15 Top-Rated Things to Do in Rockaway Beach, OR
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 who come here to take advantage of the many things to do along the coast. 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 welcome visitors to this coastal community.
It's the laid-back status and small-town feel that make 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 things to do in Rockaway Beach.
1. Explore Rockaway Beach's Seven Miles of Sand
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. And 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 surround Rockaway Beach. This entire expanse is part of the state-spanning Oregon Coast Trail.
2. Go Crabbing at Kelly's Brighton Marina
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
3. See the Big Tree at Cedar Wetlands Preserve
On the southern city limits is a unique cedar bog with some longstanding trees. This 45-acre parcel, known as Cedar Wetlands Preserve, or Old Growth Nature Preserve, is home to a unique native forest that avoided any type of development as the city grew from its early industrialization.
Today, a raised boardwalk trail navigates the native boggy environment, leading to the area's largest resident: a western red cedar with a 45-foot circumference believed to be between 500 to 900 years old. The boardwalk is wheelchair accessible and lends an excellent view of the marshy terrain without getting shoes wet.
A small parking area off the 101 has room for approximately 10 cars. The out-and-back hike to see the tree is less than one mile, with almost zero elevation gain. Visitors are asked to stay on the boardwalk to protect the saturated environment.
Address: 947 Hwy 101 So, Rockaway Beach, Oregon
Read More: Best Hikes on the Oregon Coast
4. Hop aboard the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad
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 is a popular tourist attraction that operates every day of the week during the summer. Passengers hop aboard at either historic depot in Rockaway Beach or Garibaldi. Multiple outbound trains depart either city each day and each ride includes a 30-minute layover in the charming fishing town of Wheeler. A one-way trip takes approximately 90 minutes in total.
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.
5. Drive the Three Capes Scenic Route
One of the most scenic drives on 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 comprising 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 Oregon state park features over 200 campsites, catering to both tent and RV camping. Cape Lookout is also a fun promontory 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.
Read More: Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do on the Oregon Coast
6. Camp at Nehalem Bay State Park
On the north side of Nehalem Bay, 15 miles north of Rockaway Beach, 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.
7. Walk through History at Kilchis Point Reserve
Ten miles south of Rockaway Beach, Kilchis Point is a 200-acre reserve next to Tillamook Bay. It holds significant history as the former home of 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.
Read More: Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Oregon
8. Spend the Night next to the Ocean
Rockaway Beach is a popular spot for ocean getaways. And appropriately, the city has several locally owned places to stay. One of the top spots, the Surfside Resort, is also one of the best beach 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 cozy lodging options feature affordable rates and great views of the ocean.
9. Day Trip to Seaside
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.
Read More: Top-Rated Small Towns on the Oregon Coast
10. 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.
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.
11. Watch for Whales in the Water
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 or a zoom lens also 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.
12. 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.
The International Police Museum moved up the road to Wheeler in 2021 before returning to Rockaway Beach in February 2022. Currently, the museum has new displays set up in the Washed Ashore Craft Mall on Highway 101. Admission, as always, is free.
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.
13. Fish in 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.
Read More: Best Lakes in Oregon
14. Have a Picnic at Manhattan Beach State Recreation Site
This State Recreation Site is on the north side of town, just south of the Nehalem Bay South Jetty. It's a day-use park and an excellent place to access the ocean and a broad beach, and while the recreation site is popular, it tends to receive fewer crowds than other spots on the coast.
Manhattan Beach State Recreation Site is also a great place for picnicking on a windy day. It's good for picnicking on non-windy days, too, but its picnic tables sit just off the parking lot in little cul-de-sacs created by shore pine—offering the perfect wind block.
It's less than a 500-foot walk to the ocean after picnicking at Manhattan Beach State Recreation Site. From here, miles of sand stretch south to the Barview Jetty. This expansive stretch of beach is ideal for those interested in beachcombing and long beach walks.
15. Drive up the Road to Wheeler
If the small-town charm of Rockaway Beach isn't enough, spend some time exploring the storefronts just up the road in the cozy community of Wheeler. Visitors don't even hit traffic lights along the 101 to and through this small town less than 10 miles north, but plenty of parking makes for an easy stop.
Wheeler has a long history, and today it's fun to walk around the antiquated town and pop into storefronts that catch the eye. Antique shops, cafés, and gift shops all vie for attention, alongside Wheeler's "Million-Dollar View" across the Nehalem River. It's a slow pace in Wheeler, one that makes for a welcome escape when visiting.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Wheeler
Where to Stay in Rockaway Beach for Sightseeing
Rockaway Beach is a small town with limited lodging options. It doesn't have any true luxury properties, but it has a decent mid-range lodging selection to accommodate a variety of travelers—from a pet-friendly resort to vacation rental condos.
Luxury & Mid-Range Hotels:
- If you are traveling with a pup, Surfside Resort welcomes pets. This oceanfront property is also family-friendly. Rooms and suites have private balconies, many (but not all) with direct ocean views. There is heated indoor swimming pool on-site. Guests can also borrow board games and puzzles for rainy days.
- The Whale Watcher Inn recently underwent renovations. It has four condos that can sleep up to six people. Right on the beachfront, it has great views of the surf from private decks. These are cozy and comfortable and come with kitchenettes. There are restaurants within walking distance.
- In a fantastic location, Rockaway Resort is just a few hundred feet from the beach. Guests love the easy access to the beach and the views, but keep in mind, the property itself is older. Amenities include an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, workout room, and billiards.
- Located right on the beach, Tradewinds Motel is an excellent budget choice. Rooms are spacious, clean, and well looked-after. Most have ocean views. They also come with kitchenettes and a table with chairs. This property is family-friendly and welcomes dogs.
- The Getaway is just south of Rockaway Beach proper. It has fantastic ocean views, and a path leads right to the beach, which is usually crowd-free. The family-friendly property has rooms and suites that are clean, have kitchenettes, and are reasonably priced. Try for a second-floor unit, as these have the best views. The property allows pets.
- Silver Sands Oceanfront Motel offers ocean views from all its rooms. This 2-star property has an indoor saltwater swimming pool, which is one of its best perks. There is also a hot tub, beach access, and a sauna. The motel is pet-friendly.
Best Time to Visit Rockaway Beach, OR - Historical Climate Averages
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