After I moved to the Pacific Northwest, it didn’t take long to understand why Seattleites escape each summer on an Oregon Coast road trip for a beach vacation. Once I visited the coast for myself, I also fell in love.
Traveling to the Oregon Coast has now become a summer ritual for my family to hop in the car and drive down the incredibly scenic Oregon coastline to head to one of our favorite beaches.
To do a proper Oregon Coast road trip you’ll want to focus on Highway 101 — and to make it truly epic, drive the whole thing. I’ve driven various parts of Oregon’s coast highway numerous times on different road trips through the state, but one of my favorites was driving the entire coastline in one trip, entering the southern portion of Oregon after departing Eureka, California, and ending the drive back home in Seattle after leaving the Oregon coast behind once I crossed the Astoria Bridge.
My Oregon Coast road trips have helped me define the best parts of the coastline to focus on if you have a one week vacation and I’m excited to share my itinerary recommendation with you today!
Putting Together Your Oregon Coast Road Trip Itinerary
First, decide where to start. If you’re not a west coast local and don’t want to start in California and end in Washington (or vice versa), I recommend flying into and out of Portland and renting a car there. From Portland, drive up to Astoria via I-5 and start your road trip there since it connects with Highway 101 and is less than two hours away, then dedicate the last day of your trip to visiting Crater Lake before driving back up to Portland.
For the drive along the coast, stick to U.S. Highway 101. Hwy-101 is the coastal highway that runs from San Diego all the way up to Canada. It’s one of the most famous drives in the world, and the Oregon coast road trip part of it is often overlooked for its counterpart in California.
While doing the drive, I also recommend staying two days in some locations. The reason for that is because 1) Oregon’s coast really isn’t that long, 2) You’re going to fall in love with these adorable beach towns I’m recommending you stay in, and 3) You’re not going to waste time constantly packing and unpacking – particularly a time waster if you’re traveling with children!
For where you should stop along the Oregon Coast each day as you drive from one location to the next, read on. I’m making this Oregon coast road trip itinerary a 5-day one to account for travel time (such as driving from Portland or Seattle or San Francisco to get to your first coastal stop so five days along the coast should cover a one week vacation with weekends on both ends.
However, if you don’t need the transit days, then I recommend spending extra time exploring the northern coast area around Cannon Beach down to Tillamook. There’s so much to do there! Or spend a couple extra days in Bandon being blissfully lazy and just playing by tidepools and gazing at incredible sunsets and rock formations.
For the five nights along the Oregon coast, here’s a quick overview of where you’ll be spending your nights, before I get into how to spend your days during this scenic road trip.
Day 1: Gold Coast
Night 1: Bandon (drive there from California, or if coming from Portland or Washington, switch this itinerary around)
Day 2: Bandon
Night 2: Bandon
Day 3: Sand Dunes and Florence/Newport
Night 3: Florence or Newport
Day 4: Tillamook and North Oregon Coast
Night 4: Rockaway Beach, Cannon Beach, or Seaside (I’ll explain the differences of these below.)
Day 5: Haystack Rock and Other North Oregon Beaches
Night 5: Same Place as Night 4
Now, without further ado, here is my detailed itinerary for how to spend five days driving along the Oregon coast.
5-Day Oregon Coast Itinerary
Day 1: Explore Oregon’s South Coast
If you need to leave Portland and are skipping Crater Lake to get to Bandon, expect this to be a loooong driving day, but then things will get easier. If you’re coming from the southern border, then you’re all set to spend the day stopping at towns that intrigue you, like sleepy Gold Beach, or finding remote beaches when the tide’s out to search for animals in the tide pools.
I find the South Oregon coast to be a special part of the state because of its remote, small-town feel while being right next to the famous redwoods of California.
If you have time, stop off in Gold Coast to play in the tidepools. Continue your drive until you arrive in Bandon.
Where to Eat: Barnacle Bistro in Gold Beach. Barnacle Bistro has friendly service with a small, laidback ambiance with dining decor full of wood accents and coastal charm. Order the fish and chips made with cod caught fresh right off the shores of the Oregon coast. The restaurant also has several brews from the nearby Arch Brewery on tap.
Where to Sleep: Table Rock Motel in Bandon – A small, quaint motel that has ocean-themed rooms and is a quick walk from the bluffs overlooking the ocean.
Day 2: Bandon
I seriously love this town so much, and you’re going to want a whole day here. If you decide you don’t, then I’ll provide some alternatives next (and tell you you’re crazy for not wanting to spend all day in Bandon, ha!)
