Road Trip: 10 Must-See Spots Along the Oregon Coast

This coastal tour brings you through small towns and stunning beaches

By Aimee Heckel,

View along Oregon's Highway 101 — Photo courtesy of Kirt Edblom via Flickr

When it comes to a West Coast road trip, California’s Pacific Coast Highway is an obvious go-to. But the northern neighbor, Oregon, also has a coastal highway with equally as breathtaking views.

Plus, there’s something charming about this 100 percent public coast lined with small towns, historical sites, great trails and fun restaurants. After all, it wouldn’t be Oregon without some quirkiness.

Just hop on U.S. Highway 101 and cruise down the coast. There are endless marvels to explore. Here are our favorite 10 things to see along Oregon’s 101.

A defunct cannery in Astoria, Oregon — Photo courtesy of Luke Detwiler via Flickr

1. Astoria

Start your trip southward here, near the mouth of the Columbia River. Astoria is a history buff’s playground, with all kinds of great museums and historical landmarks, including shipwreck remains. Make sure you see the famous Astoria Column and the Garden of Surging Waves. Hop into the “Old 300” Riverfront Trolly, built in 1913. Did we mention Kindergarten Cop with Arnold Schwarzenegger was filmed here? Yeah, it's that Astoria. 

Cannon Beach is one of Oregon's most beautiful — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Diana Robinson

2. Cannon Beach

This is our personal favorite stretch of sand in Oregon, and it’s one of the most popular, too. Watch birds, go surfing, go hiking, watch for whales, ride horses on the beach or just enjoy the stunning views. Cannon Beach has a variety of honors, including being named one of the world’s 100 most beautiful places and one of the nation’s 100 best art towns. For another Hollywood claim to fame, Goonies was filmed around here.

3. Camp 18

On the way to Cannon Beach in Elsie is a charming, log-cabin-style restaurant and museum called Camp 18. Camp 18 is best known for its mega cinnamon rolls the size of your head. The restaurant goes all out around the holidays, which feel extra homey in the rustic dining room. A lesser-known fun fact: The Camp 18 structure boasts the largest “ridgepole” in the nation, at 85-feet-tall and weighing 25 tons. Only in Oregon.

Ecola State Park — Photo courtesy of Ralph Arvesen via Flickr

4. Indian Beach Trail

Ecola State Park is beloved along Oregon’s coast, but our favorite spot at the park is the hidden gem, Indian Beach Trail. The views here are so beyond breathtaking they feel otherworldly. It’s not far from Cannon Beach, so you could wrap this trail into the same day, or bring a picnic and spend quality time watching the waves crash in. Bring a camera; you may see bald eagles and gray whales.

5. Tillamook Cheese Factory

An hour and 20 minutes past Cannon Beach is one of the Oregon coast’s top attractions, the famous cheese factory that draws more than a million visitors a year. Take a self-guided tour of this farmer-owned, dairy co-op and save room for a snack, or two. You can’t leave without visiting the Creamery Cafe, fudge counter or ice cream counter.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse — Photo courtesy of Doug Kerr via Flickr

6. Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Oregon’s tallest lighthouse stands proudly at 93 feet tall in Newport, in the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. This historic lighthouse has roots back to 1873. Learn more about the region at the visitor center or by chatting with the rangers, and expect to see wildlife, from harbor seals, seabirds in the warmer months and migrating gray whales.

 

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area — Photo courtesy of Cyril Fluck via Flickr

7. Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

There’s nowhere quite like this on Earth. This warm, hilly beach is embraced by water on two sides: the ocean and lakes. These are mega-dunes, covering nearly 40 miles, some stretching as high as 500 feet above the ocean. In fact, this area is the biggest dune region in North America. This means plenty of hiking, ATV riding and fun. The sand dunes are our favorite place to camp along the coast. 

8. Coos Bay

In juxtaposition to the windswept dunes, Coos Bay is the largest city on Oregon’s coast. As the middle point between Seattle and San Francisco, Coos Bay is a popular tourist stop. Downtown, you can find top-notch art at the museum, and in the summer, enjoy the Oregon Coast Music Festival. Our favorite place to relax is Mingus Park’s arboretum and beautiful oriental flower garden. Take pictures by the dramatic fountains.

9. Bandon

Now for the small-town charm. Bandon, at the mouth of the Coquille River, is the perfect town to slowly explore. Stroll the boardwalk, indulge in fresh seafood (or take it to go for a picnic on the sand) and spend as much time as possible on these gorgeous beaches, dotted by oversized rocks. Old town Bandon, with a variety of gift shops, is a great place to pick up your Oregon coast road trip souvenir.

10. Battle Rock Beach

History buffs will appreciate this region for the historic battle that occurred here between American Indians and settlers. Surfers will love the waves. Other visitors hike the hills, browse the shops and galleries and awe at the views. It’s hard to dispute that Battle Rock Park, with its sea stacks and black sand, offers one of the most incredible views on the coast. If you can schedule a trip here for the Fourth of July, the fireworks display is out of this world.