Route 101 along Oregon Coast is a spectacular route that one can never grow weary of driving. So many spectacular vistas unfold as you make your way us the coastal highway, that you will find yourself stopping over and over taking it all in.
The entire route from Cresent City (which is in Northern California, just south of Oregon) all the way to Astoria can be driven in about 8 hours without stopping.
This makes it a doable day trip, but, with only enough time to jump out of the car for a few minutes at some of the more spectacular viewpoints along the way.
The problem is, many people do make it a day trip (guilty more than once), but, in so doing, they miss the opportunity to really experience the many charming small towns along the way.
I suggest allowing 2 or 3 days, even longer to really enjoy this wonderful road trip.
Below are my picks for the best towns to spend extra time exploring as you drive the Oregon Coast.
We’ll start off in southern Oregon where the first town you come to is Brookings. This small town of about 6400 residents will not disappoint. One benefit of being located farther south on the Oregon Coast is a milder climate.
The main part of the town sits on the north side where the Chetco River completes its journey to the Pacific Ocean.
If you start your in the south, this will be your first introduction to the rugged Oregon coast. Be sure to check out Chetco Point, Harris Beach State Park and Azalea State Park. The downtown area is easy to walk.
2. Gold Beach
About 30 miles up the coast is Gold Beach. As the name suggests, the beach and ocean are truly spectacular. Like Brookings and several other small towns along the Oregon Coast, Gold Beach sits at the mouth of a river – in this case, the Rogue River.
Popular activities reflect the Ocean and River environment and include beach combing, tide pooling, boat tours and fishing. The town also has a nearby golf course and a museum.
3. Port Orford
Port Orford definitely has some history behind it. It’s not only the oldest town on Oregon’s coast, it is also the most westerly town of all the 48 lower states.
This is not a town where you will find shopping malls or fast food outlets, not surprising considering it is home to just over 1100 residents. What you will find are locally owned restaurants, art galleries and gift shops.
A multitude ofB&Bs, RV Parks, camping and motels to cover any accommodation needs.
This little city of a little over 3100 was incorporated all the way back in 1891. There’s plenty to explore here including the the historic old town, the famous ocean beaches and sand dunes, and the world class West Coast Game Park Safari which is just 7 miles south of the city.
The Old Town is a great place to stroll and explore art galleries and boutique shops. It is also a great place to enjoy a quick bite or fine dining. Of course fresh seafood is a staple.
5. Coos Bay / North Bend
These are actually two towns, but they are only separated by a small body of water and a bridge. Coos Bay is to the south and North Bend is where its name suggests. The historic McCullough Memorial Bridge stretches 1708 feet as it crosses high about Coos Bay into North Bend. It was quite an engineering feat when it was completed in 1936. The combined population is nearly 25,000, so you will actually find plenty of amenities, shopping and dining in the area including the largest indoor shopping mall on the coast.
These towns are actually separated from the ocean by a long sandy spit. The area of sand dunes along the coast extends north about 50 miles to Florence and includes Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area by the very small town of Winchester Bay.
Renting dune buggies and exploring the dunes is a real blast.
Located roughly midway along the Oregon Coast on the outflow of the Siuslaw River, Florence is a small town of about 6200 residents. You can take a step back in time with a visit to the historic Old Town next to the river. The older colorful clapboard buildings house art galleries, boutique shops and quaint restaurants.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is just to the south.
You must not miss visiting the Heceta Head Lighthouse 12 miles north of the city. This is considered one of the most striking lighthouses, not only on the Oregon Coast, but anywhere in the world. It is also open to visitors. Farther north you can checkout the world famous Sea Lion Caves. They are a must-see during a visit to the Oregon Coast.
One of the nicest small towns on the Oregon Coast, Yachats is a great place to relax and enjoy nature. The town is small enough that it is easy enough to just drive on through on the 101, but that would be a mistake.
Every day is a good day in this laid back little town. Be sure to see the red covered bridge on the river road. Visit the beach by the mouth of the river, especially during low tide. Enjoy fresh seafood at one of several little restaurants. Sample goods at the farmers market. It’s all good and the town folk are very friendly. Plenty of budget motels and camping can be found in and around town.
8. Winchester Bay
Winchester Bay is a very small town, better described as a village, located by a sheltered bay on the south bank of Umpqua River. The town itself is not right on the ocean, but if you make the wise choice to exit the highway you will discover incredible stretches of beach and the highest sand dunes in Oregon. The historic Umpqua Lighthouse and museum is a must see. Within the town you will find numerous gift shops and fabulous places to dine.
This town has plenty of options for RVs, camping and boating. Try your luck at crabbing, clamming or tidepooling. It’s great when the weather is good, but when it’s bad, there’s storm watching.
9. Waldport / Bayshore
Waldport and Bayshore straddle both sides of Alsea Bay and are joined by the striking concrete arch bridge the crosses the same. Classified as a city, Waldport is home to about 2000 residents. Like most small towns along the Oregon Coast, casting a line, lowering a crab trap or digging for clams are popular activities.
