How to Plan an Oregon Coast Road Trip: A Complete Guide
What up, wanderers! It’s me again—Diana Flowers, your roving Portland reporter here to enlighten you about all things Oregon! And this time you’re in for a treat. Yes, friends—it’s road trip time, and here we’re exploring every nook and cranny of the gorgeous Oregon coast. I’ll run down all my favorite spots from the tippy top of the state in Astoria down to the
California border. We’ll cover the best hikes, viewpoints, beaches, restaurants, lighthouses, and funky seaside attractions and how to fit them all together for an exceptional Oregon coast road trip.
We’ll start with some things to know – like tides, passes, and weather – before getting into the 14 best places to visit along the Oregon Coast (with things to do and places to stay for each), and ending with how to put it all together in a three, five, or seven day itinerary.
Sound good to you? Let’s get to exploring the Oregon Coast!
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel and vacation rental links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would absolutely never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.
Tips for Exploring the Oregon Coast
Here are some tips and resources you’ll want to keep in mind as you’re planning for your drive on the Oregon Coast.
Weather: Even if you’re traveling in the summer, you’ll want to prepare for rain. Pack a good rain jacket and decent hiking shoes. Personally, I find waterproof hiking boots too sweaty, so I just accept that my feet will be wet during a rainy day (but I always wear wool socks so I don’t get cold), and I have a dry pair of shoes/socks in the car to change into. Also the coast is frequently overcast, but this tends to (no promises) burn off in the afternoon, so you can think about planning your day around this trend. As I find myself frequently telling visiting friends—it’s not the beach, it’s the coast.
Tide Tables: Know them. Love them. Respect them. Reference them often.
Day-use Fees and Passes: This is a tough one because it really depends on what you plan on doing. In general, there aren’t a ton of places where you’ll need a parking permit, and if you do it’s usually no more than five bucks. That said, it can still add up and there is one pass I’d recommend, the Oregon Pacific Coast Passport. They have a 5-day pass available for $10 and it gets you into all the locations below (I’ve bolded the ones I’ve specifically recommended and here’s a handy brochure with a map), so if you’re planning on hitting up two or more of these parks (and you really should), you’ll save time and money by purchasing a pass at the beginning of your trip. The catch is you can only buy the 5-day pass in person, but if you’re starting in Astoria you can pick one up easily at the Astoria Visitor Center.
- Ft. Stevens State Park
- Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
- Ecola State Park
- Nehalem Bay State Park
- Cape Lookout State Park
- Sand Lake Recreation Area (on the sand and Derrick Road)
- Hebo Lake
- Drift Creek Falls Trail
- Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
- Marys Peak Recreation Area
- Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
- Heceta Head Lighthouse Viewpoint
- Sutton Recreation Area
- Honeyman State Park
- Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
- Shore Acres State Park
The Route for Driving the Oregon Coast
This itinerary for driving the Oregon Coast is organized from north to south, which assumes you’re coming from Portland, Seattle, or somewhere else in the Pacific Northwest.
How Many Days? All-in, it takes about 8 hours (340 miles) to drive from the northern tip of the Oregon Coast alllllll the way to Brookings, which is essentially the California border.
The shortest you can realistically do is 3 days, which is a perfect long weekend getaway from Portland.
You can totally extend this road trip to as long as you’d like, but after about seven days it probably makes more sense to turn it into a broader Pacific Northwest road trip, or an Oregon road trip (click on either of those two to read our super detailed guides!).
If you only have a day on the Oregon Coast and you’re coming from Portland, we’d recommend choosing either Astoria or Cannon Beach for your day trip destination.
One of the best day trips from Portland would be creating a mini loop that starts with an early morning visit to Cannon Beach, heads up 101 to Ecola State Park and Seaside, and ends with beers on the water in Astoria before looping back to Portland.
Something like this.
Here’s a map of the stops below so you can get a sense for what your trip is going to look like.
The 14 Best Places to Stop on an Oregon Coast Road Trip
These stops are laid out from north to south highlighting the best towns, parks, activities, and sights to hit up.
Astoria is one of the oldest settlements on the west coast (est. 1811) and has a unique vibe that sets it apart from other cities on the Oregon coast.
It’s rife with parks, restaurants, breweries, and historical places of interest, but it still retains a bit of the pioneer grittiness and fishing-town feel that made it what it is. It’s the perfect place to start your adventure.
Things to Do in Astoria
Astoria Column: The Astoria Column reigns over the city skyline at 600 feet high and has been standing for nearly 100 years. The climb to the top is a calf-burner, but the views are worth it. Plus, they encourage you to send paper airplanes from the top!
Fort Stevens State Park: Home of the famous Peter Iredale shipwreck, this sprawling state park is bordered by the Pacific and the mouth of the mighty Columbia. Its 4,300 acres will keep you busy all day and the camping is top notch.
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park: History nerds, unite! When I travel, I make it a point to stop at all local-history-related parks and museums and this is one of the best. Plus, I’m a sucker for docents dressed in old-timey garb and secretly wish I was one. #lifegoals.
Maritime Museum: Another must for history buffs, particularly those interested in the evolution of sea-going vessels. Even if you’re not a nautical-nut, you’ll still enjoy it.
