I’ll never forget the first time I saw, heard, and smelled the Pacific Ocean on the Oregon coast. The pounding roar of the breakers as they rolled in to shore; the driftwood-strewn white-sand beach with its giant, forested headland and offshore monoliths; the sharp, salty breath of the sea—it was all so powerful, a sensory massage that put life in a new perspective that was both enlarging and humbling at the same time.
I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Actually, I’d only gone to Oceanside, a tiny hamlet on the Three Capes Scenic Loop between Tillamook and Pacific City. A friend had an old, lopsided, cedar-shingled beach cottage that had been in the family for decades. It had a delicious damp smell to it—the smell of a house that never entirely dried out—and a wood-burning fireplace, a little kitchen and a couple of tiny bedrooms. Oceanside had one sort-of store, a motel, a tavern, and not much else. That’s how much of the coast was before the surging real-estate boom that started in the late 1980s. When you went to “the beach,” as Oregonians said, it was to reconnect with nature, walk on shorelines where you were the only person for miles, explore the wind-socked headlands, get soaked by the rain, make love, read books, fix seafood dinners (or go out to one of the very few restaurants), dream by the fire, and let the lullaby of the sea tug you into a deep sleep.
And that’s what a trip to the Oregon coast is still about—except that now you don’t have to stay in a motel and do your own cooking, unless you want to, because every kind of accommodation is available, from yurts to luxury hotels; every town has at least one or two restaurants; and all the hotels have giant-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi so you can tune out the very nature you came here to enjoy. What hasn’t changed, despite all the new building, is that every inch of the Oregon coast remains open to the public. There are no private beaches anywhere along the 363 miles (584 km) of coastline that stretches from Astoria in the north to Brookings in the south. That’s why it’s sometimes called “the People’s Coast.”
As for the weather—well, that may be changing, but you still need to bring a fleece, a hoodie, and a windbreaker, no matter what time of year you visit. Maybe a wet suit, too.
I’m kidding. Sort of.
This is not a coast where you can swim and it’s not a coast where you can sunbathe. The very idea is preposterous. This is a coast where people come to watch storms, for heaven’s sake. The bigger the better. That’s not to say that the weather is never benign. August and September are the “calmest” and warmest months, and there can be periods of calm and sunshine throughout the year. Sometimes it’s warm and unwindy, too—but don’t count on that. And because of the topography of headlands and valleys, the weather blowing in off the Pacific can change from one mile to the next, one moment to the next. In July and August, hot weather inland can pull in fogs that don’t burn off until the afternoon. In other words, be prepared for everything.
Passes and Passports Along the Coast
State parks, county parks, national-forest recreation areas, outstanding natural areas—along the Oregon coast, numerous state and federal access areas now charge day-use fees. You can either pay these day-use fees as you encounter them ($5 per day) or purchase an Oregon Pacific Coast Passport for $10. The Passport is good for 5 days and gets you into all state and federal parks and recreation areas along the coast. Passports are available at Forest Service and Oregon Parks and Recreation offices along the coast. For more information, contact Oregon State Parks Information Center ([tel] 800/551-6949) or visit www.oregonstateparks.org.
This is a coastline of remarkable grandeur and endless natural drama, with vast white-sand beaches stretched between massive, forested headlands, along enormous bays and fifty miles of non-stop sand dunes. The surf pounds and surges against offshore haystacks, which were gnawed away from the mainland over countless eons by winds and the relentless chomping of the sea. The northern and central stretches of forested shoreline are considered temperate rainforest.
U.S. 101, also called the Coast Highway, is the backbone of the Oregon coast. It runs parallel to the ocean, with some inland stretches, and is one of the most scenic highways in the world. The highway is graced at several points by bridges designed in the 1930s by the great bridge engineer Conde McCullough.
Area Codes -- For the Oregon coast, the area codes are 503 or 541.
Gay and Lesbian Travelers -- Gay and lesbian travelers will generally feel very welcome in Seattle, Portland and along the Oregon coast. Both cities offer many venues for LGBT visitors. You will find less of a LGBT presence on the Oregon coast.
Taxes -- The United States has no value-added tax (VAT) or other indirect tax at the national level. Every state, county, and city may levy its own local tax on all purchases, including hotel and restaurant checks and airline tickets. These taxes will not appear on price tags. There's no sales tax in Oregon, but there is a 14.5% tax on hotel rooms. You may also have to pay taxes on a rental car in Portland.
