15 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do on the Oregon Coast
A storied past, friendly communities, and a wide array of natural attractions line the Oregon coast. From popular-for-good-reason places like Cannon Beach to the rugged and wild shoreline of the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor, the Oregon coast delivers on many unique things to see. Fishing and clamming, cape climbing, tide pool exploring, and simply staring in awe at the setting sun inching below the horizon are some of the most popular things to do. A single day spent on the Oregon coast can inspire a lifetime of memories. Besides the occasional busy weekend traffic, the hardest part of exploring the Oregon coast is deciding the best places to visit during your travels.
The most popular way to tour the coast is driving the Oregon Coast Highway 101, making sure to take plenty of roadside stops along the way. A two-wheel option is cycling the Oregon Coast Bike Route, mainly following the shoulder of the 101, to really earn the stunning views. For a full immersion into the Oregon coast, intrepid explorers can backpack the Oregon Coast Trail and travel for more than 370 miles by foot, visiting each beach, small town, and campground found along this side of the continent. Find the best places to visit with our list of the top-rated tourist attractions and things to do on the Oregon Coast.
1. Columbia River Maritime Museum
On the shores of the Columbia River and accessed from the scenic Astoria Riverwalk, the Columbia River Maritime Museum highlights the human and natural history of the nearby waterway. Exhibits at the museum range from a decommissioned floating lighthouse open for tours to interactive displays detailing the perilous journey crossing the Columbia River Bar, as well as artifacts relating to the military history found along the coast. The museum also features an IMAX theater and different 20-minute shows, which run throughout the day. A few of the many educational programs and events at the museum include pygmy kayak building classes and family-friendly Friday Summer Plaza programs.
Address: 1792 Marine Drive, Astoria, Oregon
Official site: http://www.crmm.org
2. Fort Stevens State Park
At the far northwest tip of Oregon in Astoria, where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean, Fort Stevens State Park is a massive natural space with a long military history. In conjunction with two forts across the river in Washington, Fort Stevens was a key military defense unit for more than 80 years until the 1940s. Today, Fort Stevens is an exemplary state park of the Oregon coast, featuring accessible hiking trails; a sprawling campground; military artifacts; and the Peter Iredale, a century-old shipwreck, which makes a fun photo opportunity.
Numerous military remnants of Fort Stevens can be found at the Historic Military Site within the state park, including a command station, guardhouse, and multiple batteries. More than 30 stops line the self-guided walking tour of the Military Site, with more information and a scale-model replica of the fort at the visitor center. The Fort Stevens campground is the largest on the coast, featuring more than 300 sites accommodating everything from RVs to hikers on the Oregon Coast Trail. Two freshwater lakes can also be found within the confines of Fort Stevens, providing even more fishing, swimming, and boating opportunities.
Address: 100 Peter Iredale Road, Hammond, Oregon
3. Seaside Promenade
Adjacent to the beach in the northern coastal city of Seaside, the historic Promenade, better known as the Prom, has been a valued pedestrian path for more than a century. At 1.5 miles long, the Prom provides an accessible concrete pathway to enjoy the ocean environment and surrounding grassy dunes. The Prom also connects many of the top attractions of Seaside, including the nearly-as-old Seaside Aquarium. Where the central street of Seaside's downtown district (Broadway Street) meets the Prom, a Lewis and Clark Memorial is at the center of the famous Seaside Turnaround, commemorating the time spent by the Corps of Discovery in the area.
4. Ecola State Park Editor's Pick
Encompassing the forested headland of Tillamook Head, between Cannon Beach and Seaside, Ecola State Park offers a wide array of opportunities to enjoy the scenic landscape. Entering the park from the north end of Cannon Beach, tourists can start their experience by visiting either Crescent Beach or Indian Beach, both defined by soft, white sand and stunning rock formations. However, the real excitement and scenery of Ecola State Park comes when you begin the ascent of Tillamook Head, up and into the densely forested headland.
Nearly 10 miles of trails can be found crossing over Tillamook Head and Ecola State Park, including the Oregon Coast Trail and the Clatsop Trail Loop — the same route Lewis and Clark took in search of a beached whale and winter supplies. Along the way, amazing ocean views can be spotted through the thick coastal foliage, including a distant view of Haystack Rock on clear days. At the top of Tillamook Head, one of the best campgrounds on the Oregon coast can be found with complimentary Adirondack shelters (hike-in only) and a short path that leads to a cliffside view of the offshore Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.
