Oregon’s Central Coast offers rugged Pacific Northwest scenery, from soaring headlands to pristine crescent beaches. You’ll also find the quintessential seaside attractions that resonate both with kids and playful adults. You can rent bikes, learn to surf, book whale-watching and charter-fishing cruises, and ramble along breezy oceanfront trails. Casual restaurants specializing in everything from hearty pancake breakfasts to local albacore and razor clam dinners proliferate in the region’s main towns, of which Lincoln City is the largest and most central, making it a perfect base for your explorations.
From Portland, the quickest way to Lincoln City is by Caravan Shuttle bus — the ride along Oregon 99W and 18 to U.S. 101 takes about two and a half hours. Alternatively, Tillamook County Transit District serves Portland to Lincoln City via Tillamook (where you change buses); the trip takes about four hours. Although Caravan Shuttle is faster, the fare is also more than double that of Tillamook County Transit.
Once you’re in Lincoln City, Tillamook County Transit makes the 30-minute trip north to Pacific City. Lincoln County Transit makes the 40-minute excursion south to Depoe Bay and the additional 30-minute trip farther south to Newport.
For help planning your car-free route, consult NW Connector’s robust trip-planning tools, which allow you to easily determine the best route based on the time of day you intend to travel. NW Connector covers much of northwestern Oregon, meaning you can use the site to extend your stay by planning trips to and from destinations such as Eugene.
Made up of five smaller communities set along a bustling stretch of the famed Oregon Coast Highway (U.S. 101), Lincoln City lays claim to the largest variety of hotels, restaurants and travel services on the 363-mile Oregon Coast. The town does extend for several miles, but it’s easy to get around by using the Lincoln City Loop Bus. There’s good fun to be had here year-round, whether you make it to one of the three well-attended kite-flying festivals, head out for a retail romp among the 50 shops at Lincoln City Outlets, or enjoy gaming and a concert at Chinook Winds Casino Resort. For arts-and-crafts fans, there are several exceptional galleries in town, and from mid-October through Labor Day, during an annual event called Finders Keepers, approximately 3,000 colorful blown-glass floats are hidden along beaches in town.
Seafood is an undoubted specialty in town, but fans of smoked meats should make it a top priority to sample the brisket and tender ribs at Vivian’s Restaurant and Bill’s Barbecue, which also turns out stellar breakfast fare (including hulking German pancakes). For a special night on the town, look to casually elegant Blackfish Cafe, which excels with everything from Northwest seafood cioppino to grilled duck breast with wild Oregon blackberry and port sauce. Save room for the legendary house-made Ding Dong for dessert.
This quiet hamlet — with a population of just over 1,000 lies — in the shadows of a 240-foot sand dune. Visitors are drawn to the town’s secluded vibe and magical setting at the southern tip of Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area.
Arrive in the early afternoon and spend a few hours exploring the beach, climbing the dune and admiring surfers. You can even book a surfing lesson with Moment Surf Co., and if you’re already a pro, Moment Surf also offers surfboard, bodyboard, SUP and more rentals. And if you’re here in mid-September, catch some incredible surfing action during the Cape Kiwanda Longboard Classic. As the sun slowly fades over the horizon, grab a seat at Pelican Brewing Company, which serves award-winning craft ales such as Kiwanda Pre-Prohibition Cream Ale and Tsunami Export Stout.
Synonymous with whale watching, this tiny village set along a rugged stretch of ocean has its very own Whale Watching Center, one of the best spots on this stretch of coastline for spotting these gentle giants. Drop in to talk with the knowledgeable rangers, watch a film and explore interactive exhibits about these magnificent creatures. You can also book a whale-watching excursion with a few different charter companies in town. You can spot whales year-round, but the prime times to go are late March and late December/early January for the biannual migration of gray whales, when nearly 20,000 whales swim along the Oregon Coast.
Newport is just 25 miles down the Coast from Lincoln City. Oregon’s largest and liveliest commercial fishing port, the storied city filled with seafaring lore has two walkable neighborhoods and a slew of engaging diversions easily reached via the Newport City Loop Bus. If you have time, consider budgeting an overnight stay to take full advantage of the town’s many offerings.
Stroll along the colorful and historic Bayfront with its old-school souvenir shops and amusements, from Oregon Undersea Gardens to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! When you’ve worked up an appetite, be sure to request an outdoor table at Local Ocean Seafoods to sample some of the freshest and most innovatively prepared fish and shellfish around while listening to the barking of spirited harbor seals who reside in the picturesque bay.
Set along Newport’s oceanfront, charming Nye Beach abounds with funky eateries (don’t miss the vanilla-cinnamon French toast at Cafe Stephanie) and cool little shops — there’s even a rambling literary-themed 1912 lodging, the Sylvia Beach Hotel. If you want to pedal a fat-tire bike on the sand, you can pop into Bike Newport for rentals and tours. Across the striking art deco Yaquina Bay Bridge, you’ll find several other worthy draws, including the famed Oregon Coast Aquarium, the sugary sands of South Beach State Park and the flagship location of acclaimed Rogue Ales & Spirits.
If You Go
Check ahead — The Oregon Coast is a year-round destination, but many believe it’s best experienced during fall, winter and spring when crowds thin. Even so, some coastal businesses operate limited hours during off-peak months, so be sure to call ahead before setting out.
Cab services — Tired of walking? Your car-sharing apps won’t work here on the Coast, though you can hail a number of reliable cab companies that service the area, including Taxi 101.
Bike travel — Want to bring your bike along with you? All busses on the NW Connector route are equipped with bike racks, so you can load it when you board and alert the driver that you’ll remove your bike at your chosen stop. In Lincoln City, Blue Heron Landing offers hourly and day bike rentals. Bike Newport is an excellent bike shop for cyclists on the Central Coast, and the also offer various rentals.
Leave no trace — No matter where your car-free travels take you, be sure to practice leave-no-trace ethics. Stay on designated trails, leave what you find where it’s at, respect wildlife and be considerate of locals.