The drive along the Oregon Coast is one of my favourites in the world. The drive is filled with beautiful views around every corner and it is wonderful to see the world around you change as you drive further south. From the mist and slight chill of Cannon Beach to the drier vegetation as you near the Californian border, you really feel how small you are compared to this vast world.
Along the way, there is so much to see and do and it can be easy to miss interesting turn offs and outlooks. From my various trips down the coast, here are my favourite and best things to do along the Oregon Coast.
But first, which way do you drive? I prefer to drive down from north to south because this way you’re on the right side of the road with unbroken views of the ocean and lookouts as you drive along. It’s easier to make split second decisions to stop at a viewpoint as well as they’re on your right side.
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Explore the charm of Astoria
At the mouth of the Columbia River sit the charming city of Astoria. Famous for being the backdrop to the cult classic The Goonies, this port city is full of character and charm. From the beautiful Victorian mansions to places that play homage to the city’s past as a fishing village, there is plenty to discover. Head up to The Astoria Column for beautiful views of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.
For fans of the movies, you can visit the Flavel House, where Mr. Walsh works in The Goonies, or head to the Hammond Marina where the ending of Free Willy was filmed or tie it all together at the Oregon Film Museum.
And when you’re all done with exploring the city, head over to Bowpicker Fish and Chips to grab a bite. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you spot the boat with wheels and a long line.
Get shipwrecked at Fort Stevens State Park
Have you ever wanted to see a shipwreck up close? Well, you can at Fort Stevens State Park. The vessel, Peter Iredale, was on its way to the Columbia River when it ran ashore in 1906.
Read more: Shipwrecked at Fort Steven’s State Park
The ship then fell onto its port side, lodging itself in the sand, making it difficult to extract. It is still there today, slowly sinking further into the soft sand that surrounds it.
There are no barriers so you can walk right up to it, making it an incredible experience. The mist coming off the water makes it an incredibly eerie experience.
Stroll along Cannon Beach
Famous for Haystack Rock that stretches 235 feet high, Cannon Beach is a beautiful walk. The beach stretches as far as the eye can see.
Read more: The Beautiful Beaches of the Oregon Coast
No matter when I visit, the water is always cold, so don’t expect to swim. In fact, often you can feel a slight mist in your face and you’re walking along as the wind coming off the water picks up some of the surf.
During low tide, you can walk quite close to the rock, but it is protected as a marine sanctuary and you cannot get that close to it. At low tide, the tidal pools surrounding Haystack Rock are often filled with a variety of marine life like starfish, sea anemones and crabs.
We pulled over into this viewpoint on a whim and it has turned into one of my favourite viewpoints along the coast. You’re high above the ocean, looking towards the nearby city of Manzanita. On a clear day, you can see the beach and surf stretching on for miles and miles. It really is stunningly beautiful the contrast between the blue of the Pacific and the green of the land. Nearby is the North trailhead for the Neahkahnie Mountain trail which takes you up even higher for a view.
Enjoy a scoop of ice cream in Tillamook
A stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory is a must for any cheese lover. See how the cheese is made, grab your fill of cheese samples and get your photo taken in a Tillamook van.
You can say the whole experience is on the … cheesy side (sorry, I couldn’t resist!).
There is also an onsite restaurant. While you can get a variety of cheese based dishes (grilled cheese, mac and cheese, etc), I’d suggest skipping all that and filling up on their ice cream. So good!
See the light at Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean north of Newport, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse is Oregon’s tallest lighthouse. The views on both sides are beautiful and if you’re lucky like we were, you might be able to spot a gray whale or two out in the ocean. Tours of the interior are possible and tickets are available on a first come, first serve basis from the Interpretive Center.
The lighthouse sits inside the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area so entrance is $7 per vehicle. However, if you’re planning on visiting any of the 15 other park sites along the coast, consider picking up a 5 day pass for $10.
Ride the Oregon Sand Dunes
One of the most exhilarating experiences along the Oregon Coast, exploring the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is a must. Whether you opt to rent an ATV to drive yourself or go on a dune buggy tour, it’s so much fun. We opted for a tour with Sandland Adventures because I was a bit apprehensive about driving fast over sand (what if I get stuck?!), and didn’t want to get lost (the sand goes on as far as the eye can see!).
Read more: Riding the Oregon Sand Dunes
The dunes developed over a million years of wind and rain erosion. With some standing as tall as 500 m above sea level, the dunes are in constant ebb and flow depending on the wind. When you’re out there, you feel so insignificant. All you can see around you is sand and by the end of the experience, you’ll have sand everywhere on you. Definitely, make this a priority. I can’t wait to go again!
Rock on at Face Rock in Bandon
Named for looking like a person’s face while floating in the water, head to Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint to see the rock formations in the area. We visited during low tide and were able to walk quite far out on the beach and between some of the rock formations. A few of them had caves that you could wander through as well. Down the beach opposite Coquille Point, you can also see Wizard’s Hat which aptly looks like a pointed wizard’s hat.
While there, we spotted a huge labyrinth etched in the sand. Its creators, Circles in the Sand, are there on select weekends throughout the summer in the morning hours. The labyrinths are walkable and open to the public to explore. Before you leave the city, be sure to grab a meal at Tony’s Crab Shack and pick up dessert at Face Rock Creamery.
Despite my numerous trips down the coast, there are still a handful of things I haven’t had a chance to do yet. On my next trip down, I’ll definitely be adding these things to my itinerary:
A number of people have recommended adding on the Three Capes Scenic Drive between Tillamook and Pacific City. Along this 40 miles stretch you can see Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda all filled with stunning views, hikes and walking trails that allow you to soak in the beauty of the area.
Sea Lion Caves
Location just north of Florence, the sea lion caves are the largest sea cave in the USA and home to the Steller sea lions year round. It is a wildlife preserve and they work to protect marine animals in the area. However, because the sea lions in the area are wild animals, sometimes they’re not in the caves which is exactly what happened to me when we stopped to have a peek.
There are a number of really cool viewpoints along the drive that are famous for how the ocean interacts with the coastline. There’s the Devil’s Punchbowl near Newport which is best visited during high tide as the ocean water fills up the naturally occurring bowl formed by rocks. Further south, you can watch the waves crash at Devil’s Churn, water spout at Spouting Horn, and the Pacific Ocean drain into Thor’s Well near Yachats in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area.
There are so many interesting spots to explore as you make your way down the coast. I hope this list of the best things to do along the Oregon Coast is helpful in planning your next adventure or summer road trip. Here’s a handy map to help you plan your trip:
Have you driven down the Oregon Coast? What are some of your favourite things to do along the way?