An Outdoor Lover’s Road Trip on the Oregon Coast

From crabbing to kayaking, Oregon’s stretch of 101 has nature, scenic beauty, and adventure in spades.

Gold Beach, with giant rocks dwarfing two people on sand

Keep an eye open for sea lions at Gold Beach.

Photo by Sterling Lanier/Unsplash

It’s not just Oregon’s myriad rivers, towering evergreens, and Crater Lake National Park that make the state an outdoor paradise. More than 360 miles of coastline have turned the Oregon Coast into an essential retreat for Portland residents for decades. And thanks to a landmark 1967 law that preserved public access, “the people’s coast” is a wealth of pristine nature open to all.

In spring, you’ll see hills awash in yellow scotch broom and pink rhododendron bushes. Temperatures peak in the summer, and winter and spring are the prime seasons for whale-watching. The coast is great for spotting wildlife like birds and seals, and opportunities for hiking, kayaking, fishing, surfing, crabbing, and clamming abound.

There’s no wrong way to do a road trip here. It’s just developed enough with a selection of boutique lodgings, state parks for camping, and small coastal towns that you can easily be spontaneous or follow a more prescribed plan. This six-day road trip itinerary follows the Oregon portion of Highway 101 starting in the South Coast up to the North Coast before looping back to Portland.

Cabin interior at Bay Point Landing, with gray sofa beneath large window and glass door to deck

Bay Point Landing is your glamping go-to in Coos Bay, Oregon.

Photo by Corinne Kupish

Day 1: Portland to Coos Bay

Oregon’s Bay Area and the largest city on the coast (with a population of about 16,000), Coos Bay is the commercial hub of the South Coast. It’s the biggest port between San Francisco and Seattle, and experiences like the Coos History Museum shed light on its shipbuilding and lumber milling history, providing context for the many outdoor adventures to be had in a landscape that spans long, sandy beaches and forests.

Where to stay in Coos Bay

Bay Point Landing takes glamping to new heights with RV sites, Airstreams, or cabins that immerse you in nature, style, and comfort, and amenities include a saltwater pool and fitness center.

For golfers, about 30 minutes farther south in Bandon, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort has some of the country’s premier public golf links. And they recently opened their sixth course, a 19-hole short course that takes players through rolling dunes.

Or camp a stone’s throw from the breathtaking, sandy beaches at Sunset Bay State Park. (If you want to stay in one of the eight yurts, be sure to book in advance.) Explore the area via a network of hiking trails that run through coastal forests, seasonal wildflowers, and rugged cliffs.

Keep an eye open for . . .

Gold Beach, the gateway to the Rogue River, and especially Otter Point headland, a great spot for a day of walking among the sandstone and spotting sea lions. You can also see one of Oregon’s only two pockets of old-growth redwoods at the 1.2-mile loop Redwood Nature Trail.

Don’t miss . . .

The 7 Devils Brewing Company, a spot with a patio that channels the region’s bohemian spirit with handmade furniture and local art that accompany the hand-crafted ales and bites made with regional ingredients. Another locally oriented casual spot is Front Street Provisioners, which slings wood-fired pizzas. For self-catering, visit the Coos Head Food Co-op for a selection of natural, organic products.

Dinner destinations include Restaurant O, which serves French and Italian creations, such as mussels in a vin blanc sauce and fettuccine alfredo. Or check out Black Market Gourmet, which sources local seafood, beef, and produce for prepared foods like Oregon Dungeness crab dip or smoked beef brisket. (Or opt for a sit-down dinner from Tuesday to Saturday.)

Detour worth taking

About three hours inland from Coos Bay, Ashland has all the relaxed vibes of a small town but with big culture thanks to a thriving arts scene. Its world-famous Shakespeare festival runs from March to October. Bonus: Surrounding local hot springs mean you can get your dose of nature here, too.

View of white Yaquina Head Lighthouse from brown field

Stop for a photo at Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport.

Courtesy of Clay Banks/Unsplash

Days 2–3: Coos Bay to Florence

At the mouth of the Siuslaw River, about an hour north of Coos Bay, Florence’s Old Town makes a charming home base for exploring North America’s largest coastal dunes directly to its south. Take a sandboard or dune buggy down the famed dunes, or enjoy other adventures such as the Sea Lion Caves and whale-watching.

Where to stay in Florence

Book a room at the award-winning River House Inn on the Siuslaw River waterfront in Old Town; it’s within walking distance of the area’s top restaurants, such as the Waterfront Depot and Bridgewater Fish House, as well as galleries, shops, and cafés. Or stay about six miles north to catch sunsets at the oceanfront resort Driftwood Shores.

Instead, you could also immerse yourself in the 47 miles of dunes stretching between Florence and Coos Bay by reserving a campsite (or one of 10 yurts) at Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park. Or go to Florence’s northern neighbor 30 minutes away, Yachats (believed to mean “dark water at the foot of the mountain” and pronounced “YAH-hots”), for a stay at the Overleaf Lodge; every room has an ocean view and you can enjoy access to hikes, including the Ya’Xaik and 804 trails.

There’s also the option to unplug an hour up the coast from Florence at the Sylvia Beach Hotel, a historic building with author-themed rooms, like the popular Mark Twain room; it has no TVs, Wi-Fi, or telephones. Located in a Newport cove, the Ocean House has coastal views from every room.

Keep an eye open for . . .

The dunes, which draw visitors for the otherworldly experience of vast tracts of undulating, rippled sand that inspired the sci-fi classic Dune. Hiking affords chances to spot wildlife like elk or hunt for wild mushrooms, while exploring by buggy is a popular way to rev up your adrenaline, and you can head to Cleawox Lake just south of Florence for swimming and water sports.

A hiker’s dream, Yachats’s 804 Trail is a 1.7-mile in-and-out hike with plenty of opportunities for delving into the area’s natural beauty, including tide-pooling and bird-watching. It connects directly to several trails: the 7.4-mile Amanda’s Trail, which leads to the Cape Perpetua Stone Shelter; the small and beautiful Smelt Sands State Recreation Site; and the Ya’Xaik Trail–Gerdemann Preserve Loop Hike, a 2.1-mile loop trail established in 2013 by several committed locals.

Yachats also has its share of small businesses with artsy coastal vibes, such as gem and mineral store Planet Yachats and galleries Earthworks, Touchstone, and Wave.

Don’t miss . . .

Locally roasted coffee on the riverfront patio at River Roasters in Florence—it has a view of the landmark art deco drawbridge that spans the river.

Worthwhile breakfast spots in Yachats include Bread & Roses for fresh baked goods and Green Salmon for fair trade coffee. If you’re up for a bigger meal, try Ona for fine dining with global influences and local ingredients, or the restaurant at the Drift Inn, which hosts live music every night.

Abundant dining options await in Newport, including Local Ocean, a dockside seafood grill, and Sorella, an eatery that serves Italian classics like pizza, homemade pasta, and more.

Worth a stopover

Situated on Yaquina Bay, about an hour north of Florence, Newport’s Oregon Coast Aquarium is a scenic site in and of itself, and Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is home to the state’s tallest lighthouse, plenty of tide pools, and whale-watching lookouts.

Overhead view of white plate with two Dungeness crab cakes,  dab of salad, and smear of pesto

A road trip along Oregon’s coast will be fueled by excellent meals, like Meridian Restaurant & Bar’s Dungeness crab cakes.

Courtesy of Meridian Restaurant & Bar

Days 3–4: Florence to Pacific City

Heading north about two hours up the coast brings you to Pacific City, an off-the-beaten-path town set among state-protected natural areas along the Nestucca River. Stops include a dramatic 200-foot dune adjacent to its own offshore Haystack Rock (taller yet not as well-known as the one in Cannon Beach) and the Three Capes Scenic Loop, with opportunities to check out the lighthouse at Cape Meares and picnic on the beach. You can go fishing and clamming or kayaking and hiking, or simply while away the day on the beach’s soft sand.

Where to stay in Pacific City

Located on the beach at the edge of Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, the Headlands Lodge boasts a sublime location next to the massive dune that’s prime for climbing and sunset views. It’s easy to go tide-pooling among the abundant mussel beds (the resort’s Adventure Coaches can set you up) and watch the surfers, or even take a lesson yourself. Pro tip: Book one of the two-bedroom cottages for incredible ocean views and a private balcony or patio. Enjoy seasonal, made-from-scratch fare from the Meridian Restaurant, like local Manila clams served with chorizo and grilled focaccia, which takes room service to another level. You could also stay across the street at the Inn at Cape Kiwanda or glamp in Airstreams at Hart’s Camp.

Another option is Depoe Bay, which is on the way to Pacific City and a great spot for whale-watching. Try Channel House, where every room has its own hot tub, and Whale Cove Inn, home to the lauded Restaurant Beck.

Keep going north, about 40 minutes beyond Pacific City, for family-friendly options in Tillamook that include camping in one of the yurts or cabins at Cape Lookout State Park, Sheltered Nook’s tiny houses, and a covered wagon or tent campsite at Twins Ranch.

Keep an eye open for . . .

McPhillips Beach in Pacific City’s Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, a mile of sand with the geometric basalt structures formed by former lava flows and crumbling sandstone that define much of the coast here.

The Nestucca River, Bob Straub State Park, and Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge all draw kayakers to their pristine waterways. Nestucca Adventures will set you up with kayak or paddleboard rentals. Stop before or after for a meal at the riverside picnic tables of the neighboring River House. Or you could try a fishing trip from Cape Kiwanda with Pacific City Dory Fishing Charters.

About 30 minutes from Pacific City, scenic Netarts Bay has opportunities for shell fishing at low tide. Stop for dinner at the Schooner for fresh, local seafood and foraged ingredients in a dining room next to the boat launch.

Don’t miss . . .

The Chef’s Tasting Menu at Restaurant Beck in Depoe Bay, the brainchild of James Beard Award semifinalist Justin Wills, which uses the finest foraged and local farm ingredients.

While several attractions in Tillamook nod to the area’s dairyland past and present, including the eponymous national cheesemaker, Degarde Brewing’s tasting room is a chance to sample suds based on historic traditions and experimentation. Try the Framboise Noire, a wild ale with black raspberries that’s aged in oak barrels for two years.

Distant view of famous offshore rock stack at Cannon Beach on cloudy day

Save a few hours during your Oregon Coast road trip to explore Cannon Beach.

Courtesy of Justin Luebke/Unsplash

Day 5: Pacific City to Manzanita

As you wind your way up the North Coast, be sure to take the 101 for stunning coastal views and tucked-away beaches. Manzanita, an hour north of Pacific City, is so scenic that it inspired former Oregon governor Oswald West to make the state’s beaches free and open to all. The town’s rural vibe belies some of the coast’s best culinary experiences, and nearby Cannon Beach is a larger, more well-known destination with more restaurants, shops, and services.

Where to stay in Manzanita

Coast Cabins offers a range of tasteful accommodation options in Manzanita, from private homes with midcentury-modern architecture and decor to vacation rental apartments, all with access to a spa and gym. The sleek and intimate Arch Cape Loft is 10 minutes north of Manzanita in Arch Cape, and its seven rooms are almost like studio apartments, with kitchenettes and private entry.

Hotel fans will want to head to the McMenamins Gearhart Hotel, first built in 1890 and part of the region’s history as a vacation destination, or the Cannon Beach Hotel Collection for a selection of rooms (many with fireplaces) across four boutique hotels in New England–style buildings near downtown Cannon Beach.

Keep an eye open for . . .

The Sand Dune Pub in Manzanita is a classic roadhouse that’s been serving dishes like burgers and chili-cheese fries since 1935. Enjoy your meal on the patio with an Oregon craft beer or cocktail. Another old-school spot with a laid-back vibe, Driftwood serves up seafood and steak from local purveyors in Cannon Beach. Or try Ecola Seafoods to sample the freshest of the ocean’s bounty in a casual atmosphere.

Don’t miss . . .

Short Sand Beach, in a protected cove in Oswald West State Park, which is worth the brief hike through the forest. You’ll find campfires and surfers on a shore awash with massive trunks of driftwood. Look for the plaque at a lookout point dedicated to Matt Kramer, a journalist whose coverage helped pass the 1967 bill that made Oregon’s beaches public land.

Aerial view of hotel on pier at sunset with long, green metal bridge over Columbia River in background

Many hotels on this road trip, such as the Cannery Pier Hotel, have spectacular waterfront views.

Courtesy of Cannery Pier Hotel

Day 6: Manzanita to Astoria

Just under an hour north on the 101 brings you to Astoria, the northernmost town on the coast and a bohemian enclave. Also known as the setting for movies (including The Goonies and Kindergarten Cop), it’s on a stretch of coast known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific”—famous for some of the roughest waters in the world at the mouth of the Columbia River, where it meets the Pacific Ocean.

Where to stay in Astoria

Located at the end of a historic pier that extends 600 feet into the Columbia River, the boutique Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa has river views from each of its 46 rooms, where you can watch the ships as they pass by. Book one of the rooms on the north side for a view of the Astoria-Megler bridge, the longest continuous truss bridge in North America.

Related Oregon Coast Vacation Rentals for a Cozy Northwest Getaway

Keep an eye open for . . .

Award-winning breweries, like Astoria Brewing Company, Fort George Brewery, and Buoy Beer Company, that make Astoria a destination for craft beer aficionados.

Don’t miss . . .

The remains of the 1906 shipwreck Peter Iredale on the beach at Fort Stevens State Park, which bring to life how treacherous crossings are here; you can also camp at the park.

At the Maritime Museum, you can learn more about how the meeting of the mighty Pacific and the Columbia River has shaped Astoria, with exhibits on everything from dugout canoes to the science of storms.

This article was originally published in 2021; it was most recently updated with new information on May 8, 2024.

Ami Kealoha is the director of branded and sponsored content at Afar. You can reach Ami at
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