When in Bandon, you’re going to want to spend most of your time at the beach, but dedicate a couple hours to walking around the cute little downtown area that is located alongside a peaceful bay by the mouth of the Coquille River.
Downtown Bandon still has coastal views plus a relaxing boardwalk overlooking the harbor. Right next to the harbor are several walkable streets lined with seafood and other restaurants and cute charming gift ships. Bandon Card & Gift Shop was my favorite shop for apparel and souvenirs.
As for that gorgeous coastline, head southwest of the downtown area and you’ll come to Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint. This is the place to explore. There is a dirt trail high above the beach overlooking Face Rock (see if you can find the face in it!) and which has a number of great vantage points for photos plus informational boards from which you can learn more about what you’re gazing out at.
Head down the pathway from the walking trail to explore around the many rock structures. Time your visit for low tide to see starfish and sea urchins attached to the side of the rock, waiting for the tide to come back in.
Where to Eat: Tony’s Crab Shack. It’s small, but has both indoor and outdoor seating and is located right by the boardwalk.
Day 3: Oregon Sand Dunes and Onto Newport
Leave Bandon and head to Florence, but plan on making some stops along the way because this is your Oregon Sand Dunes day (though I have another sand dune surprise for you when you get to Day 3.
You have two options for experiencing the sand dunes in Oregon. You’ll see them from Highway 101 soon after leaving Bandon and the southern end of the dunes is home to the Oregon Dunes Recreational Park. Keep driving and on the northern end is the Oregon Dunes Day Use Park and Overlook.
Deciding which Dunes Park to visit depends on your interests and the ages of those traveling with you.
Oregon Dunes Recreational Park is where you can go for some wheel-tastic adventures on sand. Rent dune buggies or ATVs and ride up and down the hills for an adrenaline rush.
If you’re doing your Oregon road trip with young children, skip the recreational park since the kiddos aren’t going to be able to partake in the ATVing fun. There are some walking paths at the Oregon Dunes Recreational Park, but I think with young kids it’s easier to go north to the Oregon Dunes Day Use Park and Overlook.
At the Oregon Dunes Day Use Park, you’ll find two easy to access overlooks right off the parking lot. From the second overlook (it has a ramp or short staircase to go up to it) you can easily access the dunes for some fun in the sand. My two young girls had a blast rolling around in the small hills here.
You can also go down the massive hill you’ll see right in front of you and hike to the ocean. We stuck to the side dunes, but saw several groups making the trek to and from the water.
After you leave Oregon Dunes Day Use Park, it won’t be long before you’ll see Heceta Head Lighthouse. It’s a gorgeous site to see the still–working lighthouse’s rotating beam shining out from the tip of a green tree-adorned cape. If you want to take a picture, look for the exit for the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint.
Stop for a coffee or ice cream in Florence and do a quick walk around town to enjoy the quaint architecture and pretty harbor views. Florence also is a good place to stop for the night if you want somewhere low-key, otherwise keep driving up the coast about thirty minutes to Newport for a wider range of hotel options.
Oregon Coast Dining Tip for Newport
During your evening in Florence, you’re going to see Mo’s in town, but save it for tomorrow when you’re in Newport if you want to eat at the original’s (though frankly I think this one has more charm being right over the water!). Mo’s is an iconic local-to-Oregon restaurant especially known for its clam chowder that was started in 1946 with the location in Newport and has grown to eight locations up and down the Oregon coast.
Bonus info if traveling with kids: Mo’s has crackers in buckets on the table and the kid drinks come with plastic toy sharks on them. Snacks on-demand and new-toy entertainment (plus yummy clam chowder) equals my kind of place!
Where to Sleep on This Stretch of the Oregon Coast:
Luxury Option — The Inn at Nye Beach in Newport
The luxury boutique hotel is located right next to the sand and provides a staircase down to the beach from its comfortable outdoor lounge area. The rooms are well-appointed and many have gorgeous ocean views. Relax in your room with a glass of wine or head down to the common areas where you can sit by a bonfire while you listen to the waves or float around in the hotel’s infinity pool. There is also an onsite spa offering massages and other services.
Budget Option — The Waves Hotel in Newport
This hotel is a bit worn around the edges, but it’s a great deal for an oceanview room and it includes a fairly extensive continental breakfast. There is also a really nice indoor pool and hot tub plus a sauna on the property, which my family had fun swimming around in after a long day in the car.
