Road trip along Oregon's Pacific coast: 14 unmissable spots

Oregon likes to tout itself as being "above California'' in more than one way (geddit?) but when you have 580 kilometres of spectacularly unspoilt coastline made up of free public beaches (another blow to California, whose rich celebs like to think parts are privately owned), it's hard to argue against "the People's Coast".

As you're now veering into Pacific Northwest territory, you can probably leave the swimsuit behind and pack a raincoat and a camera, as you're in for a magnificent – and moody, dramatic ride.

Here are the sights you don't want to miss.

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

Samuel H Boardman State Park.

Samuel H Boardman State Park. Photo: Alamy

Just north of Brookings, the first major town north of the Californian border lies this scenic corridor, where the road is peppered with lookouts over magnificent rocky coves and driftwood strewn beaches, and its famous seastacks capped with lone pine trees line the coast, and the sea swirls ominously below. Stop at Natural Bridges' three rocky arches topped with fir trees tucked into a cove that will, undoubtedly, be atmospherically shrouded in mist. Slightly further north, don't miss Secret Beach – we'd like to tell you where it is, but we'd have to kill you.

Myers Creek Beach

Right next to the 101 is an easy, but spectacular stopping point where you can wander among the huge sea stacks and clamber over whitewashed driftwood.

Sisters State Rock Park

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Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

Is the second stop along this route, with stunning views both north and south over capes which peek over low-hanging cloud.

Port Orford Heads State Park

A 1.2-kilometre  hike escorts you to sheltered coves which hide families of seals playing in the calm waters below the wildflower-blanketed headlands. These overlook the town of Orford, where you can just make out people strolling across its huge spit as it disappears into the foggy horizon.

Old Bandon

Coffee shops and seafood shacks beckon from tiny seaside towns like old Bandon and Waldport, where you can stop for hot drink or artisan chocolate to break up the drive, before you head to Dunes National Park.

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Florence

No trip to the dunes is complete without experiencing a ride on a dune buggy like a roller coaster over sand dunes. For the more adventurous, Florence is also home to the world's first sandboarding park – just like snowboarding, only with sand.

Central Oregon's coast is covered in sand dunes – there are 64 kilometres of them in Dunes National Park. The 101 takes a swerve around them through the Umpqua River region, where you'll find rivers covered with lily pads and bright yellow flowers, picturesque valleys and pine-covered hills.

Haceta Head

Heceta Head lighthouse.

Heceta Head lighthouse. Photo: iStock

If you're looking for those postcard perfect red-roofed lighthouses that sit picturesquely on top of grassy headlands, look no further. To get there you drive past one of Oregon's iconic pastel green bridges which arches over a crystal-clear Cape Creek. 

Yaquina Head

Oregon's tallest working lighthouse is at Yaquina Head, on the northern end of Newport, which has excellent view of Nye Beach.

Newport

 

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Spend a night in Newport to sample some of the best seafood in the region and to visit one of Oregon's most beloved breweries, Rogue. Its wild and windswept Nye Beach is a firm favourite with visitors; stay in the Elizabeth Street Inn for best views from a room with a fireplace, or if you're really adventurous, take a dip in the world's first infinity spa at the Inn at Nye Beach.

Cape Foulweather​

 

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Visit Devil's Punchbowl on the beach – a large bowl carved into the rock that's open to the Pacific Ocean – and then head to the ominously named Cape Foulweather for one of Oregon coast's more instagrammable scenes across Otter Bay.

Depoe Bay

 

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A few kilometres to the north lies cutesy Depoe Bay, which proclaims to be the world's smallest harbour – but also one of the biggest spots to see migrating whales.

Three Capes Scenic Loop

Long stretches of wild beach are flanked by headlands topped with lookouts that dip dramatically back into the wide sandy beaches, where waterfalls cascade onto beaches more than anywhere else I've been.

A challenge to do in the space of a day if it's not your only stop, but it offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of Oregon. Cape Kiwanda is the first stop to the south, where sandstone hoodoo rock formations make this cape a unique attraction. On its foreshore the excellent local brewer Pelican Brewery allows you an uninterrupted view of the coast.

 

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Cape Lookout, cape No. 2, is a spectacular (but rough) climb up a mountain road ending with views across miles of coastline to the third Cape. Park at the base, where waterfalls tumble into the ocean and driftwood covers is wide expanse.

 

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A loop past Netarts Spit will lead you to the third Cape Meares, a 210-metre high rocky headland, where the phenomal views are accompanied by an Octopus Sitka spruce, a cute lighthouse and waterfalls tumbling over cliffs directly into the ocean.

Manzanita Beach

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Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

On your way to Cannon Beach, don't forget to stop at Oswald West State Park which overlooks Manzanita Beach, the Nehalem Spit and beyond.

Cannon Beach

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Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

It's this beach, with the iconic Haystack Rock, that is the apple of Oregon's eye ; a huge seastack that dominates the entire coastline often speckled with white seagulls, bright against the often dark skies. A light spattering of rain will sends a double rainbow spouting from the rock, follow the end to the pot of gold at the Ecola State Park lookout, a scenic, woody five-kilometre drive that overlooks miles and miles of coastland to Oswald West State Park.

The writer was a guest of Travel Oregon

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