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The USA is home to some of the best road trips in the world, but the state of Oregon has a special place in my heart. I actually never intended to visit Oregon, it wasn’t really on my radar but I met my partner in Japan in 2017 and he lives in Portland so I’ve visited the state three times in the last year and done a road trip to different parts of the Coast each time.
The Oregon Coast is beautifully wild and rugged with distinct and breathtaking landmarks and views all the way a long it. There are so many beautiful ways to see and explore the Pacific Northwest that I’m not going to provide a specific route, this post will just be a guide to my favourite places, from north to south, which would all make great inclusions on your Oregon road trip if you’re in the area, plus I’ll share with you my absolute favourite place I’ve been in Oregon and the place you cannot miss if you’re in the Southern Oregon Coast area.
You might also be interested in my guide to 5 of the best one day trips from Portland, Oregon.
Useful information for an Oregon Coast road trip
Oregon State Parks website - use this to check rates, fees, permit requirements, hiking and camping information and any travel, weather or safety warnings.
Oregon Coast website - check this out for detailed information about every city, attraction and stories for the Oregon Coast.
Travel Oregon website - use this to check for local events, resources and maps
Tidetables - use this to stay safe and know your tide timings if you’re spending time close to the water or on the beaches.
Water Safety - for beach and coastal water tips including rip currents, tsunamis, sneaker waves, logs and cliff safety.
Is Portland Safe? - stay safe, be informed and plan your trip to Oregon’s biggest city.
Where to stay on your Oregon Coast road trip
Depending on how much time you have for your trip and how fast or slow you like to travel, there are a few options for places to stay along the Oregon Coast.
Lincoln City - The place to stay if you're looking for a vacation rental on the beach, there's so many to choose from! Check out this incredible Airbnb in Lincoln City with a balcony right on the beach to enjoy sunset. Or this beautiful coastal A-frame cabin, northwestern rustic wood interior with a hot tub on the deck!
Coos Bay - There are loads of cute cottages here, like this cottage on the waterfront with a beautiful seafoam colour throughout the inside and outside! If you're on a budget, this apartment in nearby North Bend is a great choice too.
Brookings - the most southerly coastal town on the Oregon Coast, this is a great stop if you're stopping before turning around or before continuing into California. Check out this gorgeous bright loft rental in Brookings. This ocean view cabin is perfect for a romantic couples getaway with a hot tub. Or check out this amazing treehouse cabin for 4 people to be more immersed in nature. If you're on more of a budget, these cabins are great too.
Starting From the North of the Oregon Coast
Starting your Oregon Coast drive at the most northerly point in Oregon and perhaps not quite on the coast so much as in the mouth of the Colombia River Gorge, Astoria is a beautiful coastal town and is a great starting point if you’re crossing over the River from Washington. Even the 101 Highway across the Meglar Bridge is a must-do drive, and a must-see for photographers. I visited Astoria on a very atmospheric January day where the mist was low and obscured the houses on the hill. The huge hillside with residential homes are so pretty to explore and feel like you’re driving in San Francisco!
The Astoria Column
Head to the top of the hill to the Astoria Column for beautiful views of the city, river and coast. You can go up the 126ft column which is decorated with murals of Oregon’s history. You will need to pay to get into the carpark but not the column itself.
Buoy Beer Company
Whether you drink or not, this riverside brewery has some great food as well as craft beers. And the bonus is the glass floors where you can see (and hear) the sea lions resting on the pier beneath you!
Or check out some of the great Astoria restaurant options to refuel before your next stop!
Ecola State Park
Ecola State Park is the first place I ever visited on the Oregon Coast on a day trip from Portland, Oregon. The road down to the coastal viewpoint is amazing, through the lush green woods and with hazy mist hanging in places. There is a $5 entry fee to drive into Ecola State Park area, but with incredible views down the coast and 7 miles of hiking trails it’s well worth it! Here are my favourite views from the view point.
Home to the famous Haystack Rock, Cannon beach town and beach are not too much further south from Ecola State Park so you could definitely do both in one trip. If you’re looking for the best beaches in Oregon, Cannon Beach is picturesque come rain or shine and is especially popular with families and dog walkers. Make sure to snap some photos of the unique and recognisable rock formations. Cannon Beach town itself is so cute, with independent boutiques, holiday homes and local shops and galleries to explore.
Hug Point State Recreation Area
Another one not much further down the coast from Cannon Beach. This is actually a popular spot for beach weddings in the summer with a sheltered sandy cove, small caves to explore, waterfalls running straight onto the beach and a rocky path you can follow for higher views above the beach. The car park for it is right above the beach so you don’t need to hike or go too far to get to the beach. Hug Point car park is free and the location is marked on Google Maps.
Drive the 101 Oregon Coast highway
I know I said I wouldn’t recommend a specific route but even if you just drive a section of the 101 for a short time, there are so many breathtaking views along the Oregon Coast highway and plenty of stopping points for you to get out the car and soak it in. The coast is so dramatic that it looks incredible in the stormiest weather or the clearest day as the Oregon coast weather can be unpredictable at the best of times!
Famous for the Oregon Coast Aquarium, marina and bridge, this town marks the centre of the Oregon coastline and makes a great stop half way with plenty of options for activities and accommodation if you’re looking to stay somewhere overnight.