Beer at Buoy or Fort George: It wouldn’t be an Oregon road trip without beer! This is also a good time to plug the North Coast Craft Beer Trail. Obtain your “passport” at any one of the 12 featured locations and get it “stamped” as you visit each one. If you hit up 10 out of the 12 you get a major award*! (*actually just a small prize).
Visit the Goonies House: This one’s not for everyone, but for those of us who were raised alongside Sloth, Chunk, and Mouth you owe it to your childhood to stop by. And yes, you should do the Truffle Shuffle outside the gate.
Places to Stay in Astoria
Norblad: I love hotels like the Norblad—affordable, eclectic, great location, with options for European-style shared bathroom accommodations.
The Commodore Hotel: A slightly spendier choice with a more modern design, but also provides options for shared or private bath rooms. Just a block away from the Norblad, this hotel puts you right in the center of Astoria’s historic downtown riverfront.
Camping at Fort Stevens State Park: An excellent option for my fellow tent-dwellers. This campground is HUGE and even offers yurts if you want to splurge, but you’ll need to reserve them well in advance.
Drive time from Astoria: 30 minutes / 17 miles
As the closest beach town from Portland, Seaside sees a lot of traffic. It’s also very family-oriented so it makes a popular weekend vacation spot for Oregon families. Seaside is tacky, sometimes trashy, and utterly charming.
Things to Do in Seaside
Aquarium: Try not to compare the Seaside Aquarium with the big, glossy one in Newport; they’re different animals. This aquarium is cheaper and smaller but still great in its own right. Buy a cup of sardines for a buck and feed the seals!
Funland Arcade: It’s really fun! Relive the thrill of running through an arcade and winning reams of tickets to buy cheap toys. Skeeball, Tilt-a-Whirl, and bumper cars!
Saddle Mountain Hike: This 5.2 mile hike is about a 30 minute drive east of Seaside, but soooooo worth it. On a clear day you get 360 degree views and can see the whole coastline up to Astoria and behind you the peaks of the Cascade Range.
Highlife Adventure Park: Slightly spendy, but for what you get I doubt you’ll regret it. A truly memorable adventure for kids or adults who still want to be kids.
Ecola State Park
Drive time from Seaside: 18 minutes / 9 miles
Ecola State Park sits right on the Tillamook Head halfway between Seaside and Cannon Beach. If you’re just stopping by on your drive south, you catch great views of Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock to the south, or straight out west to “Terrible Tilly,” an 1880 lighthouse shut down in 1957 because it was too treacherous for light keepers.
If you’ve got more time, this is a great place for some hikes! Try this lovely 3 mile loop hike from Indian Beach.
If you’re looking for a longer jaunt, I recommend this 6.3 mile traverse hike (you’ll need a shuttle or car drop, or you can do it as an out-and-back for a total of 12 miles).
Drive time from Ecola: 12 minutes / 3 miles
Cannon Beach is a bit nicer, classier, and chicer than Seaside, and I like both towns equally for different reasons.
Cannon also sees a ton of local tourism due to its proximity to Portland. Here you’ll find slightly more upscale (but we’re still talking Oregon coast here) shops, dining, and hotels.
Things to Do in Cannon Beach
Obligatory post about Haystack Rock: Though it’s very big (235 feet) and cool to look at, it’s more fun if you can catch it at low tide and explore the tide pools all around it. Fun fact! There’s an actually taller (327 feet) but less Insta’d Haystack Rock about an hour and a half south in Pacific City.
Hug Point: First thing’s first—Hug Point is gorgeous but the parking lot is small and fills up fast on the weekends, and it’s tricky to find a parking spot elsewhere. Try to get there in the morning and at low tide if you can! Much of the beach here can disappear under the water and you don’t want to get stranded.
Walk the Main Drag and Catch Local Events: Cannon Beach has a great main drag with a number of shops and restaurants to pop into. It’s also home to a host of beach-y events like the Sandcastle Contest and the Fat Bike Festival. It seems like every other weekend in spring and fall there’s something going on here.
Places to Stay in Cannon Beach
The Waves: Great location, great rates, clean rooms. Located on the beach at the north end of town (and right by Insomnia Coffee).
Surfsand Resort: Moving up the fancy ladder and down the coastline is the Surfsand Resort. This lovely hotel is also on the beach and sits very close to the famous Haystack Rock.
The Ocean Lodge: Another great, oceanfront hotel close to Haystack Rock.
Wanting a place all of your own? This three-bedroom “sand castle” sits right on the beach and is only one block away from restaurants and shops.
Oswald West State Park
Drive time from Cannon: 9 minutes / 6.6 miles
Oswald West sits just south of Cannon Beach and is a popular destination for surfers and hikers and spectacular-scenery-lovers of all stripes. While there you must check out the sheltered Short Sand Beach.
Two awesome hikes in the park are the 4.5 mile Cape Falcon Trail and Neahkahnie Mountain (my favorite coastal hike). There are four different options for getting to the top of Neahkahnie, so it’s up to you and your time allowance to see how far you want to push it. Regardless of your route, stunning views of Nehalem Bay and the coast await.