Traveling With A Disability -- In Seattle, Portland, and along the Oregon coast, many hotels have handicapped accessible rooms. In state parks and national forests, you’ll find paved trails designed to accommodate wheelchairs. At Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area on the Oregon coast outside of Newport, there are even wheelchair-accessible tide pools. (For further information about traveling with a disability in the Pacific Northwest, visit www.frommers.com/destinations/washington-state/planning-a-trip/tips-for-travelers-with-disabilities.)
Visitor Information -- Larger towns along the Oregon coast have either a tourist office or a chamber of commerce that provides information. For information on camping in Oregon state parks, contact the Oregon State Parks Information Center, 725 Summer St. NE, Ste. C, Salem, OR 97301 (www.oregonstateparks.org; [tel] 800/462-5687).
For more information about senior travel in the Pacific Northwest, visit www.frommers.com/destinations/washington-state/planning-a-trip/tips-for-senior-travelers.
For more information about general travel in the Pacific Northwest (pharmacies, traveling with a disability, packing, electricity, mobile phones, time, customs, etc.) visit www.frommers.com/destinations/washington-state/planning-a-trip/fast-facts)
A car is the only way to see and explore the Oregon coast, and driving the Coast Highway (U.S. 101) is part of the Oregon coast experience. There are virtually no public transportation options along U.S. 101. (There is Amtrak and Greyhound bus service only to cities along inland I-5.)
From Portland, there are fairly direct routes to Astoria via U.S. 30; to Cannon Beachvia U.S. 26; and to Depoe Bay via U.S. 99W and Ore. 18. Trip time from Portland to these destinations on the North Coast is about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Other routes that head west from I-5 to U.S. 101 on the coast are Ore. 126 from Eugene to Florence; Ore. 42 and Ore. 42S from Roseburg to Bandon; and Ore. 199 from Grants Pass to Brookings/Gold Beach.
If you are heading to the Central Coast, you might consider flying into the Eugene Airport (EUG), served by Allegiant Air, Delta Connection, Alaska/Horizon Air, and United Express, and renting a car there. This will save you about 110 miles (177 km) of driving from Portland.
If you are headed to Oregon’s South Coast, you might consider flying into the Rogue Valley International–Medford Airport (MFR), served by Allegiant Air, Alaska/Horizon Air, and SkyWest Airlines (Delta Connection and United Express), and renting a car there. This will save you about 275 miles (443 km) of driving from Portland.
FINDING THE PERFECT ACCOMMODATIONS
From boutique hotels to B&Bs, golf resorts, condos, Rogue River fishing lodges, rustic cabins and campgrounds with tent sites and RV hookups, the Oregon coast has a wide variety of accommodations. Summer (June–September) is the high season, when rooms are most expensive and campgrounds are full. From October to May, prices drop and everything along the coast is less busy. In the “Where to Stay” sections below, I describe the best hotels, motels, B&Bs, campgrounds and RV spots in and around the major towns along the Oregon coast.
But there are many other ways to find a place to stay, usually costing far less than commercial properties. Airbnb (www.airbnb.com), for example, lists dozens of rooms in private homes and beach cottages, some of them in residential neighborhoods, others in more isolated spots. If you’re looking for a place to rent for a week or longer, Airbnb can do that, too, as can Homeaway (www.homeaway.com), VRBO (www.vrbo.com), and FlipKey (www.flipkey.com) among others. Each lists an array of homes, condos and apartments, some with beach access, that can sleep up to 10 people. Find the right one and you could spend hundreds less than you would in a hotel room, especially if you’re traveling with a large group.
If the great outdoors is your main interest, you might want to stay at a state park or a National Forest Service campground (see below). At the state parks, lodgings options range from pitching a tent to bunking in cabins to renting a yurt. I’m partial to that last type of lodging. These are circular domed tents with electricity, plywood floors, and beds. Yurts make camping in the rain a lot more comfortable and they rent for just $35 to $76 a night. They can be found at 14 coastal parks. For information, contact Oregon State Parks (www.oregonstateparks.org; [tel] 800/452-5687). You can also reserve state parks lodgings of all types through ReserveAmerica (www.reserveamerica.com; [tel] 800/452-5687 or 503/731-3411) up to 9 months in advance.
Although National Forest Service campgrounds are generally less developed and less in demand than state-park campgrounds, many campgrounds along the coast do stay full throughout the summer months. For reservations at Forest Service campgrounds, contact the National Recreation Reservation Service (www.recreation.gov; [tel] 877/444-6777 or 518/885-3639). These sites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance.