For many, driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in California (aka Highway 1) is a dream trip. The best thing about the West Coast coastline? The diversity of the landscapes you’ll encounter. From San Diego all the way up to La Push (yes, this place in the Twilight series is a real place) in Washington State, the coastline along the Pacific Ocean is stunning.
I like all of the coasts for various reasons, but there is nothing quite like home. This is why on a recent trip back to the Pacific Northwest I made a point to take advantage of the one gorgeously, sunny winter day we had and day trip along Oregon’s North Coast.
I would highly recommend that you take the time to experience all of the Oregon Coast, from Brookings all the way up to Astoria. But just know you are going to need a lot of time to do that, and that in itself is a trip. A trip well worth it, but a trip nonetheless.
Oregon’s coastline can easily be broken down into chunks – the North Coast, Central Coast and South Coast. If on your next trip Portland is your home base you can easily tackle the North Coast as well.
STOP 1: PACIFIC CITY (Mile 87.4)
Just two hours south of Portland is Pacific City – known for that other huge rock that looks like a haystack at Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area.
Known for its waves & wind (think kite flying and hang-gliding) Pacific City makes a great first stop for a picnic, some fishing and a little bit of hiking (an Oregon must). At the end of the public beach (which is to your right as you walk from the parking lot) is a huge dune you must climb up. The top is where you can get the ultimate view of the sea, and that huge rock that looks like its more famous sister Haystack Rock down in Cannon Beach.
STOP 2: TILLAMOOK (Mile 65)
Why does this name sound so familiar? Think about your local grocery store. Now think about the dairy aisle. Now think about the cheese section. Did you get it yet? Yes, this is the place where that delicious (and very well-known) Tillamook Cheese comes from. If you don’t stop here did you even go to the coast?
As you come up towards Tillamook make sure you hit Cape Lookout State Park – even if it’s just a stop at a viewpoint along the highway. If you do decide to stop at Cape Lookout you can enjoy a multitude of hiking trails as well as the ever popular pastime of hunting for glass floats on the beach.
TIP TO NOTE:
The best time to go searching for glass floats is from late November to late April – with the most being found in February, March, and April. Also get out there early! This is hugely popular and the earlier you go the more likely you are to find one. If you are lucky enough to find a float look for embossed makers’ markings!
The Tillamook Cheese Factory Tour is free and self-guided, not to mention you will get cheese curd samples. It’s the perfect place to pick up some snacks for the remainder of your trip and also get a glimpse into the industry that made this town so famous.
Following the cheese factory it’s a less than 30 minute drive west over to Cape Meares. This where you are going to see the Cape Meares Lighthouse and Oregon’s largest Sitka spruce, known as the Octopus Tree.
From the viewpoint at Cape Meares you will also be able to see the Three Arch Rock. This is also where the Lost Boy Cave is located.
SAFETY TIP TO NOTE:
You can only go out to the Three Arch Rock when it’s low tide! This is when you need to be diligent and check the TIDE CHART. If you get lucky and the tide is low enough for you to go out there are 3 points of entry. The easiest and safest way is from Short Beach from the North. You can find more specific directions HERE.
STOPS 3 & 4: CANNON BEACH (Mile 28) &
ECOLA STATE PARK (Mile 29.5)
"The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears, or the sea." — Isak Dinesen
Haystack Rock. In reality, probably the whole reason you decided to drive out to the coast during your trip to Portland. But it’s not the only thing to do while you’re at Cannon Beach.
Haystack is a 235-foot sea stack, claimed locally to be the third-tallest "intertidal" structure in the world - but let’s be real, there’s actually no official facts to support this claim.
As you walk along the beach to check out this impressive structure make sure you walk into town to check out Cannon Beach’s cute downtown. Pick up some saltwater taffy before hopping in your car to make the 7 minute drive up to Ecola State Park.
TIP TO NOTE:
Ecola State Park is not free to enter but is only $5 for a day-use permit
Just before you enter the park make a stop at Bird Rocks at Chapman Point. What is this, you may ask? Four large rocks off the coast of the Point which also include a seabird colony.
Over 200 Brown Pelicans have been observed at Bird Rocks, and a total of 49,542 seabirds (across six species) have all nested here – including Bald Eagles who routinely feed on on seabirds at this colony. Oops!
Ecola State Park is a hiker’s paradise as there are numerous trails giving you awesome views of both the park and the coast including:
- Ecola Point to Indian Beach Hike – easy in its difficulty and only 1.5 miles
- Clatsop Loop Hike – another easy hike that is a 3 mile loop
- Crescent Beach Hike – also an easy 3.6 mile hik which will take you by the caves at Ecola Point, Sea Lion Rocks at Ecola Point, the 19th-century Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, Indian Beach and migrating gray whales
STOP 5: SEASIDE (Mile 20)
A small resort city, Seaside is known for surfing, a cute 1920s promenade, and most of all for people watching.
Not only that the 74-year-old Seaside Aquarium located along the promenade was once home to Keiko (aka the Orca from the movie Free Willy). The aquarium features living marine life from the region, including the completely cute harbor seals and a 35-foot Gray Whale skeleton. It’s a charming way to spend the afternoon and you can even feed the seals for $2 after entry into the aquarium!
The historic promenade stretches for one and a half miles (from Avenue U on the south end to 12th Avenue). The 15-foot wide paved walkway was built in 1920 and features hotels, a bed and breakfast, oceanfront dining and the aquarium (which I mentioned earlier).
But it’s not all about walking the promenade or visiting the aquarium when you’re in Seaside. You will always see people flying kites, taking in the incredible views of Tillamook Head, or even digging for razor clams in the early hours of the morning!
STOP 6: WARRENTON / ASTORIA (Mile 6.5)
These two places are listed last is because they are a great places to watch the sunset and make it easy to get back into Portland.
TIP TO NOTE:
In order to get to the Warrenton /Astoria before dark (if you are doing this in the Fall or Winter) you will need to head out of the Portland area before 7am.
The area encompassing both Astoria and Warrenton is nationally significant as it is the western end of the Lewis and Clark Trail and is also the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies. So many fun facts!
Warrenton is home to the Peter Iredale Shipwreck which is located in Fort Stevens State Park. It is also just across Youngs Bay from Astoria. The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel that ran ashore October 25, 1906 as it was making its way to the Columbia River. The coolest part about all of this is that the rusted bow and masts of the wreckage are still visible and easily accessible. It’s right on the beach jutting out of the sand, you can’t miss it!
Astoria takes us back to simpler times and is known as “Little San Francisco of the Pacific Northwest” due to the hundreds of Victorian homes clinging to the steep hillsides.
The Goonies isn’t the only film that made Astoria famous. Additional films shot in the town include Into the Wild, Kindergarten Cop, Free Willy and Free Willy 2, and The Ring 2.
Whether you're able to make it to all of these places during your road trip or only a couple a trip out to the Oregon Coast is something you must add to your list on your next visit to Portland. Once you visit you'll be inspired to explore even more, and if that's the case I highly suggest you come back in the summer, do a majority of it and camp along the way!
Don't forget about this gem of the Pacific Northwest and pin the images below!
Content Creator, Traveler, Foodie, Amateur Photographer (and surprise!) Graphic Designer living in New York City. This website started in 2016 as a space to share my passion to live life to the fullest, make adventures a priority, eat all of the good food, drink all of the wine, and curate the beautiful photos that come along with it.