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11 Top-Rated Things to Do in Depoe Bay, OR

Written by Brad Lane
Mar 8, 2021

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Depoe Bay assumes the correct title of the Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast. A tall sea cliff bounds the entire city along the 101 next to the ocean. This elevated view allows easy spotting of the thousands of migrating whales along the coast in December and March. Depoe Bay even has its own resident pod of gray whales that hang out through the summer.

The ocean aesthetics of Depoe Bay cannot be overstated. Jaw-dropping views of big waves meeting volcanic rock shoreline entertain for hours on end. And public viewpoints and parks line the city from north to south. Plan to spend at least half the time of any visit simply staring from the city's edge out into the dynamic ocean expanse.

Depoe Bay is also home to the world's smallest navigable harbor, where fishing and whale-watching charters are not hard to find. On either side of the Depoe Bay Bridge spanning the harbor's opening, the town's charming commercial district offers a distinct ocean flavor. Here, offerings like saltwater taffy and seafood restaurants complete a coastal vacation.

Find your next reason to visit the Oregon Coast with our list of the top things to do in Depoe Bay.

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

1. Watch for Whales

Gray whale tail spotted in Depoe Bay
Gray whale tail spotted in Depoe Bay

Depoe Bay is the Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast for a good reason. Not only do thousands of migrating whales pass by twice a year, but a pod of whales loves the area so much they've taken full-time residence. And anywhere along the city's sea-cliff coastline offers a front-row view.

Whale sightings occur throughout the year in Depoe Bay. One of the best times to visit is approximately May through the end of summer. This time of year is when Depoe Bay's resident whales make the most frequent appearances as they feed close to the shore.

Visitors spot migrating whales heading south during Late December into January. Whales are far from the shore this time of year, making binoculars or a scope key to spotting blowholes. The same whales go north between mid-March and May. Moms and their calves are closer to the shore in this springtime journey, making them easier to see.

One of the first places to visit for whale watching is Oregon State Park's Whale Watching Center. This interpretive center in Depoe Bay is the backbone of whale watching on the Oregon coast. The facility hosts two Whale Watching Weeks during each migration, staffing over 20 locations along the coast with volunteers trained to point out whale signs.

2. Walk the Depoe Bay Coastline

Ocean view from Sunset Street lookout
Ocean view from Sunset Street lookout | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The incredible Oregon coastline is on full display in Depoe Bay. A tall cliff and rocky shoreline separate the city from the sea, with public access points lining the entire expanse. These views and viewpoints are great for spotting whales in the water, but the churn of big waves also provides endless enjoyment.

The main point of access for many visits is the scenic wayside at the center of town, off the 101. The wayside features angled parking across the street from the city's commercial district. It receives a constant flux of visitors throughout the summer.

Whale Park and a beluga whale statue bookend the north part of the wayside. Oregon State Park's Whale Watching Center is to the south. The city's spouting horn is spotted from the wayside, and sometimes at particularly high tide, this rocky blowhole shoots saltwater across the highway.

This highly visible pullout isn't the only place to visit for a panoramic view. The more time spent in town, the more city-sanctioned lookout trails seem to appear. Quieter streets like Sunset Street and Cliff Street have small signs leading to lookouts. This abundance of ocean vistas helps solidify Depoe Bay as one of the best small towns on the Oregon Coast.

3. Charter a Ride from the World's Smallest Harbor

World’s Smallest Harbor
World's Smallest Harbor | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The 50-foot-wide channel beneath Depoe Bay Bridge leads to a protected alcove known as the world's smallest harbor. The more technical moniker for this body of water is the smallest navigable natural harbor. Regardless of its designation, the harbor offers another treasure trove of things to do.

A healthy selection of charter companies operate out of the world's smallest harbor. These guiding companies typically offer both fishing and whale-watching trips. Companies like Dockside Charters and Tradewinds Charters have been a part of the community and drawing tourists for years.

Coast Guard Station Depoe Bay has occupied space in the harbor since 1940. The area of responsibility for this still-operating station spans from Cape Kiwanda to Heceta Head. The dramatic waves in Depoe Bay offer a versatile training ground for navigating big water. These boating drills are fun to watch from the coastline.