Interested in hiking on the Oregon Coast? Don’t miss our guide to the best hikes on the Oregon Coast with all the information you need to hit the trail.
Drive time from Oswald West State Park: 40 minutes / 28 miles
The town of Tillamook sits slightly inland from the beach along the Tillamook Bay. It’s known for its surrounding farmland and from those farms come all the cheese you could ever ask for.
Yes, you’ve likely heard of (and eaten) Tillamook cheese and ice cream and it’s great! Believe me, I always have a brick of their extra sharp cheddar in my fridge. But, there are many other great creameries and activities to keep you busy in Tillamook.
Things to Do in Tillamook
Cheese Factory!: The Tillamook Creamery is kinda famous and for good reason. It’s huge. It’s delicious. They’re good to the local farmers. And they make ice cream! Go for the free samples and factory tour, stay for lunch.
Blue Heron Cheese: A real contender for best cheese in Tillamook. You be the judge! Not as flashy or big, but many delicious samples await. If you’re a fan of creamy French cheeses, this place is your jam.
Cape Meares Lighthouse: This lighthouse earns its reputation for being the shortest lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. Well, that’s not all it’s famous for (though it is true). It also offers killer views, a weird looking “octopus” tree, and for you lighthouse fans out there it features a kerosene lens which apparently is rather unique!
Cape Lookout: This gorgeous park is open for day-use and camping (and has an amazing campground). There are a number of great hikes, but this 5 mile out-and-back is my favorite. This spot is known for its great whale watching, and you’ll catch the most in the fall and spring.
Places to Stay in Tillamook
Netarts Surf Inn: This classic beach motel doesn’t look like much from the road, but the rooms are cute and clean and it’s just steps away from the beach!
Sheltered Nook: A truly unique experience on the coast. The Sheltered Nook is a collection of six, modern tiny-homes all centered around a communal outdoor living space.
Fancy Yurt Living!: Who doesn’t love a yurt? Especially one that features secluded bayfront access with a hot tub!
Camping at Cape Lookout State Park: A huge and well-maintained campground just a few minutes walk to the beach.
Pacific City & Cape Kiwanda
Drive time from Tillamook: 32 minutes / 25 miles
Pacific City has become synonymous with Cape Kiwanda and the dunes that the area is known for. It’s also a popular destination for surfers, hang-gliders, and for the non-thrill seekers—kites!
Things to Do in Pacific City
When looking out at the ocean at Pacific City, it’s impossible to miss the dunes and giant Cape Kiwanda jutting out into the sea on the north side of the beach.
A hike up to the top will give you spectacular views, and there’s a ton of cool rock formations you can try your best to climb on top of and look out at the (other) Haystack Rock.
Be mindful of the signage though! Some of the ground is unstable and you don’t want to continue the rest of your road trip in an ambulance.
Coffee/Food/Beer: Stimulus Coffee & Bakery is right across the street from the dunes, so you might as well grab coffee and a muffin then head out to the beach. Across the street from Stimulus is Pelican Brewing Co that’s been holding down the fort in Pacific City for 25 years! They have a few locations along the coast, but Pacific City is their home base and the only location that sits right on the sand. Clam chowder, burgers, beer—what more could you want?
Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge: Just south of Pacific City in Cloverdale is beautiful Nestucca Bay. This is a great spot for birders, but even if you’re not a birder you’ll enjoy the miles of well-maintained paths to great views. Bonus, many of the paths are wheelchair accessible.
Drive time from Pacific City: 32 minutes / 22 miles
About 30 minutes south of Pacific City is another great Oregon coast spot, Lincoln City. This town is fun to walk around in and grab lunch (like at the Wildflower Grill – yum!), or explore the waters on a kayak, canoe, or SUP with a rental at Safari Town Surf, but the best part of this area is the hiking!
Things to Do in Lincoln City
For the best views, check out Cascade Head. This 6 mile out-and-back is surprisingly difficult as it climbs up for killer views down the coast and out onto the Salmon River estuary. A word to the wise: this hike is very exposed at the top and can be quite windy and sunny so bring a hat/sunscreen/windbreaker. Be prepared for anything!
Drift Creek Falls is another fantastic hike, but it’s slightly inland. It’s not far as the crow flies, but the trailhead is down a very windy road so plan on about 40 minutes from Lincoln City. This 3.7 mile modified loop takes you over a very cool suspension bridge (where you get a good view of the falls), but you can also venture further down to the base of the falls if you don’t mind getting a little wet.
God’s Thumb: This is a very popular hike in Lincoln City and is so named because you’ll hike out to a thumb-like protrusion that juts out into the ocean and allows for some epic views.
Drive time from Pacific City: 46 minutes / 25 miles
Y’all, I love Newport. There’s plenty to see and do, lots of great hiking and outdoor recreation, two cool lighthouses, an extraordinary aquarium, and it’s still got that fishing town spirit like Astoria that the more touristy coastal towns can lack. Newport is a good balance of a fun and interesting place to visit, but also a town where real people live and work.
