The Oregon Coast in 1 Week
The Oregon coast stretches from Astoria in the north to Brookings in the south, a distance of about 364 miles (586 km). U.S. 101, the main artery, winds, climbs, twists, and curves along the entire coast, often but not always with the ocean in view. Staying on this (usually) two-lane highway, you could easily cover the entire coast in 2 or certainly 3 days. But why do that when there is so much to see? Spending a week exploring the Oregon coast will reinvigorate your senses, especially if you are an active traveler who likes to get out and go for a walk on the beach—even if it’s rainy—or hike along a forest trail with stunning views of the Pacific below.
Bear in mind that the Oregon coast is not a bikini-and-surfboard playground. No, no, no. The water’s too cold for swimming, and if you crashed your surfboard into one of the offshore rocks, you’d be a goner. The Oregon coast is wild, windy, rocky, forested, with a lot of towns and villages that almost look like afterthoughts. But this rugged seascape offers exciting sights and experiences like whale watching, surf-pounded white-sand beaches, giant headlands, lonely lighthouses, and scenic byways that leave the highway and take you to places of spectacular natural grandeur. So here’s a week-long itinerary just for the Oregon coast. Of course, you will need a car. Bring a fleece, a hoodie, a hat, and some kind of rain gear, no matter what time of year you visit. I haven’t focused on camping in this guide, but if you travel with a tent or RV, there are excellent campgrounds in state parks all along the coast. For a quick overview of campgrounds, visit http://visittheoregoncoast.com/activities/camping. Remember, too, that you will need a Forest Service–issued Oregon Pacific Coast Passport day-use pass to park or camp at the many state parks along the way. A 5-day pass costs $10; information on passes can be obtained at www.fs.fed.us.
Day 1: Astoria/Cannon Beach
Today, you’ll head west from Portland to the Pacific Ocean, but before you actually meet up with the sea, you’ll encounter the 14-mile-wide mouth of the Columbia River at Astoria. The trip to Astoria, depending on your route, will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours. This historic river city, now sprucing itself up and home to a good maritime museum, historic house, and other sights, is worth a couple of hours, longer if you want to have lunch or stroll along the Riverwalk. For ideas on how to spend your time in Astoria, see “Day 5” under “Seattle, Portland & the Oregon Coast in 1 Week,” above.
From Astoria, head south about 5 miles (8 km) to visit Fort Clatsop—Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, site of the 1805 winter headquarters of the trailblazing explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their Corps of Discovery. Continue on to Cannon Beach, about 22 miles (36 km) south of Astoria, for your first overnight stay along the Oregon coast. This is your first big Oregon beach experience, and it’s a doozy, with scenic Haystack Rock rising out of the sea and miles of flat, sandy, surf-pounded beach to stroll on and enjoy. Cannon Beach is perhaps the most charming and affluent town along the coast, and it has any number of fine ocean-view hotels and restaurants that are definitely a cut above the average. Try also to pay a visit to gorgeous Ecola State Park at the north end of town, with miles of beach and forested hiking trails with panoramic ocean views. You’ll find more information under “Day 5” in the “Portland, Seattle & the Oregon Coast” itinerary.
Day 2: Three Capes Scenic Loop/Depoe Bay
Continuing south from Cannon Beach on U.S. 101, in about 40 miles (64 km) you’ll come to Tillamook, situated in an important dairy region of lush green fields. If you’re a cheese-lover, you might want to stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory to sample or buy some of Oregon’s most famous cheese (you can also get an ice cream). Just south of Tillamook, watch for the turnoff for the Three Capes Scenic Loop, a 35-mile loop drive that leaves U.S. 101 and takes you to three giant headlands where you can hike, camp, or just enjoy the spectacular scenery from viewpoints along the way. Roseanna’s Cafe in Oceanside is one possible lunch-with-an-ocean-view stop along the route, or you can continue on through Pacific City, where the scenic loop rejoins U.S. 101.
