Oregon Road Trip Series: The Pacific Coast

For our fourth and final leg of this epic Oregon road trip, we’re exploring the wild beauty of the Pacific Coast. See where The Goonies was shot, visit a a beach that has been called one of the world’s most beautiful places, watch a ‘spouting horn’ and stay in a real lightkeeper’s home.We chose these stops based on a mix of iconic “must-dos” and lesser-known local hangs. Mix and match for your own one-of-a-kind adventure.

Read part 1 – Portland

Read part 2 – Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood

Read part 3 – The Willamette Valley

Jump To

Astoria | Depoe Bay | Newport | Yaquina Bay | Florence | Brandon

There’s just one way to say it and it’s no exaggeration at all — Oregon’s Pacific coast will take your breath away. A road trip that propels you in a northwesterly direction from Portland toward Astoria and then southward along the rocky bluffs that edge the shoreline makes for a perfect adjunct to road trips through the state’s urban playgrounds, lush forests, snow-capped mountains and sweeping wine country. Why? Because a coastal trip will immerse you in soul-stirring vistas of an entirely different sort — dramatic cliffs, pounding surf, secret coves, captivating lighthouses, charming shore towns and awesome sea creatures. So, hit the road and prepare to be amazed and rejuvenated by a public coast — one that truly belongs to everyone.

Take I-5N and US-30W from Portland to Astoria, about 1 hr. and 46 minutes away

Astoria, Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock 

Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park in Oregon.
Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock from Ecola State Park in Oregon.

Astoria is a small fishing and shipping port with a boatload of charm. If you’ve ever seen the cult classic movie, The Goonies, which was shot here, you’ll get the picture before you even arrive. Given the town’s film bona fides, it’s only appropriate that you visit theOregon Film Museum, which celebrates the rich legacy of film and TV production in the state by showcasing memorabilia from the impressive list of productions that were shot here. Explore more of Astoria by taking the trolley through town and climb theAstoria Column, an artful monument commemorating America’s settlement of the West, to look out over the bay and the Columbia River. The view from the top, 164 steps up, is positively panoramic.

From Astoria, take famed US-101 S for about 41 minutes to stunning Cannon Beach (named one of the world’s 100 most beautiful places by National Geographic) with a shoreline that features the iconic Haystack Rock rising some 235 feet from the water. Plan to come at low tide when you can literally walk right up to the rock and explore the fascinating intertidal area around it. Expect to see wildly colorful sea stars, anemone, crabs and more. The upper portion of the rock is a habitat for a vast range of seabirds and, most notably for any visitor, the home of the most accessible colony of Tufted Puffins in all of the Northwest. They nest from April-July and are best seen in June and July. Their bright orange bills and yellow feathers above the eyes make for great photos. Other bird species that nest on Haystack Rock in the summer include Pelagic Cormorants, Western Gulls, Black Oystercatchers and Harlequin Ducks. You may even spot a Bald Eagle. If you can manage it, stick around for sunset — the golden light makes for a magical moment.

Take US-101S from Cannon Beach to Depoe Bay, about 2 hrs. and 15 minutes away 

Depoe Bay and the Whale Watching Center

Next, get your Herman Melville on in Depoe Bay,a bastion of whale watching and “the world’s smallest harbor.” You can all but count on the whales to hit the horizon from March to December as they migrate past town. Visit theWhale Watching Center or the various observation decks along the shore to get a view of the thousands of gray whales that travel past. But whales aren’t the only thing that spout water here. The area’s unique geology has given rise to a “spouting horn” that sprays water up into the air along the town’s Main Street.

Take U-101S from Depoe Bay to Newport, about 19 minutes away

Newport, the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area

Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area in Oregon.
Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area in Oregon.

