DESTINATIONS

Three days on the Oregon coast: a road trip north to south

There is a reason why people say “the Oregon Coast” in such a dreamy voice. The Oregon Coast is a pretty dreamy place. Given that it is not too far from Idaho, many people from my home state like to vacation there. My family was not one of them unfortunately. It was not until recently that I finally got to see what all the fuss is about.

I recently shared tips on how to make a work trip more enjoyable. Well, it was actually a work trip that brought me to the Oregon Coast for the first time. I had to attend a conference in Portland and I decided that afterwards, I would take some time and see what the coast had to offer.

Planning for the Oregon Coast

The first thing I did was talk to an expert—someone who knew the lay of the land. After all, Oregon has 363 miles of coastline. I needed to know what should go on my must-see list. Lucky for me, I work with someone who knows Oregon and its coast very well (she is a former local). She laid out a very nice itinerary for me filled with suggestions about what to see and, perhaps more importantly, what not to see. I printed it out and followed her suggestions as I moved on down the coastline.

My visit was in October and it was beautiful. I heard the traffic can be bad in the summer; but in October, I experienced very little traffic and almost perfect weather. I know it rains a lot in Oregon (it must because everything is so green), but it did not rain at all while I was there. I am not sure if I was lucky, or if October is the time to go. Either way, my timing was impeccable.

Day 1: 137 Miles

Astoria

After my conference ended, I took the train to the airport and picked up a rental car. Then I headed north. Up first was Astoria. Most of us are familiar with the town because Goonies was filmed there. It is a cute town and fun to walk around. I made sure to check out the Astoria Tower and climb to the top. The views were great!

Astoria Tower blue skies Oregon Coast vacation travel
The views from Astoria Tower are not to be missed.

Cannon Beach

Per my suggested itinerary, I avoided Seaside. I do not like touristy places anyway and when my coworker said it was a “tourist-trap hell-hole,” I knew I could do without. (Sorry to anyone who loves Seaside.) Instead, I stopped at Cannon Beach. My coworker said it was also a tourist trap, but less of a hell-hole. I did not stay long, but I wanted to see Haystack Rock. Luckily, I also had fairly empty beaches and blue skies.

Haystack Rock Cannon Beach Oregon Coast vacation travel
Haystack Rock.

The hardest part about taking a road trip like this is the desire to look out the window. I had to stop often in order to gaze in wonder at the beauty around me. Luckily, there are plenty of places to pull off the road and take a picture. There are also places to get out and hike around. My coworker recommended a great little hike just north of Manzanita called Neahkahnie Mountain. I attempted to hike that, but I actually found a different trail. I did not realize it until after I finished my hike, got back in my car and drove past the trail head for Neahkahnie Mountain. Oh well. No idea which trail I hiked, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I imagine all the hiking trails are nice. And the views are fantastic.

Oregon Coast vacation travel
Man, these views!

Manzanita

After my hike, I rolled into Manzanita, my stop for the night. The town was small, but very cute and there are a lot of little vacation houses for rent. I stayed in a hotel right on the beach. After picking up some dinner from Marzano’s, I settled in to watch the sunset. It did not disappoint.

sunset Manzanita Oregon Coast vacation travel
Sunset at Manzanita, Oregon.

The next morning, I woke with the sun to look for sand dollars. It was worth the early wake-up call (and I rarely feel that way). Sand dollars were plentiful, but it would have been worth it even if I had not seen any. An almost empty beach coupled with a beautiful sunrise gave me a sense that this is what life on the Oregon coast is all about.

Day 2: 135 miles

Tillamook

Back on the road, I headed toward Tillamook. My coworker said that Tillamook is classic Oregon coast, “a little grimy and a little quirky.” The big draw is the Tillamook Cheese Factory. You can tour it for free and then enjoy some free cheese curds. It is definitely worth a stop. And instead of cheese curds, I went for ice cream….at 10:30 a.m.! I just couldn’t resist. Tillamook is a good-sized town (with a Safeway) so it makes a good place to stock up on provisions other than ice cream.

