Moon Coastal Oregon
By Judy Jewell
By W. C. McRae
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- Flexible, strategic itineraries, from seaside weekend getaways to a 10-day road trip along U.S. 101, with lists of the best off-the-radar beaches, campsites, fishing spots, photo ops, and much more
- The top activities and unique experiences: Scan the ocean for spouting whales or gaze at free-swimming sharks from inside the underwater tunnel at Oregon Coast Aquarium. Admire local art in Astoria’s galleries, learn to blow glass Lincoln City, or soak in the sounds of a music festival in summer
- Outdoor adventures: Wander along the stack-speckled shoreline of Cannon Beach, admire the endless horizon from the top of a lighthouse, or hike across vast sand dunes. Set up camp in a yurt near shipwrecks, sand spits, or redwood forests. Explore any of the 80 state parks that line the coast, try your hand at sandboarding, or take an exhilarating jet-boat tour through Rogue River
- Local flavors: Sample award-winning cheddar cheese in Tillamook, slurp fresh-shucked oysters, or enjoy organic produce at a county farmers market. Kick back at a brewery with ocean views for traditional Northwest IPAs, light saisons, and sour wild yeast beers
- Expert insight from Oregon locals Judy Jewell and W.C. McRae on when to go, how to get around, and where to stay, from quaint coastal B&Bs to campgrounds in the redwoods
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Thorough background on the landscape, plants and animals, climate, and local culture
DISCOVER Coastal Oregon
Planning Your Trip
If You Have . . .
Coastal Road Trip
Trails and Tide Pools
Catch of the Day
Top 10 Photo Ops
Save It for a Rainy Day
Cozy Seaside Inns
In few other places on earth is the meeting of land and sea as dramatic and beautiful as along Oregon’s 360 miles of Pacific coastline, from the mouth of the Columbia River to the redwood forests at the California border. Here, at the far western skirt of the continent, nature has found an expansive stage on which to act out the full range of its varied and ceaseless dramas, from the microcosm of a tide pool to the ferocious storms that make first landfall here. Rocky headlands rise high above the ocean, dropping away to the pounding waves in cliffs hundreds of feet high. Lone fingers of rock poke through sandy beaches and march out far into the surging waves. Seals, sea lions, puffins, and innumerable shorebirds make their home in this marine wilderness.
Here you can find intense solitude, in the company of only the calling seabirds, and experience firsthand why residents refer to this coast as “The Edge”—yet the comforts of civilization and human company are always close by in an inviting string of towns and villages, each with its own character and charms.
Don’t neglect the opportunity to get outdoors and experience the full range of recreation available here. Cycling the Oregon Coast Bike Route is a rite of passage for many bicyclists from around the world. The Oregon Coast Trail provides hikers many opportunities to explore the coastline. The bays and estuaries are tempting destinations for kayakers, as they provide a watery backdrop for excellent marine bird and wildlife viewing. Diminished wild salmon runs have limited some coastal sportfishing expeditions, but the catch is still good for halibut, tuna, and bottom fish. And when fishing boats from Newport, Depoe Bay, Garibaldi, and Astoria aren’t seeking the catch of the day, many offer whale-watching trips. Surfing the chill waters of the north Pacific demands a particular brand of hardiness, but many find that, with the right wetsuit, they’re able to catch some waves.
Considering the scenic splendor of the Oregon coast, it may seem odd that it remains largely unblemished by upscale tourism infrastructure. In part, this is due to a farsighted state government, which in the 1910s set aside as public land the entire length of Oregon’s Pacific coastline. The Oregon coast belongs to the people. It’s a place where human visitors can encounter the creatures of the sea and forest, and observe the mighty forces of nature.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Although part of a seamless whole, sharing a common shoreline and linked by an unbroken scenic highway, each part of the coast possesses a distinct regional flavor.
In the north—journey’s end for Lewis and Clark—steep headlands break up wide sandy beaches. The northern Oregon coast, just 1.5 hours from Portland, is the most developed and heavily populated part of the coast. Historic Astoria, fun-loving Seaside, and artsy Cannon Beach are all within a short drive of one another, but are remarkably different in character. But don’t think it’s just one town after another—huge areas of the coast are set aside as state parks, and there are ample opportunities to hike, camp, and explore tide pools.