Time your visit here right at high tide and this natural rock well transforms into a photographer’s dream! With the high waves pouring over rocks and creating the impression that water is streaming into the ground. Use a slower shutter speed to make the water smoother. Sadly I was there when the tide wasn’t quite high enough but the huge waves crashing and the rock pools were a lot of fun. The coast has so many dramatic rocky formations that we were constantly stopping to take photos!
Oregon Sand Dunes
Did you know Oregon has sand dunes? Nope, me either! But the Oregon dunes stretch all the way from Florence to Winchester Bay. There are several access points to the Dunes. The Sand Dunes Day Use Area is probably the easiest as it has parking and you can walk down to some of the bigger dunes. Parking at the Sand Dunes Day Area costs $5 or it’s free if you display your Northwest Forest Pass. There are also areas for overnight camping and dune activities such as ATVing and sandboarding all the way along the 101 from Dunes City to the southern end of the dunes. If you’re looking to hike then the John Dellenback Dunes Trailhead is a great hike that’s good for all the family, just make sure you bring water as walking up hills AND is sand is exhausting!
We arrived into Coos Bay at dusk and it was so pretty with all coastal fishing houses and the industrial vibes of a working coastal city. Coos Bay is the biggest city on the Oregon Coast and has a great selection of accommodation and activities. We stopped here at 7 Devil’s Brewing Company for dinner and it was wonderful with friendly staff, live music and awesome poutine. Coos Bay is also where the Oregon Coast Music festival is held every year for two weeks in July.
There isn’t an awful lot to see or do in the town of Gold Beach itself, however I’m recommending it as a great place to stay overnight if you’re either planning to visit Samuel H Boardman State Scenic Corridor at sunrise (it’s only a 20-minute drive further south from Gold Beach) or if you’re planning to continue your drive over the state border into California. There is a lot of accommodation options and we found Gold Beach hotels all to be extremely reasonably priced. We stayed in Pacific Reef Hotel for $60 a night with a large double room, ensuite and kitchen area.
Samuel H Boardman Scenic State Corridor
My favourite place along the coast and possibly the whole of Oregon. I’d see pictures of this beautiful stretch of the coastline for so long and always wanted to see it for myself. You might be familiar with the famous picture of the sunlight rising through the natural stone archway. The natural arches and rock formations make this a beautiful part of the coast and there are so many vantage points to enjoy it from.
Natural Bridges Viewpoint is the most famous one and there is a path and wooden platform which has a lovely view. Oregon Coast weather in January is unpredictable at best and the day we visited it was incredibly stormy, conditions were extremely poor and I certainly would not advise going out on the rocky cliffs in high winds and rain to see the archways as it becomes very slippy.
If you are looking to find the famous view point at Samuel H Boardman Scenic State Corridor my guide will help you do that.
Secret Beach and Thunder Cove viewpoint were also amazing and from Thunder Cove there is a fairly easy 1.5 mile round hike that takes you through the woods, to the viewpoint on the cliffs and back around to the car park. The car parks have room for about 6-8 cars so arrive early if travelling during the busy season. You do not need to pay. Here are some of my favourite photos from the day.
Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park
Okay so technically Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park is in California. But If you make it to Samuel H Boardman and Brookings, you’re maybe continuing your trip down south or you may do what we did and realise you’re so close to the California state border than it’s worth a quick trip over!
Either way, Jedediah Smith is the most northern of all the Redwood State Park areas and the Visitor’s Centre staff were extremely helpful in showing us a route (not found on Google maps) on an unpaved road through the biggest redwoods in this area before we had to drive back north.
To find the driving route through the redwoods, start by heading to Howland Hill Road (marked on Google maps) follow signs for the Stout Grove Trailhead, it is left out of the Jedediah Smith Visitor Centre. Just stay on Howland Hill Road, it eventually turns into an unpaved track so I would only recommend for 4x4 or large vehicles. There’s plenty of places to stop and admire these huge trees, plus we only saw 2 other cars on this 10-mile track, it really is an amazing experience, especially if you want to see the redwoods coming from Oregon, or if you’ve never seen Redwoods before!
The track brings you out at Crescent City where we stopped at SeaQuake brewing for some awesome food and craft beers (the sour was my favourite).
And there you have it - my Oregon Coast roadtrip must-sees! (with a little of California too) Have you driven the Oregon Coast before? Where is your favourite place in the state? Let me know in the comments!
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Car Rental: I love the customer service I've always gotten and the variety of options with Rental Cars. But for short notice rentals, I've been using Expedia for the last year, they always seem to have great one-day rates or last-minute rates from the main rental companies.
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Tours and organised trips Although I don’t use tours that often, I do like to book local experiences or day trips once I reach my destination. For that I use GetYourGuide because it has the biggest selection and variety of tour and experience options.
Travel Insurance: For all my longer trips and for the entire year I’ve spent in Australia, my partner and I have always used World Nomads. They cover everything I need and I can buy coverage for a year at a time, they also allow you to purchase cover when you’re already outside your home country. Plus my camera gear and equipment is covered and they also have special cover for when I’m scuba diving too.
My camera gear and equipment: I use a Canon 77D with an 18-135mm lens or a 50mm lens. And a DJI Mavic Mini Drone. For all my gear including laptops, tripods and more camera accessories read my travel photography gear guide.