Our Oregon coast road trip took us from Astoria, a delightful fishing village in the north, to the bottom of the state where we crossed into California. The weather didn’t always cooperate, but that didn’t slow us down. Fresh sea air and ever-changing coastal views are nature at its best. The 560 km (350 miles) Oregon coast drive can be done in a day, but why?
We drove slowly, stopped often, and enjoyed every moment of our two day Oregon coast road trip.
Astoria to Cannon Beach
Distance: Astoria to Cannon Beach – 41 km (26 miles)
It didn’t take long for Astoria to enchant us. Basically, we were in love with Oregon before we started the southern drive that was our Oregon coast road trip.
Our first stop, Cannon Beach, is home to Haystack Rock, one of most iconic of the Oregon landmarks. This 72 metre (235ft) sea stack was made famous in the cult classic Gooneys. Locals will proudly claim Haystack Rock to be the world’s third-tallest “intertidal” structure.
Tour to Cannon Beach
If you don’t have a car, or don’t want to drive yourself, you can take this tour from Portland to Cannon Beach. It will bring you from your Portland hotel on an 8-hour adventure to Haystack Rock and several other stops. Its positive reviews separated it from other similar tours. Be sure to read all the details before you sign up.
Cannon Beach to Three Capes (Tillamook)
Distance: Cannon Beach to Tillamook – 64 km (40 miles)
When the rain stopped, we opened the car windows to enjoy the fresh sea air. The scenic Oregon coast drive captivated us, and it was often the unexpected that we enjoyed the most.
Three Capes (Tillamook) to Newport (and Yaquina)
Distance: Tillamook to Newport – 110 km (68 miles)
In Tillamook, allocate at least an hour for a free, self-guided tour of the Tillamook Cheese factory. Then, continue your Oregon coast road trip, visiting at least one of the three capes you will approach next.
Named for British explorer John Meares, Cape Meares offers extended coastline views on a nice day. While less than 20 minutes off the main road, we skipped it due to the overcast weather.
The sharp rocky promontory that is Cape Lookout was our next Oregon coast itinerary stop. There are several hiking options through lush coastal forest ranging from short trails to steeper excursions that require hikers to climb through and over tree roots.
We were told the highlight of a visit to Cape Kiwanda is watching the dory fishermen on their way out to sea in the very early morning (4 – 5 am) or when they return in the late afternoon. Our timing didn’t work out. However, we did have time to stop for a snack at Oregon’s only coastal brewery, The Pelican Pub. If you stop here, don’t miss their impressive wall of awards.
Newport to Yachats (Cape Perpetua)
Distance: Newport to Yachats – 39 km (24 miles)
Newport has many accommodation options and is where we spent our first night. The city is home to Devil’s Punchbowl and the Hatfield Marine Science Center. Plus, just inland is the town of Yaquina, home to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the famous Yaquina Bay Bridge, the 1871 Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, and a basalt rock beach.
We didn’t book far enough ahead, and our first choice was sold out. However, after reading the reviews, we still recommend the oceanfront Hallmark Resort. With ocean views from every room, a spa, a saltwater pool, restaurant, a great location, and a “superb” rating, it is the place to relax and unwind after a day of driving. ⇒ Click here to check availability at Hallmark Resort.
Distance: Newport to Yaquina – 8 km (5 miles)
Yachats (Cape Perpetua) to Florence
Distance: Yachats to Florence – 41 km (25 miles)
Yachats is also a good choice for an overnight stop as several of the sights here are dependant on tides. However, many of the Yachats accommodation options are more basic than those in Newport.
This is my favourite section of our Oregon coast road trip. At 245 metres (800 ft) above sea level, Cape Perpetua Headland is the Oregon coast’s highest viewpoint that can be accessed via car. Had the day been clear, we could have seen up to 60 km (37 miles) out to sea. The USDA Forest Services offers a downloadable trail guide of the area.
