The entire Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is included in our best USA road trip posts as it’s something worth savoring and lingering along on a multi-day trip.
It’s a choose your own adventure kind of experience across a dramatic rocky coastline of sea stacks and fierce cliffs, evergreen forests, seaside dunes, marine ecosystems, and small coastal towns.
In this post we’ll share our Oregon Coast road trip highlights from our approx 2 week RV trip of the region.
Exploring The Oregon Coastline
There are three unique regions on the Oregon Coast:
- The North Coast from Astoria to Lincoln City. This is where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, and you’ll find elective communities and recognizable coastlines.
- The Central Coast from Lincoln City to Florence. The heart of the Oregon Coast with roads that hug the ocean, coastal towns, and lighthouses.
- The South Coast from Florence to Brookings-Harbor. The place for off-the-beaten path adventures through stunning sand dunes, secluded beaches, and coastal forests
Click this link to access a liver version of the Google Map image above. You can copy it and then add your own Oregon Coast itinerary additions! (If you found that helpful, we’d love for you to share this post)
Important things to know about Exploring the Oregon Coast
This is not the typical USA beach summer experience you’ve dreamed of (visit Southern California, North Carolina, or Florida instead!). This USA road trip is about stunning views, on-land adventures, small towns, seafood, and farm to table experience.
The weather can change drastically so be prepared. Mostly, it will be on the cool side. I think I wore a T-Shirt for a couple of hours the entire time road tripping the Oregon Coast. The wind can pick up and be uncomfortable on the beach.
The ocean is dangerous to swim in – for almost all Oregon Coast beaches. We’ve included a couple below that people swim in. Always check with the locals and ensure you pay attention to the warning signs.
The Oregon Coast is wild and rugged. They have what is known as “sneaker waves,” which are unpredictable massive waves that rush suddenly ashore and washing away anything in sight.
One look at the driftwood scattered all over the beaches will tell you the wild strength of the ocean here.
Plus, the water is tool cold for my Aussie blood. It’s too cold for me in San Diego, let alone all the way up here!
Hike The Oregon Coast Trail
Hard core adventurers may wish to switch the four wheels for two legs. The Oregon Coast Trail will take you on every bend of the 363-mile coastline. Lace up and get ready to meander through forest lined paths, across sandy beaches and majestic headlands, and through 28 coastal towns.
Let’s take an Oregon Coast Road Trip
If you’re flying in to do this road trip, you’d be traveling in the North – South direction from Astoria, as it’s relatively close to Portland (1 hr. 45 mins)
I’m going to start from the California border to Astoria near the Washington State Border as that’s the direction we traveled in!
Best Scenic Sections of the Highway 101, Oregon
The Oregon Pacific Coast Highway is on our best USA scenic road trips list for a reason. You’ll find picture postcard views of colossal rocks jutting out of the Pacific ocean from nearly anywhere on the drive. But there are a few sections that receive more wows and camera clicks than others.
The Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge protects these iconic Oregon rocks. The refuge includes includes 1,853 rocks, reefs and islands and two headland areas and spans 320 miles of the Oregon coast.
In the South, the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor is known to be one of the most beautiful sections with dramatic cliffs, impressive sea stacks.
We also loved the section from Gold Beach to Humbug State Park and the section from the historic Heceta Head Lighthouse through Cape Perpetua to Thor’s Well for its jagged coastline, sea stacks, forest drops off into the ocean and tide pooling opportunities (see below).
Brookings – Harbor
If I had of known the Oregon communities of Brookings and Harbor straddling the Chetco River were significantly warmer than other Oregon Coast towns, I would have planned to make it a road trip stop and explore.
I’ve only learned that now researching why Oregon’s Banana Belt is a worthy stop for your Oregon coast trip. The northernmost Redwood groves are here, as are some city and state parks persevering the coastal landscape and wildlife. Think gray whales, tufted puffins and azaleas and rhododendrons.
