As the Travel Oregon Ask Oregon expert for the Coast, one of the most frequent questions I’m asked is “what are the things I shouldn’t miss on my trip the Oregon Coast?” While the answer often depends on your interests, the experience that you are looking for and how long you have to explore, I’ve boiled my list down to the top ten must-see attractions for visitors traveling the length of Oregon’s coastline. Even though I visit many of these places regularly, I am still amazed at the beauty and history these locations offer which can be different with every season and every visit. I’m starting this virtual tour in Astoria on the North Oregon Coast and working my way southward.

Astoria’s Historical Attractions
If it’s a clear day, drive straight to the Astoria Column that crowns the town for panoramic views of the entire region. Next, a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum reveals the story of the Northwest’s seagoing history in an engaging way and offers a scenic viewpoint to observe the river. Just south of Astoria is Lewis and Clark’s Fort Clatsop, where it is easy to picture yourself back in time over 200 years ago when America’s most famous explorers spent the winter here. Walk through the full size re-creation of the explorer’s fort and you’ll see their charts laid out on the candlelit desk and smell the smoke from the fires that kept the chill off during the dank, dark and wet winter or 1806. Before you continue your journey south, head due west to see the remains of the 1906 shipwreck Peter Iredale on the beach at Fort Stevens State Park.

Seaside’s Turnaround and Promenade
It’s the Oregon Coast’s first beach resort town and a walk down Seaside’s Broadway is one of the Coast’s most unique experiences, passing shops, restaurants and family attractions including a large arcade, old-fashioned carousel, bumper cars and indoor miniature golf. At the beach is the historic automobile turnaround and oceanfront promenade, among the Coast’s most famous landmarks dating from the 1920s.

Ecola State Park and Haystack Rock
The view from Ecola State Park may be the most photographed on the Coast. On a clear day you look out over endless ocean along with Crescent Beach, Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock and Cape Falcon nearly 15 miles to the south. The park also offers the best viewpoint to see the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse offshore. Watch for Bald Eagles, Roosevelt Elk and Gray Whales during migrations.

Three Capes Scenic Drive
One of the great side trips off Coast Highway US 101 between Tillamook and Pacific City leads visitors to stunning views at Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda. Cape Meares offers a short walk to a lighthouse with panoramic views along the way. Cape Lookout is perfect for a picnic, beach access or hike to the end of the cape. Cape Kiwanda offers tide pools at its base, but scale the giant sand dune for views of the dramatic sculpted sandstone cliff sides to the north.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
A pretty lighthouse, near shore rocks that offer habitat and viewing of seabirds and marine life and a spectacular tide pool area are among the attractions here. You might see gray whales here even during non-migratory times.

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
Spend a few minutes at the dramatic wayside viewpoints or spend a day or a week hiking this dramatic stretch of coast through rainforest and along rocky coastline with attractions like Spouting Horn, Devil’s Churn, Cook’s Chasm and Thor’s Well). In all, the Scenic Area encompasses 2,700 acres connected by 26 miles of hiking trails. The Interpretive Center serves as the hub and main parking area.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Between Florence and North Bend, the Oregon Dunes dominate the coastal landscape for over 40 miles. The easiest access for general sightseeing is through day use areas at Jessie M Honeyman Memorial State Park and the Oregon Dunes Overlook just south of Florence. Hikers can venture into dune country away from ATV traffic at the John Dellenback Dunes Trail near Eel Lake Campground south of Reedsport. Dune buggy tours and ATV rentals are available near Florence and North Bend.

Cape Arago
Another don’t-miss side trip off the Coast Highway southwest of Coos Bay leads to three spectacular State Parks on Cape Arago: Sunset Bay, Shore Acres and Cape Arago State Parks. Enjoy stunning cliff side viewpoints, easy walking paths, seal and sea lion viewing at Simpson Reef and views of the Cape Arago Lighthouse. Hiking trails connect the three parks and the end of the cape offers access to a beautiful intertidal area.

