Epic Road Trip Itinerary: A Guide To The Oregon Coast
I’m developing quite a *thing* for the Pacific Coast. In the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to explore some of northern California’s gorgeous and powerful coastline, and now I’ve FINALLY spent some time wandering up and down Oregon’s STUNNING coastline. Exploring Oregon’s coast has been on my “to-do” list for a few years (and made my “10 places I’m dying to visit in 2018” list).
My parents (along with one of my sisters and her family) decided to spend a week and a half here last summer at the invitation of some friends, so I decided to join them for a long weekend and plan my own mini Oregon coast road trip itinerary. And I’m so glad I did! This is such a beautiful part of the country, so I’ve laid out a detailed list of what to do on the Oregon coast below…including things to see, where to eat, what to skip, and more.
Oregon coast road trip itinerary tips
Yes, you absolutely need a car. This is not the type of trip where public transportation will be your friend. Renting for a few days or even a week is shockingly affordable (particularly if you have a good credit card that offers car rental insurance), so don’t let this put you off.
There is no cell service!!! Seriously, there are looooong stretches of total dead area all throughout Oregon, and particularly on the coast. Or sometimes you can get only one bar but the one bar won’t actually let you use a mapping app or do anything else. Make sure you plan ahead because you can’t count on being able to use your mapping apps. Downloading offline maps ahead of time (easy to do in Google Maps) wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Don’t rush. This is one of those “the journey is the destination” trips, and you will end up both exhausted and irritated with yourself for how much you’re missing if you schedule your itinerary too tight. Build in plenty of time for just stopping to take pictures on the side of the road, for unplanned ice cream stops or little hikes, or for getting stuck behind slow people.
Don’t be fooled by distances. On a similar note, the distances and map-estimated driving times on Google Maps or similar don’t really do credit to the narrow, winding highways. I’d add about 25% to driving time estimates to be safe…it’s not uncommon to get stuck behind slow vehicles and be unable to pass for long periods of time.
If you’re planning a bigger Oregon itinerary, here are more tips for you!
Where to stay during your Oregon coast road trip
We were staying in a family friend’s condo in the Inn at Otter Crest, which was very convenient and central. It’s not a place I would have happened upon myself, though. If you’re truly planning an Oregon coast road trip itinerary (vs. just exploring one little area), I do think that area (Depoe Bay / Newport) is good if you’re looking for one base from which to take day trips.
Or if you have longer for your trip (like a week), consider spending half of it in the northern half of the coast and half of it in the south to cut down on drive times.
What to see on the Oregon coast
The saddest part of an Oregon coast road trip itinerary is that you will never fit it all in—unless you have a couple weeks. That being said, you really can see and do a ton in just a weekend or less than a week.
Below is a map of everything I outline in detail below. Green markers are sites, orange are places to eat and drink, and blue are places that were recommended but I wasn’t able to see myself. If you want to see the map bigger, you can use this link.
Pretty much any article you read about planning an Oregon coast road trip itinerary will tell you to start in Astoria, and that’s definitely what I had planned. I figured I’d drive over from Portland to Astoria and then work my way down, but I had landed around lunchtime…between getting my rental car and the drive out to the coast, I already felt like I was running out of time. I decided to drive directly toward Cannon Beach instead because my brain and stomach were on East Coast time and I knew I’d fade fast.
If you’re able to make it up here, it’s supposed to be lovely and people rave about it. Astoria was the first permanent U.S. settlement on the West Coast, so there’s a lot of history to discover. And if you’re looking for something a bit more gastro-focused then there are a number of microbrew pubs and a restaurant called Bridgewater Bistro that’s supposed to be great—both the food and the waterside views.
My research indicated that the nearby Lewis and Clark National Historic Park is stunning, so it’s worth checking out if you have extra time in the area.
I was STAHHHHRVING by the time I got to Cannon Beach, so I finally wedged my tiny rental into a pseudo-parking spot and wandered toward Crepe Neptune. Unable to decide, I got both a savory and a sweet one and devoured both.
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Cannon Beach is one of the most touristy and crowded locations on this list, partly due to Haystack Rock—one of the most photographed landmarks along Oregon’s Coast.
I had planned to go see Haystack Rock, but parking was crazy. I ended up parking illegally at an apartment complex because I couldn’t find anything else, so didn’t feel comfortable going all the way out to see the rock (plus I could feel time ticking away). So I ran a few feet away, snapped a quick pic from afar, and kept truckin’.
If you have more time in the Cannon Beach area and are looking for some hiking, make sure you look into nearby Ecola State Park.
Don’t forget beautiful highway pull-outs
One of the best things to do on the Oregon coast is just drive around and stop to look at different gorgeous views. You could seriously *just* do that and have an awesome trip.
I wish I remembered what this one was exactly, but the point is that there are so many beautiful places along the coast to just pull over, stretch your legs, and take some beautiful pictures. That’s one of the reasons you really don’t want to rush and over-pack your itinerary…the spontaneous stops become the first casualty, which would be a shame.