Continue on U.S. 101 to Depoe Bay. Here, whale-watching excursion boats chug out from the nation’s smallest harbor and into the open sea for possible sights of the 20-ton gray whales that pass along the Oregon coast during their annual migration. If you get sea sick, skip it; otherwise, this is one of your best opportunities to view gray whales from the water rather than shore. There’s also a Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay where you can learn more about these remarkable mammals that can reach almost 50 feet in length and 40 tons in weight at maturity. If you take a whale-watching trip, plan on spending at least 3 hours in Depoe Bay and on the water. You can push on to Newport, but I would recommend that you spend the night in Depoe Bay.
Day 3: Newport
The busy coast town of Newport, with the largest commercial fishing fleet on the coast, is about 13 miles (21 km) south of Depoe Bay. There’s a lot to see in Newport, so make it your day 3 overnight stop.
About 5 miles (8 km) north of Newport, follow the signs for Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, site of Yaquina Head Lighthouse, built in 1873 and open to visitors. The basalt headland here extends a mile out into the sea, with a series of dramatic offshore rocks that serve as wildlife sanctuaries for seabirds and seals. A staircase leads down to an unusual beach covered with cobbles, not sand, worn smooth by the sea. It’s a remarkable and remarkably scenic area. Plan to spend at least an hour here, in the visitor center, the lighthouse, and exploring the beach.
From Yaquina Head, head south into Newport and get yourself checked into your hotel. Around lunch time, stop and find a place to eat along Newport’s Bayfront, where tourists and fishermen from the city’s fishing fleets share the street, and you can find seafood restaurants where your fish was caught just hours before.
After lunch, make your way to Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site on the north side of the Yaquina Bay Bridge. Here you’ll find a very unusual lighthouse, the oldest one on the Oregon coast, dating from 1871. It is really a two-story wooden house with a light atop the roof. This lighthouse, one of the nine lighthouses on the Oregon coast, was decommissioned in 1873, when the Yaquina Head Lighthouse went into operation. You can tour the living quarters of the lighthouse keepers and enjoy a magnificent view over Yaquina Bay.
Newport has one of the most famous bridges on the Oregon coast, a long, graceful span designed by Conde McCullough in the 1930s. Cross the Yaquina Bay Bridge and follow the signs to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the top tourist attraction on the Oregon coast and unarguably one of the finest aquariums on the West Coast. You’ll pass through an outdoor aviary with tufted puffins, and outdoor pools with sea otters, before reaching the fascinating tanks within. This is an excellent place to learn more about the sea creatures that inhabit the waters along the Oregon coast. Give yourself a minimum of 2 hours here.
It’s been a full day, but what about a walk on a beach before dinner? Head to the Nye Beach neighborhood, where you’ll find access to a long, wonderfully strollable beach. Newport was one of the first resort towns on the Oregon coast, and many of the homes in Nye Beach date from the early 1900s. This is also a good spot to have dinner.
Day 4: Yachats/Cape Perpetua/Heceta Head
Let’s be frank: from here to the California border, it’s mostly about the scenery. There won’t be any more big indoor tourist attractions such as the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. But there will be areas of exceptional beauty, another lighthouse or two, and some interesting and at times charming coastal communities along the way. Like Yachats, 24 miles (39 km) south of Newport on—what else?—U.S. 101. This artsy and affluent village—it’s pronounced Yah-hots, by the way—has no commercial development of any kind. But with an oceanfront like this, who wants commerce? If the magic of the place strikes your fancy, make it your overnight stop for day 4. Then all you need to do is enjoy the sea and the scenery. The beach here is marked by lots of rocky coves and tide pools, and you can beachcomb to your heart’s content, because along this part of the Central Oregon coast, agates frequently wash ashore after storms. At its southern end, the town of 700 people is lorded over by the towering bulk of Cape Perpetua, a 600-foot-high headland that juts out into the Pacific and is the highest point on the Oregon coast. At some point during the day, drive south another 2 1/2 miles to the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. There is enough variety and natural splendor here to keep you occupied for hours. Pick up maps and detailed information on the area at the visitor center. Recreational possibilities here include breathtaking, headland-top vistas, hiking trails through old-growth forest areas, shoreline tide pools, and a natural formation called the Devil’s Churn, where the force of incoming waves into a narrow fissure sends geysers of seawater high into the air. Back in Yachats, you’ll be pleased to find that there are several top-quality restaurants, including Ona, Heidi’s Italian Dinners, and Luna Sea Fish House.