Here, we found Devil’s Churn, Spouting Horn in Cook’s Chasm, and Thor’s Well. In fact, this was the first place that the less than ideal weather worked in our favour. The wild weather brought crashing waves, creating dramatic seaspray explosions.
As waves travel through this narrow inlet at Devils Churn, they can throw spray several hundred feet in the air. In addition, as an incoming wave collides with the retreating previous wave, the seawater appears to churn.
Named by explorer Captain James Cook, the Spouting Horn at Cook’s Chasm is a blowhole driven by the energy of the ocean tides. Spouting Horn and nearby Thor’s Well are best seen in the two-hour window surrounding the high tide.
Florence to Coos Bay
Distance: Florence to Cape Arago State Park – 79 km (49 miles)
There are two main highlights in this section of our road trip: Heceta Head lighthouse and the Sea Lion Cave. It is the largest sea cave in the USA, currently inhabited by wild sea lions. We recommend reading the reviews and choosing your time carefully if you want to visit the sea lion cave.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
Heceta Head lighthouse was built in 1894 and is still active. In fact, the Heceta Head Lighthouse’s beam can be seen for 21 nautical miles, making it the strongest light on the Oregon coast. Open daily, it is now also a Bed and Breakfast. It is less than a kilometre walk from the car park to the lighthouse.
Coos Bay to the bottom of Oregon
Distance: Coos Bay to the state line – 182 km (113 miles)
Cape Arago State Park
Once again there were impressive views, this time with clearing skies. This is the place to see seals and sea lions for free.
After the park, we continued heading south, stopping in Bandon’s old town for coffee and a snack. How could we resist a town monikered, “one of the coolest small towns in America.” From here, we continued south, crossing into California.
Driving in Oregon
Americans drive on the right side of the road. The Oregon roads we took were all well-paved and easy to navigate. Key sites are well signposted and if you are generally comfortable travelling on your own, you will find this Oregon road trip easy.
We rented our car in Portland but could have just as easily done so in Astoria. Since we discovered RentalCars.com, they have been our go-to source for car rental. Easy to navigate online and with outstanding customer service, we have been happy with each transaction so far. Simply enter your starting and ending city, the dates, and any details you feel are important and you will be presented with a list of options including rental company, the company rating, car class, price, and more.
Where to stay on the Oregon coast
More tips for your Oregon coast road trip
- Dress in layers. The Oregon coastal weather is unpredictable and changeable.
- Pack rain gear for yourself and your camera.
- Bring binoculars.
- Watch your tides. Places like Devil’s Punchbowl in Newport are best seen at high tide (not shown above as we didn’t follow our own advice).
- Mo’s Restaurant is the best place to get seafood chowder in a bread bowl. There are several along the coast, but the original (and thought to be best) is in Newport. There are actually two in Newport, the original is across the street from the waterfront.
- Time your day for a coffee between Heceta Lighthouse and Coos Bay. In the small town of Reedsport, we discovered Ruthie’s Back to the Best Smokehouse and Delicatessen.
- Looking for more Oregon photos? Be sure to check out this stunning book by Greg Vaughn, fellow travel blogger: Photographing Oregon: A guide to the natural landmarks of Oregon.
Where to next?
Driving south, we were on the coastal side of the road. Turning out for views or random photos is safer this way. However, we actually started this leg of our adventure in Vancouver Canada, taking a bus to Seattle, and then Amtrak to Portland where we rented the car and drove to Astoria (detouring to Multnomah Falls). After completing the Oregon coast road trip section of this journey, we continued on to San Francisco, California after driving through the Redwood forests in the northern section of the state. It is one of many USA adventures we have enjoyed.
If you want to do similar, but not on your own, go with Intrepid. They offer a comparable and fascinating 12-day tour bringing guests from Seattle to San Francisco. With the Intrepid name behind the tour, you know they have paid attention to every detail. ⇒ Click here for a day by day itinerary.
Have you enjoyed an Oregon coast road trip? What are your favourite stops along the way?
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