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12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Rockaway Beach, OR

Written by Brad Lane
Mar 18, 2021

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Rockaway Beach is a charming small town on the northern Oregon coast, 25 miles south of Cannon Beach. Predating the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 101), it has long since been a popular place to visit for tourists. Vacationing families in the 1920s embarked on trains to this small slice of ocean paradise.

The city's status as a crowded tourist destination has ebbed over the years, but the charm remains the same. The seaside splendor includes miles of sandy beaches extending in both directions from town. And still today, beach-inspired shops and local restaurants are found in this welcoming community.

It's the laid-back status and small-town feel that makes Rockaway Beach a sought-after coastal refuge. That, and an excellent location on the coast that enables several scenic day trips. Find your next stop on an Oregon Coast road trip with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Rockaway Beach.

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

1. Explore Rockaway Beach's Seven Miles of Sand

Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Rockaway Beach is perhaps best known for its beach. An approximately seven-mile stretch of uninterrupted sand surrounds the city. And like the entire Oregon Coast, or the "People's Coast," every inch of the beach is open to the public. The city offers over 20 access points, typically at the end of every east/west road.

This abundance of beach access makes Rockaway one of Oregon's best beaches. It also lends to classic activities like kite flying, chair lounging, and beachcombing. Plan some time on any visit for casual days admiring the distant Twin Rocks sticking out of the surf.

Tillamook Bay to the south and Nehalem Bay to the north bookend the approximately seven miles of sand. But the beach extends past both these bodies of water. In total, about 16 miles of sand surrounds Rockaway Beach. This entire expanse is part of the state-spanning Oregon Coast Trail.

2. Go Crabbing at Kelly's Brighton Marina

Crab boat on Nehalem Bay
Crab boat on Nehalem Bay

Crabbing is a way of life in Rockaway Beach. Several excellent locations to land these crustaceans surround the town. Nehalem Bay to the north and Tillamook Bay to the south have excellent crab-catching reputations. And a little farther south, Netarts Bay also yields heavy crab pots.

While some say crabbing reaps the biggest results around the winter months, these three bays host good crabbing throughout the year. Hopping aboard a boat tends to bring in the most crabs. However, for those without a rig, dockside crabbing also works.

Several marinas around all three bays offer gear, bait, and docks to toss a crab pot. One such marina, Kelly's Brighton Marina on Nehalem Bay, provides a guided crabbing experience. Kelly himself leads this family-fun adventure with guaranteed results.

Address: 29200 US-101, Rockaway Beach, Oregon

Official site: https://kellysbrightonmarina.com/

3. Hop aboard the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad

Steam engine on the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad near Garibaldi
Steam engine on the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad near Garibaldi | mk97007 / photo modified

The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad is a heritage route stretching from Rockaway Beach to Garibaldi to the south. The rail line is mainly adjacent to Highway 101 and goes at a more leisurely 10 miles per hour. This slowed-down pace, alongside the available open-air boxcar seating, offers a more enjoyable way to travel on the coast.

The railroad operates every day of the week during the summer. Passengers hop aboard at either historic depot in Rockaway Beach or Garibaldi. Three trains leave Garibaldi each day, while two depart from Rockaway Beach. Each ride includes a 30-minute layover in the charming fishing town of Wheeler.

The railroad offers specialty trips outside of the regularly scheduled Oregon Coastal Excursions. The year begins with a Valentine's Brunch Train in February and concludes with a Candy Cane Express trip in December. Other special trips include Spring Break Excursions and Fall Splendor Excursions.

Official site: https://oregoncoastscenic.org/

4. Drive the Three Capes Scenic Route

Cape Kiwanda on the Three Capes Scenic Route
Cape Kiwanda on the Three Capes Scenic Route | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

One of the best road trips along the Oregon Coast, the Three Capes Scenic Route, begins 22 miles south of Rockaway Beach. This 40-mile route veers off the 101 and tours a stunning landscape, including three prominent headlands. The three capes along the way are Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda.

Cape Meares is the most northerly headland on the route, closest to Rockaway Beach. Here, Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint offers a spectacular vantage point, 200 feet above the ocean. The state park unit also features three miles of hiking trails and a historic 1890s lighthouse.

Next on the route is Cape Lookout. This popular state park features over 200 campsites, mostly catering to tent camping. Cape Lookout is also an excellent place to explore. Alongside a five-mile Cape Trail, the state park accesses Netarts Spit, a long stretch of undeveloped sand that invites daytime sightseeing.

And lastly on the route is Cape Kiwanda. This headland is the smallest but also the most unique in that it's composed entirely of sandstone. This crumbly attribute offers a dramatic landscape to explore and a fun sand hill to climb.

Next to Cape Kiwanda, Pacific City offers a good place to visit for a midday lunch break with several patio-clad places to eat.

5. Camp at Nehalem Bay State Park

Horseback riding on the beach at Nehalem Bay State Park
Horseback riding on the beach at Nehalem Bay State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the north side of Nehalem Bay, Nehalem Bay State Park offers one of the best campgrounds on the Oregon Coast. The state park has approximately 265 standard campsites with electricity available. Special accommodations are also available, like rustic yurts and a site dedicated to equestrian campers.

It's not just the surplus of campsites that makes Nehalem Bay a popular place to park an RV or pitch a tent. The state park also accesses a wide range of terrain, leading to all types of adventures. A few of the landscapes to explore include the oceanfront, a secluded sand spit, and the Nehalem Bay shoreline.

The proximity to Rockaway Beach also makes the state park a popular place for day visits. Everyday activities include beachcombing, fishing, and hiking along the shore. The state park is also well frequented by horse riders who utilize the trails.