Day 5: Florence/Oregon Dunes/Cape Arago Highway/Bandon
On the morning of day 5, head south again, up and over Cape Perpetua, and keep your eyes peeled for Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint. And have your camera ready. Heceta Head Lighthouse sits at the edge of a rocky promontory above the crashing waves of the Pacific. You can also, seasonally, park and head in for a closer look at the lighthouse and the Victorian-era lighthouse-keeper’s house that is run as a B&B. and where yours truly had a possible run-in with the resident ghost. (The Heceta Head Lightstation, would be a good alternative to staying in Yachats.)
Just 1 mile south is one of the Oregon coast’s most long-lived natural attractions, Sea Lion Caves. It’s a wildlife-viewing area, but it’s set up as a tourist attraction. An elevator takes you down to a viewing window that lets you peer into a giant sea cave that happens to be the largest sea lion rookery on the West Coast.
In another 6 miles (10 km) look for a highway sign marked Darlingtonia State Natural Site. Although it’s very small, this little marshy area beside U.S. 101 is one of my favorite natural areas along the entire coast. It’s the home of the rare and endangered Darlingtonia californica, or cobra lily, a carnivorous (just insects, don’t worry) plant that is found only in boggy coastal areas in southern Oregon and northern California. The mass of emerald-green plants rise up from the marshy ground like thousands of eyeless cobras. I have to report that on my last visit in April 2014, the area was parched because the entire southern coast of Oregon had received only a fraction of its usual winter rainfall, and the plants can only survive in ground that is permanently damp. I hope this gorgeous little patch of ancient nature is not going to disappear because of a changing climate.
Your lunch stop is the old river town of Florence, which got its start during the days of the California Gold Rush, when timber and provisions were floated down the Siuslaw River to be transported to San Francisco. The Siuslaw flows right through the heart of town, and the wooden storefront buildings along its riverside promenade give this small coastal community some real historical character. The most prominent building on Bay Street, a white false-fronted former general store, is now the Bridgewater Fish House and Zebra Bar, a good lunch spot. After lunch, spend a few minutes strolling along Bay Street before heading south.
Although there’s no official boundary line, the South Coast begins just south of Florence, and so does the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. If you like sand dunes, this 50-mile (80 km) swath of towering sand dunes between the shoreline and U.S. 101 is an area you will want to explore. Otherwise, continue south past Coos Bay, the largest town on the coast, and look for the turn-off for the Cape Arago Highway south of town.
You may not want to stop at all of the three state parks on the Cape Arago Highway, but they are all worth visiting. The first is Sunset Bay State Park, a sheltered cove beneath high sandstone cliffs with such (relatively) placid waters that you can actually swim there—it’s really the only place along the entire coast where swimming is possible. The second is Shore Acres State Park, an extremely rare formal garden created almost a century ago by a shipping tycoon who lost his house and fortune but left behind his rose gardens and sunken pond garden to be rediscovered decades later and restored to their former glory. This is probably the only rose garden you’ll ever visit where you’ll hear seals barking in the distance. A trail leads down from the garden to a gorgeous little cove with a white-sand beach. The third spot is Cape Arago State Park, where offshore rocks, part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, harbor hundreds of seals and seabirds. Another natural treasure in the area, little visited but absolutely sublime, is the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, the first federally protected estuary in the U.S. (1971) with thousands of acres of unspoiled coastal habitat of the Coos river.