Address: 84318 Ecola Park Road, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Oregon
5. Cannon Beach & Haystack Rock
Adjacent to the city and sand of Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock is perhaps one of the most iconic images of the Oregon coast. Many factors contribute to Haystack Rock's popularity, including the sheer presence of this 235-foot testament to the region's volcanic past. One of Oregon's seven designated Marine Gardens is here, and low tide at Haystack Rock reveals a colorful world of sea anemones, urchins, and sea stars. Several species of seabirds also call Haystack Rock home, including the tufted puffin, whose bright orange beaks can be seen on the north side of the rock throughout the summer. The city of Cannon Beach itself is a very tourist-friendly community, accessible from Portland with a two-hour drive.
Location: Cannon Beach, Oregon
Official site: http://friendsofhaystackrock.org/welcome/
6. Three Capes Scenic Route
Dramatic capes and headlands define much of the beauty of the Oregon coast. The best collection of these often forested and always fun to explore promontories can be found on the northern coast along the Three Capes Scenic Route. Beginning from the city of Tillamook, the route deviates from the 101 to travel closer to the ocean before heading 40 miles south, taking visitors through a dense region of history, elevation, and natural splendor.
From Tillamook, the first cape encountered is the scenic Cape Meares, followed by the campground-dotted Cape Lookout. The third cape, Cape Kiwanda, is a unique landmark as one of the only sandstone capes on the coast. Besides elevated views of the ocean environment, each cape along this 40-mile route contains rich natural treasures, including adventurous hiking trails, tide pools teeming with life, and remote beaches.
7. Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint
On the northern edge of Depoe Bay, one of the top-rated small towns on the Oregon Coast and the whale watching capital of the region, Boiler Bay provides an easy pull-off from the 101 and a good chance of spotting the resident wildlife. Providing a large view at the edge of the continent, Boiler Bay is a day-use area perfect for an afternoon packed lunch or stretching the legs at anytime. Whales, seabirds, and tourists from around the world comprise the fauna often often found at Boiler Bay, and while it may be easy to spend hours enjoying the scenic environment, it's also recommended to travel farther south into the city for even more coastal attractions and activities.
Location: Depoe Bay, Oregon
8. Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area
Created by the collapse of two sea caves close to the shore, this unique geological feature is easily accessed less than a mile drive from the 101. A good time to visit is during high tide, when the incoming water rips and roars through the punch bowl to highlight the powerful force of the ocean. Low tide is also a fun time to visit as the receding water reveals rich tide pools brimming with aquatic life. Just north of the punch bowl, Otter Rock provides a surf break that is popular for nearly all levels of riders. Among all the other excitement, Devils Punchbowl is also a great place to see whales during the migratory season (March through June).
Location: Otter Rock, Oregon
9. Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
Easily accessed from the 101 just five miles north of Florence, Yaquina Head is a pedestrian-friendly day-use area with a parking area and hiking trails. While the center of attention is the historic 1872 lighthouse at the tip of the basalt head, framed by colorful wildflowers in the early spring and summer, there is much to explore at this outstanding natural area. Other fun reasons to visit include an extensive tide pool habitat, a variety of wildlife that can be spotted from the shore, and an interpretive center to learn more about the long history tied to the lighthouse.
Address: 750 Northwest Lighthouse Drive Newport, Oregon
Official site: https://www.blm.gov/learn/interpretive-centers/yaquina
10. Oregon Coast Aquarium
Situated on 39 acres overlooking Yaquina Bay in Newport, this non-profit organization strives to educate the public about the wonders of the Oregon coast and beyond. Providing a fun and interactive space for the whole family to enjoy, the aquarium features numerous indoor, outdoor, and underwater exhibits, including the Secret of Shipwrecks, a Giant Pacific Octopus Cave, and a 1.3-million-gallon Passages of the Deep Aquarium. Be sure to check out the daily feeding schedule before your visit. Other special events and programs at the aquarium include the chance to SCUBA dive in the water or spend the night in the underwater tunnels.