Things to Do in Newport
Agate Beach: Agate Beach is long and wide and beautiful! To be clear, it’s called Agate Beach because you can often find magnificent agates, but don’t expect the whole beach to be strewn with them. You’ll have most luck agate hunting in winter and spring especially after a storm.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse: There’s actually two lighthouses in Newport, the Yaquina Head and Yaquina Bay, the former taking honors as the tallest lighthouse in Oregon at 93 feet. Both lighthouses are gorgeous and interesting to tour, but the whole Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is incredible with tidepools, whale watching, and trails (I mean, the word outstanding is in the name!)
Oregon Coast Aquarium: If you visit the Seaside Aquarium (and I think you should), the Oregon Coast Aquarium will stand out in stark contrast to your earlier experience. The Newport aquarium is big and fancy and well worth a visit, but you should really plan to spend a few hours. The sharks are extra cool. This place gets packed on the weekends so if you can hit it midweek you won’t be wrestling to see all the exhibits.
Historic Bayfront: This is the epitome of what I love about Newport. It’s a great mix of fantastic restaurants, shops, and museums but it’s also a working bay with the smell of fish pervading every inch and fisherpeople doing their fisherpeople thing alongside the tourists.
Places to Stay in Newport
Inn at Nye Beach: Nye Beach is on the north end of town and this inn is right on the water. They’ve got lovely, cozy rooms, and a cool back patio for watching the sunset from an infinity pool.
Agate Beach Motel: This place is another great location in town. It’s right on the Yaquina Head and from the hotel you can literally just walk out onto it and over to the lighthouse, or you can head south down the beautiful Agate Beach. First-rate rooms and views.
Vacation Rentals: I can’t resist an A-frame, and this one reeled me in. It’s eclectic yet functional and comfortable, it has three bedrooms, a HOT TUB, and MS. PACMAN on an original arcade table (!!!!!), and super close to the beach and aquarium. Or there’s this excellent option that’s right on the beach for a clean, quiet and peaceful stay.
Newport Belle: You’ve likely never thought it was an option to spend the night on a paddlewheel boat, but now it is! The Newport Belle is docked on the South Beach harbor and has five luxurious and romantic rooms aboard, and to top it off they offer an incredible breakfast.
Cape Perpetua & Surrounding Area
Drive time from Newport: 38 minutes / 27 miles
The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area just south of Yahats is a feast for the outdoor enthusiasts! This area is known for its lush forests, fantastic hiking opportunities, and the incredible, rugged views you’ll get from the winding 101.
Things to Do in Cape Perpetua
Thor’s Well: How could you not visit a place with a name like Thor’s Well?! Sometimes called the “drainpipe of the Pacific,” Thor’s Well truly needs to be seen in person to really get a sense of how frickin’ cool it is! Really, it’s just a big hole in a rock on the coast, but when the tide is high (or better yet, about an hour before high tide), the water shoots out then gets sucked back into the hole in a really spectacular manner. Plus, there are cool trails and tidepools to explore while you’re in the area.
Devil’s Churn: After you check out Thor’s Well, make your way by car or by foot about a mile north to Devil’s Churn (what’s with these awesome names anyway?), a giant crack in the side of the coastline that water shoots through creating some crazy, frothy, churning, violent wave action.
Cape Perpetua Lookout: This is a can’t-miss stop. It’s easy and hella cool. It’s also the highest viewpoint by car along the Oregon 101 at 800 feet, and if that doesn’t sound high to you, just go and then let me know what you think.
Heceta Head Lighthouse: Oh man, this is a pretty one! Definitely one of the most popular lighthouses for photographers, the Heceta Head Lighthouse sits on a 1,000 foot headland. They have tours of the lighthouse, a charming B&B in the old light keeper’s home, and tidepools and trails to explore (including the nearby Shire-esque Hobbit Trail).
Sea Lion Caves: Just going down into the expansive caves (the largest sea cave in America!) would be worth the experience, but to top it off, you get to see hundreds of adorable sea lions loafing about and playing and arfing just like the puppy dogs of the sea they are. Go in winter to see the most sea lions.
The Oregon Dunes & Bandon
Drive time from Cape Perpetua to Oregon Dunes: 56 minutes / 44 miles
Drive time from Oregon Dunes to Bandon: 1 hour / 50 miles
From the Dunes to Bandon is about a 50 miles stretch of coastline that’s well worth visiting, but there aren’t a lot of big towns to stop in (there is Coos Bay, which is fine, but has never been one of my favorite spots). I’ll outline the below stops from north to south as you make your way down the 101.
Things to Do in Oregon Dunes & Bandon
Oregon Dunes: I highly recommend camping one night at the dunes if you can swing it. The scenery is otherworldly and it’s a truly unique experience to watch the sun set and rise there. If you can only spare a few hours, start at the day use area to get some exploring done on foot. If you’re feeling more adventurous rent a dune buggy from Spinreel!
Cape Arago and Shore Acres: More sea lions, you guys! I like this area because it never seems to get too crowded, even on a nice weekend. Head north from the main entrance of Cape Arago to watch sea lions, or south to check out the tide pools. Shore Acres is equally as lovely and also features botanical gardens!
Bandon is my favorite southern Oregon coastal town. It’s just the right blend of touristy yet real. Stroll along the boardwalk over to the South Jetty Park and collect as many cool beach rocks as you can fit in your pockets.