After you’ve visited one, or all, of the state parks, continue south on U.S. 101 to Bandon, your overnight stop for day 5. A stop is all the nicer because Bandon has some very good restaurants: Alloro Wine Bar, The Loft Restaurant & Bar, Lord Bennett’s Restaurant and Lounge, and The Gallery, the fine-dining restaurant at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
Day 6: Bandon/Gold Beach
If you’re a golfer, Bandon may have been your destination all along. Golfers from all over the world descend on this small community to play at the five world-class links courses at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. But this coastal community, located where the Coquille River spills into the Pacific, was popular with visitors long before the golf resort. At one point Bandon was called the “Playground of the Pacific” because, in the days before roads, passenger steamers would stop here on their trips between San Francisco and Seattle. The attractions of those days are gone, mostly wiped out in a 1936 fire. What remains is what was always here—a magnificent beach with a whole gallery of giant offshore rocks and monoliths that have been given fanciful names like Face Rock (it resembles a face staring up), Table Rock, the Sisters, and Cat and Kittens. You can see Bandon’s famous rock formations—they are all part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge—and walk on the beach, by taking Beach Loop Drive to Bullards Beach State Park. You’ll also be able to visit the Coquille River Lighthouse, a sturdy, octagonal building with a light that cast its first beam in 1896.
As you head south from Bandon on U.S. 101 you will pass—surprise?—cranberry fields. This area is also known as the Cranberry Capital of Oregon. Many of the cranberries are now part of huge corporate farming operations, but during the harvest season, from mid-October to early December, some local farmers offer tours of their family-owned cranberry growing operations; check the website www.thebandonguide.com for dates, times and locations. If you visit Bandon the second weekend in September you can enjoy the annual Cranberry Festival. Otherwise, you can find homemade cranberry products at Misty Meadows, a store on the east side of the highway a few miles south of Bandon, that sells jams and jellies made with local cranberries and fruits.
Then it’s another 59 miles (95 km) to Gold Beach, where the fabled Rogue River empties into the sea. At Jerry’s Rogue Jets you can arrange for a jet-boat trip up the Rogue the next day. There are several fabulous hiking options in the Gold Beach area. The easily walkable Frances Schrader Old Growth Trail takes you to a rare stand of giant trees; the Rogue River Walk traverses a scenic area above the famous river. You have a few good choices for dinner: Spinner’s, Nor’wester Seafood, or the quirkier Anna’s by the Sea.
Day 7: Gold Beach/Brookings
Make the jet-boat trip up the Rogue your special experience of the day. Three different excursions cover three different lengths of the Rogue, but the best is the 104-mile (167 km) wilderness whitewater trip that takes you up to the wild and scenic part of the river. Along the way you will stop for lunch at one of the rustic fishing lodges along the river. It’s an exciting and memorable 7-hour trip, and it’s suitable for all ages. If ripping along in a jet boat is not your style, there are several fabulous hiking options in the Gold Beach area. The easily walkable Frances Schrader Old Growth Trail takes you to a rare stand of giant trees; the Rogue River Walk traverses a scenic area above the famous river.
The 28 miles (45 km) between Gold Beach and Brookings is a scenic corridor with several pull-outs and state parks where you can stop to enjoy the view. Approaching Brookings, U.S. 101 moves down to skirt the ocean on a flat coastal plain. This area of the South Coast is referred to as the Banana Belt of Oregon because the climate and somewhat sheltered topography fosters the growth of semi-tropical plants. Most of the nation’s Easter lilies are grown here.
To reach inland I-5 from Brookings, take U.S. 199 east to Grant’s Pass. From there, it’s a straight shot back up to Portland, a 246-mile (396-km) trip that takes about 5 hours.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.