Towering Trees, Amazing Beaches, Rocky Shorelines
The entire Pacific Northwest is near paradise if you are a fan of the outdoors. It’s beauty has always called to me. Spread across it you will find exquisite beaches, snow covered mountains, dozens of rivers and lakes, not to mention hundreds of state and national parks. The waterways and surrounding snowy mountain ranges of Washington have always been a draw, but the Oregon Coast along the famous Highway 101 may be my favorite.
The 360 mile coast (give or take a few miles) is home to around seventy of the parks. Starting with the Columbia river that divides Oregon and Washington, a dozen or so rivers find their way to the ocean along this stretch of the Pacific coast. Tall pines, many leaning from the wind, grow down the mountains and cliffs toward the sea.
There are nine lighthouses in Oregon alone, with three more very near the borders on the California and Washington sides. And the shoreline holds many well known and photographed rock formations, some looking nearly prehistoric to me.
I’m a recent transplant from San Diego County, California, though I’d been visiting my parents here for many years. I’d always wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest, and Oregon has lived up to my expectations. I’m happy here in the cooler climate, slower pace, and the natural beauty. I love the thick forests, the trails everywhere, the loud ocean–and the rain!
To me the coastal climate is perfect, staying cool nearly all summer and providing some lovely cold wintery days in that season.
The small town atmosphere of most areas suits me too, especially since bigger cities are within a couple of hours drive to most of the smaller ones.You can fish from the river’s edge for salmon and more, ocean fish, crab, hunt, kayak, surf (be sure to bring the wetsuit), hike one of the many amazing trails up and down the coast (including the Pacific Trail, of course), and visit waterfalls while you are at it.
You’ll want to make a lot of stops for photographs. The landscape is stunning and not to be missed.
Do see Portland while you are there!
It deserves it’s great reputation and you can walk it.
If you fly in for a visit, chances are good you will come in to Portland. If so, I hope you will stay downtown for a night or two. I resisted the first time, since I’m not a fan or big cities, but Portland is easy to love and easy to navigate.
Bring shoes you can walk in though! You can walk everywhere there, and most people seem to. MAX, the mass transit system stops throughout downtown and connects the city to the airport and outlying areas. The street are busy with people.
Restaurants can be found on nearly every street, plus there’s a large and fun selection of the popular food trucks too. Department stores, drug stores, Whole Foods stores, Starbucks are all close by no matter where you seem to be.
Portland is well known for its dining variety, shopping, and Powell’s book store–probably one of the largest book stores anywhere, occupying a full city block. Also nice to know is that the city is quite pet friendly!
Nearby are the Japanese Gardens, which are beautiful in any season. Or head east a few miles and you are near Mount Hood, lots of wineries, and more of the many waterfalls. The Columbia River itself is interesting to see with its many bridges, beautiful views and ships of all sizes.
From Portland the drive to the coast takes about two hours. Then you drive into Astoria, a very sweet little town. Yes, it is where they filmed Goonies. I think Kindergarten Cop may have been filmed there too. Don’t miss the Maritime Museum there.
Astoria is home of the longest bridges anywhere, running over four miles, close to the water level! It’s beautiful to see and fun to watch when a cargo ship comes through. Drive across it. You’ll be in Washington.
The Northern Coast of Oregon
Cruising down the coast on Highway 101
You will find plenty of little towns dotting the map driving down Highway 101. Most of the towns are easy walks while you browse books, gifts, clothes, or antiques while sipping coffee purchased in one of the quaint stores. Each town is a little different, each with so many interesting things to do and a variety of local restaurants for your dining enjoyment. Be sure to sample a glass of wine from one of the many Oregon wineries when you stop.
One of my favorite things about the coast, besides the climate, is amount of open space and the many parks that allow you to enjoy the beauty of nature. It is less densely populated than so many coastal areas.
Seaside is a popular summer destination in Northern Oregon, with a charming downtown area to walk and visit. It’s long beach reminds me of San Diego, but not the temperatures! It can be very windy and is usually quite a bit chillier!
Cannon Beach may be the most well known though, especially when you see photos of Haystack Rock, a 230-plus foot tall rock that sits right on the beach. It’s home to an amazing number of nesting birds including puffins in season.
Birding is another popular activity along the coast, not just in Cannon Beach, so you will want to bring binoculars along for the trip. There are lots of ‘hot spots’ you can stop at for just that purpose.
There is so much to see and do along the highway. Little fishing communities (with delicious fresh fish and clam chowder), interesting businesses like the old fashioned country stores and the Tillamook Cheese Factory (including samples and ice cream).
A Favorite Mile-by-Mile Guidebook for the Coast
I love mile-by-mile guides for any trip. It makes it so much easier to find everything and helps not miss anything. There is so much to see that this is an essential!