The central coast is anchored at its northern end by sprawling Lincoln City and its family-friendly wide beaches and is centered around Newport, the largest city in the area, with charming older neighborhoods, good restaurants, an active fishing port, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Farther south, Florence and Reedsport border the astounding Oregon Dunes, an otherworldly sand-scape with massive sand dunes, lakes, and broad lazy estuaries.
The south coast feels far from everything: a landscape of ocean-fronting mountains cloaked by dense evergreen forest, wild rivers, and black-sand beaches punctuated with dramatic rock formations. Postindustrial Coos Bay needn’t delay you, but just to the west are wild and beautiful natural areas, including Cape Arago and the fascinating estuarine area at South Slough. Bandon is small, cozy, and full of tourists, many here for the world-class golf courses at Bandon Dunes. The southernmost part of Oregon’s coastline may well be its most scenic, especially the stretch between Port Orford and Brookings.
When to Go
Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool rain-loving Pacific Northwesterner, you’ll most likely want to visit the Oregon coast during the summer and early fall (July-September), when there’s a far better chance of sunshine. Even then, coastal fogs can put a chill on things, so it’s nearly essential to bring a fleece jacket, as well as a windbreaker for the gale-force gusts that locals call “the breeze.” It’s also best to bring rain gear—we somewhat superstitiously consider it to be insurance against a summertime storm. But it’s not always cold here: Don’t be surprised if a mid- to late-summer trip sees you wearing little more than shorts, a T-shirt, flip-flops, and sunscreen.
From late fall through spring, storm watchers come to the coast to feel the blustery bite of rain pelting their faces as they walk the beaches. It can be really thrilling to stay in a beachfront motel or cottage (paying a fraction of the summertime rates) and to watch the storm clouds roll in. The big secret is that there can be absolutely beautiful weather in between storms when the sun breaks through, and temperatures are generally much milder than in other parts of the state.
Another reason to visit in December or late March (roughly Christmastime or spring break) is to see whales migrating between their winter homes off Baja California and their summertime grounds near Alaska. Look for “Whale Watching Spoken Here” signs to find good vantage points.
Coastal Road Trip
For many travelers, following the coastal highway U.S. 101 along the rugged Oregon coast is the trip of a lifetime. Although the coast route counts just 360 miles, don’t try to rush this trip or squeeze it into anything less than three days. Twisting roads, slow-moving traffic, and jaw-dropping vistas are sure to slow you down, so start out by planning flexibility into your schedule.
If you’re not lucky enough to have time for a trip spanning the entire coast and need to sample just a section of the coast, it’s easy to use the I-5 freeway corridor (roughly 60-80 miles inland) as a quick north or south arterial, cutting over to the coast near your destination.
So feel free to tinker with this strict north-south itinerary. If you are flying in and out of Portland, it may make sense to leapfrog your way down the coast, catching the intervening towns on your way back north.
From Portland, drive 95 miles northwest to Astoria, a city full of history and spunky do-it-yourself charm. Visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum to learn about the area’s maritime past (and present), and check out the city’s vibrant art and dining scene. Walk the hilly streets behind downtown to view resplendent Victorian homes. Spend the night at the Cannery Pier Hotel beneath the more than four-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge, which spans the mighty Columbia.
Drive south about eight miles to Fort Clatsop National Memorial, which features a replica of the winter home Lewis and Clark used in 1805 and 1806. If the day is fair, drive another seven miles to Fort Stevens State Park to stroll along the shore and watch the Columbia River roll into the Pacific, or simply continue 22 miles to Cannon Beach, with its dramatic shoreline dominated by sea stacks. Stroll through the town’s attractive and mazelike downtown shopping district, and spend the night at the Stephanie Inn.
From Cannon Beach, drive about 10 miles south to drop through the lush temperate rainforest in Oswald West State Park, stopping for a hike to the beach or a stunning view of the ocean from 700-foot-high cliffs on the flanks of Neahkahnie Mountain. Stop for lunch in the commercial fishing village of Garibaldi, 21 miles to the south, with some of the freshest and tastiest fish-and-chips you’re likely to eat. In Tillamook (10 miles), it’s almost mandatory for visitors to stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, both for the cheese (now made off-site) and the tasty ice cream cones. Continue another 44 miles south to Lincoln City via U.S. 101, staying at the Starfish Manor Hotel.