Cape Meares

Since the road was open, I headed to Cape Meares next. The drive was pretty and I got to check out the lighthouse and octopus tree. This was a great place to walk around, stretch my legs and get some photos.

Octopus Tree Oregon Coast vacation travel
Octopus Tree in Oregon.

Oceanside

Just south of Cape Meares is Oceanside. If ever I move to Oregon, Oceanside will be my new home. The little town is super cute, has easy beach access and neat sea stacks. There is also a tunnel through the headland at the north end of the beach and the views on the other side are stunning! Not to mention that walking through a tunnel is just plain fun. I was hesitant to get back on the road and I considered staying in Oceanside forever. But alas, the call to see more eventually propelled me on down the road.

Oregon Coast vacation travel tunnel ocean
Tunnels are fun!

Pacific City

Gorgeous views to the right were now my new norm. I stopped in Pacific City for lunch at the Pelican Brewing Company. This was another suggestion from my coworker since it boasts good food and even better views of the sea stack and surfers. It was also good timing since I was hungry for lunch.

After walking around and getting some sand on my feet, I was rejuvenated and ready to see more. I passed on through Lincoln City and did not bother stopping. Even if my coworker had not told me it was not worth a stop, I would have been able to tell (and again, I apologize if this is your favorite place to visit in Oregon). It was too touristy and even a little tacky. Not at all like the rest of the Oregon coast I was coming to know. So I made tracks and headed south.

Depoe Bay

Up next was Depoe Bay. I stopped, hoping to see the whales, which I did, and walk around, which I didn’t. It was pretty busy for whatever reason, so I decided to forgo walking around got back on the road. The city of Newport was just down the road anyway.

Newport

Newport is a bit of a “big city” for the Oregon Coast. However, main street is adorable with good places to eat and fun shops to poke around in. I tried the chowder at Mo’s and then watched the seals sun themselves near the docks—all things I could never do in Idaho, making it a memorable experience.

Yachats

My last stop of the day was Yachats. This town is a favorite of my coworker so I opted to stay the night. The town is not big, but it has great restaurants and the beach is loaded with agates. I found the tide pools particularly fun to explore. And after dinner, I enjoyed another great sunset—they appear to be a staple on the Oregon Coast.

Yachats Oregon Coast vacation travel tide pools
The tide pools at Yachats were fun to explore.

Day 3: 197 miles

The next morning, I awoke knowing it was my last day to explore the Oregon Coast. So I started early and got on the road. I was not very far along before I just had to get out and walk along the beach. With no one around, it was a great time to explore and look for agates.

Oregon Coast vacation travel ocean
Early morning explorations on the beach.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

My first official stop was the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Per the ush, the views and photo ops were great. It was during this stop that I saw some seals floating around in the water, which made me excited for my next official stop: the Sea Lion Caves. My coworker described this must-see like this: “the Sea Lion Caves are so, so strange, and weird, and wonderful. It’s a giant, stinky sea cave loaded with sea lions. It is noisy, and kitchy, and kind of weirdly worth it. It’s kind of expensive for a ticket, but one of those ‘must-do’ Oregon coast things.” I was ready! Unfortunately, I was there at the wrong time of year and there were no sea lions in the caves. It was a bit of a disappointment, but I will just have to go back and visit it another time.

Florence

Further south was Florence and its famous dunes. I liked Florence. There was a cute harbor with lots of shops and things to see. But sadly, it signaled the end my journey down the coast. I headed inland at that point, stopping briefly in Eugene before arriving back in Portland.

Florence Oregon Coast vacation travel ocean
A view of the dunes near Florence, Oregon.

Overall, my road trip down the coast was a delight. I know there is still a lot more to see in both Oregon and its coast, but I feel like I got to see a good chunk of it on this first voyage. The best part is that I finally understand why people talk about the Oregon coast in such a dreamy voice.

Conclusion

The Oregon coast is lovely. Even if you only have a couple of days to explore it, go!

Oregon Coast vacation travel road trip
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