It’s located on the Wild Rivers Coast, just over the border from California and is a great base for recreation on the Chetco, Rogue, Elks and Sixes Rivers.
We did however make a quick lunch stop on our way through here from the California redwoods region. Don’t miss Chetco Brewing Company for food tuck lunch and a delicious home brew.
Places to consider:
- Harris Beach State Park is perfect for sandy beaches and tide pooling. Just off the coast here is Bird Island, the largest off the Oregon coast. Also called Goat Island, it’s a National Wildlife Sanctuary and breeding site for such rare birds as the tufted puffin.
- Whaleshead Beach is where you’ll find one of Oregon Coasts most well known views: A sea stack resembling the head of a whale that sprouts when a wave crashes into it.
- East, drink and shop at the Brookings-Harbor waterfront marina. You can watch fisherman unload their load for the day including shrimp, Dungeness crab and tuna.
A short drive to the north of Brookings while traveling on Highway 101 brings you to the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, a 12-mile stretch of one spectacular view after the other with plenty of beaches and hiking trails to enjoy. The Arch Rock Picnic Area is a must-stop with a short walk leading to several great views.
Jet Boating on the Rogue River, Gold Beach
One of the best adventures on your Oregon coast road trip is to spend a day jet boating on the nationally designated Wild and Scenic River – the Rogue River on the South Oregon Coast.
The girls will never forget this adventure squealing and waving their hands in the air with their friends as we bounced over rapids and did some fast 360 degree turns. It made our top adventures in the USA with kids post!
The scenery is rugged and spectacular and it’s highly possible you’ll see lots of wildlife along the way.
Bears are commonly spotted and the odd mountain lion. We didn’t get lucky with those animals, but we saw plenty of deer and birds.
Commentary along the six-hour tour is informative and entertaining.
There are long (104 miles) and short (80 miles) tours. I recommend the 104-mile Wilderness Whitewater tour with Jerry’s Rogue Jets so you can experience the thrill of the rapids which is mostly featured on the longer tour.
It travels into the ‘Wild’ section, an area only accessible by jet boating, rafting, and hiking.
You will stop along the way for lunch and a brew if you feel up to it. OR you can take your own picnic lunch like we did paired with serene river views.
Humbug Mountain State Park
The Oregon Coast Trail passes through the stunning Humbug Mountain State Park located where the mountains reach the sea.
Good news: Humbug has some of the warmest weather on the Oregon coast since the surrounding mountains offer protection from cool ocean breezes. (yes T-shirts worn here!!)
We camped here for a few nights at a pretty campsite surrounded by forested hills at the bottom of Humbug Mountain. A short trail from the campground leads under Highway 101 to a wild sandy beach beside the Brush Creek estuary.
One thing we did not get to do, which I regret is the 5.5-mile hike to the 1,765-foot summit of Humbug Mountain through old-growth cedar groves. It’s one of the tallest mountains in Oregon to ride directly from the ocean. and offers south-facing ocean views.
Humbug Mountain State Park is only about 30 minutes from Golds Beach and 6 miles south of Port Orford.
Cape Blanco State Park and Lighthouse
Lighthouse lovers will want to stop at the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, the oldest and highest operational lighthouses in Oregon. It’s situated in Cape Blanco State Park, which is the second most-westerly point in continental USA.
More than eight miles of hiking trails lead to the beach, viewpoints of ocean vistas, fishing spots along the Sixes River, and the lighthouse.
Beware of the wind. It can sometimes blow up to 100mph on this promontory.
Beach Loop Drive, Bandon
Just outside of the town of Bandon is the easy 5 mile beach loop drive offering access to several beaches and beautiful views of rocky spires and offshore rock formations, many with names. We did it driving up from Humbug in the South.
At the southern end is Bandon State Scenic Area is another and larger state park that is less-often visited and offers great views and beach solitude. Devils Kitchen, has a short trail down to the beach and nice views of the sea stacks offshore and to the north.
