20 Best things to do on the Oregon Coast

February 3, 2021
Arch Rock Lookout inside the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Byway is one of the best views on the Oregon Coast.

The Oregon coast is a heaven apart, where wind-shaped forests glide up to the beach; where the ocean collides with dramatic cliffs; where boulders and tidepools meet campfires and children.

There are no major cities on the coast, which is a very good thing. Instead, dotting the landscape are dozens of small, seaside towns, each boasting their antique shops, galleries, and candy stores. Some of the lodgings are modern and chic, while some are mature as the boulders themselves.   

The Coastline runs 363 miles from Astoria to Brookings. Vacationers from Seattle and Portland tend to occupy the northernmost stretch of the coast, but every part of Highway 1 is worth exploring.  The following is what we’ve decided are the top twenty things to do on the Oregon Coast.  

1. Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock at sunset is the quintessential landmark along the coast.

This is probably our favorite place on earth. In the 1980’s, Cannon Beach was a work in progress, with unpaved parking lots right on the strip.  That time has passed.  Now it is the consummate beach town, complete with pricey hotels and an abundance of boutiques. Some say Cannon Beach is trying to be Carmel, California, but never mind them.  There are enough original touches that the essence of old Cannon is recognizable. 

Haystack Rock is a 327’ monolith, and the most iconic image on the entire coast. In the epic movie, The Goonies, Haystack Rock is immortalized in the climactic pirate ship scene.  

The beaches are long and wide, so bring your walking shoes.  Better yet, bring your bike!  Haystack has some younger monolithic siblings down the way (about 45 minutes by foot), and more still if you’ve got the stamina to push for Castle Rock.   Just north of CB is Ecola State Park, a must-stop for anyone who enjoys beautiful views.  Nearby Indian Beach has plenty of smaller boulders and tide pools for the children to explore.  It also has a great view of the off-shore Tillamook Lighthouse two miles north.

For more about Cannon Beach, click here!

2. Cape Perpetua

Thor's Well is a well-known feature in Cape Perpetua.  It is perhaps the second most recognizable feature of the Oregon Coast.

South of Yachats, the coastline forms a rugged plateau that runs for a mile stretch beneath an forested cape.  Some of Oregon’s most exciting attractions are found here. 

The most famous is Thor’s Well, otherwise known by the depressing moniker, “the drainpipe of the Pacific”.  Large waves draw under the rocky shelf, then rise from a great, dark hole. Ocean waters flood across the rocks, after the occasional skyward explosion. Watching the water retreat into the well is especially pleasing — it appears white and lacey against the gnarly basalt.  Be advised to stay away when the waves are large, and always remember to keep safe distance. 

Other fun features are Spouting Horn and Devil’s Churn, and about a mile south is Neptune State Park.  All three of these places involve big waves crashing against rocky shoreline resulting in massive sea spray.  It can make for some spectacular photos if someone in your party has the guts to (safely) stand nearby. Cape Perpetua also has scenic hikes and a drive that goes to the top of the cape, providing spectacular coastal views.  

3. Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor has several rock arches, the beautiful Indian Sands Trail, and is perhaps the most attractive stretch of the Oregon Coast.

Just north of Brookings is a 16-mile stretch of road dubbed the state scenic corridor.  This is arguably the most beautiful stretch of the Oregon coast and not to be missed.

Our favorite feature was the Indian Sands Trail.  There are two paths to take from the parking lot – we recommend you take the path on your left when you drive in.  The other path is steep and treacherous; it disappears at times and put our eleven-year-old girl to tears.  

After a long, steep decent through the woods, continue to your left when you hit the sand.  You will shortly find a gorgeous sight, a bright blue bay with a near perfect arch.  You can walk right up to the arch — just follow the precipitous trail that leads in that general direction and stop short of being foolish.

Natural Bridge Arch is another gorgeous view, and this one can easily be spied from a pullout.  If you have the time and dexterity, hike down to the bridge and soak up the view.  Arch Rock is yet another easily accessed roadside attraction that is highly recommended, especially the southern view.  