From Lincoln City continue 12 miles south to Depoe Bay, worth a stop to admire the pocket harbor and scan for spouting whales, then take the Otter Crest scenic loop, cresting at the Cape Foulweather vista. It’s only another 12 miles to Newport, so you’ll get there before lunch—which is lucky, because you’ll want to have two meals’ worth of eating to explore the good food here. Spend the afternoon at the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the night at the Elizabeth Street Inn.
This is another short day of driving, because you’ll want to save time to hike. Proceed 24 miles south to Yachats, one of the coast’s most charming towns and gateway to Cape Perpetua, a wonderful natural area where mountains meet the sea and acres of tide pools rise above the surf. Check in at the comfortable Overleaf Lodge, and reward yourself for hiking along Cape Perpetua with dinner at one of Yachats’s excellent restaurants.
Florence is set alongside the Siuslaw River 25 miles south of Yachats, and its riverside Old Town will briefly steal your attention away from the ocean. It’s a good base for exploring the Oregon Dunes, which start just south of town and rise up to 500 feet high. Hike through this striking habitat, or go for the thrills of sandboarding or a dune buggy ride. Spend the night in Florence.
Although Coos Bay doesn’t beckon the average traveler, this city 50 miles south of Florence is the gateway to some astoundingly beautiful headlands and beaches just west. Don’t miss blustery Cape Arago and the gardens of Shore Acres State Park. Head south about 25 miles along Seven Devils Road and spend the night in Bandon. With its Old Town, beaches, and golfing at the internationally acclaimed Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, this town demands attention. Bandon is laid-back and easy to explore on foot, with more good restaurants than you’d expect.
It’s tempting to shrug off Gold Beach’s jet-boat tours up the mighty Rogue River as hokey tourist schlock, but these rides are actually pretty great, with good commentary and the chance to see bald eagles and other wildlife. It’s 55 miles from Bandon to Gold Beach; be sure to get there in time to meet your boat.
Between Gold Beach and Brookings (28 miles), the coastline is at its finest, with many pullouts offering paths down to secluded rocky beaches. Come prepared with a sweatshirt and a windbreaker and spend an afternoon exploring this stretch. In Brookings, it’s important to stop for a walk and some bird-watching at Harris Beach State Park, but it’s also worthwhile to get off the coastal strip and explore the Chetco River. Alfred A. Loeb State Park has good river access and a path through myrtle and redwood trees.
If you’re heading back to the I-5 corridor after your tour of the coast, consider dropping down to Crescent City in California, then heading inland on U.S. 199. This highway, which you pick up 22 miles south of the state border, passes through the northern edge of the California redwoods on its way to I-5 at Grants Pass, Oregon (83 miles).
Trails and Tide Pools
Coastal Oregon has a large number of high-quality state parks. There are nearly 80 state parks—19 with campgrounds—easily accessible from U.S. 101 in Oregon. Parks are located at all of the coast’s most beautiful places, making access easy and affordable. Each of these itineraries makes for a great weekend trip, or you could combine them for a weeklong adventure.
A dramatic start to a tour of the coast’s parks begins at the point where the Columbia River enters the Pacific, at the northern edge of the huge Fort Stevens State Park. Miles of bike and hiking trails lead past abandoned gunneries (this was originally a Civil War military fortification); along the beach, the skeletal remains of the Peter Iredale shipwreck are a focal point. The campground here is the state’s largest—stay here if you want showers and a kid-friendly atmosphere; for more solitude and almost no amenities except for those provided by nature, head south and inland a bit to camp at Saddle Mountain State Natural Area, at the base of a fantastic hiking trail.
Get up early and drive south past Cannon Beach to Oswald West State Park, where trails through an old-growth forest lead to Short Sands Beach, Cape Falcon, and Neahkahnie Mountain. Plan to spend the night a few miles south by the dunes at Nehalem Bay State Park, just a beach walk south of the lovely town of Manzanita.
Head south to Tillamook and pick up the Three Capes Scenic Loop. Take time to explore the parks at Cape Meares (bring the binoculars and look for puffins on the rocks here) and Oceanside. The 2.5-mile Cape Lookout Trail takes you out onto a narrow, steep-sided finger of land jutting into the sea. It’s one of the coast’s most dramatic hikes, and particularly popular during the late-March whale-watching season. South of Cape Lookout, visit Cape Kiwanda to climb up on the bluff and run down the sand dunes.