Bandon Rain Cider & Bandon Brewing: Two excellent southern coast spots making superb drinks! Plus, Bandon Rain is conveniently located right next to Face Rock Creamery that rivals Tillamook for its deliciousness.
Bullards Beach State Park: My dad’s best friend, Alex, was the harbormaster in Bandon for 26 years, and when we’d visit we’d always walk along Bullards Beach hunting for agates. I was never very good at it and when I would proudly present what I thought to be an agate to Alex, he’d tell me it was a “leaverite.” “What’s a leaverite,” I’d ask naively? He’d throw my “agate” back into the water and say, “Leave ‘er right there.” I’m sure you’ll have better luck than I did. Bullards Beach is beautiful and wild and it’s also got a great campground!
Places to Stay in Oregon Dunes & Bandon
Lamplighter Inn: From the street, the Lamplighter Inn looks just like any other roadside motel, but that belies what is actually a fantastic, clean, budget-friendly motel. Great for road trips when you want something nice, but not fancy.
Bullards Beach Campground: Very well-maintained campgrounds with options to rent a yurt! The beach is about a ¾ mile walk from the campground, but there’s a nice trail you can take there, so it doesn’t feel too far.
A bit inland, but still plenty close enough to appreciate all this area has to offer is this lovely and relaxing chalet. Big outdoor fire pit, private hot tub on the back deck under a canopy of trees, all on a secluded 10 acre lot with a view of Tenmile Lake? Yes, please!
Cape Blanco & Port Orford
Drive time from Bandon to Port Orford: 31 minutes / 27 miles
It’s hard for me to write objectively about the southern Oregon coast because I’m so enamored with it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the entire Oregon coast, but when I spend time in the southern parts I just feel a sense of calmness and awe. It’s weird maybe. Or maybe it’s just beautiful and I can’t help it!
Things to Do in Cape Blanco & Port Orford
Cape Blanco Lighthouse: The hike out to the Cape Blanco lighthouse is outstanding, and if you can catch it right after sunset AND a full moon AND have a family of deer greet you— oh man! Yes, I was lucky enough to see it this way after a long day backpacking into the driving wind along the Oregon Coast Trail (pro tip: if you ever do the OCT, go north to south). I can’t promise you all this, but I can promise you lovely views. They also have a nice and well-maintained campground.
Port Orford Heads Loop Hike: This is a super short one-mile hike along the headlands for phenomenal views up and down the coast. There’s also a cute little museum about the lifeboat station that used to sit here from 1934 to 1970.
Blacklock Point Hike: Another great 4 mile trail that takes you through forest and wildflowers out to Blacklock Point. If you’re craving a longer hike that gives you more time along the coast, try this 9 mile hike that takes you along one of the most stunning sections of the Oregon Coast Trail.
Humbug Mountain Hike: It’s rare when traveling along the Oregon coast to get a hike that really gives you some elevation gain and gets the heart pumping, but Humbug Mountain will do just that. It’s actually the tallest mountain on the Oregon coast at 1,756 feet and the views you get at the top are epic.
Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor
Drive time from Port Orford to Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor: 47 minutes / 41 miles
Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor is an 18-mile stretch of the 101 with a lot of really cool stops along the way, some of them require a short hike in, but none of them will take you too long to explore and snap a few photos. This is not to say that it isn’t one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline you’ll ever lay eyes on! So drive and stop, drive and stop, drive and stop. It’s worth it.
Stops Along the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor
Secret Beach: Shhhh! Jk. I suppose it’s called Secret Beach because it’s kinda tucked away in a little cove? The trail down isn’t hard but it can be a bit steep/rocky/wet so watch your footing. If you go the whole way down and back you’re looking at about 1.5 miles. Going at low tide will give you more access to the caves, and did I mention there’s a waterfall down there!?
Natural Bridges: You’ve likely seen someone’s Insta with a picture of them on or near the Natural Bridges area. It’s ripe for social media, but please don’t do anything dangerous to get your shot. There are seven spectacular arches to be found here and they’ll be even more spectacular if no one dies trying to get likes.
Indian Sands Trail: This is a 6 mile trail that you’ll ideally do a car drop off and hike it through (or hitchhike? Not gonna lie—I’ve done it with great success), or you can shorten it to any length you’re comfortable with and make it an out-and-back. If you can swing the whole trail though, it’s a great way to see the area. Fun fact! There’s been evidence of human habitation found on Indian Sands beach that dates back 12,000 years!
Whaleshead Beach: So named because of a sea stack that looks like a whale’s head (I can kinda see it?) and apparently when the waves hit it just right it looks like water spraying out from the whale’s blow hole. I’ve yet to personally witness this, but I hear it’s impressive. This is a great beach for relaxing or picnicking anytime of the day because it’s huge no matter what the tide’s doing
Cape Ferrelo and House Rock: Sadly the majesty that is the Samuel H. Boardman Corridor must come to an end, but you can see it out with a bang! This is a great 5.7 mile trail that lets you explore wildflowers along Cape Ferrelo and then takes you up to the House Rock beach and viewpoint. You’ll have to work out the logistics as it’s best done as a car drop off (or more hitchhiking?)