There’s also a 9 hole public golf course, nature walks and plain old relaxation.
With a population just over 10,000, Newport is one of the larger cities along the Oregon coast. It is the county seat for Lincoln County and boasts several interesting and educational attractions. Attractions include the Oregon Coast Aquaarium, the Hatfield Marine Science Center, Pacific Maritime Heritage Center and the Yaquina Head Lighthouse (Oregons tallest active lighthouse).
Popular areas to explore on foot are Nye Beach, an artsy area where you will find book stores, galleries, eateries and lodging, and the Historic Bayfront area, home to commercial fishing fleets, but also boutique shops galleries and restaurants. There are some great places to enjoy fresh seafood.
10. Depoe Bay
Depoe Bay is a small city of about 1400. Its claim to fame is the smallest navigable harbour in the world. Outside the small sheltered harbour is rugged rocky shoreline where you will enjoy watching the ceaseless pounding of the breaking waves. Windswept Rocky Creek State Viewpoint just south of the city and Boiler Bay State Viewpoint just north provide outstanding vantage points from which to view the crashing surf.
Immediately north of the harbour the OPRD Whale Watching Center operated by Oregon State Parks is a must see. Where the Oregon Coast Highway passes through town opposite the Bay there are a myriad of quaint shops and eateries to explore.
11. Lincoln City
Just north of Depoe Bay, Lincoln City stretches for a considerable distance along the Oregon Coast. It is an amalgamation of 5 smaller cities and communities that merged in 1965. Even so, the total population is still only about 8500 residents.
This coastal city features over 11 kilometres of sandy beach. The expansive beaches are endowed with a consistent ocean breeze making it a world famous venue for flying kites. Two kite festivals are held each year, one in June and one in October.
During the later part of June and the beginning of July, the Siletz Bay Music Festival features performances at different locations and venues throughout the city.
Overlooking the beach, Chinook Winds Casino Resort in Lincoln City boasts 24/7 Las Vegas-style casino action, along with a hotel, arcade and several restaurants.
Lincoln city is large enough to offer plenty of options for shopping, dining and accommodations.
You’ve probably heard of the famous cheese named after this town, and boy is it good. This place is worth visiting for that alone, but there’s much more to this coastal town than its renowned cheese. Take the aircraft museum for instance, where an amazing array of vintage aircraft are on display. Well worth a few hours out of your day.
Situated just north of the Nehalem River and Bay, the picturesque village of Manzanita boasts one of Oregon’s longest stretches of sandy beach. Nehalem Bay State Park is located immediately to the south and the village of Nehalem is located a couple of kilometres inland.
Manzanita is quaint, charming and beautiful. Situated on top of a cliff at the north end of the long stretch of beach the Neahkahnie Viewpoint offers spectacular views along the coast looking back towards the town. Located right on the Oregon Coast Highway, the lookout is easy to access. For even more spectacular views, try some of the hiking trails on both sides of the highway just north from the lookout.
14. Cannon Beach
Renowned for its natural beauty, Cannon Beach is a small, artsy village best known for the gigantic Haystack Rock rising 235 feet above the surf offshore from the town’s expansive sandy beach. This is possibly one of the most photographed portions of the Oregon Coast. For one of the most spectacular views on the Oregon Coast (and that is no easy feat) be sure to drive to Ecola State Park – only a 12-minute drive north of the city center.
In addition to its natural beauty, the walkable town features an abundance of art galleries, boutique shops, cafes and fine dining. Visitors also have the option to enjoy live theater performances. If you want to spend a night or two there are plenty of great accommodations to be found.
Named after Seaside House, a resort build in the 1870s, the population of Seaside has grown to about 6500.
In addition to its long stretch of sandy beach, this picturesque town offers plenty to see and do. You can enjoy a round of golf at the golf course, play games at the arcade, try some taffy at the saltwater taffy shop, and explore many quaint shops and restaurants.
A 1.5-mile long promenade provides a great place to enjoy strolling along the waterfront. Located on the promenade, the Seaside Aquarium has been educating and entertaining visitors for 80 years.
Thanks to the large open beaches, Seaside hosts the world’s largest beach volleyball tournament each year in August.
At mile zero on the Oregon Coast Highway, Astoria is a great place to begin or end your journey, depending on your direction of travel. Astoria is located at the mouth of the Columbia River, about 10 kilometres in from the Pacific Ocean.
Founded over 200 years ago, Astoria is rich in history and charm. Area attractions include High Life Adventures ziplining and the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
One attraction you simply don’t want to miss, is the Astoria Column. This 91 year old landmark is a 125 foot tall column that sits in the city park on top of 600 foot high Coxcomb Hill. The 164 step spiral staircase winding up the inside of the column is a bit of a workout, but the stunning view from the observation deck is absolutely worth the effort.