: Josiah Roe

3 Days of Family Adventure in Depoe Bay

December 11, 2020

Editor’s note: Face coverings (ages 5 and up) are required at all indoor and outdoor public spaces statewide, regardless of vaccination status. Learn more here. It’s also wildfire season — plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.

Depoe Bay serves up some of the very best parts of the wild Oregon Coast. A constant stream of fresh ocean air, an oceanfront downtown, bustling wildlife and bold outdoor family activities nearby make it an ideal base camp. Two major draws keep visitors enamored: the world’s smallest navigable harbor and a resident pod of very active and famous gray whales. Here’s how to spend three days in Depoe Bay with your own pod.

Depoe Bay is famous for year-round whale watching. Bring your binoculars and look for those spouts. (Photo by Carrie Newell)

Day 1: Watching Whale Giants From the High Seas

The tiny harbor with its fleet of fishing vessels draws global visitors for deep-sea charters and whale watching year-round. Both types of tours are booked through Tradewinds Charters and Dockside Charters. A morning of fishing can reap fresh halibut, tuna, lingcod or crab for kids and their parents. For a close-up whale excursion, join Whale Research EcoExcursions on a zodiac boat tour. All tours are weather dependent and family friendly. Reserve in advance. 

There are also many marked spots north and south of town for year-round whale watching on dry land. In addition to the resident pod, migrating whales are almost always passing through. For an interactive family experience, stop by the cliffside Whale Watching Center. This newly renovated Oregon State Park helps visitors see and appreciate the massive marine mammals. (The center is temporarily closed to reduce the spread of COVID. Check the website for reopening information.)

Find a range of easy breakfast options in town on Depoe Bay’s dining page. Midday, Bay View Thai Kitchen offers Thai favorites with sweeping harbor views. Pick up a bottle of Oregon blackberry wine from Depoe Bay Winery, one of the oldest wineries in Oregon, with dramatic views of the big tides across the seawall. As the sun sets, pull into Lord Brixxton’s, just north of downtown, to pick up a dinner of hearty Italian classics like fresh crab ravioli or enjoy the pet-friendly patio in the warmer months.

Downtown Depoe Bay is a favorite place for chowder and family treats, and you can keep an eye on the ocean too.

Day 2: Walk and Hike Around World’s Smallest Harbor

The best views in compact Depoe Bay are accessed on foot. The town’s dramatic cliff location, rock terraces and elegant bridge earned it the title of Best U.S. Harbor in 2020 (it’s also the smallest navigable harbor in the world). Start at Whale Fountain on the main seawall, head south, and you’ll pass the famous natural spouting horns. This ancient lava tube sends a whale-like sea water spray above Highway 101 during high tides. Stop in at Ainslee’s Homemade Salt Water Taffy to fill your belly with caramel corn or ice cream. Watch boats thread the technical 50-foot-wide channel in and out of the harbor from the public viewing platform below the Whale Watching Center.  

Turn your meander into a seaside family hike with scenic viewpoints and forested trails connected to downtown. On the south side of the bridge, the Graham Street Scenic Lookout Trail is a nearly hidden path that leads to a worthy ocean view. 

For a short, kid-friendly hike through a secret forest, start at Depoe Bay City Park and walk to the end of the park’s lawn to the South Depoe Bay Creek Nature Trail. Take a stroll for .3 miles along the creekside loop path, which traverses through big alders and Sitka spruces 6 feet in diameter. At the park you’ll find picnic tables and a marine-themed playground — complete with kid-sized boat and sea creatures. For a longer hike, follow the full nature trail for 1.7 miles for a delightful ramble through town and the harbor. 

Fresh, local dining options include Whale Bites Cafe (open March through October), situated above the south side of the harbor, or its sister restaurant, Sea Bites Cafe, on the north side of the bridge. Famous for their biscuits and gravy, you can come back for lunch and order takeout fish tacos or a kid-friendly “humpback humongous dog” to enjoy with a sea view. After everyone works up an appetite in the salty air, pick up classic Mexican comfort food for dinner at family-friendly Mazatlan, with views of the channel to the harbor. 

Visitors flock to Depoe Bay's Devils Punchbowl, a fascinating geological site. (Photo by Greg Vaughn / Alamy Stock)

Day 3: A Living Outdoor Marine Reserve and Surfing

Explore Otter Rock just south of Depoe Bay and visit Otter Rock Marine Reserve with hidden beaches, hikes, tide pools, seals and the roaring Devils Punchbowl. Marine conservation and research are the focus of this section of the coastline. Kids will find plenty of tactile and messy ocean experiences. Learn about specific studies, tide pools and wildlife in advance by visiting the reserve’s research site.

Those who want to feel the ocean’s energy can book a private family beginner surf lesson or join a group class from one of the local surf shops. Kids can start as early as age 7 or 8, and everyone will suit up like a warm seal in neoprene. If surfing isn’t your thing, watch the surfers from the incredible cliffs above Devils Punchbowl. Next door, the Flying Dutchman Winery offers tastings in an area sheltered by a grove of shore pines with long views of Cape Foulweather. 

For breakfast or lunch, park in the public parking beside Cliffside Coffee & Sweets and take your treats to enjoy with a nearby view. This cafe serves gourmet chocolate, espresso, ice cream, granola, breakfast sandwiches and easy takeout lunches. A public restroom is also nearby. An easy dinnertime option is to order ahead and pick up Spyglass Pizza for a picnic outdoors, or take it back to your lodging. 

Stunning views await at most lodging properties in Depoe Bay. Perched on a bluff, Inn at Arch Rock has its own beach cove.

If You Go:

Lodging in Depoe Bay includes ocean views with a family focus and some pet-friendly rooms. Keystone Vacation Rentals offers oceanfront private-unit rentals with kitchens for long or short stays. Inn at Arch Rock is a 13-room boutique hotel perfectly perched atop the north headlands with its own beach cove. The inn offers many lodging styles, including a two-bedroom penthouse suite complete with a kitchen and living room. SCP Hotel Depoe Bay is a modern, minimalist eco-friendly surf lodge focused on fitness and wellness. Inn at Otter Crest is a 35-acre oceanside forest resort featuring a cliffside pool, children’s playground and stairs to the beach. Find more Depoe Bay lodging choices for your visit any time of year.

About The

Amanda Calnan Vowels
Amanda Calnan Vowels is a Portland-based journalist whose career started in daily, print newsrooms of the Pacific Northwest. Living overseas as an expatriate with young children gave her a deeper appreciation for the remarkable spaces and stories of their native Oregon. Amanda's best days are spent chronicling top Northwest spots and encouraging family travel of all types and budgets.

Trip Ideas

  • Winter Trips at the Oregon Coast

    While the 363 miles of Oregon coastline are stunning, pristine and accessible all year long, a winter trip always delivers unexpected treasures. Visitors often find the Coast’s winter temperatures warmer than inland climes. Many come...
  • A Getaway in Depoe Bay

    Depoe Bay was once nothing more than a quaint fishing town. Today, while fishermen and their boats still call its small harbor home, the town's claim to fame is as the “Whale Watching Capitol of...
  • Why You’ll Love the Oregon Coast Trail

    The Oregon Coast Trail (OCT) is 382 miles of pieced-together paths, soft lanes of pine needles, wide-open beaches and sidewalks that run through buzzing shoreline towns. It’s yet to garner the attention of far more...