Drive time from Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor to Brookings: 15 minutes / 12 miles
Brookings is the last town on the Oregon Coast before you cross over into California. But, because Brookings is so far off the beaten path you’ll find much more solitude, secluded beaches, and fantastic trails that won’t be crowded even on the sunniest days.
All that said, it is far away and since it is likely the last stop on your list, it will mean a nearly six hour drive back up north to Portland. If you can make it work, there’s definitely cool stuff down there, but you probably don’t need to stay the night.
Things to Do in Brookings
Harris Beach State Park: First off, this is the best southern coast camping spot you can find, and is ideal if you’re wanting to spend more time exploring the Samuel H. Boardman area. But it’s also an excellent spot for sea lion or whale watching, tide pooling, or just relaxing on the sandy beaches. You can also look out onto Goat Island (the largest island on the Oregon Coast) and see thousands of nesting seabirds including puffins!
Chetco Point: Take the easy and lovely 1 mile hike out to an impressive view out to sea off Chetco Point.
Alfred A. Loeb State Park: Drive 8 miles east along the Chetco River and you’ll find another sensational park and campground, this one along the shores of the remarkably clear Chetco River that’s great for swimming, fishing, or paddling around.
Putting it All Together: Planning Your Oregon Coast Itinerary
Now that you have a comprehensive rundown of all the Oregon coast has to offer, let’s look at some actual trips you can make out of them! Keeping in mind that not everyone can afford to chuck it all and head out on a never-ending road trip, we’ll give you options for a 3-day, 5-day, and 7-day trip.
With 3 Days
With three days, you really don’t have time to drive the entire coast and spend enough time actually exploring the places you’re passing through. We’d recommend focusing your time on the northern Oregon Coast, exploring Astoria, Cannon Beach and the surrounding area, and Tillamook before returning to Portland.
Day 1 (Portland to Astoria): First order of the day is to climb the Astoria Column. It’ll give you a good lay of the land, plus it’s a great way to get the blood pumping and the lungs working after sitting in the car for almost two hours. Next you’ll grab a quick lunch at a phenomenal food cart, Surf 2 Soul, before heading over to Fort Stevens State Park (and maybe eat your shrimp Po’Boy on the beach?). Spend the rest of the day strolling down the main drags of Commercial and Marine Dr., drink some beer (Buoy or Fort George), eat some food (can’t recommend highly enough Drina Daisy for Bosnian food), then call it a night either at the hip Norblad Hotel, or set up your tent at the Fort Stevens Campground.
Day 2 (Astoria to Cannon Beach): Pick up coffee and a pastry at Blue Scorcher on your way south to Cannon beach. Make your first stop in Seaside and walk up Broadway and spend some time feeding the seals at the Seaside Aquarium, take a spin on the bumper cars, and pick up a burrito at The Stand. Then pop back in the car and hit up your daily hike at Saddle Mountain as you’ll have better luck with weather in the afternoon. On your way into Cannon Beach stop by Ecola State Park then eat at Seasons Cafe in town. Stay fancy at the Inn at Cannon Beach or not fancy at Wright’s for Camping.
Day 3 (Cannon Beach to Tillamook to Home): Coffee and breakfast from Sea Level, then a stop in Oswald West State Park to hike Neahkahnie Mountain (or just Cape Falcon if you don’t feel like going all the way to the top). Then head straight down to Tillamook where local ordinance demands you stop at the Cheese Factory (& ICE CREAM YUM). If you have time, jog down to Cape Lookout State Park before making your way back to Portland via Highway 6 to the 26. Plan on about a 1 ½ hour drive to get home.
With 5 Days
Five days is definitely enough time to dig in and experience the whole coastline without feeling too rushed. You’ll start from the tippy top of Astoria and make your way down to the (almost) end of the coast.
Day 1 (Portland to Astoria): Head out early from Portland and grab brunch and coffee in Astoria at Coffee Girl at their location right on Pier 39 on the water. Then head to the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park to explore their beautiful trails and visit the replica of Fort Clatsop and interact with their incredibly-knowledgeable rangers (in old-timey garb!). In the afternoon climb to the top of the Astoria Column, walk along the riverfront, get pizza and beer at Fort George, then settle in for the night one block away at the affordable yet cool Norblad Hotel.
Day 2 (Astoria to Tillamook): Your first stop today will be Oswald West State Park where you can check out the surfers at Short Sands beach then take a hike on the Cape Falcon trail for views down into Nehalem Bay. Pop into the cute town of Manzanita for lunch at Yolk and spend some time on the beach (that’s frequently less windy than its neighbors). Finally you’ll head into Tillamook where there’s no shortage of cheese—if you’ve already been to the Tillamook Creamery or don’t feel like battling the crowds, try the equally as delicious Blue Heron French Cheese Company. Stay at the Netarts Surf Inn directly east of Tillamook on the coast or the unique tiny home village at the Sheltered Nook just north of town.
