Recently, I had an opportunity to drive the Oregon coastline from California to Washington. It stretches for 363 magnificent miles and is one of the most scenic and relaxing drives I’ve ever done. While Central/Northern California coastline is still my all-time favorite, Oregon is a close second. The two coastlines are also very different, Oregon has more sandy beaches, giant sand dunes, interesting rock formations, fantastic tidal pools and lush greenery. Coastal communities vibrate with character, artistry and great fresh seafood.
Late May was a great time for this trip, the coastal flowers were in bloom, the weather was nice and chilly and traffic was light.
Here are my top must see spots along the Oregon coast.
Harris Beach State Park
Harris Beach State Park lies on the north side of Brookings, the southern-most city on the Oregon coast and has unusually warm weather compared to the rest of Oregon coastline. The park offers miles of sandy beaches, sea stacks, and rocky outcroppings containing colorful tidal pools with a wide variety of wildlife. In fact, the tidal pool area is designated as one of seven Marine Gardens in Oregon. A must see around low tide.
This interesting coastline makes this a dream destination for photographers at sunset. You can also frequently see marine wildlife here, such as seals, sea lions, whales and various species of birds. Also, make sure you take a walk on the beach and check out some of park’s hiking trails, including Sunset Point Trail and South Beach Tail.
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
The 12-mile Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is a forested, park that runs along a rugged, steep coastline. Along the corridor you can find 300-year old sitka spruce trees, seaside prairies, natural arches, sandy beaches, and breathtaking views. That’s also where you can see the famed Arch Rock, Thunder Rock Cove and Natural Bridges areas. These are photographer’s paradise with vibrant colors and ever changing lighting.
Check out some of the hiking trails along the corridor. One of the major ones is the 27-mile Oregon Coast Trail, you should check out a portion of this trail, it makes for a great day-hike. For example, the Whaleshead Beach to Thomas Creek Bridge is a 6-mile roundtrip hike that offers varying landscapes and scenic views.
Bandon and the surrounding areas are known for their wide, sandy beaches great for beachcombing, sand castle building, and strolling. Bandon’s sea stacks, remnants of ancient marine terrace, offer great sunset photography and abundant marine life.
In addition, Bandon is a charming small coastal town. Check out the boardwalk, grab some amazing fresh seafood and buy some souvenirs at the Old Town Bandon gift shops.
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
Cape Perpetua Headland towers 800 feet over the protected Marine Garden coastline, which is the highest viewpoint accessible by car in Oregon shoreline. This area is where you’ll find Devil’s Churn – where waves come crashing into a beautiful box canyon, Thor’s Well – where waves fill up a hole in the rocks, Spouting Horn – where waves push water to blow up through cracks in rocks, and Cook’s Chasm – where there is a canyon created between rocky shores.
There are short trails that lead to all of these magnificent natural wonders. In Cape Perpetua you can also find many tide pools, scenic beaches and rocky shores.
Cannon Beach is a coastal town a couple of hours west of Portland. It’s a very touristy spot taken over with people and cars. Since I like less crowded places, this wasn’t my favorite. However, if you like walking around the shops, trying seafoam candy and fantastic seafood, it’s a great place to check out. It also has a long sandy beach with Haystack Rock, tidal pools and rock formations. The tidal pools are corded off, so you can’t really get close and there wasn’t much wildlife in them when I was there. The beaches south of Cannon were much better for tidal pools.
Even though this wasn’t my favorite, I added Cannon Beach because I know a number of people who really liked it and it’s a pretty known location along the coast. The real treat is the Ecola State Park just north of Cannon Beach.
Ecola State Park
Sitting on the edge of Tillamook Head, the Ecola State Park has nine miles of breathtaking coastline. You can find old growth rainforest here, magnificent vistas overlooking ocean cliffs and beaches. The park offers several miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, surfing at the Indian Beach, and great bird and marine wildlife watching.
You can also see the historic Tillamook Rock Lighthouse that lies just offshore in the Pacific.
Fort Stevens State Park
Fort Stevens State Park is up near the mouth of the Columbia River with 6-miles of hiking trails and beautiful views. The area was a military defense installation for 84 years, from the Civil War to World War II. In the summertime, you can take an underground tour through a rare gun battery that served as a World War II command center, take a ride in the back of a historic military transport truck and check out the fortifications from a whole new perspective.
One of the highlights of this park is wreck of Peter Iredale – a four-masted steel sailing vessel that crashed on the shoreline on October 25, 1906. With the ship’s remnants still visible on the beach, this makes a great focal point for sunset pictures.
Fort Stevens was the last stop on the coast of Oregon. No matter where you decide to stop along the coastline, you can’t go wrong. It’s a majestic and unique 363 miles that will excite the photographer in you and provide artistic inspiration to take home with you.