The Oregon Coast is the region in Oregon located along the Pacific Ocean. Due to its scenery, wildlife, and history, the Oregon Coast is a popular travel destination. Hiking, sport fishing, cycling, kite flying, scuba diving, surfing, sandboarding, and boating are common activities for visitors to the region. Historic areas, such as Fort Clatsop, Battle Rock, and Oregon's lighthouses are all popular sites for visitors. The Oregon Coast is also known for its scenic areas, such as Cape Perpetua, Cape Blanco and Cape Arago.
The Oregon Coast is typically split into three distinct regions, north to south.
|Northern Oregon Coast |
Astoria down to Pacific City. If you're coming from the Portland area, this is most likely where you are going to end up due to proximity.
|Central Oregon Coast |
Lincoln City down to Reedsport. Lincoln City is reasonably accessible for a trip from Portland. Florence has the most convenient access to the Oregon Dunes from Eugene and the Willamette Valley.
|Southern Oregon Coast |
Reedsport to the California border. Because the Southern Coast is not as well connected to the populous Willamette Valley, it has fewer tourist facilities. There is no shortage of natural beauty compared to the northern areas of the coast, however.
The Oregon Coast is fairly remote, especially as the decline of the logging industry has caused many of the small cities to re-orient themselves almost exclusively toward tourism. The Coast is dotted with small oceanside villages with a couple dozen towns and cities in between. The largest city, Coos Bay, only has a total population of 13,000 people.
- 1 Astoria - Situated on the Columbia River just around the corner from the coast, Astoria is one of the oldest cities in Oregon. A great jumping off point to explore sights on both the Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington coasts, as well as sights around town.
- 2 Seaside - Located right at the end of U.S. Highway 26, Seaside is just a 90 minute drive from Portland, making it the most popular destination along the coast for people who are based in the Portland Metropolitan Area.
- 3 Cannon Beach - Not too far from Seaside, this scenic beach city is close to Ecola State Park and has known for the giant sea stack just off shore.
- 4 Tillamook - A dairy town famous for being the origin of Tillamook Cheese. Grabbing some free samples at the factory is a highlight of an Oregon Coast road trip.
- 5 Lincoln City - Home to the twice-annual kite festival.
- 6 Newport - Check out Oregon's largest aquarium and two historic lighthouses
- 7 Florence - Access to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area from the north, and the birthplace of sandboarding.
- 8 Coos Bay - The largest city on the Oregon coast, adjacent to the Oregon Dunes NRA from the south.
- 9 Brookings-Harbor - The southernmost city on the Oregon Coast, you can see more and more giant redwood trees as you approach the California border on your way to Crescent City.
- 1 Lewis and Clark National Historical Park - made up of several state and national park sites located on a stretch of the Pacific coast from Long Beach, WA to Cannon Beach, OR. The sites can be visited in any order. Fort Clatsop or the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment make good starting points, and Astoria is centrally located making it a good "home base" to explore from.
- 2 Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area - Formed by the ancient forces of wind, water and time, these dunes are like no others in the world. This is the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America, spanning over 40 miles down the coast. Florence at the northern end of the dunes is the most accessible city in the area, but Coos Bay at the southern end is able to accommodate travelers as well.
The Oregon Coast appears to be pristine but is actually one of the most intensively logged areas on Earth, and the impact of the timber industry on the coastal ecology is enormous. Hidden from view to the casual traveler, the landscape just beyond the coastal highway is radically different than the impression one gets from driving up and down the coast. The entire coast was once covered by enormous ancient rain forests, almost all of which have been logged several times over and replaced by industrial tree farms.
This has caused some contention in state politics, as some counties that were heavily dependent on the logging industry (particularly along the Southern Coast) are experiencing more economic hardship, especially in areas that aren't directly adjacent to the coastline.
Due to the Oregon Beach Bill of 1967, all "wet sand" that is within 16 vertical feet of the low tide line is public property, and gives the public the right to "free and uninterrupted use" of the beach. The bill was a result of Oregon governor Oswald West's efforts to keep the beach public by declaring the entire length of the ocean shore a state highway in the 1910's. West also directed the construction of U.S. highway 101 and the development of 36 state parks. This development shot coastal tourism through the roof, which has been commemorated with the naming of Oswald West State Park near Manzanita after the influential governor.
Oregonians are incredibly proud of their public coastal lands, exemplified by the annual SOLVE Oregon Beach Cleanup which drew 4,200 participants in 2021.
For most people, the only way to access the Oregon Coast will be by car.
U.S. Highway 101 runs along the Oregon Coast from Astoria in the north (on the border with Washington) to Brookings in the south (on the California border). The highway offers views of Pacific Ocean, making it one of the most scenic drives in the country, and runs through the heart of many coastal cities. However, it does run inland in some sections due to geography (such as alongside the Oregon Dunes).
The highway is connected to Interstate 5 by many highways that run along rivers, such as the Umpqua (Highway 38). Typically it takes one to two hours to reach I-5 from the coast. Most major cities in the Willamette Valley have a highway that runs directly west to the coast, but keep in mind that these highways can be dangerous if not impassible in winter weather conditions since they are passing through the Coast Range.
