Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Follow all COVID-19 guidelines, get vaccinated before you travel and remember to bring your face covering.
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “What are the things I shouldn’t miss on my trip to the Oregon Coast?”
There are some places you just shouldn’t miss when visiting the Oregon Coast. Between stunning scenic areas, natural wonders and rich historical sites, it’s easy to fall in love with the coastal culture and the small towns that make them special. Here are 10 iconic spots to take in on your next road trip — a perfect playground for your sea-breeze-filled trail adventures, wildlife watching, historic heritage sites and more. 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.
Astoria’s Historical Attractions
If it’s a clear day, drive straight to the Astoria Column (temporarily closed), which 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 for observing the river. Just south of Astoria is Lewis and Clark’s Fort Clatsop, where it’s 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 of 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.
County: Clatsop County
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, an old-fashioned carousel, bumper cars and indoor miniature golf. At the beach is the historic automobile turnaround and oceanfront Promenade, a 1.5-mile paved, accessible walkway celebrating its centennial birthday in 2021. Find details on the centennial Prom celebration set for Aug. 7, 2021.
County: Clatsop County
Three Capes Scenic Loop
One of the great side trips off U.S. Highway 101 between Tillamook and Pacific City is the Three Capes Scenic Loop, which 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 a 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 cliffsides to the north.
Tillamook Bay Heritage Route
If you’re looking for almost-secret spots around Tillamook, take your pick. You can take a hike, visit the location of an old ghost town, explore clam flats, and discover quiet, lesser-known historic landmarks along the Tillamook Bay Heritage Route — a self-guided tour of almost two dozen sites around Tillamook Bay. The all-season route is designed to showcase and connect five friendly communities: Barview, Garibaldi, Bay City, Tillamook and Cape Meares. Stroll the 7.6-mile Bayocean Spit Loop Hike or meander the 2 miles of forested trails at Kilchis Point Reserve, then satisfy your appetite along the North Coast Food Trail.
County: Tillamook County
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 nonmigratory times. It’s just one of many stops along the Coast highway to view Oregon’s historic lighthouses.
County: Lincoln County
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 rain forest and along rocky coastline. View attractions such as Spouting Horn, Devils Churn, Cook’s Chasm and Thor’s Well. In all, the scenic area encompasses 2,700 acres connected by 27 miles of hiking trails. The Interpretive Center serves as the hub and main parking area. It’s just one of the ruggedly beautiful trail networks for hiking along the Coast.
County: Lincoln County
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.
County: Lane County, Douglas County
Another don’t-miss side trip off the Coast highway southwest of Coos Bay is the Cape Arago Beach Loop, which leads to three spectacular sites: Sunset Bay, Shore Acres and Cape Arago state parks. Enjoy stunning cliffside 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.
County: Coos County
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 coastline 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 birdlife on the rocks are also major attractions. The acclaimed Whiskey Run Mountain Bike System draws dirt surfers to the area, while the Wild Rivers Coast Food Trail is a foodie’s dream route.
County: Coos County
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
This 12-mile stretch of coast offers easy stops at spectacular 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, House Rock Viewpoint, Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint and Lone Ranch Beach. Add your tour of the scenic corridor with a tour of Oregon’s very own towering redwood trees and the Wild Rivers Coast Food Trail.