oregon Coast.
Summer: more crowds, some chance of “hot” weather for sunbathing. Speaking about temperatures, I would rather build a bonfire at the Oregon Coast, then lay out at the beach. 😉 Swimming at Oregon beaches: bitterly cold, but some kids are splashing even during the rainy season (mid-October through May). When our friend took a dip into the ocean in the first days of June, people were cheering her at the beach.
Winter: wet, windy, foggy and short daylight hours – the biggest disadvantage for us.
Early Fall and late Spring: best time from our perspective. It could be wet, windy and foggy as well with a big chance of clear weather and long daylight hours. Still just little crowds.
Clothing: in layers, even during summer. Waterproof jacket, shoes, fleece-lined leggings and warm sweater for October-May months (rainy season). Plus an extra change of clothes for kids – they will be wet for sure any time of the year!
Thanks for reading! 🙂