Driving Up the Oregon Coast Takes a Backseat to No One


The twists and turns of the Oregon coastline are more than worth the drive. (Photo: Corbis)

When most people think “Pacific Coast Highway,” they typically think of the Pacific Coast Highway 1 along the central and Southern California coastline. And it’s for good reason, thanks to Big Sur’s dramatic views and sweeping landscape. However, that’s not the only scenic coastal drive on the West Coast. Hugging the Oregon coastline is Highway 101, which also features beautiful coastal views and is equally deserving of a Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

While Highway 101 runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean (and Highway 1, the PCH) in California, it’s really not until Eureka, near the California-Oregon border, that it turns further west and runs up the coastline. Similar to California’s, the Oregon coast is split into the south, central, and north.


Patterns caused by wind at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. (Photo: Corbis)

Many of the best stops are in central and north Oregon, while the southern portion is where you see more natural habitat and unobstructed views of the ocean. One of the unique places on the south Oregon coast along Highway 101 is Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which stretches for miles and at times feels like being out in the Sahara until you come across a sandy dune that looks out over the ocean.

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Umpqua Lighthouse (Photo: Anita Ritenour/Flickr)

Amid Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is one of the many Oregon coast lighthouses, Umpqua Lighthouse. During the summer months, the lighthouse is open for tours, but for a more unusual experience, stay at one of Umpqua’s yurts, which are available for rental.

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Oh, you know, just a regular day on the Oregon Coast. (Photo: Paul Hamilton/Flickr)

Approximately 30 miles north of Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is one of the more well-known and visited attractions on the Oregon coast, the Sea Lion Caves, considered the largest known sea caves in America. Harbor seals can typically be seen year-round, while Northern and California sea lions can be spotted in different parts of the cave system during certain seasons of the year.

From here, there are some unique reserves and park areas, such as Cape Perpetua, with great hiking and scenic views where even whales can be spotted during the right season. Highway 101 continues north through the small towns of Yachats and Waldport before reaching Newport, one of the largest towns on the central Oregon coast.


Get a sampler at Rogue Ales Public House because with beer this good, you shouldn’t limit yourself to just one. (Photo: Mikal Marquez/Flickr)

Beer lovers can rejoice in Newport, where longtime Oregon brewery Rogue is headquartered. While you can belly up to Rogue Ales Public House for a pint of any of its long roster of beers, what’s most unusual is its Bed ‘n Beer, which consists of one- and two-bedroom apartments above the pub. Best of all, you’ll find a bottle of Rogue in your refrigerator when you check in.


Stop by Local Ocean Seafood for a fish taco (or five). (Photo: TripAdvisor)

As you’re strolling the historic boardwalk just down from Rogue, stop in at Local Oceans Seafood for some of the fresh catch. If you order one thing, make it the fish tacos, featuring grilled local catch of the day. Other nearby attractions of note include Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Yaquina Head is the most interesting of the two since it’s the tallest and second-oldest lighthouse in Oregon.

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From here it’s onward to the north Oregon coast. While you’ll pass through a number of towns, including Lincoln City, the next noteworthy stop is 70 miles north in Tillamook. That’s Tillamook as in the cheese you’ve seen in your local grocery store. Free self-guided tours are available daily and naturally include cheese samples.


The famous Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach (Photo: Missy S./Flickr)

After Tillamook, it’s about an hour past lesser-known beach towns and state parks, like Rockaway and Oswald West State Park (both of which are worth a stop), until you reach Oregon’s best-known beach town, Cannon Beach. Cannon Beach is one of the most recognizable beaches in the U.S., largely because of the 235-foot rock that sits in the middle of it, Haystack Rock, which has been featured in numerous movies, most famously in the opening sequence of The Goonies.

If you spend the night in one town on an Oregon coast road trip, Cannon Beach is it. The picturesque beach town is lined with art galleries and charming accommodations, like the 100-year-old Cannon Beach Hotel. For your meals, consider the Irish Table, something of a fusion of Ireland and the Pacific Northwest, or Castaways, a Caribbean and tiki-style restaurant and bar. For something just as quaint but lesser-known, a few miles north of Cannon Beach is Seaside, with many of the same charms, as well as a 1.5-mile oceanfront promenade lined with accommodations, restaurants, and the Seaside Aquarium, one of the oldest aquariums on the West Coast.


The replica of Fort Clatsop at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Photo: Connie Ricca/Corbis)

Finally, just north of Seaside, before the Oregon-Washington border, is Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River. As small as it is, it’s steeped in history, as Lewis and Clark spent a winter here at Fort Clatsop. Their footprints are seen throughout the town, such as at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, which includes a replica of Fort Clatsop. Also nearby is the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge, which is a refuge for thousands of birds, including bald eagles. For a great meal, stop into the waterfront Bridgewater Bistro behind the boutique luxury hotel Cannery Pier Hotel, which actually sits atop a pier.

After Astoria, you’ve essentially reached the end of your Oregon coast road trip, unless fate would have you drive all the way back down it.

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