4. Cape Kiwanda

Cape Kiwanda has a massive sand dune which offers exercise with your viewing pleasure.  Also has Haystack Rock.

Cape Kiwanda boasts the tallest sand dune on the pacific shore, a fanciful 240’ incline of soft sand.  Climbing the beast isn’t as easy as sitting in your beach lounger, but for those who take the challenge the views are tremendous (and tremendously windy).  Galloping down the hill like a drunken Gump is worth the effort alone, so do it for Forrest.  Heck, do it for overachievers everywhere.

Not to be confused with Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Cape Kiwanda has its own glorious, haystack-shaped monolith, aptly named – ahem — Haystack Rock.  Truth be told, this feels like an Oregon Coast mic drop moment – All the rocks are named haystack, nothing to see here, folks.  Please don’t allow their lack of creativity to bother you.  Besides, there’s another damn haystack rock further down the coast!

The cape itself is beautiful.  At the base of the headland is a pocket where the kids can check out the caves below striated cliffs.  Part-way up the dune there is a fence that dissuades *nobody from walking out onto the bluffs to explore the coves.  Do so at your own risk, the sign says.  

The surf is good, hence the surfers.  The town is small with few hotels and a great RV park, and there are some restaurants.  Nearby Pacific City has the other basic fixens a weekender might need.  

5. Bandon Beach

Bandon is a golfing Mecca, and also has some very cool sea stacks.

The walk from Face Rock Viewpoint to Coquille Point is spectacular and one of the best things to do on the Oregon Coast.  Sea stacks like the aforementioned Face Rock, Cat and Kittens Rock, Elephant Rock, Cathedral Rock, Table Rock, etc., are ridiculously cool to walk amongst.  The walk to the south toward, umm, Haystack Rock, is also pleasing, if not windy.  

On a flat, rock outcropping near Elephant Rock is a place where a village of sea lions sunbathe.  These beasts are vicious, so remember to give them plenty of space.

Bandon Dunes is a renowned golf mecca on the west coast, if golfing is your thing.  The sand dunes stretch for over 70 miles and are also very popular with ATV enthusiasts.  Since we are neither golfers nor off-road types, we haven’t ranked these activities accordingly.  Someone who does would probably do so with enthusiasm, as they are quite the big deal around here.

6. Otter Rock

Otter Rock is a lesser known stop along the coast, but one of the best things to do in Oregon.

Otter Rock is a tiny town north of Newport and it is worth the stop.  The primary feature is called The Devil’s Punchbowl, which had my kids’ full attention.  

“What happens if you drink the devil’s punch, dad?”  

“Every rock looks like a haystack, son.”

The Devil’s Punchbowl… It’s a big rock hole that fills with water (and an insane amount of crabs) depending on the tide.  You stand above it and admire it.  When we were there the tide was out, so it was empty. Several people were climbing around inside it.  A mature gal standing beside me said she’d been coming to the place since 1957 and that she’d never seen the tide out as far as it was that day… which upon hearing left us no choice but to go down.  

It was a touch scary being in there, with the tide threatening to rush in every so often, so be careful.  The sweet, old lady said something about sneaker waves – yada yada – they will kill you.

There is a fantastic beach break to the south, so Otter Rock is an excellent place to try surfing.  Pura Vida surf shop is run is by a friendly family and sits by the punchbowl viewing area.  To the north is beautiful cliffside scenery.

7. Pistol River / Myers Creek Beach

Pistol River is a windsurfing Mecca.  It is seldom crowded.  A mysterious place to take in primitive views.

Raise your hand if you like super windy places.  Ha!  Your hat is now tumbling down the beach.  Myers Creek Beach is home to world class wind surfing.  The Pistol River Wave Bash is on the International Windsurfing Tour, so this place is legit.  

It is also remote.  There are few stores or hotels nearby (Gold Beach is ten miles north, Brookings 18 miles south), but there is a state park if you’re camping and plenty of good, pull-out RV parking.

The monoliths are amazing at Myers Creek Beach.  As always, walk amongst them, go fishing amongst them, watch the windsurfers amongst them.  They are magic.