4. Spend the Night in Style

Whale Cove Inn
Whale Cove Inn | Nicki Dugan Pogue / photo modified

Depoe Bay has approximately 1,800 residents, but hundreds of thousands of people spend the night each year. It's a tourism hot spot for several reasons – chiefly for its fantastic ocean landscape. It's also the number of places to stay, ranging from motel rooms to decadent hotels, that bolsters Depoe Bay's visitor appeal.

For the crème de la crème, places like Whale Cove Inn offer an unforgettable night next to the ocean. This exclusive boutique hotel features seven unique suites and one premium suite. Each accommodation includes a private balcony overlooking Whale Cove Habitat Refuge. Whale Cove Inn also features the finest dining in Depoe Bay at Restaurant Beck.

The Channel House, closer to town, is another popular option for ocean views. This stylish hotel is next to the Depoe Bay Bridge facing the ocean. Rooms at Channel House feature a covered deck with a private whirlpool overlooking the sea. Other romantic amenities include an electric fireplace and comfortable bathrobes.

Read More: Best Beach Resorts on the Oregon Coast

5. Dine Out in Depoe Bay

Restaurants and shops in Depoe Bay
Restaurants and shops in Depoe Bay | Joe Mabel / photo modified

Depoe Bay satisfies several appetites with its various restaurants lining the 101. While fresh seafood adorns many menus, international restaurants cater to broader tastes. Depoe Bay offers a range of dining experiences, from casual cafés to fine dining with a romantic atmosphere.

On the east side of the 101 near the center of town, the glass-walled Tidal Raves restaurant delivers the best views. This casual upscale eatery features a long surf-and-turf menu alongside fresh seafood.

Other notable spots for lunch or dinner include Gracie's Sea Hag, The Horn Public House, and Sirens Oceanfront Restaurant. Each of these locally owned restaurants offers a mix of fresh and fried items made to order. For the finest dining in Depoe Bay, Restaurant Beck steps it up a notch with an award-winning chef and artful entrees.

Bay View Thai Chicken is one of the best places to find international flavors in Depoe Bay. Bay View Thai is one of the most popular restaurants, and offers authentic taste and culture alongside gorgeous views of the Depoe Bay Harbor.

Other multicultural menus are found at Mazatlan Mexican Restaurant and Asiatico Asian Kitchen.

6. Shop Local

Saltwater taffy selection at Ainslee’s in Depoe Bay
Saltwater taffy selection at Ainslee's in Depoe Bay | Kirt Edblom / photo modified

The sea-blown storefronts lining the 101 opposite the ocean in Depoe Bay add undeniable character to the city. They speak to beach vacations with kites, saltwater taffy, and neon signs for fresh seafood dishes displayed in the windows. These locally owned establishments and colorful facades add to the fun of simply wandering around town.

Speaking of saltwater taffy, Ainslee's is the place to visit. Alongside a colorful selection of confections, this candy shop encourages visitors to spectate their taffy-stretching process.

Other fun shops to head into include Beluga Beads and the Knock Your Socks Off sock store.

Numerous gift shops and ocean-related souvenirs are available in this commercial district of Depoe Bay. This area of town is also home to a handful of unique art galleries with local and regional works on display.

7. Day Trip to Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

One of the most outstanding areas on the coast is 10 miles south of Depoe Bay. Yaquina Head, including the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, is a top attraction on the Oregon coast. It's also a must-visit when cruising this part of the country.

Several interpretive trails meander throughout the 100-acre natural area. These mostly paved routes lead to fantastic views of Oregon's tallest lighthouse, first lit in 1873. Lighthouse tours are available every day in July and August. Yaquina Head also features an Interpretive Center, where more information on the history is available.

Alongside the incredible views, the interpretive trails also lead to fascinating places to explore. South of the lighthouse, Cobble Beach is one such area, where the waves, sea stacks, and pebble shoreline make for a beautiful view.