Day 3 (Tillamook to Newport): First stop is in the town of Pacific City where you should climb up to the top of the dunes and the Cape Kiwanda National Scenic Area (preferably with Stimulus coffee in hand). After this you’ll keep heading south to Cascade Head. The best hike is this 6.5 mile out-and-back but it’s not an easy one (not super hard either, but does take a time and an energy commitment). If you’re short on time or energy try this 2.5 miler. Once in Newport there’s just so much to do and if I can quickly plug the wonderfully- kitsch Ripley’s Believe It or Not World of Adventure for great photo-ops and a fun time had by all I will. For dinner, treat yourself to the freshest seafood you’ve ever had at Local Ocean, then turn in for the night at the eclectic Sylvia Beach Hotel, or splurge on a room aboard (yes, it’s a riverboat!) the Newport Belle.
Day 4 (Newport to Bandon): You’ll spend a lot of time in the car today, but you’ll also see a lot, so head out early with coffee from Coasties Roasties for your first stop in Cape Perpetua at the overlook. This is an easy stop and happens to be the highest spot on the coast highway so don’t miss it. Drive a tad further south to see Thor’s Well, then onward to Heceta Head and an easy mile-long trail to probably my favorite lighthouse on the coast. Get back in the car (told you), but you have to see the Oregon Dunes! You won’t have enough time to rent a quad, but you can see enough of the sights and tromp around at the day-use area. After a long day make your way into Bandon for Argentinian food at Pablo’s Corner and a relaxing stay at the charming Bandon Wayside Motel + RV (that also has tent camping!)
Day 5 (Bandon to Samuel H. Boardman to Home): You’ve got a long day of driving ahead of you, but you’re SO close to the Samuel H. Boardman Corridor, that you’ve just got to go! If you can only fit in one stop, make it the Natural Bridges. You’ll then head back north on the 101, stopping at Cape Blanco if you’ve got the energy, then start heading east from Bandon and back up to Portland.
With 7 Days
With a whole week, you can make it down the entire coastline and not have to cram too much in on your last day driving home on day seven. So get ready for stunning views and all the Oregon usuals: beer/coffee/hikes, coast style.
Day 1 (Portland to Astoria): There’s always too much to do in Astoria, but a perfect day for me would start at the top of the Astoria Column looking down on the mouth of the Columbia and out to the Pacific. Then I’d grab some grub at Coffee OR Waffle and walk up and down the riverfront, maybe hopping on the Astoria Trolley. The afternoon should be spent exploring Fort Stevens State Park, then enjoying a local brew at Buoy Beer. For lodging, try this unique cottage located on the historic Lewis and Clark Seed Farm at Young’s Bay, just minutes from everything Astoria has to offer.
Day 2 (Astoria to Cannon Beach): Cannon Beach is a short drive from Astoria so you’ll have plenty of time for adventures along the way. You should definitely do one hike today, either Saddle Mountain or Neahkahnie Mountain. The former will take longer to drive to and is harder, but also incredible! The latter is also a great hike (and not super easy), but will take less time out of your day. After you get your steps in, spend a little time in Seaside and do all the beachy stuff—get some taffy, play some arcade games, and visit the small yet fun aquarium. Roll down into Cannon Beach for dinner and beer at one of my favorite places in town, Cannon Beach Hardware and Public House (yes, you read that right—a hardware store and pub). Call it a night in this oceanfront yurt-like house with wrap around decks.
Day 3 (Cannon Beach to Tillamook): Another relatively short driving day gives plenty of opportunities to see the sights. Just south of Cannon is Oswald West State Park with tons of great trails. I’d recommend the Cape Falcon hike (especially if you opted for Saddle Mountain yesterday) or the easy one-mile Shorts Sands Beach Trail. Jumping back in the car and heading south is the town of Manzanita which I think has the best brunch spot on the entire coast at Yolk. After brunch, walk down the main drag and relax on the beach looking up to Neahkahnie Mountain to the north and down to Nehalem Bay to the south. Now you’ll head down to the Cape Meares Lighthouse for more great views and the locally-famous “octopus tree.” In the evening have dinner at the newly opened Werner Beef and Brew for delicious local beer and surprisingly good pub fare. Sticking with the yurt theme, stay at this bayside luxury yurt with a hot tub!
Day 4 (Tillamook to Newport): First stop is Cape Lookout for this fantastic 5 mile out-and-back hike through old-growth sitka spruce out to a headland with expansive views. Keep your eyes peeled for whales, particularly if you’re traveling in the spring or fall. Pop back in the car and head to Pacific City for lunch at Pelican Brewing and a walk along the beach and up on the dunes into the Cape Kiwanda area. Keep traveling south and check out the kinda creepy (especially on a foggy, rainy day) Neskowin Ghost Forest, a grove of ancient sitka spruce stumps with some dating back 2,000 years! The stumps were only uncovered back in 1997 when a huge storm cleared away much of the sand bank. After this, roll down into Newport and stroll down the historic bayfront, get dinner at the original Mo’s Chowder (is it the best food you’ve ever had? Probably not, but it’s good and the ambiance is so quintessentially Newport that you go for the experience and to say you did it. It’s an Oregon coast thing). Sleep fancy at the Inn at Nye Beach.