8. Seaside

Seaside is the Myrtle Beach of the west, ad schlocky town of bumper cars and time shares.  Great for kids.

Seaside is the child’s delight:  bumper cars, mini-golf, ice cream parlors, they even have a swing set on the beach.  It’s like Myrtle Beach, west coast version.  

Seaside is like the older, less-refined brother of Cannon Beach.  You know the brother who still smokes and hypes his mediocre clam chowder recipe every time you see him?  Well, we love family and visit for a few hours whenever we’re nearby, but we don’t stay the night because Seaside’s adolescent friends make poor choices.  

The Seaside Aquarium is always a hit with the kids, as are the Funland Arcade and candy shops.  The Lewis and Clark Turnaround is supposedly where the famous expedition wrapped it up and called it a hike.  They had to turn around somewhere, so it might as well be here, beneath a Windham Resort timeshare mega-hub. The beach at Seaside is OK and makes an ordinary swing set otherwise sublime. All that said, if you’re looking for a special place to enjoy the shore, drive eight miles south to Cannon Beach.  

9. Seal Rock

Seal Rock is a hidden gem along the Oregon Coast.

The primary draw to Seal Rock is the well-arranged tide pool.  This milieu feels safe and sheltered from the ocean due to the tight proximity of the offshore sea stacks.  When the ocean is out, this is a phenomenal place to bring the kids for beach time.

Mother Nature or Heavenly Father – whichever you prefer – really set this situation up well, as the tide pool is like a buffet you can approach from both sides.  There are banks of mussels so long and densely populated it boggles the mind.  This is also an excellent place to watch the wildlife, as we saw both a heron and a seal.  At the north end are some small waterfalls. It feels like an embarrassment of riches here.

10. Bruce’s Candy Kitchen

Bruce's Candy Kitchen might be the best candy store in the world.

Bruce’s Candy Kitchen is the greatest candy store on the Oregon Coast. Perhaps the known world. Family owned and operated since 1963, five generations have helped run their business of sweet memories.

Here at Bruce’s they have an incredibly large selection of homemade confections, which include: Salt water taffy, peanut brittle, Carmel, hand-dipped chocolates, Carmel corn, Carmel apples, divinity, fudge, gourmet candies and popcorns.

They say it’s all made with love, but we suspect there’s a little more to it. Do yourselves a favor and stop by Bruce’s Candy Kitchen. It is easily one of the best things to do on the Oregon Coast.

11. Fort Stevens

Fort Stevens brings history and tranquility.  At the northernmost corner of Oregon State.

Fort Stevens was built toward the end of the Civil War to defend the mouth of the Columbia River.  They retired the military installation in 1947, and now it is a beautiful, sprawling state park. Ft. Stevens makes a wonderful place to camp or spend the day with the family.

There are two especially memorable features to explore in the park:  the Iredale Shipwreck and the earthwork Battery Russell.  

The Battery (or artillery bunker), was in use from 1904-1944 and named after Bvt. Major General David A. Russell, who was KIA in 1864 during the US Civil War.  Years later it is a spooky playground full of dark tunnels and curious rooms.  What once held massive 6” guns on shielded barbette carriages, now hosts nature’s weed-growing contest.  A sad, puny tree is winning.

The Peter Iredale shipwreck ran ashore in 1906.  This area is known as “The graveyard of the Pacific,” because over 2000 ships have sunk nearby in the past 230 years.  The ship was 287 feet long, and the courts deemed the captain and crew did nothing wrong (except crash the ship into the sand dunes – which, whatever.) Most of the ship is buried in the sand, with the occasional pipe poking up a few feet.  However, the rusty bow has kept beautifully over the years and always draws a crowd.

12. Tillamook Creamery

Tillamook makes the best cheese on the west coast.  This is their manufacturing plant.  Take a tour of the creation of cheese.

No trip to the northern part of the Oregon Coast would be complete without stopping at the Tillamook Cheese Factory.  At this stately facility you can observe the cheese-making process from start to finish.  We like to watch the machines cut large pieces into perfect, 2lb blocks.  If you haven’t had Tillamook cheese, it’s kind of a big deal.