Address: 2820 Southeast Ferry Slip Road, Newport, Oregon
Official site: http://aquarium.org
11. Cape Perpetua Scenic Area Editor's Pick
Part of the Siuslaw National Forest nearing the north-central region of the coast, Cape Perpetua provides the tallest and arguably best view of the Oregon coast accessible by vehicle. Visitors can pay to park at the top of the cape, only a few short footsteps from the spectacular view. Alternatively, hiking trails start from the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center and lead hikers through dense coastal vegetation and up to the rewarding view. A protected marine garden and eye-catching tidal areas like Thor's Well add more depth to the cape climbing experience. Good home bases for exploring Cape Perpetua include Yachats and Florence to the north and south.
Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/siuslaw/recarea/?recid=42265
12. Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint
South of Cape Perpetua and north of Florence, Heceta Head Lighthouse has played a prominent role for coastal visitors and seaward ships for more than a century. This illuminated landmark stands on the west side of the 1,000-foot Heceta Head, and its rotating beacon of light still guides ships today. The aesthetically pleasing lighthouse and surrounding coastal environment tends to draw some attention from land, too. Trails run both north and south from the lighthouse, affording distant views of the shoreline and ocean horizon. The Heceta Head Lighthouse day-use area, including the historic lighthouse keeper's home (now a bed-and-breakfast), is accessible by vehicles and a short walk from the parking area.
Address: 725 Summer Street, Florence, Oregon
13. Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Part of the Siuslaw National Forest on Oregon's central coast, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area comprises one of the largest collections of coastal sand dunes in the world. Throughout this soft-sanded, hilly, and always-changing landscape, riding off-highway vehicles (OHVs) is a popular recreational activity, as is hiking, camping, and sand sledding down the dunes. Different areas within the dunes, which stretch for nearly 40 miles between North Bend and Florence, cater to specific interests. Towards the north, including areas like the Siuslaw South Jetty, OHV motors can be seen and heard scaling the dunes, while places like Tahkenitch Creek, farther south, allow hikers to explore the quiet environment on their own.
14. Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint
The southern coast of Oregon can be well characterized by eye-catching sea stacks both offshore and onshore. Few other places exemplify this dramatic landscape better than the stretch of beach encompassing and surrounding Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, adjacent to the city of Bandon. The best place to start exploring the beach surrounding Face Rock is to access the sand farther north at Coquille Point and Kroneberg County Park.
The view from the high vantage point of Kroneberg County Park is known to take tourists' breath away, as is the long set of stairs leading down to the beach. Heading south from Kroneberg County Park and Coquille point, every massive and minute rock in sight is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge – a vital habitat for nesting seabirds. The views continue to astound, including the closer view of Face Rock proper, a massive sea stack that some say looks back at you.
Location: Bandon, Oregon
15. Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
Named after the first Oregon State Parks superintendent, this 12-mile linear park on the southern coast presents one postcard view after another. The Oregon Coast Highway runs right through the park, providing pull-offs and parking spots to access numerous beaches and viewpoints, including at least one of the top-rated beaches on the Oregon coast. The downright dazzling views of this iconic stretch of coast make it one of the most popular, though the rugged nature of the beaches and sea cliffs still allows a sense of solitude with each visit – especially if you venture onto the steep hiking trails that parallel the highway. Secret Beach and China Beach, among other places of interest, are two popular spots for the whole family to explore.
Location: Brookings, Oregon
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Cities and Small Towns on the Oregon Coast: All the best small towns on the Oregon Coast reflect the beauty of their ocean and beachside environment. Places like Astoria, on the northern tip, offer hip cultural attractions, and the many things to do in Newport warrant a week-long visit. While the entire coast is family-friendly, the city of Seaside specifically caters to both kids and adults with an activity-filled downtown center and century-old Promenade.
Places to Stay on the Oregon Coast: Whether you like to stay in a tent or in the lap of luxury, the Oregon Coast can have you spending the night listening to the waves rocking on the shore. The best campgrounds on the Oregon Coast deliver on sea breezes and fresh air, and the best beach resorts will wash away any stress you may have accidentally packed along with your coastal vacation. For more ideas of where to stay and why, check out the many top-rated beaches on the Oregon Coast.
Other Oregon Travel Ideas: While the coast could easily offer a lifetime of contentment, Oregon is a rich state when it comes to cultural and natural attractions. Cities like Portland make a great first choice to visit, and other areas like Salem and Eugene also warrant some attention. For more of a general idea of what the state has to offer, our list of top-rated tourist attractions in Oregon provides ideas on the many unique places to travel.