Jagged coastal cliffs, sandy beaches, wildlife, dense forest, and spectacular scenery around every turn describe our Oregon coast road trip. We went the full length, from Astoria in the north to the California border in the south. It’s a 560 km (350 miles) journey easily driven in a day, but we recommend going slow and enjoying nature at its best.
Wind and rain made the adventure exciting, often providing dramatic ocean views and encouraging natural wonders to shoot high in the sky. But it was the fresh sea air and ever-changing coastal views that made us fall in love with the Oregon coast.
The only mistake we made was not allocating enough time. Six nights to get from Portland to San Francisco left us with only two full days on the coast. If we do it again, which I hope we do, we will allocate more time. At least an extra day for the coast, possibly a week. It’s that fabulous.
The segments of our Oregon coast road trip
Although we completed our road trip in two days, it’s easiest to present in segments found in the table of contents:
Oregon coast road trip segment 1: Astoria to Cannon Beach
Distance: Astoria to Cannon Beach – 41 km (26 miles)
Astoria is delightful, a classic American fishing village with plenty to do. We spent two nights exploring Astoria and started our Oregon coast road trip early on the third morning. By this point, we were already in love with the state.
Heading south, it doesn’t take long before nature shoots out of the sea in an impressive and iconic Oregon landmark. Haystack Rock is the dominant feature of Cannon Beach. This 72-metre (235ft) sea stack was made famous in the cult classic The Gooneys. Locals proudly proclaim Haystack Rock as the world’s third-tallest “intertidal” structure.
Alternative: Take a tour from Portland to Cannon Beach and beyond
If you are staying in Portland and want to get out and enjoy the coast, but don’t want to drive, you can take a tour.
Carefully checking out the reviews, we recommend this 7-hour tour as the perfect solution. Driving the scenic coast, the highlights include Cannon Beach, two state parks, and several key landmarks. The tour is a lovely combination of driving and short hikes, so remember to wear comfortable shoes. Best of all, it’s limited to 12 guests. It’s a small group tour travelling via luxury vehicle. Reserve your tour here.
Oregon coast road trip segment 2: Cannon Beach to Three Capes (Tillamook)
Distance: Cannon Beach to Tillamook – 64 km (40 miles)
The scenic Oregon coast drive fascinated us, and it was often the unexpected that we enjoyed the most. During this segment, you will enjoy impressive views, especially those from the Neahkahnie Overlook, which you will come to just before (to the north of) Manzanita. Here, you will be at the Oregon coast’s highest drivable point.
Also, if you have extra time on your hands, stop at Smuggler’s Cove, a more secluded surfing beach that is located inside Oswald West State Park. Getting here requires about a half-mile walk from the parking lot at the highway.
Tillamook Cheese factory
Once in Tillamook, we enjoyed a free, self-guided tour of the Tillamook Cheese factory. It may not be one of nature’s highlights, but it was a fun and tasty addition to our day. We recommend at least an hour here, more if it’s a meal stop too.
Oregon coast road trip segment 3: Three Capes to Newport and Yaquina
Distance: Tillamook to Newport – 110 km (68 miles)
Next, continue your Oregon coast road trip by visiting at least one of these three capes: Meares, Lookout, or Kiwanda or taking the 40-mile scenic Three Capes Scenic Route.
Named for British explorer John Meares, Cape Meares offers extended coastline views on a nice day. Although less than 20 minutes off of the main road, we skipped it due to the overcast rainy 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.
Although our timing didn’t work out for the fisherman, we did make 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.
Oregon coast road trip segment 4: Newport to Yachats (Cape Perpetua)
Distance: Newport to Yachats – 39 km (24 miles)
We spent the night in Newport, home to Devil’s Punchbowl and the Hatfield Marine Science Center.
Just inland from Newport 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.
Oregon coast road trip segment 5: Yachats (Cape Perpetua) to Florence
Distance: Yachats to Florence – 41 km (25 miles)
This is my favorite section of our Oregon coast road trip. At 245 meters (800 ft) above sea level, Cape Perpetua Headland is the Oregon coast’s highest viewpoint that can be accessed via car. On a clear day, one can see up to 60 km (37 miles) out to sea. The USDA Forest Services offers a free downloadable trail guide of the area.
Here, we found Devil’s Churn, Spouting Horn in Cook’s Chasm, and Thor’s Well. This was the first place that the less-than-ideal wind and rain worked in our favor as the wild weather brought crashing waves, creating dramatic seaspray explosions.
As waves travel through this narrow inlet at Devil’s 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.
Oregon coast road trip segment 6: 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, the largest sea cave in the USA. It is currently inhabited by wild sea lions. We recommend reading the reviews and choosing your visiting 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. Importantly, 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 kilometer walk from the car park to the lighthouse.
Oregon coast road trip segment 7: 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.
Look closely; in front of the large rock, those are sea lions. If you plan to visit, remember to bring your binoculars from the car before you walk to the lookout.
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.
Where to stay on the Oregon coast
We spent our first two nights in Astoria at a charming Bed and Breakfast that we found on Booking.com (but it no longer seems to exist).
Next, we spent the night in Newport. Here, our top pick is the oceanfront Hallmark Resort. With ocean views from every room, a spa, a saltwater pool, a restaurant, a great location, and a “superb” rating, it is the place to relax and unwind after a day of driving.
Yachats is also a good choice for a central coast overnight stop, as several of the sights here are dependent on tides. However, many of the Yachats accommodation options are more basic than those in Newport.
If you are into tent camping, check out these great west coast camping spots.
What you need to know when planning your Oregon coast road trip
- The Oregon roads we took were all well-paved and easy to navigate.
- Key sites are well signposted, and if you are generally comfortable traveling on your own, you will find this Oregon road trip easy to navigate.
- Pack to dress in layers. The Oregon coastal weather is unpredictable and changeable. Download our free packing light checklist when you join our mailing list.
- Bring rain gear for yourself and your camera.
- Carry binoculars.
- Check tide tables before you go and be aware of the impact of changing tides. Places like Devil’s Punchbowl in Newport are best seen at high tide.
- Mo’s Restaurant is the ideal 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.
- If you love Oregon as much as we did, check out this coffee table book by travel blogger and photographer Greg Vaughn.
Renting a car
Unless you are using your own vehicle, you will need to hire a car. We always rent from RentalCars. As an aggregator, they offer a comprehensive list of multinational and local rental car agents, ratings on specific car types, and agency ratings. Importantly, they often have lower prices than going direct.
Whether you rent from them or not, it’s still the perfect place to begin your search. Plus, if anything goes wrong, we have one central point of contact that to date has provided us with outstanding service. Start your search or reserve your rental car here.
Where to next?
By driving south, we were on the coastal side of the road. However, this Oregon road trip can be enjoyed in either direction. It is one of many USA adventures we have experienced. Or, many of our stops could be enjoyed as Portland day trips.
If heading south: cross into California
After passing through Brookings, you will leave Oregon, but you probably won’t be disappointed as you enter California. Consequently, you will rather quickly find yourself surrounded by the giant redwood forest that dominates the northwestern portion of the state. Continue south and there is plenty to see before you get to San Francisco.
When driving north, head inland after the Oregon coast road trip portion
Finally, if you drive the coastal road heading north, there is no reason to end in Astoria. From here, turn inland and enjoy Portland, making sure to allocate time to visit Multnomah Falls, only an hour beyond the city.
Above all, from Portland, there is plenty more to discover in Oregon, as the inland opportunities are reputed to parallel the beauty of the coast. For us, it will be a future adventure.
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