Official site: https://stateparks.oregon.gov/index.cfm?do=park.profile&parkId=142

6. Walk through History at Kilchis Point Reserve

Trail in Kilchis Point Reserve
Trail in Kilchis Point Reserve

Ten miles south of Rockaway Beach, Kilchis Point is a 200-acre reserve next to Tillamook Bay. It holds significance in history as once being home to a large permanent settlement of the native population. The site is also where the region's first pioneer, Joe Champion, settled and built a cabin in 1851.

Today, the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum protects the land and encourages the public to explore its importance. The organization also prevents development on the historic property.

Three hiking trails meander throughout the reserve, denoting significant areas with interpretive information. The trailhead itself offers several bits of interpretive cultural and natural history. The total length of the pathway stretches for two miles. The first loop in the trail system is paved, while the rest of the path is crushed gravel.

Official site: http://www.tcpm.org/kilchis-point-reserve.html

7. Spend the Night next to the Ocean

Resorts line the beach in Rockaway Beach
Resorts line the beach in Rockaway Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Rockaway Beach is a popular spot for ocean getaways. And appropriately, the city has several locally owned places to stay. One of the best spots, the Surfside Resort, is also one of the best resorts on the Oregon Coast. This budget-friendly resort features ocean-facing rooms, as well as a pool and hot breakfast.

Many of the hotels in Rockaway Beach line the 101 and are close to the ocean. A few other popular places to check out include Tradewinds Motel and Silver Sands Oceanfront Motel. Both of these affordable and cozy lodging options feature great views of the ocean.

8. Day Trip to Seaside

Seaside
Seaside | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Several memorable day trips surround Rockaway Beach. New cities to explore and stunning viewpoints span in either direction along the coast. And to the north, with an approximately 45-minute drive, Seaside is one such fun spot to spend the day.

Just a few places to visit in Seaside include the Seaside Aquarium and a historic downtown steeped in Americana. But the real appeal is the enormous beach adjacent to the Seaside Promenade. The beach is so large and welcoming that it hosts the world's largest amateur volleyball tournament every summer.

En route to Seaside from Rockaway Beach, the tourist-friendly community of Cannon Beach also deserves a stop. Here, the impressive Haystack Rock jutting out of the surf defines the ocean scene. Alongside a beautiful landscape, Cannon Beach is also home to several local restaurants and shopping opportunities.

9. Grab a Bite to Eat

A Rockaway Beach vacation isn't complete without sampling the local cuisine. The city is stacked with family-owned and specialty restaurants, many with seafood on the menu. And several of these great places to eat line the 101 throughout the center of town.

To start the day right, places like Beach Bakeshop and Grumpy's Cafe offer an assortment of made-from-scratch pastries and breakfast entrees. Another popular spot for breakfast, and especially breakfast burritos, is the Offshore Grill and Coffee House.

Other popular spots for a meal in Rockaway Beach include the Old Oregon Smokehouse and Sand Dollar Restaurant. These casual eateries serve up fresh and fried entrees alongside competing recipes for the best seafood chowder on the coast.

To end the day on a sweet note, Schwietert's Cones and Candy is across the street from the Pirate Ship Playground. While incredibly enticing for children, the candy shop also attracts the sweet tooth of passing adults.

10. Watch for Whales in the Water

Grey whale tail off the Oregon coast
Grey whale tail off the Oregon coast

Like many destinations along the coast, Rockaway Beach has its fair share of whale sightings. These massive mammals migrate next to the town bi-annually: once in the winter and again in the spring.

The best time for whale watching in Rockaway Beach is late December into late January, and March through May. Higher vantage points tend to yield better views. Places on either side of Rockaway Beach, like Neahkahnie Mountain and Cape Meares offer this kind of elevation.

Whales are also spotted from the beach in areas like the Barview Jetty and Bayocean Spit. It helps to know what to look for, including the telltale spouts. Binoculars also lend help in this endeavor.

For a better chance of seeing these massive mammals, Garibaldi Charters offers a two-hour trip with a knowledgeable guide. Garibaldi Charters also specializes in fishing excursions.

11. Enjoy Indoor Exhibits at a Local Museum

Several indoor places to visit in Rockaway Beach and the surrounding communities cater to rainy day activities. And the forecast doesn't have to be inclement to enjoy the hands-on educational opportunities. The International Police Museum is one such example of unique exhibits on display.

This family-friendly museum shares the history of policing dating back to local "watchmen'' that volunteered their duties. It continues to modern policing spread across multiple government branches. Exhibits include uniforms from across the world, women in law enforcement, and various firearms from over the years.

South of Rockaway Beach, the Garibaldi Maritime Museum is also a favorite space to explore between outdoor adventures. This non-profit museum is dedicated to the nautical history of the region and surrounding Pacific Northwest. The museum features dozens of beautiful artifacts and exhibits housed in a well-lit and inviting gallery space.

12. Fish in Lake Lytle

Morning fog over Lake Lytle
Morning fog over Lake Lytle

This 65-acre lake is directly next to highway 101 on the north side of Rockaway Beach. Its calm waters make it a popular spot for fishing and boating. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout in the spring, and largemouth bass are also popular to cast for in the summer.

Anglers cast into Lake Lytle from either the shore, a fishing dock off the 101, or a personal boat. A boat launch is on the north side of the lake off 12th avenue. Anyone age 18 or older needs to have a fishing license before casting a line.

Non-motorized boating is also popular on Lake Lytle. The water is especially friendly to beginners, as there's rarely ever any wake. For those not looking to contend with motorized boats, paddlers can navigate toward the channel on the lake's north side. Here, a short half-mile journey leads to the smaller Crescent Lake, where motorboats aren't allowed.

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