An Oregon Coast Tour: Lighthouses, Beach Towns and Scenic Vistas
If ever there was a place where your wide-eyed sense of youthful adventure could be reclaimed, it’s the Oregon Coast.
On this stretch of public coastline that sprawls out for more than 584 kilometers, there’s a lot to be in awe of. Extraordinary sights include jagged rock formations jutting from ocean waves, dense forests that reveal expansive shorelines and hidden coves and tidal pools waiting to be explored. You’ll also find quirky towns that inspired movies, weathered lighthouses with their own stories and maybe even a pod of whales.
Highway 101 Stops from Florence
In Florence, stop at the Sea Lion Caves, the USA’s largest sea cave, which is also a private wildlife preserve and refuge for a substantial sea lion population. Captivating and whimsical, this underground cave tour showcases sea lions wobbling and sunbathing along the rocks, splashing in the waves and playing with their cuddly pups. Continue your tour just over a kilometer off the coastal highway near Florence, where you can tour Heceta Head Lighthouse, dramatically perched upon a cliff and surrounded by alpine woods. Plan ahead to stay at the Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast a few meters away. The six-room inn boasts two fireplaces on the main floor and pampers guests with a seven-course breakfast. Wake up to scenery akin to an enchanted forest as you overlook the spectacular coastal vistas.
The illuminated Heceta Head Lighthouse, framed by a full moon
Whale Watching and Attractions near Newport
Heading north, travel to Newport and visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where you can observe seals, sea lions, sea turtles and a variety of ocean wildlife. Check out a natural phenomenon at Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area, as waves surge and swirl up in a hollow rock formation partially open to the Pacific Ocean. You can also hike trails with gorgeous ocean views before you head to Yaquina Bay. The star of this little coastal town is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse atop a high bluff overlooking the ocean. It’s the only Oregon lighthouse with living quarters attached to it.
Hoping for more marine life encounters? Stop in Depoe Bay, known as one of Oregon’s most prolific whale watching locations. Winter and spring migration times increase your chances of seeing whales, whether you book a trip with a whale watch charter or visit the Whale Watching Center. Located on a seawall with large ocean-facing windows, the center offers optimal views and staff to help you spot whales and answer your questions.
A gray whale surfaces off the coast of Oregon
Coastal Icons around Astoria
Travel further north and you’ll reach Cannon Beach, one of Oregon’s most famous beaches. Wandering the stunning shoreline, you’ll quickly see Haystack Rock, an impressive formation climbing 100 meters from the water’s surface. During low tide at Hug Point, you’ll be able to catch glimpses of clams, sea anemones and more sea creatures living in the clear tidal pools. While you’re here, visit nearby Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, a deactivated lighthouse built upon a basalt rock. The scene is dramatic as salty waves crash against the craggy setting. Rumored to be haunted, the lighthouse nicknamed “Terrible Tilly” holds tales of shipwrecks and tragedies.
Storytelling continues in Astoria, a small fishing and shipping port, characterized by its rustic seaside charm and famed as the film location for the 1985 cult classic movie, The Goonies. Ride the trolley to the Oregon Film Museum and explore movie memorabilia, then hop off and on the trolley with a map of town attractions (pick up a treasure map of sorts from the Chamber of Commerce). Lastly, be sure to climb 164 steps to the top of the Astoria Column for a panoramic view of the coast, the bay and the river.
Searching for sea life amid the coastal tide pools
Fly into Portland International Airport then rent a car and head to Highway 101 along the coast.