Modern mapping applications are much better about using established routes than they used to be, but do not use unpaved roads as a shortcut. These rough roads may appear shorter on a map, but are often rugged and you may be at risk of getting stuck if your vehicle is not up to the task.
The only commercial airport on the coast lies in North Bend. The airport is serviced with daily flights to and from Portland International Airport via Horizon Air. You can drive from the airport in Portland to the coast via Highway 26 and Highway 6 in about 2 hours. Flying into Portland is usually more economical than flying into North Bend. There are several general aviation airports along the coast, but be sure to arrange transportation from the airport in advance, since options will be limited.
Many of the larger cities have a rudimentary transit system that you can use to get into town. There is usually one route that connects the city to the Willamette Valley, but it is far from optimal to travel this way. See the region and city articles for more information.
Greyhound serves Astoria, Cannon Beach, Coos Bay, and Brookings.
A car is the best way to get around the Oregon Coast. U.S. Highway 101 often serves as the main drag in most of the coastal cities. Many businesses have built along 101 in an effort to attract tourists passing by. During the summer season, make sure you are not in a big hurry. It was once named No. 1 for tourist congestion, beating out the popular Cape Cod.
Greyhound no longer serves along the coast, but many towns are serviced by local bus lines such as Porter Stage Coach.
Here are just a few attractions that you need to check out on your visit to the Oregon Coast, check the region and city pages for more details:
- Watch baby loafs of cheddar get made and get free samples at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook
- The Tillamook Aviation Museum is based in a gigantic WWII era blimp hangar, one of the world's largest wooden buildings. Most of the collection has been moved to the air museum in Madras.
- The dory fleet and adjacent Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City.
- Cummins Creek Wilderness Area in Yachats
- Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport
- Sea Lion Caves (Between Yachats and Florence on Hwy 101)
- Sand Dunes in Florence
- Chinook Winds Casino Lincoln City
- Newport Bayfront Newport
- Bandon Safari Zoo Bandon
The historic lighthouses of the Oregon Coast make great waypoints for planning an adventure. Some are located right in town, while others may encourage you to explore an area that you wouldn't have planned to visit otherwise. Some lighthouses are still operational today, but most of them have been decommissioned.
- Lightship Columbia in Astoria is open for tours with admission from the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
- Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
- Cape Meares Lighthouse
- Yaquina Head Light in Newport
- Yaquina Bay Light in Newport
- Cleft of the Rock Light
- Heceta Head Light
- Umpqua River Light
- Cape Arago Light
- Coquille River Light
- Cape Blanco Light
- Rent a crab boat and try to bring home the day's catch at any of the bays along the Northern Oregon Coast.
- Go deep sea fishing, charters available at many of the coastal cities.
- Kayak the estuaries and bays of the coast.
- Rent an ATV and explore the Oregon Dunes or Sand Lake (near Pacific City).
- Charter a whale watching expedition from Depoe Bay.
- Rent a sandboard in Florence and ride the slopes of the dunes.
- Explore the rugged Rogue River gorge on a jetboat in Gold Beach.
- Many hikes in along the coast are incredibly scenic. See the region articles for more information.
As the economy of the Oregon Coast is largely driven by tourism, most small communities have at least one hotel, while popular destinations (Seaside, Lincoln City, Newport) have dozens from which one can choose. When summer heat waves strike the Willammette Valley, however, it is entirely possible for all - very literally all - hotels on the US Highway 101 corridor to be filled to capacity. Make sure you have a place to stay before setting out if temperatures exceed 90°F (32°C) in the Portland, Salem or Eugene areas.
Rental cabins are also widely available whether traveling with a party of one or two, or if you need accommodations for 12 or more companions. Cabins are available both in the larger cities or the smaller villages depending on your preferences for peace and quiet (not that the coastal cities are known for raucous partying).
Oregon State Parks operates numerous parks with camping options, as do the parks departments of many counties located on the Oregon Coast. Note that these campsites are likely to be filled to capacity in the summertime months; this is especially true for all sites within easy access of the Willamette Valley. As with hotels, always rely on a reservation and never on luck.
Dungeness crab, salmon, clams and oysters are widely available along the coast, and most restaurants source local ingredients. Each town should have at least one option for seafood including Mo's (an Oregon Coast regional chain).
Oregon is in a seismically active area, earthquakes and tsunamis are highly uncommon, but possible along the coast. There is an excellent tsunami warning network along the Oregon Coast, but due to the close proximity where earthquakes can occur, scientists may be unable to provide much warning for a tsunami. If you feel an earthquake and/or notice that the tide is suddenly very far out to sea, seek higher ground immediately. Tsunami evacuation routes are usually well signed, so take note as you pass by.
Far from the warm, calm beaches of Southern California or Florida, the Pacific Coast in Oregon is cold and turbulent - even in the summer. Take necessary thermal precautions and be sure of your skills and abilities before entering the water.
Most visits to the Oregon Coast are going to be round trips from Portland or elsewhere in the Willamette Valley. If you are on a West Coast road trip you'll end up on the Southwest Washington coast or California's North Coast next.