Day 4: Newport Harbor and Pacific City
If you spent the night in Newport instead of Florence, the little coastal neighborhood of Nye Beach is a great place to grab a bite to eat for dinner, especially if you’re staying right by the coast.
However, for exploring in the morning and around lunch time, I recommend heading down to the harbor and taking in the bustling ambiance.
The harbor front of Newport seems to be a near-perfect split of tourism and fishing industry. You’ll see a souvenir shop right next to a factory, and Mo’s is right across from a fish market. It’s definitely an interesting vibe, and you’ll even have the chance to see sea lions on the docks just south of the harbor if you’re there when they’ve migrated back from California.
(We weren’t there at the right time to see the sea lions in late June, so the next leg of the road trip consisted of my daughter playing pretend with her toy animals in the back and having them discuss going to California. Next trip, dear!)
After Newport, pull off Highway 101 to make a detour farther west to Pacific City. My mom has good friends that live in a suburb of Portland and gave us the tip of how awesome Pacific City is and that it’s always where they go when their kids and grandkids are back in town.
It was such a cool, unique beach!
There is a free parking lot right by the beach, which is also right next to a restaurant and bar with seating practically right on the sand. However, before you think this is some party beach, fear not. You walk down a sand dune and you can barely even see the bar or parking lot anymore.
Instead, you’ll see a massive rock sitting within the water of the bay, and to your right a massive sand dune that is the highest in Oregon. And you’ll likely see people trudging up and sliding back down the dune.
The bay is gorgeous, and my girls had a blast rolling down the smaller sand dunes (we’ll hit up the large one next time when they’re a bit older, but our friends said it typically just takes about 15 minutes to walk up it – but it’s a steep 15 minutes!).
I was also delighted that we saw whales spouting in the water and showing us their magnificent tails the whole time we were there. Sorry – no pics of the whales as this was a place I wanted to live in the moment, but I did snap a few pics of the beach before we left.
If you have extra time, there are tons of hiking trails around Cape Kiwanda, and I also did a quick walk at Bob Straub State Park, located just five minutes south of Cape Kiwanda. Bob Straub State Park is lovely, with a windswept look to its beaches, which were practically void of people compared to Cape Kiwanda’s beach, which was much busier.
After having fun at the sand dunes and Cape Kiwanda, continue on north — and leave with enough time to visit Tillamook.
Tillamook is home to the cheese factory of the same name. It’s an interesting place to stop and do a tour. You’ll learn about the cheesemaking process, get to sample some cheeses, and can purchase a freshly made Tillamook ice cream cone. (The Marionberry flavor is my favorite!)
Tillamook is also close to Cape Meares Lighthouse so if you love pretty lighthouses, head there for an hour or two.
After Tillamook and Cape Meares, head to your Oregon beach city accommodations. Read the next section for recommendations on how to decide where to stay.
Day 5: Rockaway Beach, Manzanita, Cannon Beach, and Seaside
This area of the coast was the focus of my first week-long visit to the Oregon coast and is what started my love affair with this part of the world. The focal point of this part of the coast is Cannon Beach, which is like the Hamptons of Oregon (in a charmingly PNW way, of course!) and is home to the famous Haystack Rock.
Then it’s time for the beaches! There are four main beach cities along this part of the Oregon Coast: Rockaway Beach, Manzanita, Cannon Beach, and Seaside. Here’s a quick guide to each and what to see and do there.
With the vibe of a sleepy, old fishing village, this unassuming tourist town has one main street just east of the beach where you’ll find a couple candy and souvenir shops (selling some delicious taffy), a few restaurants, a small grocery store, and…that’s about it really. The charm of this town is the uncrowded beach, which is vast and sandy with rock formations jutting out of the water on the southern end of the beach, and the close proximity to fish shops selling freshly caught oysters and catches of the day.
Garibaldi Cannery in Garibaldi (the town just south of Rockaway Beach) is a great place to stop to pick up some fresh oysters or crab to eat.
When I picture Manzanita, I first picture pine trees right next to crashing waves and peaceful beaches. What then makes this such a nice beach city to spend some time in, though, is its proximity to quality shops and restaurants with a town center that has a much smaller scale than bustling Cannon Beach.
Cannon Beach is a gorgeously laid out beach town with pretty buildings housing upscale boutiques, a plethora of souvenir shops, and quaint little wine tasting rooms. You’ll also find a number of eateries with a focus on local ingredients and fresh seafood. Cannon Beach’s main draw is its gorgeous beach that is characterized by the massive rock off its shore.