As you pass through the more developed areas of Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, and Newport, stop at some of the day-use parks along the way. Boiler Bay, a mile north of Depoe Bay, is a great place to ponder the power of the surf; at Yaquina Head, at the north end of Newport, spend a couple of hours visiting the lighthouse and exploring tide pools. Beachside, a Siuslaw National Forest campground, is between the towns of Waldport and Yachats.
Hike the trails and explore the dramatic rocky beach at Cape Perpetua, then continue south to the Oregon Dunes. Hikes in the dunes can be either random (even disorienting) explorations or can follow more defined routes. The blue-topped posts marking the John Dellenback Trail, about 10 miles south of Reedsport, guide you through a narrow band of coastal evergreen forest and 2.5 miles of 300- to 400-foot-high dunes to the beach.
Here you’ll have your choice between a number of U.S. Forest Service campgrounds between Florence and Reedsport, including those at the Waxmyrtle, Carter, and Taylor Dunes Trails, and a couple of state park spots (Tugman and Umpqua Lighthouse) south of Reedsport.
Head to the western edge of the continental United States and pitch your tent at Cape Blanco State Park. Along with the trails around the cape and down to the beach, visit the historic lighthouse.
Take your time on the trip south from Cape Blanco. The 1,756-foot-high Humbug Mountain, six miles south of Port Orford, is one of the highest mountains rising directly off the Oregon shoreline. A three-mile trail to its top yields both great views of the coastline and a chance to see wild rhododendrons 20 to 25 feet high. Rising above the rhodies and giant ferns are bigleaf maple, Port Orford cedar, and Douglas and grand firs.
In the far-south stretch between Gold Beach and Brookings are the many roadside pullouts along the 12-mile Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. Drop in for a walk along the beach, or hike the Oregon Coast Trail between a couple of coves. At the north end of Brookings, Harris Beach State Park is a bustling campground near another lovely beach.
Catch of the Day
Fishing, crabbing, clamming, and mussel-gathering isn’t just fun—it will fill your dinner plate too. There’s plenty for foragers to eat along the Oregon coast, if you know where to look for it. If apprehending your own dinner from the sea isn’t your style, then rest assured that almost every port town on the Oregon coast will have a crab shack or fish-and-chips shop where you can find exceeding fresh and tasty seafood. Often these venues are right in the harbor or on the piers. What they may lack in upscale ambience is made up for with authenticity.
All crabbers and clam diggers need a shellfish license, available at pretty much anyplace that rents crab traps ($9 Oregon residents, $26 nonresidents, $17 three-day nonresident license).
Clamming is best during a minus tide, when more beach is exposed. Equipment consists of a shovel, a bucket, and—ideally—rubber boots. It’s also helpful to have a dowel or stick to use as a probe and clam marker. Look for the clam holes, and dig toward the ocean side.
Pay attention to the signs at the entrance to the beach—they may be telling you about health precautions. Occasionally shellfish toxins mandate the closure of certain areas. These higher levels of bacteria and toxins are most likely to occur during the summer, and they are carefully monitored by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (check www.oregon.gov for details).
The mother of all salmon rivers is the Columbia. While Astoria was once one of the world’s top fishing ports, precipitous declines in salmon runs have spelled doom for its abundant salmon-packaging plants. However, there is seasonal sportfishing for most salmon runs, and tuna, halibut, and bottom-fish harvesting is strong.
Catch Your Own: Plenty of charter fishing operations are ready to take you out to where the big ones are biting.
Best Restaurant: Check the daily fresh catch at the Silver Salmon Grille or join the lines at popular Bowpicker Fish and Chips, a food cart-style operation in a boat.
Garibaldi is a scrappy little fishing village on Tillamook Bay. Crabbing is also a high point, as are local oysters.
Catch Your Own: You’ll have no trouble joining a charter boat heading out for whatever’s in season.
Best Restaurant: At the Pacific Oyster processing plant at nearby Bay City, where you can forgo foraging and just buy and eat your seafood while watching shuckers tackle a mountain of bivalves.
Oregon’s second-largest fishing fleet departs from Newport, and the bay front here is a wonderful spot to plan a fishing or whale-watching trip.
Catch Your Own: Newport offers abundant ocean fishing
- On Sale
- Jul 14, 2020
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Moon Travel