Top 9 Fun Things to do on an Oregon Coast Road Trip

This Oregon coast road trip along the central and northern portions of the PCH highlights history and natural beauty.

Taking an Oregon Coast road trip is a bucket list vacation, and for good reason. You’ll be driving along one of the most beautiful places in the country. With its rugged coastline, sandy beaches, and lush forests, this portion of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is a stunning getaway.

There’s so much to see you could stop every few miles, and if you’ve got the time, go for it. However, if you’re taking a shorter road trip or you just want the highlights, I’ve got a few recommendations.

Since you’re driving the coast, before you go you might want to pick up an annual Oregon Pacific Coast Passport. For $10, you’ll get entry, parking, and day use fees at all Oregon state and federal fee sites for five days. With 95 Oregon Coast state parks, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

Pay $35 and you’re covered for the whole year. You can get your passport on the USDA Forest Service site.

If you’re looking for the ultimate Oregon Coast road trip ideas, here are 9 places you won’t want to miss.

Don’t forget to pack these road trip essentials before you go.

9 Things to do on a north and central Oregon Coast Road Trip

Ready for some Oregon coast road trip highlights? Here are 9 things to do on your central and northern coast adventure, including places to stay.

Meet the Scandinavians of Astoria

Astoria, Oregon, is a small city of just 10,000 on the Columbia River. Previously known primarily for fishing and logging, it’s now a cultural destination. 

Astoria is the northernmost coastal town in Oregon; the Astoria-Megler Bridge is a whopping 4.1 miles that crosses the mouth of the Columbia River and ends in Point Ellice, Washington. If you’re starting your Oregon coast road trip from Seattle, this bridge is how you’ll enter the state.

The town’s surrounded by forests and three rivers run through it. That landscape is why Astoria drew Scandinavians in droves. 

In 1870, only 47 Scandinavians lived in Oregon. By 1910, there were nearly 10,000 in Astoria alone, and they comprised 35% of the town’s population. Those early immigrants somehow found their way to the mouth of the Columbia River, and they stayed because it reminded them of home. 

They celebrate their heritage each June with the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds. 

The festival has been an Astoria tradition since 1968, and in 2017 was designated an official Oregon Heritage Tradition, an honor that’s awarded to select annual events that have taken place for fifty years or more. 

Troll Bridge at Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival
Troll Bridge at Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival

The Scandinavians who attend consider the three-day fest Clatsop County’s biggest family reunion. Generations of Nordics parade in traditional garb from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

Each country’s folkwear is different, and children will often sport clothes their grandparents and great-grandparents had worn.

If your Oregon coast road trip doesn’t coincide with the festival, there’s still plenty to do in Astoria. There are several museums, including the Columbia River Maritime Museum, Flavel House Museum, Oregon Film Museum, and the Heritage Museum. 

For outdoor adventure, you can ride a zip line. Get the freshest seafood ever and go fishing.

The Arrow Tugboat and Tour Company will take you on an historic riverfront tour, providing incredible views of the many Victorian mansions, or you can go on your very own crabbing adventure.

Where to stay in Astoria

Rest in history and luxury at the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa. It’s a boutique hotel that sits 600 feet into the Columbia River.

Related: Want to drive the ENTIRE west coast? Check out this 8-day Pacific coast road trip.

Discover Fort Clatsop

Fort Clatsop replica in the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park in northwestern Oregon

Fort Clatsop is a must-visit on any history lover’s Oregon coast road trip. It’s one of several sites in the Lewis & Clark National Historic Park, a collection of twelve areas in both Oregon and Washington that highlights the explorers’ time in the region.

The explorers reached this part of the country, the end of the line, in November of 1805. At first they were on the north side of the Columbia River, but after hearing that the land south of the river was more plentiful, Meriwether and William put it to a vote: should they stay where they were, or should they hope for greener pastures?

Remarkably, everyone got a say in this decision, including Sacagawea, their “Indian” scout, and William’s slave, York. The entire group decided to go south, and by December 24 the troupe was ensconced in their new fort along the Netul River.

Inside the Visitor Center are displays about the Corps’ journey as well as the historical context and information on the Clatsop, the tribe for whom the fort is named.

There’s a family tree of William Clark’s descendants, and I was amazed to see that Clark named his first son, born in 1809, Meriwether Lewis Clark. After two years of forging their way through unknown territory, the fact that Clark still liked Lewis enough to name his kid after him astounded me.

The fort itself is a replica, the second one built on the site. The original had disintegrated in the wet climate and the first replica, built in 1955, burned fifty years after it was constructed.

Fort Clatsop - view from short trail to canoe launch site

The park service had more information in 2006 than it did when the original replica was built, so the existing one is considered to be more accurate than the first.

Stepping inside the rough-hewn cabins, I could picture the explorers hunched over their desks as they meticulously noted everything they’d seen. It even smelled like history.

There’s an outdoor interpretive center and a short trail that leads to their canoe landing. For a more ambitious hike, you can walk the 6.5 miles to Sunset Beach State Recreation Area on the Pacific Ocean.

Admission to Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, including Fort Clatsop, is $10 and is good for seven days.

Where to stay near Fort Clatsop

If you’re looking for comfortable accommodations, your best bet is to stay in Astoria or head south the Cannon Beach. Campers can stay at the very tip-top of Oregon at Fort Stevens State Park.

Stroll Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach

Ready to dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean? Cannon Beach is both a town and a sandy shore along the Oregon coast, and has been called one of the 100 Most Beautiful Places in the World by National Geographic.