Seaside has a bit of a party vibe, with lots of bars and restaurants along the streets next to the beach, bonfires permitted pretty much anywhere on the sand, and performers blowing bubbles, dancing, and playing music along the boardwalk. It feels wildly different from the beach towns to its south, but the entertainment, wide boardwalk, and swings on the sand make this a fun place for families or getaways with friends.
Where to Sleep
You can drive from Rockaway Beach to Seaside in under an hour so anywhere on this stretch of coastline is a good base to sleep and explore from.
I’ve stayed in both Rockaway Beach and Seaside because I like ocean views from my accommodation and for the same price of a place a couple blocks from the sand in Cannon Beach I was right on the beach in Rockaway and Seaside.
But if you like being where the action is while still having a decidedly PNW-feel then Cannon Beach is your best bet since you’ll be able to walk to restaurants, bars, wine tasting rooms, and lots of shops.
Manzanita is also a beautiful place to stay and we have several friends who always choose that as their home base due to the fact that it has a bit more nightlife than Rockaway Beach (where practically everything closes before 7pm) while still having a much sleepier feel than Cannon Beach. (Side note: Manzanita also has a charming deli and grocery store called the Little Apple that is a good place to stock up on some items if you’re running low on snacks. There’s also a yummy pie shop right off the highway exit for Manzanitas.)
Where to Eat
Maggie’s on the Prom in Seaside: This restaurant has delicious food with gourmet entrees created from farm to table ingredients right beside the boardwalk. Maggie’s on the Prom is located on the bottom floor of the Seaside Oceanfront Inn, which is one of my recommended places to stay along the coast (and you can get room service from Maggie’s if staying there!).
The Wayfarer Restaurant & Lounge in Cannon Beach: You’ll find seafood entrees, delicious breakfast, and awesome views of haystack rack through the floor to ceiling windows.
Old Oregon Smokehouse in Rockaway Beach: Order some delicious BBQ, fried oysters, or fish and chips at the counter in the tiny shack, then enjoy on one of the outdoor picnic tables or take it down to the beach for a picnic.
Oregon Coast Itinerary Wrap-Up
So there you have it, my perfect 5-Day Oregon Coast Itinerary! Remember, if coming from Washington, do this route backwards or take a couple days to head down to Crater Lake first before heading to the southern coast to start your drive north.
Keep reading for a some more tips for planning your Oregon road trip.
When to Go on an Oregon Coast Road Trip
Early summer is best in my opinion. The rains will have mostly subsided, but you won’t run into the crowds that flock to the coast to escape the city heat in July and August. That being said, if you do end up doing the drive in July and August, you’ll still have a great time, just be sure to book your hotels well in advance.
In autumn, you’ll get the chance to see some fall foliage during your drive, but you’ll also increase your chances of rainy days.
In winter, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have rainy days, but I think there can be charm to gray days by rugged coasts; however, I still don’t recommend doing a week long Oregon Coast road trip in the winter because the days are so much shorter and you’ll be missing out on a lot of sightseeing opportunities due to the sun going down around 5pm.
Spring also brings a lot of rain, but on the flip side the days are starting to get longer and you’ll likely get great deals on accommodations and see hardly anyone else at the beaches and other attractions (but….I’d still go with late spring if I were you if spring is the only time you can do an Oregon Coast road trip).
What to Pack for Your Oregon Coast Road Trip
Rain jackets and rain boots are always wise to stick in at any time of year other than July and August (though it’s the Pacific Northwest, so it’s always good to check the weather report for rain!).
Layers are also key. Even in summer, it can be chilly by the coast in the evenings and you’ll want a warm jacket or cardigan to throw on for those sunset walks along the sand.
Safety Tips for Your Oregon Coast Road Trip
Always be aware of warnings posted at the various beaches you’ll visit. I noticed most beaches in Oregon had signs warning of sneaker waves and riptides. This is a very real and dangerous threat. If looking for creatures in tidepools, always stay facing the water so you’ll be more likely to notice if a larger than usual wave is suddenly coming upon you.
For the more secluded beaches, the twists and turns of the coast means your exit from the beach may disappear during high tide even if you’re currently surrounded by sand so keep aware of the water level during your outing if visiting when the tide is changing.
However, if you heed local’s warnings, book ahead, and pack accordingly, you’ll no doubt have a wonderful and unforgettable time along the Oregon’s coast that will likely have you planning your next Oregon Coast road trip as soon as you get home!