Moving up the coast, you’ll then arrive to the Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint with a well-kept trail to the beach. The interpretive signs will teach you about the Face Rock American Indian legend.
See if you can pick out the near-perfect side profile of the legend’s princess, gazing skyward towards the moon on the face on the rock from the cliff overlooking the ocean.
Further north on the western edge of Bandon, will be the 19-acre Coquille Point protected by the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge protecting. The headland provides a buffer zone between mainland development and the many islands just offshore.
This is where you want to watch seabirds and harbor seals and have great views of Elephant Rick and North Coquille Point. A paved trail winds over the headland and features interpretive panels that share stories about the area’s wildlife. A stairway leads you down to Bandon Beach.
The Cranberry Capital of Oregon is the small, artistic community of Bandon.
The 10 square blocks of Bandon’s Old Town’s 10 is a fun to explore with its art galleries, shops, restaurants and Coquille River boardwalk. Don’t miss Henry the Fish created from debris washed upon the shore. It’s art to save the sea by WashedAshore.org.
- Grab your cranberry sweets, chocolates, and gifts at Cranberry Sweets In (plenty of samples too!) The spicy chocolate is sensational.
- Pop into the bright blue Tony’s Crab Shack on the Bandon Boardwalk for award-winning fish tacos, fresh seafood, and a bowl of clam chowder.
- Cheese and dairy lovers will not want to miss Face Rock Creamery, an Award-Winning cheddar creamery in Bandon. You can watch them making cheese and they sell other local products like wines and jams. This is also where you’ll find a GENEROUS scoop of cheap, delicious ice cream!
WHERE TO STAY
1. The Bandon Inn is located on a bluff, overlooking Old Town Bandon, Marina, Coquille River and the Pacific Ocean beyond. See rates and availability here.
2. Tidal Links is a 4-bed, 3 bath vacation home in Bandon Dunes. Learn more here
3. The Bandon Marina Inn is a beautiful house converted to suites with a perfect location next to the historic main street, shops and restaurants. Previous guests rave about their stay.
4. We stayed in the campground at Humbug Mountain State Park (above) and explored Bandon on a day trip.
Video: Things to do in Bandon & Jet Boating
Quad Biking the Oregon Sand Dunes, Florence
Rev your engines folks, you just entered an adventurous playground.
Stretching for 50 miles between Florence and Coos Bay are the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area which form the largest expanse of coastal dunes in the USA.
There’s no better way to enjoy it than on the back of an ATV zipping up and over the undulating dunes that merge with the forest and ocean.
Take your pick: your own quad bike, or a two- or four-person side by side. Kalyra and Craig did the individual quad bikes and Savannah and I did the ATV side by side from Torex ATV Rentals.
We were concerned about Savannah (7) going on her own and not being able to manage the brakes, but she had a turn on a friend’s quad bike and did really well.
This was a wild fun Oregon adventure, and the kids had a blast. It’s a must on your Oregon Coast Road trip.
There are hiking trails, boating, and swimming areas are also around the Oregon Dunes area. While we did not swim, the girls had a fun time surfing the sand dunes.
WHERE TO STAY
1. Best Western Pier Point Inn is 4-star hotel in the town of Florence. Previous guests love the views, indoor pool, quiet location and comfortable rooms. Read more reviews here
2. Driftwood Shores Resort comes recommended for its beachside location and views. Many suites have full kitchen.
4. We stayed at the. South Jetty RV Camping Resort close to the Pacific Ocean, sand dunes and Florence. From here, we explored up to Yachats (40 mins away) on a day trip. Cabin rentals are also available
Tide Pooling on the Oregon Coast
Another fun thing to do with kids on the Oregon Coast is tide pooling.
I’d never really understood tide pooling until I was peering at rock walls covered with gooey globs of bright greens, purples and orange tessellated between bright orange starfish.
What is this world I have just discovered? Turns out tide pools are one of the top Oregon coast attractions.