Other activities in the natural area include tide pooling and watching for whales along the coast.

Address: 750 NW Lighthouse Drive, Newport, Oregon

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

8. Drive or Bike the Otter Crest Loop

Ben Jones Bridge on the Otter Crest Loop
Ben Jones Bridge on the Otter Crest Loop

The Otter Crest Loop begins just south of Depoe Bay city limits. This alternative route used to be the main 101, until being shelved for years and almost taken back by nature. Today, the Otter Crest Loop is a one-way southbound scenic route with a large bike lane. And just calling it scenic might be selling it short.

Hidden gems and breathtaking scenery line the Otter Crest Loop. Rodea Point is the first landscape worth pulling over to check out. This ledgy shoreline illustrates the excitement of big waves meeting volcanic rock. A tad farther south, the Ben Jones Bridge and Rocky Creek Falls encourage further sightseeing with spaces to pull over and watch the surf.

The real Oregon gem encountered on the Otter Crest Loop is Cape Foulweather. And don't let the name deceive you; it's a postcard-perfect place when the weather is right. It was the first Oregon land formation seen by Captain James Cook in 1778. Today, the area offers parking and a panoramic view.

At the south end of the loop, the Devils Punchbowl offers yet another unique landscape. High tide is the best time to see waters swirling inside this collapsed sea cave.

9. Pack a Picnic for Fogarty Creek State Recreation Area

Fogarty Creek State Recreation Area
Fogarty Creek State Recreation Area

Stunning places to pull over surround Depoe Bay, adding a big reason why the city offers one of Oregon's best road trips. A new place to discover is within every five minutes of driving the 101 in either direction.

Fogarty Creek offers no better example of this ocean splendor, approximately two miles north of town. Here, Fogarty Creek meets the sea by first passing underneath Highway 101. Visitors to the recreation area follow this passage on either side of the creek to access a wind-blocked beach surrounded by sea cliffs.

Fogarty Beach is a fun place to explore, split in half by the ebbing Fogarty Creek, with a dominating sea stack catching the eye on the south side of the beach. The sprawling beach is perfect for a picnic or otherwise lounging around and enjoying the waves.

The inland area of Fogarty Creek State Recreation Area, near the parking area, also provides ample grounds for picnics. Here, a covered shelter provides refuge in case of inclement weather. Lush green space and large spruce trees define this day-use area of the park.

10. Catch High Tide at Devils Punchbowl

Sunset at Devils Punchbowl
Sunset at Devils Punchbowl

The Devils Punchbowl is another popular roadside attraction five miles south of Depoe Bay. Created by a collapsed sea cave, this crater-like cavity swirls with saltwater at high tide. Winter storms bring even more mesmerizing waves into the punchbowl.

This unique landmark coastline is in the community of Otter Rock, near the southern end of the Otter Crest Loop. It's not just the punchbowl that makes the area pleasurable to visit. Trails lead along the bluff for panoramic views of the coastline in either direction.

Near the overlooks, on First Street, a local coffee shop and adjacent surf shop always have a few customers hovering around. Same with next-door Mo's Seafood & Chowder. A dirt trail, part of the Oregon Coast Trail, descends to Beverly Beach near these commercial outlets. Beverly is a top surfing spot in the region.

11. Visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport

Red-bellied piranha at the Oregon Coast Aquarium
Red-bellied piranha at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

Newport, 12 miles south of Depoe Bay, is a bigger city with larger cultural attractions. One of the most notable Newport attractions, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, draws tourists from across the world. The aquarium is one of the largest in the state and is often noted as one of the best in the country.

This non-profit aquarium features several exhibits, from a giant octopus cave to a seabird aviary. A unique Passages of the Deep exhibit features underwater walkways that immerse visitors into the open sea. The facility is also home to resident sea lions, seals, and sea otters.

It's not just the aquarium that makes Newport a fun day trip from Depoe Bay. Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is on the northern edge of the city, attracting day trips on its own. Another must-visit area of Newport is the historic Nye Beach, which today is a hip beachside community with tons of local shops and galleries.

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