Best Stops While Driving the Oregon Coast
From catching the sunrise in Ecola State Park to racing ATVs over the Umpqua Dunes, you’ll discover plenty of memorable experiences while driving along the Oregon Coast. If you’re putting together some adventurous itineraries to tackle the Oregon Coast, check out this guide to discover the best stops along the way.
What to Eat
The Oregon Coast is bursting with eclectic restaurants, and hungry travelers can sample classic Pacific Northwest fare in a repurposed train station, dig into casual Caribbean cuisine on Cannon Beach, or enjoy a picnic of razor clams and Pinot Noir on the windswept sands of Brookings.
One of the best stops for road-tripping foodies is Drina Daisy, a warm, family-run restaurant occupying a circa-1924 building in Astoria’s historic Downtown. Not only is their hearty Bosnian comfort food the perfect fuel for a day of sightseeing, you can walk off dinner with a breezy stroll along the riverfront.
For a spicy taste of the Caribbean, pull up to a plate of jerk chicken at Castaway’s, a funky Cannon Beach restaurant with a convivial atmosphere, a colorful wine bar, and some of the best food on the Oregon Coast. Top off your meal with some mango flambé and a pineapple margarita, before popping into the galleries and shops downtown. If you prefer a locavore menu, then amble on over to Wayfarer, a rustic-chic restaurant offering locally caught Chinook salmon, an award-winning whiskey lounge, and stunning ocean views.
About 160 miles south of Canon Beach, at the mouth of the Siuslaw River, is the quaint town of Florence, best known for its sea lions, kitschy shops, and art deco bridge. No visit to Florence would be complete without sampling their regional cuisine, though, and the Waterfront Depot serves some unforgettable Pacific Northwest dishes. Try the grilled scallops, and then toast to your trip along the Oregon Coast with a glass of albarino.
What to See
Whether you’re an outdoorsy type looking to kick off your sandals and dip a toe in the salty surf, or an urban explorer searching for the perfect Instagram spot in the historic cities, you’ll find plenty of things to see on the Oregon Coast.
Astoria is less than 100 miles from Portland, and shares some of the same artsy vibes as The City of Roses, but without the bustle and buzz: think of it as its laid-back, blue-collar brother. Astoria was the Pacific Coast’s first permanent US settlement, and the history-minded visitor will find plenty to appreciate in its museums and shipwrecks. Cinephiles, meanwhile, can take a tour of Astoria locations featured in The Goonies – Mikey Walsh’s famous house is at 368 38th St – while beer lovers will quickly discover why it’s considered one of the country’s must-visit destinations for sampling craft brews. An easy way to see Astoria is with a trip on the old-timey trolley, but make sure not to miss the iconic Astoria Column, a 125-foot-tall tower inspired by Trajan’s Column in Rome.
The Oregon Coast also has its share of unique, only-in-America attractions; pick up some t-shirts and fudge at the Tillamook Creamery, catch the stunning 4th of July fireworks on Battle Rock Beach, plan a road trip taking in the Oregon Coast’s 11 lighthouses, watch the Roosevelt elk along Route 38, and catch the buzz at the annual Chainsaw Carving Championship: a trip along the Oregon Coast is never dull.
Cannon Beach is also a must-see spot for the coastal explorer, although it’s not exactly an off-the-beaten-path locale, having been named one of the world’s 100 most beautiful places by National Geographic. Its dramatic rock formations, sun-swept stretches of sand, and jaw-dropping sunsets make it a magnet for photographers. Stop by to take that perfect Instagram shot, and make sure not to miss Haystack Rock, one of the largest intertidal structures in the world.
What to Do
The Oregon Coast is a paradise for on-the-go adventurers and leisure seekers alike, so when you’re planning what to do, it’s helpful to remember that sometimes the best activities while on the Oregon Coast involve just kicking back and relaxing. If your idea of the perfect road trip is cruising down U.S. Highway 101 with the windows down, the sun in your face, and a rocking band waiting for you at the other end, then make a pit stop at Coos Bay, an artsy town that hosts the Oregon Coast Music Festival.
If you prefer to put the pedal to the metal, then hit the Oregon Dunes National Recreation area for a bit of ATV racing. Its otherworldly landscape inspired Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune, and you can hike amongst the sky-high massifs, take a buggy tour, search for bald eagles and osprey, and hunt for wild mushrooms.
Travelers wanting to explore the Oregon Coast of the popular imagination – think white-capped waves, jagged bluffs, and lonely beaches – should take a drive along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, a photogenic stretch of land running between Gold Beach and Brookings. Catch the sunset at the Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint, pack a picnic to Whaleshead Beach, and snap some pics of stunning Arch Rock.
The coast also offers plenty of opportunities to catch a wave, and Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City hosts an annual surfing competition. After hanging 10, tip back some cold ones at the Pelican Brewing Company, a popular beachside brewery offering award-winning beers.
When to Go
When you’re considering the best time to visit the Oregon Coast, it’s important to remember that the weather is notoriously unpredictable. While summer temperatures usually top out in the 60s and 70s, making the coast the coldest area of the state, the winters can be surprisingly mild and sunny, making it one of the state’s more pleasant regions. And planning when to drive the Oregon Coast can be even trickier, as the summer days are often shrouded in marine fog, obscuring the famous seaside panoramas that draw so many road-trippers.
A general rule of thumb in that the further south you get, the more moderate and predictable the weather will be, but it’s a good idea to always check the weather forecast before settling on an itinerary. Summer draws the most visitors, although “crowded” isn’t a word you’d necessarily apply to the Oregon Coast, even when flocks of vacationers descend on the beaches and the riverbanks, while winter is the best season for whale watching.