The kids had a blast discovering this underwater world that throughout the day is mostly covered by 3 feet or more of ocean water.
There was all manner of weird and wobbly shaped creatures of various sizes and vibrant colors.
There are tons of tide pools in that 180-mile stretch of the Oregon coast road trip from Florence up to Astoria that you can find and explore.
Time your visit 1-2 hours before low tide so you have plenty of time to see the wonders.
We visited the tide pools near Thor’s Well just outside the small town of Yachats. There is a 20 mile stretch of rocky basalt ledges near Yachats that brings abundant tide pools to explore. And the tidepools at Indian Beach, Ecola State Park were also great.
Yachats sits at the base of the Oregon Coast Range, sitting between the lush temperate rainforest and pounding Pacific Ocean.
This small Oregon coastal town has an artistic welcoming atmosphere with art galleries, gift shops, cafes and restaurants.
This “Gem of the Oregon Coast” is less about sandy beaches and more about the rugged black basalt creating many top natural attractions and activities. (see next couple of points)
Yachats Brewing + Farmstore is a must not miss pacific northwest coast attraction. It was one of our favorite breweries on our USA road trip for its quality and innovative farm-to-table food, craft beers and cute small-town coastal ambiance.
It’s typical Oregon – raw, rugged, and full of stories to tell.
Be sure to grab a scoop for the kids from crowd-favorite, Toppers Ice Cream.
WHERE TO STAY
1. The Overleaf Lodge has luxurious room overlooking the Oregon coast. An oceanfront trail meanders from the lodge to beautiful vistas, tidal pools, sandy beaches and hidden coves. See availability and prices here.
2. Woodland Cottage by the Sea is a cozy cabin close to town and the beach.
3. We stayed at the South Jetty RV Camping Resort close to the Pacific Ocean, sand dunes and Florence. From here, we explored up to Yachats (40 mins away) on a day trip. Cabin rentals are also available
Thors Well & the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area is a large forested headland on the central Oregon Coast.
It’s the highest point on the Oregon Coast and is known for its interesting rock formations, secluded beaches, dramatic viewpoints, tide pooling opportunities, and some of the best hiking on the Oregon Coast.
Plan to visit the Heceta Head Lighthouse. A short walk will take you to the lighthouse and beautiful scenery. The Sea Lion Caves is America’s largest sea cave and a shelter for wild sea lions.
It’s where you’ll find the popular Spouting Horn, Devils Churn, Cooks Chasm and Thors Well.
Thors Well is one of the most popular attractions on the Oregon coast. It’s an old collapsed sea cave sprays water as the waves crash in and out, spurting out water and swallowing it back. It’s meant to be a spectacular sight. Be careful when viewing and getting close as it can be dangerous.
The best time to visit Thors Well is high tide. We missed it’s dramatic performance as we were timing our visit to this region for low tide so we could enjoy the tide pooling, which is phenomenal in this area.
Walk up to the Visitor Center for great views overlooking the beaches.
Hike the Hobbit Trail
An easy hike in the Cape Perpetua Area, especially if you have kids, is the half mile Hobbit trail down to Hobbit Beach. Located just at an easily missed pull-out just north of the Heceta Head State Park (north of the Heceta Lighthouse),
This is a magical hike taking you deep within a luscious coastal forest along a mossy and enchanting trail. It has earned its name for the little tunnels created by an thick bushes, which is perfect for hobbits, trolls and kids to tip toe through.
It all leads to a hidden beach at the foot of coastal cliffs.
You may wish to walk 2 miles to Heceta Lighthouse from this trail after. Watch for the sign guiding you.
Yachats is a favorite small Oregon coastal town for many. It’s an ideal base to explore the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area.
Video: Things to do in Florence & Yachats
Three Capes Scenic Drive
Something for us to return to the Oregon Coast to do is the Three Canoes Scenic Drive showcasing the best of the along the Tillamook Coast.
