Covering 180 miles of Oregon coast travel: Astoria, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita, Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway, Garibaldi, Tillamook, Oceanside, Pacific City, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Waldport, Yachats & Florence.
A Checklist of Oregon Coast Travel Wonders
(Oregon Coast) - The western edge of the United States is usually known for the varied attractions and Hollywood scandals of California, with a fair amount of nods going to the unspoiled Pacific Northwest. One attraction growing in fame is the Oregon coast, with its untouched beaches, its scenic, twisting highway, and the distinctly noncommercial approach in many places. It's one of the last frontiers of rugged yet comfortable travel in the U.S.
This is, after all, one of the few places where the beaches are all public, yet they are among the cleanest in the world.
If you’ve never seen the ocean, or if you live in a state near Oregon, it’s high time for you to head out to the beach and immerse yourself in the state’s most glorious attributes, and a place with more than few unusual surprises lurking. Here’s a checklist of places you’ll want to visit, and encounters you’ll want to have.
Fort Stevens State Park
History really comes alive here, just south of the historical juggernaut known as Astoria. In this massive park so big it’s among the biggest in the nation, you'll find the remnants of various gunneries that were used to guard the mouth of the Columbia from the time of the Civil War until World War II. See the spot where a Japanese submarine fired at the fort. And check out the endlessly fascinating wreck of the Peter Iredale, a great sailing ship which crashed on the beach around 1910. It’s actually known as one of the most photographed shipwrecks in the world.
Seaside itself presents tons of things to do within town, but the beaches are the highlight. To find a less crowded beach, head north towards the estuaries and walk the dunes north of 12 Ave. The Estuary Walking Trail winds on for about a mile as you enter more and more unspoiled territory, eventually winding up at a slightly rocky area near the bay mouth.
Or wander the scenic pleasures of the Promenade. It was built in the 20's, first as a wooden construct, then made of concrete. These days, it stretches a little more than a mile and a half, taking you past beautiful motel fronts and charming beach cottages - many of them quite old.
Located right on the Promenade, the Seaside Aquarium is a famous bit of indoor fun. it features plenty of fish tanks, a touch tank, and a chance to feed the frolicking family of Harbor seals. Plus, the freaky skeleton of a small whale in a big window case out front is quite an eye-catcher. (503) 738-6211.
Just south of town you’ll find the easy repose of the town of Cannon Beach with its upscale vibes and striking natural features like Haystack Rock and the intricate, sometimes freaky Ecola State Park.
It’s a growing favorite among coastal regulars, who seem to be discovering its untamed and rather quirky nature in greater numbers each year – yet it remains one of the coastline’s most uncommercialized tiny burgs.
Sitting on the northern end of the Nehalem Bay, massive Neahkahnie Mountain looms over the pristine beach like a watchful parent, helping to create some of the mystical vibes that emanate from this unusually beautiful and welcoming part of the coast. There’s a couple grocery stores, a handful of restaurants and lodgings, and the rest is fir tree-canopied neighborhoods or soft sand.
Spectacular views – some of the best in Oregon – happen just above Manzanita, on the highway lookouts that are halfway to the top of the mysterious mountain.
A lighthouse, a weird natural anomaly and a few hidden trails all create a whole new world to explore in this relatively small State Park – all a short drive west of Tillamook, or about 15 minutes north of Pacific City.
Here, you'll find an abundance of incredible panoramic ocean views as seals, whales and other wildlife frolic below you.
Take the paved walkway to the Cape Meares Lighthouse, where the ocean views really explode. This stumpy specimen is probably the smallest lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, standing only 38 feet high. But size isn't important here as it stands on a 200 ft high cliff, more than making up for its own lack of height.
Inside, this 1890 beauty sports a gift shop and a wrought-iron spiral staircase which leads you to the lens - a kaleidoscopic carnival of colors when the sun hits it just right. It’s open during touristy times of the year.
Another short trail brings you to the Octopus Tree, a freaky, huge organism which has grown eight very large limbs (until one was whacked off during a storm in the early `90s). The tree was featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not for years.
From the Octopus Tree, more trails await. A trail to the highway darts off toward the road, going for about a half mile and passing several viewpoints. There are also long, meandering trails snaking down to the beach and a hidden cove at Meares (the community below the cliffs), as well as one which ends up at Meares itself.
Pacific City's Cape Kiwanda and Hidden Park
There's so much to do in this place alone, you could easily spend a day wandering the cliffs of Cape Kiwanda and not even get to hiking on the nearly endless spit. But for some incredible views of the ocean and of wild, strange rock formations, these cliffs are a must-see.
Just a mile north of the main beach access, there's an unmarked beach access which is also a stunner - actually a sort of hidden State Park. This frequently solitary spot features a large sandstone and basalt structure which protrudes out from the cliff face right up to the ocean, providing all kinds of opportunities for climbing or for hiding from the wind. There's even a tiny cave. At lower tides, its tip is exposed and large, freaky basalt columns emerge, letting you explore them.
There's parking at the bottom of the driveway off the road here, as well as a small, rough and rocky auto access to the beach.
Lincoln County's Relaxed Hustle and Bustle
About a half hour’s drive south of Pacific City you’ll encounter Lincoln City, which is seemingly the hub of all activity on the coast. Between its miles and miles of beaches, various manmade attractions, and copious shopping opportunities, the town also boasts more lodgings than any city between Seattle and San Francisco. But not all is civilized here, with its beaches still being a wondrous collection of immaculate sands and strands.
Just south of town, the terrain abruptly changes to craggy basalt rocks in the Depoe Bay area, where waves always smack the ragged, rugged shoreline with dramatic intensity, a constant show of oceanic pyrotechnics.
A few stunning high viewpoints later, the soft sands of multi-leveled Newport reveal themselves. This town is bulging full of things to occupy yourself with for days, including the ethereal charms of the historic Nye Beach neighborhood, the wild and wooly bayfront, Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Hatfield Marine Science Center, two lighthouses, one massive headland that sports more than a few natural oddities, and those miles of often untouched sand.
The beaches in this area are nothing short of some of the most stunning on the coast. From the dramatic oceanfront of the town's wild, rocky ledges to the jaw-dropping attractions nearby, there's at least a couple of day's worth of exploration lying in wait.
To start your adventure, wander the beaches in back of downtown, or just below Ocean View Drive, which travels a ways through the town. Along here, it's all rocky slabs, interspersed with tiny beaches - more like minute patches of sand that seem to interrupt the flow of basalt blobs. These ledges make for a constant, dynamic wave action, as the Pacific slams into them unforgivingly - sometimes appearing as if they are trying to get to you, but only barely kept from doing so by these rocky shelves.
Just south of Yachats, there are a host of wonders. Cape Perpetua is a small mountain that juts hundreds of feet above the surf. Just below it, the Devil's Churn offers up gargantuan wave action in anything more than slightly rough seas. And the host of beaches between Yachats and Florence are about 25 miles worth of secret spots where the life in the abundant tide pools on any of these spots far outnumbers the humans in the whole area.
For a heavy dose of surreal beauty, you may want to explore the 40-mile-long Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which begins just south of Florence. Or take a long walk on the area's pristine sandy beaches, which run for miles to the north until they dead-end at Baker Beach and the cliffs near the glorious Sea Lion Caves.
Grab a horse and hightail it for the Horse Trail System on the northern end of town. There's about 14 miles worth of them, meandering in and out of the beaches and up to Cape Mountain.
There are several lakes in the area, including Sutton Lake, which has 80 campsites for tents and RV's, miles of trails - and you may even be able to spot a black bear.