At the Tillamook Creamery, you not only watch the majesty of cheese creation, but they let you taste it, FOR FREE.  Hundreds of toothpick-wielding, cheese-cube-poking tourists line up buffet style to enjoy five or six different flavors of cheese.  

Eat as much as you like in the brief moment you have.  Go for it!  Get yours.  You waited in a 20-minute line, and those other tourists will never see you again maybe.  Don’t forget to try the squeaky cheese.  And be sure to buy an amazing scoop of Tillamook Ice Cream while you’re there!

13. Sisters Rock State Park

Sisters Rock State Park is worth the time to explore.  Good surfing.

In 2005, the State of Oregon used some lottery money to designate this area a state park.  They have put in little work beyond a signpost, which keeps the visitor count low.  This would certainly qualify as a low-key thing to do on the Oregon Coast, and we recommend you do it.

The Sisters Rocks are three summits — one an island — that rest massively beside each other in the surf, creating a headland.  Untampered, sandy beaches bow to the north and south, each decorated with sea stacks of various sizes.  The area feels desolate, eerie, and forgotten, and it is surely worth a few hours of your time.  

The largest sister has a cave, and with some skillful scampering one can ascend to a peering ledge.  With some cojones, one can climb inside to see how the cave runs through to the other side of the rock.  

When we were there a group of surfers were goofing on the northern beach.  They said the surf was “good” (in the same way my 13-year-old son says everything is “good” when I ask him about his life).  The beach itself is picturesque and looks northward toward Humbug Mountain. 

14. Lincoln City

Monica and Halea enjoy the primary beach in Lincoln City, Oregon.

What is now called Lincoln City was once five small communities strung along the coast.  In 1965 Lincoln City was incorporated, uniting the cities and unincorporated communities to create the most disjointed beach town on the coast.  It was named after Abraham Lincoln by the local school children.  All the components of a classic, seaside refuge are present in abundance (if you can learn your way around).  

The beaches earn a solid “C+”, but lacks a defining quality (like a rock named Haystack).  A northern stretch of beach called Roads End is recommended, as is the primary beach in the central part of the city.  We found a nice family vibe on the beach in the town of Taft, where the Siletz River creates a bay and connects with the Pacific Ocean.  

The strip, or beachiest portion of the town, is found in the former town of Oceanlake.  It has the standard beach fare of candy stores and junk shops.  Perhaps it’s a little run down, but we’re not judging (maybe a little)

15. Coos Bay State Parks

The rocks and beaches along Cape Arago, Shore Acres, and Sunset Bay State Parks are beautiful and under crowded.

Cape Arago, Shore Acres, and Sunset Bay make up a good-looking trio of State Parks along the coast near Coos Bay.  They are connected by a single road and within a few miles of each other. If you find yourself on the coast in the middle of the state, these state parks make a fine thing to do on the Oregon Coast.

The ocean is a deep, beautiful blue from the bluffs of Cape Arago.  Looking south over Drake Point is a gorgeous vantage, and west across the Simpson Reef is worthy of contemplation.  Sunset Bay is a good place to plop the family down and build castles in the sand.  Also, the bay just south of Shore Acres is like something out of a deserted island.  

16. Prehistoric Gardens

The best roadside attraction on the Oregon Coast is Prehistoric Gardens.

Sixty-five years ago in an ancient Oregon rainforest, Paleontologist Ernie Nelson placed 23 life-sized dinosaur sculptures, including a 20-foot-tall T-Rex in the parking lot. Over the past six decades people have paid to stroll amongst his acres of terrible lizards.

Is it cheesy?  Yeah, a little.  Maybe quite a lot.  Is it worth it?  Yes, especially if you have kids.  I remember walking through the place 35 years ago like it was yesterday.  The brachiosaurus amazes me every time (it took the man four years to build that dinosaur alone).  

