Like many other Americans, after more than a year of carefully limiting the company we kept, trading restaurant date nights for home-cooked meals, and missing family who live far away, Mr. Travel Maestro and I were beyond impatient to travel and get a change of scenery. I was feeling the call of the wild, wanting to stretch my muscles and feel unfettered. Apparently, I was not alone. As travel restarted across the U.S., outdoor adventure quickly became a trend with nature, wilderness, and National Parks suddenly a high vacation priority. We decided a week of outdoor adventure on the Oregon Coast was just what we needed.
Although I have long wanted to explore the scenic Oregon Coast, in full disclosure, my choice was also motivated by the fact that I hadn’t seen my daughter who lives in Olympia, Washington, in 18 months. That was a lifetime record that I did not want to extend any longer, so as soon as hubby and I were both fully vaccinated, I purchased airline tickets and started packing.
Our trip started with an emotional reunion, several lovely waterfall hikes, and eating absurd amounts of Pacific Northwest delicacies – creamy clam chowder, briny oysters, Chinook salmon, and more. I’ll keep the details of our visit close to my heart but believe me when I say it was wonderful. With a tearful goodbye, we left Washington for the Oregon Coast.
Astoria, Oregon – the First Settlement West of the Rockies
Our first stop, Astoria, sits at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River which acts as the border between Washington and Oregon. The impressive 4-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge that crosses the river is the longest truss bridge in North America. Astoria is the oldest city in the state and was the first settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.
Strolling the Astoria Riverwalk gives visitors a feel for the city’s maritime history and lovely views of the river, including sea lions lounging on the 36th Street docks! The Columbia River Maritime Museum maintains a rich collection of historical artifacts and exhibits. The top attraction is the Astoria Column towering above the city atop Coxcomb Hill. Inside was closed when we visited, but locals told us a fun thing to do is to climb the stairs and launch a paper airplane from the top. Even so, the 360° views from the park are well worth the $5 parking fee. Travel Maestro trivia: The city was named for businessman John Jacob Astor, although he never visited there.
Seaside – a Classic Oregon Coast Beach Town
The next day we drove just 30-minutes south along Pacific Coast Highway 101 to Seaside, Oregon. On the way, we stopped in Fort Stevens State Park to see the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a four-masted steel sailing vessel that ran aground October 25, 1906, and has been an attraction since then. We checked into the charming Gilbert Inn, the Queen Anne home of Alexandre Gilbert, a founding father and esteemed businessman of Seaside.
We strolled the 1.5-mile oceanfront Promenade, delighting in the well-groomed homes and resorts on one side and marveling at the beachgrass-covered dunes on the other. The beach is hundreds of yards deep at low tide, with walking paths worn into the grasses. In the distance, the rainforest-covered Tillamook Head looms and the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, a.k.a. Terrible Tilly, stands alone on a rocky island a mile offshore (no public access). Travel Maestro tip: There is no public access to the lighthouse, but the closest view is from mile marker 27.2 on the Oregon Coast Trail on Tillamook Head between Ecola State Park and Seaside.
Kids will enjoy the 80-year-old family-run Seaside Aquarium where they can feed seals and see a 35-foot skeleton of a Gray Whale. Then parents can slip in a little history lesson as you enjoy an ice cream sitting on the Prom seawall at the Lewis and Clark statue marking the end of their 200-mile journey. When you add in the requisite beach souvenir shops and plenty of local restaurants, it doesn’t get more Oregon Coast-classic than Seaside.
Cannon Beach to Tillamook
To be perfectly honest, Cannon Beach is just as authentic and a bit more refined with lots of shingled buildings, well-maintained landscaping, and no big box stores. Beyond the laid-back Oregon Coast vibe, the big draw here is the famous Haystack Rock, a massive basalt monolith that is home to diverse birdlife. Tolovana Beach Wayside is a good place to park and walk to Haystack Rock. We planned to rent recumbent bikes to ride on the very wide 4-mile-long beach, but the tide was coming in and we were too late to rent. Travel Maestro tip: The tides in Washington and Oregon change dramatically and very quickly. Always check the tide tables if you plan to spend any length of time on the beach. Instead, after visiting Haystack Rock, we opted for a cold beer and chatting with some locals on the patio of Pelican Brewing, one of the many craft breweries on the Oregon Coast.
We continued south through tiny little beach towns – Nehalem Bay, Manhattan Beach, Rockaway Beach – stopping whenever we wanted to soak in the magnificent views at one of the many pull-offs and overlooks. Turning inland, we followed the shore of Tillamook Bay to the famous Tillamook Creamery. The self-guided tour of the cheese-making factory gave us an educational behind-the-scenes look at the whole process from farm to 40-pound blocks of aged cheddar. Of course, we bought some cheese in the gift shop to snack on later and headed for the ice cream counter. And yes, we ate huge creamy scoops of the famous Tillamook ice cream before lunch!
Three Capes Scenic Route
West of Tillamook, a 38-mile route encompasses Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda. Multiple State Parks offer hiking trails, camping, yurts, and day use. Some charge an entry fee. Along the route, you’ll see awe-inspiring scenes of the ocean, tidal sand flats, saltwater marshes, and forested wetlands. I stood marveling at the view from the lip of a steep mountainside drop-off where hang gliders and paragliders launch and quickly determined that I’m not brave enough to do that. Travel Maestro tip: A section of the Cape Meares loop is closed due to roadway damage, with no plans to repair it, so you’ll need to backtrack about two miles.
The Central Oregon Coast
The section of the Oregon Coast from Lincoln City to Florence is simply spectacular. Small coastal towns sit every 10 to 20 miles, separated by long sandy beaches, headlands, State Parks, and lighthouses. We stayed in Depoe Bay, home of “the World’s Smallest Harbor” and known for its whale watching and fishing charters. We saw lots of fishing boats, but alas, no whales. I loved our hotel, the SCP, which stands for Soul, Community, Planet Holistic Hospitality. The hotel was very eco-conscious, and the room was divine.
Some of the highlights along the Central Oregon coast included:
- Panoramic views from Cape Foulweather – You can guess how Captain James Cook named it, but it was gorgeous when we were there.
- Devils Punch Bowl, Thor’s Well, and Devil’s Churn – dramatic water action on the rocks
- Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport – a world-class facility with indoor/outdoor exhibits
- Yaquina Head Lighthouse – You can sleep in the light keeper’s house!
- Cape Perpetua and the Siuslaw National Forest – non-stop views from 800 feet above the ocean, 26 miles of looping trails, WWII history, Visitor Center, and Marine Reserve
- Heceta Head Lighthouse – Take a tour inside the lighthouse workroom.
- Sea Lion Caves – Take an elevator 200 feet down to a sea cave where sea lions gather.
The Central Oregon Coast ends in Florence, known as Oregon’s Coastal Playground. You can ride horses on the beach, ride ATVs on the expanse of the towering Oregon Dunes, stroll the Historic Old Town, shop for artisan wares at the Boardwalk Market, play golf, and visit the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum.
The End of Our Coastal Adventure
This is where we turned inland for Eugene and Portland, but the South Oregon Coast continues another 180 miles to the California border. I highly recommend some outdoor time on this supremely beautiful coast. We spent a week exploring the North and Central Oregon Coasts, but you could easily extend to do more hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, whale watching… oh, and don’t forget eating all that marvelous seafood and tasting the local craft beers. When you’re ready to go, contact our vacation advisors to book your trip.