One pullout I definitely recommend is Oswald West State Park. I believe this is called Neahkahnie Mountain Viewpoint and is an easy scenic pull-out from the highway about 20 minutes south of Cannon Beach. There’s a nice little parking lot with some informational signs and such.
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At this point, there was quite a bit on my planned drive itinerary that I had to cut out due to time (a few of which I knew ahead of time that I’d have to). I’m putting a bit of info here from my notes in case they are of interest, but I can’t vouch for them myself.
This was another thing I didn’t get a chance to do, but would have liked to. Touristy, yes, but…CHEESE. You can read reviews here and see if it sounds up your alley. Could be a good rainy day activity (though many other people would think that way too).
Cape Lookout State Park & Munson Falls
Munson Falls is inland about half an hour from Cape Lookout State Park on the coast, but if you have a lot of time to explore this area then these should definitely be on your list. Munson Creek Falls is the highest waterfall on the coast (319 feet) and it takes just a short, easy hike to reach it…this would be great with kids too. Cape Lookout is popular for beachcombing, hiking, and gorgeous views (even occasionally of whales!).
This was a brief stop, but I wanted to try out the original Pelican Brewing Company location. I only had time for a small glass—I was driving after all—but their stout was delicious! The brewery is right on the beach, with dunes and crashing waves. It would be a great place to just sit and drink and watch a gorgeous sunset (or cool moody stormy seas during the winter!).
They also have a rock that looks very much like Haystack Rock…without all the tourists. And if you can’t make it to Pacific City, there are two other locations along the coast. If you like beer at all, then visiting some of the great craft breweries in the area are a must on your Oregon coast road trip itinerary.
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Lincoln City is one of the next big towns you’ll hit, though I didn’t end up spending as much time here. It’s one of the most popular little towns along the coast. It’s got a good mix of everything, from scenery to shopping to great beaches.
Lincoln Beach & Depoe Bay
We DID spend quite a bit of time in Lincoln Beach and Depoe Bay since they were really close to where we were staying. Depoe Bay was only abut 10 minutes from our condo, so we ended up there a few times for different reasons. It’s got a great little promenade area where you can watch the waves. There are a few shops across the street, though I’m not a huge shopping fan and a lot of it was cheesier stuff than I like.
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One place I will give a shout-out to is The Horn Public House, home of Depoe Bay Brewing Co. We came here a couple times, once just for a drink and then once bringing the whole family (including three kiddos) for dinner. We gorged on fried cheese curds, burgers, and their excellent stout beer.
A couple other places we ate at in this area were Depoe Baykery (YUM…delish donuts and pastries!) and Tidal Raves for dinner. Tidal Raves had great food, especially seafood…the drink I had wasn’t great but you can’t win them all 🙂
Otter Crest / Otter Rock
We stayed in the Otter Rock area at the invitation of friends. It was beautiful and peaceful, with great views and its own little beach area.
One morning we walked down to the beach at the resort as the fog was starting to burn off. It was cool and peaceful, some hazy sunlight filtering down onto the sand and the waves crashing in.
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The kids were in heaven, throwing rocks into the water, splashing, exploring everything that had washed up on shore.
That same beach was the setting for a STUNNING sunset that night. It started out kind of tame but just kept getting better and better…I was out there for an hour watching the sky change colors and reflect on the water, hearing the waves crash and roll back. My bare feet were wet and freezing but I barely felt it because I was so blown away by the beauty. If these photos whet your appetite, I’ve done a full post on this amazing sunset. Seeing a sunset on the Oregon coast is a must-do for your itinerary regardless.
One morning after a pastry and coffee extravaganza, we decided to walk down to the Devil’s Punchbowl. There was a lovely little path directly from our resort, but there’s parking near there as well.
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I actually think this is the northern stretch of Beverly Beach (more on that below)…I didn’t realize it at the time. But you can see the Inn at Otter Crest where we stayed and the little private resort beach in all my pics above.
I was only able to view the Devil’s Punchbowl from above, and it’s not really super special (though I’ve heard it’s beautiful at sunset). However…
…it is SUPER cool to actually go inside the “punchbowl”. It’s only safe at low tide but is quite easy to walk there at that time. I didn’t get to myself, but my family did after I left and there are a couple pics below. You can see how MASSIVE it is inside by the size of the people in that first pic. I cannot stress enough, do not hike into the Punchbowl during high tide, it’s very dangerous!
If you’re standing up on the cliff and looking down at the Devil’s Punchbowl, make sure to look over the left (south) fence as well. Here you have gorgeous Beverly Beach…or at least the southern portion. This crazy long expanse of beach is nice for sunbathers, surfers, people flying a kite…kind of whatever’s your bag.
Newport is one of the bigger towns in the area, so while there’s a lot of beauty and nature, you can also find most anything you need…shopping, activities, a greater selection of food. It would make a nice base for a road trip up and down the Oregon coast.