Ernie’s childhood dream can be your reality for about ten bucks.  Take your time, admire the handiwork.  Read each placard and monument.  Charming and informative dinosaur stuff aside, this is a man’s dream and life’s work around you.  He built each dinosaur from steel, chicken wire, concrete and paint.  His granddaughters run the place this very day.  Prehistoric Gardens is the living, breathing, Post-War dream, and one of the great, west-coast, roadside attractions.

17. Neskowin Beach

Monica enjoys a few hours on the foggy beach in Neskowin, Oregon.

We’re not gonna lie… there isn’t much here.  Neskowin is basically a beach, a rock, a creek, and a store.  There is something special, though.

The rock is called Proposal Rock.  It’s big and has trees on it and you can access it.  On the south end of the rock is an arch like the eye of a needle.  Around the corner is a small cave where you can make out or hide a body. 

The creek is perfect for the kids and dogs to splash.  The store carries high-end cheeses.  For being such a small, nothing-to-do place, it felt a bit uppity, which appeals to our douchey, sophisticated side (just Ryan).   And sometimes nothing to do is just what we need.  Just a beach, a rock, a creek, and an uppity store. Maybe a good book or something.

18. Florence

We had lunch in Florence.  The town was perfect for strolling.

Florence is a beautiful, riverside town due west from Eugene, Oregon.  Haceta Beach is about 4 miles west and Cape Perpetua is about 20 miles north.  Florence sits at the top end of the Oregon dunes and has terrific access to the ATV universe.

Florence is the perfect place to get lunch and sniff the waterfront. There is a wide-open park to walk dogs beside a well-known seafood restaurant drawing a wait list.  The strip is quite lovely and has interesting shops.  A young man strums his guitar singing Beatles love songs while folks line-up outside BJ’s Ice Cream.

19. Harris Beach State Park

Harris Beach State Park is at the southern end of the coast near Brookings, Oregon.  Just north of Crescent City, California.

Brookings sits at the southernmost part of the Oregon Coast.  The easiest way to get to Brookings is to come up from California.  The town itself does not come with any special recommend, but they’ve named all the rocks and the coastline is gorgeous. For those in California, this is one of the top things to see on the Oregon Coast.

Just north of Brookings is Harris Beach State Park, a popular place to camp and comb the beach.  The beach is very cool and swimming with sea stacks.  We tried to get an RV site and the park was booked way out in advance. So there’s no secret here.  The weather is a bit warmer in south Oregon than other parts of the coast, which is nice for beach goers.  

20. Netarts / Oceanside

Netarts is not well known, but a great place to get away and feel isolate along beautiful stretches of Oregon beach.

These two northern coastal towns are two miles apart so we’ve just lumped them together.  When you enter Netarts from the south you might think you’ve wandered into nothingness and be tempted to turn around.  And no fooling, there isn’t much here; it’s a beach, a rock, and a store type of place.    

But there’s this amazing little locus, just around the corner from town, where the beach is perfect at the mouth of Netarts Bay.  The tip of the peninsula across the bay looks like you miiiiight just be able to swim to it.  That’s the place I want to sit in my lounger.  When the gumption strikes – and it will strike — I’m gonna own that peninsula.  Are you stupid and strong swimmer, too?  Meet you there in five.  

Oceanside has those special monoliths that most all great Oregon beaches have.  Three of them, to be exact.  The middle one has a huge hole in it that looks like you could sail a boat through it.  A cliff frames in the beach to the north, making Oceanside another perfect, little sunbathing getaway that the crowds don’t need to know about.

Notes:

Best for Children: Cannon Beach, Seaside, Tillamook Creamery

Time to Visit: July/August

Best Camping: Cannon Beach RV Resort: $42-64/RV

Cape Kiwanda RV Resort: $26-41/tent; $41-68/RV

Sea and Sand RV Park (Lincoln City area): $44-67/RV

Seal Rocks RV Cove (Newport area): $32-35/tent; $43-73/RV

Haceta Beach RV Park (Florence area): $40/tent; $56/RV

Honey Bear by the Sea RV Resort (Gold Beach area): $45/tent; $50+/RV

Map of Coast: Click Here

Map of Oregon Coast listing the best twenty things to do.

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