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Unusual International - U.S. Holiday Travel: Dramatic, Even Explosive Along Oregon's Coast

Published 11/18/23 a 8:35 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Unusual International / U.S. Holiday Travel: Dramatic, Even Explosive Along Oregon's Coast

(Oregon Coast) - Ask any local about their fave destination in the state of Oregon – that mid-range territory right above California – and you'll likely get the response “I love our beaches.” The Oregon coast is not like a lot of U.S. beaches, which are often calmer in temperament through much of the year. In winter, just as the Washington coast does, things get more tempestuous. (Photo: Shore Acres at Coos Bay, courtesy Oregon's Adventure Coast / Steven Michael)

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What coincides with the holidays can turn into an extremely dramatic season, one sprinkled with the occasional storm pushing 60 mph gusts and maybe even wave height above 20 feet. Then, there's other curiosities in geography of the place that can turn into a truly striking experience if you're traveling here from Europe, Asia or other U.S. states.

One spectacular yearly occurrence here is the King Tides, where the moon and the sun align just right to pull on tidal action here and create some of the most intense sights the Oregon coast can dredge up during the year. There's four sets this season, happening in November, December and January. See the full king tides 2023 – 24 article here.

Moreover, Oregon coast hotel prices are at their absolute lowest of the year. Whale watching is also at a peak.

Out here, holiday lights and celebrations are aplenty. But it's nothing compared to the unique, even slightly strange sights you can find during winter.

Shore Acres State Park, Coos Bay. Of all the coastline, this place has the best of both aspects of the season: one super intense Christmas light display and the only place in Oregon where waves can tower 200 feet high. Every year, from late November through the end of the year the grounds of the historic mansion here boast millions of lights, often with marine animal themes.

Then, the cliffs here provide a rigid barrier for the unusually-large waves that saunter through, causing some of these breakers to explode some 100 – 200 feet out of the deep. Why Shore Acres Waves Are So Big: Height Measurement, Geology | S. Oregon Coast

Cape Disappointment on the Washington coast can do this as well but not as often as Shore Acres on the south Oregon coast.

Courtesy Manuela Durson Fine Arts

Bandon's Eerie Face Rock. This is one freaky sight you can't unsee: a giant rocky face looking like it's trying to stay above the waterline.

Face Rock is a geologic dazzler with that unmistakable appearance, one that created some interesting indigenous people's origin stories about a princess who was frozen in stone. The beach here is also blessed with a few caves that are hard to resist wandering through, and much of this south coast beach town's oceanfront contains a myriad of striking sea stacks that resemble one curious thing after another.

It's great to explore under normal conditions, but high tides or storm conditions are just plain deadly. So watch for warnings or check tide tables.

Depoe Bay's Spouting Horn and waves / Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Spouting Horns. Oregon's coastline is often long stretches of sand but there's an abundance of rocky ledges as well. These can host what are called spouting horns: areas where tidal action is compressed so much waves escape through a small hole and fire upwards in spectacular displays.

Cook's Chasm / Oregon Coast Beach Connection

The spouting horn at Cook's Chasm near Yachats can make a wowing hissing noise as it fires off. There's two other spouting horns within Yachats at the 804 Trail and the spouter at Ocean Road. In Depoe Bay (just south of Lincoln City), this one can go insane, shooting some 20 feet into the air and soaking traffic. See Depoe Bay Spouting Horn

These don't occur often, so you'll have to rely on luck. However, the rocky ledges of both areas provide enough oceanic entertainment on their own.

Newport ghost forest / Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Ghost Forests and Mysterious Red Towers. In winter, sand levels get scoured out by tidal action and that can reveal some amazing sights. Among them are ghost forests – the stump-like remnants of trees anywhere from 2,000 to 7,000 years old. Neskowin has them showing mostly year-round, and these are wonderfully craggy and encrusted, giving them a lot more character. But the older ones are rarely found, only occasionally revealed at Newport's Moolack Beach, Pacific City's McPhillips Beach, Arch Cape and Hug Point near Cannon Beach, Tillicum Beach near Yachats, and there's some visible year-round at Coos Bay's Sunset Bay that are from the Viking age. [See Coos Bay ghost forests]

Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Even wilder but existing only for a short time are mysterious “red towers.” These are revealed when sand levels get super low, showing these concretions of oxidized iron elements that are formed beneath. They disappear in days, however, yet very much worth checking for if a big storm has just pummeled through. They're mostly seen at Hug Point and Arch Cape, but can be found anywhere if sand levels get low enough.

Sneaker Waves and Stormwatching Warnings. Be extremely alert to any sneaker wave warnings on this coastline, which most who come here from other states or countries are not used to.

Stormwatching is one of the state's true treasures, but it must be done safely, at a great distance from the wave action.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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