The Central Oregon Coast
A stay in Newport is a must
The Newport area is central to a lot of quick trips, making it a great place to spend a few days. There is the beautiful Yaquina Bay (and its lovely bridge to photograph), the Bayfront, which is an interesting area to wander between fishing businesses, restaurants, and gift shops.
There are several beachfront hotels with the incredible views of the ocean and the wide, deep beach. You can easily walk to one of the many restaurants there for some locally caught fish, vegetarian dishes, pasta and more.
It’s harbor in the bay is busy with fishing boats going in and out, passing under the huge bridge that spans it. It’s also the home of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, an interesting and colorful look at the variety found in the area.
Many of the beaches here, as in much of Oregon, are a bit of a downhill walk or climb, but well worth the trip. Part of its beauty is that it sits below coastal cliffs and hills that go to its edge. Once you get down to the beach you will usually find the incredible rock formations, tidal pools, and way too many photo ops.
Be sure to look for star fish and seals on the rocks near shore–especially at low tide. You may find starfish as colorful as the ones at the Aquarium. There is a huge variety.Plan some time to go a little south to the Sea Lion Caves and the Heceta Head Lighthouse too.
The Southern Coast of Oregon
It just gets more beautiful
There are so many other little stops along the way South on the 101 Coast Highway, including Yachats, Florence, and Coos Bay. So many spots on the coast really deserve lens of their own, they are so picturesque and have such interesting histories. But for this lens, we’ll head down to Bandon by the Sea.
I think Bandon’s beach must be one of the most spectacular to see and enjoy. The town itself has character, from the walkable, downtown area, to the harbor filled with fishing boats. The local restaurants, and businesses like Face Rock Creamery and the Mercantile offer unique experiences.
The Bandon Marsh Wildlife Refuge is one of the most popular ‘hot spots’ for birding and the Coquille River Lighthouse is just north of town.
But the beach is what I found irresistible. The shoreline is wonderful there, with Face Rock, and a large variety of others including elephant rock, table rock, cat rock, and the sea stacks. Walk down to the beach to look for starfish and tide pools, but make sure you go to the viewpoint above to get some magnificent shots of the rocks and the coast.
Between Bandon and Brookings there are some great hiking trails too, of varying degrees of difficulty. You will also find lots of view points and park sites to pull off to see the craggy coastline.
The Brookings-Harbor area is the last town before the California border, just six miles above it actually. Fishing is definitely a big part of the economy there, with deep sea fishing, salmon running up the river, and a large crabbing fleet. It’s a site to see all of the crab traps stacked and lined up along the harbor.
The rivers and trails also offer miles of enjoyment. The Smith River, the Winchuck, the Chetco, and the Pistol River are all within a few miles. You can play in the River or have a picnic. The Smith River, which meanders through California and Oregon near the border also has a number of hiking trails that take you deep into the thick dark forest with giant redwoods.
And then there is Harris Beach, another beautiful beach–with few people on it most of the year–with huge rocks, tidal pools, a forested campground, and still more hiking paths. It’s also a good location to whale watch some times of the year.
Oregon is beautiful wherever you go in the state! Many areas are destination vacations during several seasons.
Summers are always bring people to the coast to cool off from the much warmer climates inland. Yet the coast draws fisherman, bicyclists, campers, and hikers all year round.
Winters bring the skiers, snowboarders and other winter activity enthusiasts to the nearby mountains. The many lakes are also popular year round for fishing, boating, and swimming.
Add to that several fun and active college towns and Portland and you can easily spend weeks here touring. I hope you will. See if you love it as much as I do.
To Read More about The Oregon Coast
- A Mile By Mile Travel Guide for The Oregon Coast
An excellent guide to have with you as you travel along Oregon’s Highway 101. The beautiful coast has so much to see. Allow this book to show you what’s in store so you won’t miss a thing.
- Exploring Bandon, on the Oregon Coast
If you are planning a visit to Oregon, you won’t want to miss the Oregon Coast. Bandon by the Sea may be the most beautiful beach you will visit here. A photographer’s paradise everyone will enjoy.
The Camera I Wish I’d Had
This has been recommended as one of the best point and shoot camera for quality photos. It would have been a great choice for this trip, to adjust lighting and all, since the weather and brightness varied so much.
Bring a Pair of Binoculars
Don’t be caught without a pair of these. For the birds, of course. But seals frolic off show, and some times of the year you can see whales.
June 8, 2015
Lucky you to live in Oregon. WE camped at Harris Beach once a few decades ago, and I and the kids camped at Sunset Beach when it was almost deserted. I’d love to go back.
June 8, 2015
Harris Beach is where I usually walk. Going through the campground always makes me happy! I hope you do come back. Course, we used to spend a lot of time going through Paso Robles on the way to Lake Nacimiento too! The town is charming, as I recall.