Day 5 (Newport to Oregon Dunes): Get breakfast in town at Ultralife Nye, then continue south for your first stop at Seal Rock State Park, a small and easy spot for cool off-shore rock formations and TONS of tidepools (you might see a seal, but the name is a bit misleading). Onward to Cape Perpetua! There’s two things you should do in this area, though you could probably spend the better part of a day here. First stop is the lookout, the highest point you can reach by car on the Oregon coast. Then you’ll pop down to Thor’s Well to witness the “drainpipe of the Pacific” seemingly suck in the entire ocean right before your eyes—it’s very cool. Keep heading south to the Heceta Head Lighthouse that’s breathtaking to view on its own but if you’re feeling like a little hike, explore the nearby Hobbit Trail. Your ultimate stop for this busy day is at the Oregon Dunes. The Dunes have always been a little eerie and Tatooine-esqu to me and this is uniquely true at sunset; it’s like I expect to see two suns setting. A great place to pitch a tent is at the Umpqua Lighthouse Campground, or if you want a real roof over your head try this beautifully renovated and secluded chalet with a hot tub!
Day 6 (Dunes to Samuel H. Boardman): Your first stop is in the cute town of Bandon for breakfast at the Rolling Pin, and cheese samples at Face Rock Creamery. Take a snack to-go and drive (or walk) over to Face Rock Scenic Area to enjoy the beach. Next you’ll stop at Cape Blanco to see the oldest lighthouse in Oregon (and one of the best campgrounds imo). Stop three is one of my favorites—the Prehistoric Gardens, the cheesy and delightful roadside attraction that’s been around since 1955. Stop by Gold Beach BBQ for grub before ending your day at the Samuel Boardman Corridor. I urge you to really take your time though this 18-mile section of the southern Oregon Coast. Make all the stops. Do all the things: Arch Rock, Secret Beach, Natural Bridges. Stay fancy at the Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge, or throw your tent down at Harris Beach Campground.
Day 7 (Samuel H. Boardman to Home): You’ve got a long drive back up to Portland, so you can’t afford to make too many stops, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an awesome day! First, do all the things you didn’t do along the Samuel H. Boardman Corridor, then start back up north on the 101. Next stop is Cape Sebastian for this lovely 2.5 mile hike. Continue north and stop at Shake N Burger in Coos Bay for lunch. You’ll cut over to I-5 via Highway 38 and on up to Portland. Bonus stop! If it’s a hot day and you’re getting fidgety, take the short detour to Dorena Lake for a quick dip.
The Best Time to Visit the Oregon Coast
The best time to plan your Oregon coast road trip itinerary is whenever you have time. That sounds like a joke, but I’m serious!
I’m a big proponent of all-season travel and truly believe you can have a great time no matter when you head out. Sun, wind, rain, cold—give it to me!
To truly experience what the Oregon coast has to offer, you’ve got to embrace it all. But, we all know you’re not about to embark on a year-long road trip, so here’s what you’re looking at for each season of travel.
Your itinerary (and your apparel) will need to adjust based on the weather, but the Oregon coast never gets too crazy hot or cold, so gear up and get out there!
Summer you’ll definitely see the best weather but you’ll also be fighting crowds and traffic.
Fall would probably be my top pick for a coast road trip. It can be a gamble, but you should get a nice mix of clear days for hikes and exploring, and cooler, rainy days for staying in or checking out breweries, museums, and shops.
Winter is the best for cozying up to a fire and watching the surf or brewery hopping (but I also like getting bundled up and hitting up a sparsely-populated trail. Once my blood gets pumping I don’t mind being wet—I know I can always dry off later!)
Spring is also lovely but be careful of spring breakers (no, not like Miami Beach), but families come flocking to the coast towards the end of March and beginning of April and things book up fast!
Getting to the Oregon Coast
If you’re coming from the Portland or Seattle area, your Oregon coast itinerary should start at the very top of the Oregon coast in Astoria and you’ll make your way south. This is how I’ll lay out the sample itineraries below, but they could always be done in the reverse order.
There are a couple ways to get to Astoria from Portland: Highway 30 the whole way (my preference), or the 26W to the coast then up the 101 for another 20 miles to hit Astoria. Both routes are lovely but the 26 can often get backed up so check traffic times before you leave.
Also if you take the 26/101 route, you’ll be doubling back and driving at least a (short) section of the 101 again, but this isn’t really a deal breaker. Both routes should take just under two hours.
From Seattle, you also have two options. Both start heading south on I-5, and both will take a little over three hours. It’s in Olympia that you’ll need to choose your route.
Though it’s slightly longer I’d recommend veering west from Olympia on the 8 and then to the 101 south. This route allows you to drive past Willapa Bay (famous for their oysters), and get some SW Washington coast viewing in. Your other option is to stay on I-5 until you get to Longview, then cut west on the 30.
If you’re driving up from California, it only makes sense to start at the southern end of the coast at Brookings then work your way north to Astoria. There’s no direct route here unless you’re starting out in Humboldt or Del Norte County, so be prepared for some time in the car.
The drive up the 101 in northern California is marvelous but not the most accessible. If you’re coming from deep in California, you might consider flying into Portland and renting a car (see below).
Flying into Portland International Airport (PDX) is a walk in the park compared with almost any other international airport in the country. I frequently boast of the splendor that is “my” airport, but you guys it’s so nice and easy!
From the time the wheels touch down you can grab your bags, rent a car, hit the road and be enjoying a drink in Astoria within three hours. Not bad!