Bandon’s Beach Loop Drive
With its numerous rocky spires and offshore rock formations, the beach at Bandon is one of the most beautiful stretches of beach adjacent to any Oregon Coast town. Beach Loop Drive in Bandon offers access to several astounding viewpoints and beaches. The Coquille Point and Face Rock viewpoints are not to be missed. Tide pools and abundant sea bird life on the rocks are also major attractions.

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
This 12-mile stretch of coast offers easy stops at stunning scenic viewpoints, access to beaches and tide pool areas and hiking trails including one of the most beautiful stretches of the Oregon Coast Trail. You can spend a day or a lifetime enjoying the views and trails. Some of the top stops along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor include (north to south) the Arch Rock Viewpoint, Natural Bridges Cove Viewpoint, Whaleshead Beach State Park, House Rock Viewpoint, Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint and Lone Ranch State Park.

Well, that’s it. I had to pick ten. Which means I have left off amazing areas like Devil’s Punchbowl at Otter Rock, Seal Rock, the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, Humbug Mountain and Harris Beach State Park in Brookings. Maybe I should do a top 15 list… or maybe 20?

About the Author: Gary Hayes

Gary Hayes is publisher of Coast Explorer Magazine and founder of Pelican Productions, Inc, a travel media and marketing company based in Seaside. Gary is a native Oregonian whose earliest memories include working on his grandfather’s fishing boat on the Oregon Coast. An extensively published photographer, Gary now lives in Cannon Beach and loves exploring the Northwest’s dramatic landscapes and capturing its natural wonders. He does clean up nicely though and he may also be found sampling Northwest wines and fine regional cuisine at every opportunity. He is a food and wine writer and is the Executive Director of the SavorNW Wine Awards.

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These maps and directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results. For travel options, weather and road conditions, visit tripcheck.com, call 511 (in Oregon only), 800.977.6368 or 503.588.2941.

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  1. Vicki Nosanov Goldman says…

    20 please as my Kiwi pal and me will be cruising in our rented convertible to wine, dine, play and peruse for an extended period of time and ten is not enough. What about adventures, food, etc please? Thanks.
    IS there a Oregon tour guide book?

    Written on September 21st, 2013 / Flag this Comment
  2. Gary Hayes says…

    I’ve done a longer list for the Fall/Winter 2013-2014 issue of Coast Explorer Magazine, Vicki. It’s a three-part series with top stops on the North, Central and South Oregon Coast. You can find the first online at: http://coastexplorermagazine.com/features/top-attractions-touring-the-north-oregon-coast

    You’ll find links to the others there too.

    Feel free to submit specific questions about what kind of food and adventures you are interested in through the Ask Oregon link on the Travel Oregon website. I’m working on the book. ;)

    Written on September 23rd, 2013 / Flag this Comment
  3. Carrie Andrews says…

    I have lived in Eugene and Grants Pass areas for 30 years. Now I am in Colorado and am homesick. Thanks for portraying some of my favorite spots. Lovely pictures. Thanks again.

    Written on October 11th, 2013 / Flag this Comment
  4. Gary Hayes says…

    Thank you, Carrie. Hope you can come back at least for a visit!

    Written on October 14th, 2013 / Flag this Comment
  5. Kelly Sutherland says…

    Thank you for the comprehensive lists. Is there anywhere I can find out which locations, or portions of the locations are user friendly to wheelchairs? I would love to take my 80 year old father on this tour when he and his wife are here first week of November ’13. Thank you!!!

    Written on October 15th, 2013 / Flag this Comment
  6. Gary Hayes says…

    Kelly, I don’t know of a comprehensive list of wheelchair friendly locations along the Oregon Coast, but it would be a long list. I choose these locations not only because they are all spectacular, but for their accessibility. There are wheelchair accessible locations within each of the top ten must-see attractions on my list if that helps.

    Written on October 28th, 2013 / Flag this Comment
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