This 40-mile winding scenic drive halfway between Cannon Beach and Newport takes to to the headlands of Cape Mears, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda. Expect panoramic vistas from sheer cliff tops, short hiking trails, wide sandy beaches, sand dunes, beach driving and whale watching.
- The Cape Meares iconic lighthouse and giant Octopus Tree, a Sitka spruce with a tentacle vibe!
- Waterfall hikes, expansive views, and spouting whales from Cape Lookout.
- The Sandstone headland of Cape Kiwanda has one of the best views of the the powerful ocean from the top of the towering dune.
- Pelican Brewery and Taproom in Pacific City is the only beachfront brewpub in the Northwest!
- Pacific City beach is also a favorite for surfers and anglers
- Oceanside is built upon a steep hillside that overlooks the beachfront and offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge is visible just offshore.
- At the northern end of the Oceanside beach is a tunnel providing access to Tunnel Beach at low tide. Keep walking north and you’ll find secret coves and secluded beaches. Watch the tides!
The Goonies Trail
You cannot visit the Oregon Coast without experiencing some of that Goonies magic – 80s kids get my excitement. If you don’t, go and watch that movie right now for the passion and big innocent dreaming that comes with youth.
I’ll never forget the moment when we came upon the Goonies vista – you know the one with the rocks jutting out of the rolling surf.
I flashed back to my childhood seeing that in the movie, and one day hoping that I could live a life that had such adventure, connection, and serve a greater purpose.
And here I was, doing just that in front in the Goonies world. Be a dreamer!
We watched the movie with the kids before exploring this region so they could feel it to. The Goonie World can be experienced between Astoria and Cannon beach on Oregon’s northern coast.
Cannon Beach is one of the best places on Oregon Coast and one of Oregon’s most popular beachside resorts.
You’ll find upscale boutiques, art galleries, cafes, breweries, and restaurants lining the pretty flower filled streets. While we enjoyed a couple of brewery stops, I much preferred the stunning scenery just north of Cannon Beach, and was not a raving fan of the beach here.
Haystack Rock, which rises about 300 feet out of the water, is just off the beach and and is one of the most iconic Oregon coast landmarks. It’s a Goonie sight!
- For coffee try Insomnia Coffee and Sleepy Monk
- Pelican Brewing is a top spot for brews and lunch
- Public Coast Brewing has a cool outdoor space with cornhole and Adirondack chairs. The food from the restaurant uses seasonal fresh ingredients, from local farms and ranches within 400 miles, including their own Public Coast Farm.
This area also has the exceedingly popular North Coast Craft Beer Trail includes 12 breweries between Astoria and Pacific City.
WHERE TO STAY
1. It’s hard to beat the views from the beachfront Ocean Lodge. See more here.
2. Schooner’s Cove Inn is also beachfront in downtown Cannon Beach.
3. Sandals’ Inn is an exceptional vacation rental close to the beach and well-appointed with a kitchen in the cabana and spa tub in the spa suite. See more here.
3. VRBO has a ton of vacation rentals in Cannon Beach. Find one to suit your style here.
Ecola State Park
The Ecola State Park just north of Cannon Beach was my favorite area of the entire Oregon Coast. It’s 9 miles of coastline that offers many scenic and hiking opportunities and activities like picnicking, tidepooling, and surfing.
Trails include an 8 mile segment of the Oregon Coast Trail and part of the Clatsop Loop Trail and the trail over Tillamook Head follow in the footsteps of the Corps of Discovery.
The more dramatic Goonies viewpoint overlooking those sea stack rocks can be found at Ecola Point. It’s my go to view to describe the rugged beauty of the Oregon Coast.
My second favorite beach of the Oregon Coast was Indian Beach just north of Ecola Point. This secluded sandy beach popular with surfers reminded me of Australia.
We did some great tidepooling here and I loved the cool castle looking lighthouse situated on the edge of a tiny island offshore.
