For many, road tripping the Pacific Coast Highway in California is a must-do. But driving Highway 101 along the Oregon coast is often overlooked. Here’s why you should absolutely add this stretch of pavement to your road tripping bucket list!
The Oregon coast is filled with cute seaside towns where life is simple and time seems to slow down. Though a few hoppin’ cities are scattered throughout as well. It’s most known for its lighthouses, wildlife viewing, seafood joints, and coffee culture. You can find loads of opportunities to get outdoors too — whether hiking, camping, boating, or beach combing. Be on the lookout for bald eagles, roosevelt elk, and gray whales during migration times. Below is a more comprehensive list of highlights for road tripping the Oregon coast!
At the mouth of the Columbia River sits what was once the economic hub of the Pacific Northwest. An economy of fish canneries and lumber has been replaced with a vibrant arts scene, light manufacturing, and the growth of microbreweries. Movie buffs will love this town, as it was the setting of The Goonies. Astoria was also featured in Free Willy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, The Ring Two, Into The Wild, and many more.
Visit The Goonies house or take in the city from above at the Astoria column. Grab lunch at Bridgewater Bistro, Blue Scorcher Bakery Cafe, Bowpicker Fish & Chips, or my personal favorite — T Paul’s Urban Cafe. Check out the beached shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park or wander the shops downtown in search of cool art.
Ecola State Park
Stretching 9 miles of coastline, Ecola State Park covers a lot of iconic scenery. Probably the most iconic being Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach. For just $5 per vehicle, you can access all areas of this beautiful park and enjoy picnicking, surfing, tide pooling, and wildlife viewing. There are plenty of cliffside views and hidden coves to be discovered and photographed. Visit Indian Beach or hike the interpretive 2 ½ mile Clatsop Loop Trail.
Tillamook Cheese Factory
Who doesn’t love cheese or ice cream?! Make a pit stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory for a free and self guided tour. Witness the cheesemaking process and then indulge in what you really came for — the free samples! And don’t miss out on a visit to the ice cream counter while you’re there! The factory is also a great place to stock up on other Northwest treats such as smoked salmon, fudge, and marionberry jam.
Depoe Bay & Devil’s Punchbowl
Depoe Bay is a great town to stop in if you want to go on a whale watching tour. In fact, it’s been dubbed as the “Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast“! Gray whales can be seen here almost year-round, as they migrate and feed. And 1-hour tours are typically only $20/adult! The best time to witness these gentle giants would be December to February or March to May. There are plenty of reputable whale watching tour companies in town, though I’ve heard great things about Tradewinds Charters — plus they have a $2 off coupon online for their 2016 tours! Stop by the Whale Watching Center and the Whale, Sea Life, and Sharks Museum after your tour.
Devil’s Punchbowl is a short pit stop about 10 minutes south of Depoe Bay. A hollow rock formation shaped like a huge punchbowl is filled with waves in high tide and winter storms. The water churns and swirls in the punchbowl when it’s full. This neat geological formation was likely caused by the roof of two sea caves collapsing. The Punchbowl is a lot less exciting in low tide, but the beach views are beautiful and there is a picnic spot nearby. Tide pooling in this area is also excellent!
Yaquina Head Lighthouse & Newport
The Yaquina Head Lighthouse has the tallest tower on the Oregon Coast! Its been fully restored and is now open to the public. Yaquina also has another lighthouse in the area, called Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, which is also worth a view. Once you’ve officially exhausted your Instagram feed of lighthouse photos, head to Newport for the stellar food! Local Ocean Seafoods or Chowder Bowl at Nye Beach are top choices, but if you’re not into seafood try Nana’s Irish Pub or Cafe Stephanie.
Heceta Head Lighthouse Station B&B
Stay in one of the last remaining Lightkeeper’s cottages on the Pacific coast! The Heceta Head Lighthouse also happens to be a bed & breakfast! Each of the 6 rooms are decorated with unique antiques and a whole lot of charm. Rates start as low as $125/night — a price well worth the starry walk you can take around the lighthouse at night! The seven course breakfast is also a major highlight.
Oregon Sea Lion Caves
Not far from the Heceta Head Lighthouse is the Oregon Sea Lion Caves, America’s largest sea cave. Walk down a long staircase and into a viewing area of this sea-level grotto that is typically filled with Stellar Sea Lions. Hundreds of them gather in this cave in the winter months! Their loud bellowing calls echo off the walls and drown out the sounds of the crashing waves and noisy sea birds. If your road trip is in a different season, you might still get to see a few sea lions swimming in and out of the cave, and you can also enjoy the gift shop or informational displays.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Site
As you drive along the Oregon coast, you’ll see a lot of rugged cliffside’s and rock formations on the beaches. And almost out of nowhere comes a vast area of coastline that is piled high with sand dunes! Suddenly you feel as if you’ve been transported into the deserts of Egypt or Peru or some other far-off country! The landscape in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Site is perfect for a little adrenaline-pumping adventure! Head to Spinreel for dune buggy or ATV rentals, and Sand Master Park for sand boarding or sledding rentals.
For a longer visit in this unique area, reserve a yurt or log cabin at the nearby Umpqua Lighthouse State Park.
Coos Bay & Bandon
If you’re in need of
a sugar rush energy on your Oregon coast road trip, stop in either Coos Bay or Bandon. Both towns have great sweets spots. Try Cranberry Sweets in Coos Bay for chocolates, brittles, caramels, or candies and Bandon’s Baking Co. and Deli for cookies or pastries. For another tasty snack, tour the Merritt Lavender Farm in Bandon and sample gourmet lavender treats! If you’ve had enough sweets for one day, both towns also offer state parks, cute shops, and a few local art galleries. They are ideal places to pull over if you’re craving a peaceful small-town setting.
BONUS : Cave Junction
Once you’ve reached the end of your Oregon coast road trip, consider driving East to Cave Junction, near the Oregon and California border. It’s worth the drive to be able to stay in a treehouse at the Out ‘n’ About Treehouse Treesort! You also won’t want to miss a visit to the Oregon Caves National Monument since you’re in the area!
The Oregon coast is crawling with campgrounds, RV sites, and plenty of seaside lodging options. Stunning views are taken in as you drive along a road that practically hugs the Pacific ocean. Beach towns are filled with friendly people, mouth watering seafood, and abundant coffee shops. For all of these reasons and more, the Oregon coast is the ideal road tripping adventure!
For another epic Oregon road trip, see my post on Road Tripping Through Central Oregon : Cowboys & Indians Style!
For more US road trip inspiration, see The Daily Adventures Of Me.
Have you driven the Oregon coast? What was your favorite stop? And if not, what looks like fun?
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