Nye Beach is a cute little area just a few blocks off the main drag in Newport, and honestly I think a lot of tourists miss it. It’s worth a stop to walk around and enjoy the views, or even the beach itself.
Downtown Newport is pretty cute and worth spending a few hours walking around, trying little shops and snack places, and having a nice meal.
We had a lovely dinner at a place in Newport called Clearwater. It has beautiful views both from the dining room and the patio, great food, and interesting cocktails. The bar is nice too, so you could go just for a couple drinks if you have other dinner plans.
We tried to visit Rogue Ales Brewery, which is consistently named one of the top 50 American craft breweries by Beer Advocate. It’s located on the Newport Historic Bayfront, but feels oddly isolated. Since it was a beautiful weekend they were packed and there was a wait, so we had to give up when I tried to visit. However, my family went back a few days later and really enjoyed it.
So instead we swung by Noble Estate tasting room in Newport to kill some time. Honestly, this was a pretty meh experience, definitely skippable. We were given (kind of dusty) glasses and basically self-directed our tasting, not really given much info.
One other place worth mentioning in Newport is Panini Bakery. We went there for coffee and pastries one morning, and definitely recommend!
I also grabbed Thai takeout from Lucky Thai Elephant Restaurant on my first night there, and if you’re tired of seafood and looking for a change then it’s worth a lunch or dinner stop.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
There are two different lighthouses right around Newport. One is called the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and the other is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. I didn’t get to visit both, but did get a chance to explore Yaquina Head Lighthouse at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (BLM).
Completed in 1874, this is Oregon’s tallest lighthouse at 93 feet (and the second-oldest continuously-operating lighthouse in the state). This area is gorgeous, with all kinds of sea birds, seals, tide pools, and more.
There’s an area with access down to the beach, where you can get closer to the seals and see more wildlife by the water. Most of the rocks are massively encrusted with various sea creatures, so they have rangers there who remind you not to step on them—it is a protected area and they take that very seriously.
This was definitely one of the coolest things I saw on this trip. Thor’s Well is a sinkhole in the ocean, so as the waves rise and fall, it looks like the sea is draining. Then it comes back up and spouts majestically. Super cool, and you can get quite up close to it (though be careful!).
It’s actually somewhat challenging to find, so I’ve written a detailed post on Thor’s Well with loads of pics and specific instructions for finding it. If you’re planning an Oregon coast road trip, this would be in my top-five recommendations—a must do!
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We were in a hurry to meet someone for lunch, so didn’t have nearly enough time to explore the area around Florence…definitely a bummer, because this stretch of the Oregon coast is amazing! If you do have time in the area, a few things you should look into are Heceta Head Lighthouse, the sea lion caves, and the Ocean Dunes National Recreation Area. I’ll cover all three off before talking about Florence itself.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
Built in the 1890s, this is still an active (and the brightest) lighthouse on the Oregon coast, which is why it’s the most photographed lighthouse in the state. It’s about 13 miles north of Florence, and very much worth a visit…this is one of the things I’m most bummed about missing.
Sea Lion Caves
The sea lion caves are interconnected caves and caverns about 11 miles south of Florence. It’s privately owned, with a (pretty sizable) charge to enter, and is home year-round to Steller sea lions.
Ocean Dunes National Recreation Area
We didn’t get to do more than just stop by the highway and snap a pic north of Florence, but there’s tons to do in the Ocean Dunes National Recreation Area. Though this is north of Florence, the official area stretches from Florence south about 40 miles, down toward Coos Bay. If you’re looking for something a little more active in your itinerary, there are activities like dune buggy-ing, hiking, and sandboarding to keep you busy.
Florence is adorable, and I wish we’d had more time to spend here. It’s got a little of everything…great seafood, historic downtown area, cute old-fashioned ice cream parlors and little seaside shops, and beautiful weather year-round.
We had lunch with a local family member at Zebra Bar & Bridgewater Fish House. We gorged on delicious smoked salmon mac & cheese and I really enjoyed their beer list. I splurged on the amazing Stand Up & Shout vanilla & coffee stout. They’re also known for their great cocktails, seafood, steaks, and pastas.
I think I managed to see and do quite a lot in just three days with my Oregon coast road trip itinerary! And I couldn’t have asked for nicer weather, though that’s obviously never a guarantee. Visiting in July definitely helped, but it’s nice if you can build in an extra day or two to make sure you don’t get thwarted by the weather.
What other must-see stops did I miss along the Oregon coast?? I definitely plan to return to this area in the future so would love your recommendations!
Other powerful & beautiful coasts you’ll love:
- The Wild Beauty Of Vik: Iceland’s Reynisfjara Beach & Dyrhólaey Cliffs
- Finding a Secret Castle Ruin on Scotland’s Coast
- Hiking Bodega Head Trail on California’s Sonoma Coast
- Exploring England’s Jurassic Coast
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