Hike from Ecola to Crescent Beach
One of my favorite things to do on the Oregon Coast was to hike from Ecola Point to Cannon Beach. It passes through a beautiful lush forest to what is now my favorite beach in Oregon: Crescent Beach
It was calm, secluded, and quiet. I don’t think we saw another person. The kids had a blast playing games together on the wide stretch of sand while we lazed around in the sun and watched.
It was one of those rare Oregon coast days where the sun was shining, and I had my legs and arms bare soaking up its warmth.
It’s 1.25 miles from Ecola Point to Crescent Beach and then another 1.8 miles to Canon Beach.
We stayed in Seaside for a few days and didn’t do too much in this small Oregon coastal town. It’s a popular Oregon vacation spot with shops, restaurants, miles of sandy beach and a grand oceanfront promenade to stroll.
The beach here was wild and windy so we didn’t stay on there for long, although it’s popular for beach bonfires of an evening to watch the sunset. And it’s one of the few beaches in Oregon you can drive your car down on.
We enjoyed a delicious Thai dinner at Yellow Curry Cozy Thai one evening in the town.
Astoria is a sleepy fishing village on the mouth of the Columbia River. It was the first US settlement west of the Mississippi and the place where Lewis and Clark ended the America’s greatest overland expedition.
Astoria is also the town of Goon Docks, where the kids lived. You can see various scenes from the movie here including Mikey’s House and Data’s next door. You can no longer get close to the Goonies house, but you can see it from a few blocks back perched up on the hill.
There is a 6.5 mile (one way) river walk going through town. We did a small section through downtown past Pier 12, which is where you’ll find a row of breweries and restaurants. (there are 12 breweries in this small Oregon town).
The Astoria Brewing Company has riverside views and cool merchandise in their special Goonies’ store. Pull up an Adirondack chair on the pier of the Bouy Beer Company and watch the river life go by with a cold brew.
WHERE TO STAY
1. The Bowline Hotel will give you a unique Astoria experience – Boho/ coastal with great views. See more here.
2. The Norblad Hotel is a historic 90-year-old building located in Astoria, less than 5 minutes’ walk from the restaurants and shops lining the Astoria Riverwalk.
Fort Stevens State Park
Fort Stevens marks the site of a military installation once used to guard the mouth of the Columbia River. The Fort operated from the Civil War to World War II.
Fort Stevens is now 4,300-acre park with opportunities for freshwater lake swimming, beach swimming, hikes and outdoor activities. . It also has one of Americas largest largest public campgrounds.
This is actually one of the few places on the Oregon Coast that is good for swimming.
Most popular is the Wreck of Peter Iredale, a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel that ran ashore October 25, 1906, on the Oregon coast enroute to the Columbia River. Kids will love playing within its rusted skeleton frame and photographers will love capturing its ghostly beauty.
Fort Clatsop, Lewis & Clark National Historical Park
Fort Clatsop was the winter encampment in this woodsy inlet on the Lewis and Clark River for the Corps of Discovery from December 1805 to March 1806.
The visitor center includes a replica of Fort Clatsop, an interpretive center offering an exhibit hall, bookstore, and two films. You’ll laso find ranger-led programs, and costumed rangers in the fort and trails.
Fort Clatsop is the most popular site, but Lewis and Clark National Historical Park has several different site locations in this Columbia River region of Oregon and Washington State, including Cape Disappointment State Park where the Corps hiked overland to take their first view of the Pacific Ocean. We camped here after our Oregon road trip and the sunset views were far from disappointing.
Video: Things to do in Cannon Beach and Astoria
Plan Your Oregon Road Trip
This is just a sampling of the incredible adventures waiting for you on your Oregon trip. We were disappointed we did not get to explore more of the hot springs in Eastern Oregon and, especially, the Painted Hills
We hope you can also experience some of these best places to visit on the Oregon coast.
Stay tuned as we share more of our travel tips adventures in the Pacific Northwest.