Continue your coastal explorations southward along US 101-S with a stop in Newport where theOregon Coast Aquarium beckons with more oceanic wildlife, from seals and sea lions to sea turtles. This indoor attraction’s focus on the area’s creatures is totally worth your time, but the surging waves and cavernous concave hole that isDevils Punchbowl State Natural Area in Otter Rock (13 minutes from Newport) offers the kind of full-blown drama that can only be found outside. Listen to the thundering sounds of water slamming into a gigantic hallow ‘punch bowl’ made of rock. A churning, foaming witches caldron may come to mind, but this ‘brew’ is made by nature. If you feel like moving around a bit more before getting back into the car, the easy 0.7-mile Devils Punch Bowl Trail lets you hike along the beach and through lovely wildflowers. Low tide is best for walking on the beach.

Take US-101S from Otter Rock to Yaquina Bay, about 21 minutes       

Yaquina Bay and The Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Next head to Yaquina Bay, a coastal town with a singular claim to fame you won’t want to miss out on — a lighthouse with attached living quarters overlooking the Pacific.The Yaquina Head Lighthouse, built in 1872 and perched high on an oceanside bluff, is Oregon’s last remaining wood lighthouse. Climb its 114 steps, see the working Fresnel lens and then send your eyes out to sea — you may well spot some Gray Whales (best times to see them are December-January, and March-April.)

Take US-101S from Yaquina Bay to Florence, about 1 hr. away

Florence, Haceta Head Lighthouse, Siuslaw National Forest, Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, Cooks Chasm 

Tho's Well at Cape Perpetua, Oregon.
Tho’s Well at Cape Perpetua, Oregon.

For another dash of radiance, continue southward on US-101 S toward Florence, a playground of a town on the Siuslaw River with plenty of beaches, boutiques, antique shops, delicious eateries and nearbyHeceta Head Lighthouse — which is just north of the town and open year-round. Roam the beach, hike on the bluffs and tour the working 126-year-old lighthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can even stay in the former Assistant Lightkeeper’s home, turned cozy B&B (and also listed on the Register). Its perch on the hillside overlooking the beach gives it a spectacular point of view, which may just turn into your just desserts for putting up with the ghost that’s said to haunt the inn. If you decide to stay the night, say “hi” to the Gray Lady (aka Rue).  

The lighthouse and inn are surrounded bySiuslaw National Forest, an area between Coos Bay and Tillamook that encompasses forests on the coastal cliffs, sand dunes and various types of aquatic habitats. Come here to fish, camp, hike, horseback ride and mountain bike. Then, for a deeper nature dive, drive to theCape Perpetua Scenic Area located at the forest’s edge. Its headland is the highest car-accessible viewpoint on the Oregon Coast, so you won’t want to miss it! The landscape here is where the powerful ocean meets a temperate rainforest. The 26-mile trail system lets you experience the forest and view in all their majesty, as well as Native American shell middens and tide pools. Before you start hiking, stop by theCape Perpetua Visitor Center to see the exhibits and awesome ocean views and field the staff’s smart advice on what to see and do while you’re visiting the area.

Some of coastal Oregon’s most phenomenal geological formations are nearby in Cooks Chasm. These include: Spouting Horn, an ocean geyser that’s powered by waves that funnel ocean water through a deep cave; Devil’s Churn, a narrow shoreline channel through the volcanic rocks; and Thor’s Well, aka Gate to Hell, a 20-foot-deep hole from which water shoots 20 feet up into the air. Hike down the 0.75-mile Cook’s Chasm Trail to get a closer look.

Take US-101S from Florence area to Bandon, about 2 hrs.

Brandon, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint

For the last leg of your road trip (last blast is an appropriate descriptor for the beauty you’re about to experience), roll on down the scenic highway to Bandon to seeFace Rock State Scenic Viewpoint. Look for the face of a woman in the soaring rock that rises from the water and listen for her voice in the wind. You’re sure to see many amazing birds, interesting intertidal areas, sea caves and a number of other haystack formations. Sunrise and sunset are said to be simply magical here, and the beach’s soft sands are made for on-foot expeditions.