Visitors planning a late spring visit will discover dramatic skies, stunning sunsets, and a post-spring-break atmosphere that finds the Oregon Coast at its most tranquil. It’s also a great time to look for discounts on lodging, as it’s one of the less crowded times of year.
Top 3 must-see stops along the way
The Oregon Coast offers a stunning 363-mile stretch of rugged beaches, quaint towns, Instagram-worthy vistas, and otherworldly state parks. If you’re planning on driving along the Oregon Coast, then check out this guide to creating the ideal itinerary, chowing down at the can’t-miss restaurants, and finding the best stops along the way.
When you’re trying to figure out the best time to visit the Oregon Coast, remember that the weather can be quite unreliable, with summers being moderate – highs usually top out in the 60s – and the days occasionally shrouded in the legendary Pacific mist. It’s an atmospheric time to hit the road if you don’t mind the occasional downpour, but perhaps not as pleasant as September through October, when the weather is usually on its best behavior, if still a bit temperamental. Summer is the busiest time, as weekend crowds flock to the beaches and rivers, while the best hotel deals can usually be found between late fall and early spring.
If you’ve already figured out when to drive the Oregon Coast, but are wondering how long a road trip might take, the Coast’s main attractions can be explored in 3 days, but 5 to 7 days is the ideal time frame for a visit. And when you’re considering what to take on a road trip, make sure to pack an umbrella, some binoculars for whale watching, and some protective gear for your camera, but the most important thing to bring is a sense of wonder and adventure. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for what to see, the best stops, and the best food on the Oregon Coast.
Even if you’ve never been to Astoria, you’ve probably laid eyes on it. Astoria is one of the country’s most photographed cities – it’s been called “Hollywood North” – and punches far above its weight when it comes to movie magic. Stop by to visit the Oregon Film Museum, head to the Hammond Marina to see where Free Willy found liberation, check out the Astoria Column from Kindergarten Cop, and pop by Number Five’s house from Short Circuit. Best of all, the town even has its own annual Goonies Day, so drop by on June 7th to celebrate the beloved film and visit its most iconic locations.
Foodies, meanwhile, will find plenty to enjoy in Astoria’s laid-back dining scene, including artisanal breads at the Blue Scorcher Café, Bosnian comfort food at Drina Daisy, French custard-style ice cream at Frite & Scoop, and delectable crab cakes at Clemente’s Café & Public House. If you’re looking for accommodations in the middle of the action, check out the Commodore Hotel, a local landmark within walking distance of the Astoria Riverfront Trolley, or book a stay at the Astoria Riverwalk Inn, a breezy property with a marina and free loaner bikes.
Astoria’s quaint, blue-collar vibe and picturesque location on the Columbia River make it a great spot for starting a road trip on the Oregon Coast.
2. Ecola State Park/Cannon Beach
Just 25 miles south of Astoria, Ecola State Park is one of the Coast’s premier hiking spots, as well as a great place to pack a picnic, take some snapshots of the historic Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, and hop on a surfboard at Indian Beach. The park’s also a huge draw for wildlife lovers, as the winter months find visitors flocking to view nearly 20,000 gray whales make their annual migration to Mexico, and the park hosts whale watching weeks in December and March. Bird watchers, meanwhile, can find Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and owls.
Less than 2 miles from Ecola State Park you’ll find Cannon Beach, a cozy town bursting with charming clapboard houses, old-timey shops, and miles of beaches, making it the perfect place for a pit stop when driving the Oregon Coast. Grab a room at the Inn at Cannon Beach or the Surfsand Resort, and then head out for some smoked salmon jerky and clam chowder at the Ecola Seafood Restaurant and Market.
It’s easy to fall into the gentle pace of town life – think beachside yoga, laid-back cafes, salt-water taffy shops, and the soothing sounds of seabirds – but Cannon Beach also offers plenty of activities. Check out the seasonal art workshops and concerts, as well as annual events such as the North Coast Culinary Fest, the Cannon Beach Fat Bike Festival, and the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest.
3. Florence/The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
After soaking up Cannon Beach’s artsy, intimate atmosphere, jump back in the car and head 150 miles south to Florence, a lively small city on the banks of the Siuslaw River. Florence is renowned for its historic Old Town, where visitors can peruse the craft shops, pick up a beach read at Old Town Books & Country Gifts, watch the boats bob in the harbor, and pull up to the Waterfront Depot for some of the best food on the Oregon Coast.
Sports enthusiasts will get a kick out of kayaking the Siuslaw Water Trail and shredding the sandy slopes at Sand Master Park, the world’s first sandboarding park, while families can get up close and personal with the wildlife at Sea Lion Caves, America’s largest sea cave. If you’re looking for accommodation right on the beach, one of the best stops is the Driftwood Shores Resort and Conference Center, an oceanfront property with a kids’ pool and family-sized quarters.
No matter how many miles you’ve travelled, you’ve probably never seen anything like Florence’s Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, North America’s largest expanse of coastal sand dunes. The epic, wind-sculpted landscape inspired Frank Herbert’s Dune, and not only provides a great backdrop for some one-of-a-kind vacation photos, but offers horseback riding, camping, and hiking. Rent an OHV (off-highway vehicle) to explore the vast expanses via motorcycles, quads, dune buggies, or 4x4s, and then hit the lakes and ponds to cool off with a bit of scuba diving and canoeing.
If your journey has stoked your love for the Coast and you want to explore further, then hop on the Samuel H Boardman Scenic Corridor, one of the nation’s most picturesque routes, and head to Brookings to explore the food trail, play a few rounds on the golf courses, and join in on the Saturday Artwalks and the annual Oktoberfest.
The area’s packed with so many unforgettable sights, welcoming towns, and unique activities, that when people ask you what’s the best thing to see on the Oregon Coast, you can answer ‘everything’. Plan your Oregon Coast road trip and book your accommodations through Expedia today!
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