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15 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do on the Oregon Coast

Written by Brad Lane
Nov 17, 2020

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The wide-open road is synonymous with adventure in Oregon, and the pure natural beauty that is the Pacific Ocean lapping against the shore all adds up to the Oregon coast being an unforgettable experience.

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 and do. Fishing, cape climbing, tide pool exploring, and simply staring in awe at the setting sun are some of the most popular activities.

The most popular way to sightsee along the coast is by 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. Intrepid explorers can backpack the Oregon Coast Trail and travel for more than 370 miles by foot for a full immersion into the Oregon coast.

Whatever your means of transportation, be ready for the feeling of not wanting to leave. Find the best places and sights with our list of the top things to do on the Oregon Coast.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Columbia River Maritime Museum

A ship docked outside the Columbia River Maritime Museum

A ship docked outside the Columbia River Maritime Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

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. The facility also houses several artifacts relating to the military history found along the coast.

An IMAX theater at the museum screens different 20-minute educational movies 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

The Peter Iredale Shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park

The Peter Iredale Shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Another one of the top attractions of Astoria, Fort Stevens State Park occupies the northwesternmost tip of Oregon. This is 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 on the Oregon coast with accessible hiking trails and a sprawling campground.

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 Military Site's self-guided walking tour, with more interpretive 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 are within the confines of Fort Stevens, providing even more fishing, swimming, and boating opportunities. The park is also home to the Peter Iredale - a century-old shipwreck that makes a fun photo opportunity.

Address: 100 Peter Iredale Road, Hammond, Oregon

3. Seaside Promenade

Seaside Aquarium on the Seaside Promenade

Seaside Aquarium on the Seaside Promenade | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Next to the northern coastal Seaside Beach, the historic Promenade, better known as the Prom, has been a valued pedestrian path for more than a century. With a great view of the ocean and the nearby Tillamook Head, this seaside path is a great place to stroll and reason enough to visit.

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 sights 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.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Seaside

4. Ecola State Park

Entrance to Tillamook Head in Ecola State Park

Entrance to Tillamook Head in Ecola State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

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.

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. One of the best campgrounds on the Oregon coast is at the top of Tillamook Head, complete with complimentary Adirondack shelters (hike-in only). A short path from the campground 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

Haystack Rock

Haystack Rock | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

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, a two-hour drive from Portland. The downtown district of Cannon Beach epitomizes family vacations with arcade parlors, themed restaurants, and a constant lineup of events throughout the summer.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cannon Beach

6. Three Capes Scenic Route

Cape Kiwanda within the Three Capes Region

Cape Kiwanda within the Three Capes Region | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

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 to three capes and 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. The lively community of Pacific City, next to Cape Kiwanda, is a great vacation area for those that want to ditch the worst of the crowds.

7. Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint

A visitor enjoying the view at Boiler Bay

A visitor enjoying the view at Boiler Bay | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Boiler Bay is on the northern edge of Depoe Bay - one of the best small towns on the Oregon Coast and the "Whale Watching Capital of Oregon." Boiler Bay, itself, 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 a stretch of the legs. Whales, seabirds, and tourists from around the world comprise the fauna often found at Boiler Bay.

It's easy to spend an extended time at Boiler Bay. The neighboring city of Depoe Bay is also worth some attention. Here, alongside a similar edge-of-the-world view, the community offers avenues of enjoyment like guided whale tours and chartered fishing adventures.

Location: Depoe Bay, Oregon

8. Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area

Devils Punchbowl

Devils Punchbowl

Created by the collapse of two sea caves close to the shore, this unique geological feature is easily accessed with 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 ocean's powerful force.

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 popular surf break 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

Yaquina Lighthouse on Yaquina Head

Yaquina Lighthouse on Yaquina Head | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Easily accessed from the 101, just over 10 miles south of Depoe Bay, 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 in this outstanding natural area.

Other fun reasons to visit include an extensive tide pool habitat, various wildlife spotted from the shore, and an interpretive center to learn more about the long history tied to the lighthouse. Tours of the lighthouse, including climbing a challenging set of stairs, are available every day in July and August. Reservations are recommended.

Address: 750 Northwest Lighthouse Drive Newport, Oregon

Official site: https://www.blm.gov/learn/interpretive-centers/yaquina

10. Oregon Coast Aquarium

Tufted Puffin at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

Tufted Puffin at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

Situated on 39 acres overlooking Yaquina Bay in Newport, this non-profit organization educates the public about the wonders of the Oregon coast and beyond. Providing fun and interactive space for the whole family to enjoy, the aquarium features numerous indoor, outdoor, and underwater exhibits.

Some of the most popular include the Secret of Shipwrecks, a Giant Pacific Octopus Cave, and a 1.3-million-gallon Passages of the Deep Aquarium. Just a few of the aquarium's resident animals include sharks, harbor seals, and tufted puffins.

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

Cape Perpetua viewpoint

Cape Perpetua viewpoint | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

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, leaving only a few short footsteps from the spectacular view.

Alternatively, several hiking trails start from the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center and head up through dense coastal vegetation to explore the rewarding environment. As well as a route to the scenic viewpoint, other highlights along the trail network include giant spruce trees and a dynamic part of the ocean known as the Devils Churn.

Good home bases for exploring Cape Perpetua include Yachats and Florence to the north and south. The cape is an extremely popular place to visit on sunny weekends. Balmier days provide more seclusion, and the lush coastal forest is fun to explore in rainy conditions.

12. Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head Lighthouse | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

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 the surrounding coastal environment tends to draw some attention from land, too. Trails run north and south from the lighthouse, affording distant views of the shoreline and ocean horizon.

The Heceta Head Lighthouse day-use area is accessible by vehicles and a short walk from the parking area. The property includes the historic lighthouse keeper's home, which is now a renovated bed-and-breakfast known for a signature seven-course breakfast.

Address: 725 Summer Street, Florence, Oregon

13. Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

An OHV rider enjoying the sand at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

An OHV rider enjoying the sand at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

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.

Hiking, camping, and sand sledding down the dunes is also prevalent. 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. Places like Tahkenitch Creek, farther south, allow hikers to explore the quiet environment on their own.

14. Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint

Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint panorama

Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint panorama | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The southern coast of Oregon is well defined by eye-catching sea stacks onshore and offshore. And 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 do the long set of stairs leading down to the beach.

Heading south from Kroneberg County Park and Coquille point, every massive and minute rock within view 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 - a massive sea stack that some say looks back at you.

Location: Bandon, Oregon

15. Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Named after the first Oregon State Parks superintendent, this 12-mile linear park on the southern coast presents one postcard view after another. The state scenic corridor comprises many of the best beaches in Oregon. The Oregon Coast Highway runs right through the park, providing pull-offs and parking spots to access numerous beaches and viewpoints.

The downright dazzling views of this iconic stretch of coast make it one of the most popular, though the beaches' and sea cliffs' rugged nature still allows a sense of solitude with each visit. The best way to avoid crowds is by venturing down the steep hiking trails that parallel the highway.

Among other places of interest, Secret Beach and China Beach are two popular spots for the whole family to explore. Other places to point a camera include House Rock, Cape Ferrelo, and the beach at Lone Ranch Picnic Area.

Location: Brookings, Oregon

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