The coastal city, with a population of around 1500, is a prime stop along your Oregon coast road trip. Its most famous landmark is the iconic Haystack Rock; if you’ve seen the movie The Goonies, you’ll recognize it.

Tidepools, filled with sea stars and anemones, surround the base of the distinctive basalt outcropping. Haystack Rock and these tidepools are protected; they’re part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Anemones in the tidal pools at Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Murres, black and white birds with big bodies and tiny wings, crowd the sea stack. Visit between early spring and mid-summer to get the closest views of Tufted Puffins available in the wild.

While you’re there, you can rent recumbent bikes with fat tires to ride along the beach.

The town itself is known for its art galleries and with several art festivals is considered one of the 100 best art towns in America.

Where to stay near Cannon Beach

For the absolute best view of Haystack Rock, stay at Hallmark Resort & Spa Cannon Beach. It’s located on the beach, directly across from the landmark.

Cannonbeach.org is the official website for their visitors bureau. Check them out to find more things to do in the area.

Get Cheesy at Tillamook Creamery

Tillamook Creamery is a co-op of local farmers best known for its sharp, tangy cheddar and its smooth, creamy ice cream. The creamery began in 1909, and the cheddar recipe is even older, dating back to 1894.

Relatively speaking, the ice cream recipe is a young’un, since it was developed in 1947. My father-in-law grew up in eastern Washington and when Mr. TLT and I planned our Oregon coast road trip, he darn near insisted that we visit Tillamook specifically for their ice cream.

I ordered salted caramel in a cup and Jim ordered huckleberry in a waffle cone. This was to be my introduction to not only Tillamook, but also to the call of frosty treats and the near obsession with huckleberry in the west.

There’s a very good reason Tillamook tastes so good: they control every step from the cow to the cone.

Why is it worth visiting Tillamook Creamery when you can get their cheese and ice cream at the grocery store? Because there’s something truly special about buying straight from the source.

While you’re there, be sure to visit their on-site museum. It’s a self-guided tour that starts in the Grand Entrance and takes you to the Farm Exhibit before going through the Viewing gallery. You’ll finish, of course, in the dining hall.

If you visit during the week, you’ll be able to see their employees creating their wonderful, creamy goods.

Where to stay near Tillamook Creamery

Shilo Inns Tillamook is located right on the Pacific Coast Highway and the Wilson River. It’s a motel that offers free breakfast and pets are allowed.

Tillamook Creamery Visitor Center is open daily from 10am to 6pm. It’s located at 4165 N Hwy 101, Tillamook, OR 97141; tillamook.com

See what Captain Cook saw at Cape Foulweather

Cape Foulweather souvenir shop

It was a perfect sunny day when we visited Cape Foulweather, but on March 7, 1778, it wasn’t so balmy.

That’s when Captain James Cook got his first sight of the Oregon coast. The weather was so bad he couldn’t get closer than three leagues, or about ten nautical miles.

Cook and his crew had left the Hawaiian Islands (which he’d named the Sandwich Islands) more than a month before, and then they finally saw land and couldn’t get near it.

Cape Foulweather, indeed.

Today’s Oregon coast road trip explorer gets to view the cape from the safety of the Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint. At 500-feet, it’s the perfect vantage point for viewing gray whales, bald eagles, and the magnificent ocean.

There’s an on-site souvenir shop that’s run by the state of Oregon, but it’s temporarily closed.

Where to stay near Cape Foulweather

The Inn at Otter Crest is the nearest hotel. The rooms are condominium style and it’s on 35 acres. Nearby Beverly Beach State Park has 280 campsites, and they’ve also got several yurts if you want to try glamping on your Oregon coast road trip.

Step back in time at Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

Don’t miss Yaquina Bay Lighthouse on your Oregon Coast Hwy 101 road trip

The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse is considered the oldest structure in Newport, Oregon, and yet it was only used for three years. Built in 1871, it was decommissioned in 1874.

Don’t confuse this lighthouse with Yaquina Head, which is about five miles to the north in Agate Beach.

In the 1990s, the lighthouse got new life when the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department restored it. Since 1996, it’s been a working lighthouse and navigational aid.

The lighthouse is open for tours and you can climb up to the watch room.

Where to stay near Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

There are several hotels, motels, and other types of accommodation in Newport. Click here to check rates and reviews.

Picnic at Seal Rock State Recreation Site

Just south of Newport you’ll see lots of interesting rock formations. Known as Seal Rock, they provide a great habitat for seals, which is where they got their name, as well as sea lions, sea birds, and tons of other marine life.

There’s a small sandy beach a little over a half a mile long. It’s accessible by trail, which can be steep in places, but there is an accessible viewing area about halfway down.

The main attraction if you’re looking for marine life is the tide pools. You’ll see sea stars, anemones, crabs, and other denizens of the sea.

There’s a picnic area, making this a great place to stop for lunch or a snack. You can also fish.

By the way, the giant rock? That’s not Seal Rock. That’s actually Elephant Rock.

Seal Rock State Recreation Area and beach in Oregon

Where to stay near Seal Rock State Recreation Site

The Waldport Inn is a few miles south of Seal Rock. This motel has bicycles available for rent and also offers free breakfast.

Ooh and Aah at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area

The aptly-named Cape Perpetua Scenic Area is one of the most beautiful places to stop on your Oregon coast road trip. At 800 feet, it provides a towering view of the Pacific Ocean.

The scenic area is 2,700 acres and contains a 26-mile trail system, many of which were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Another place the CCC helped create: Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas.

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area Oregon

Both the rocky coast and the temperate rainforest have drawn people for thousands of years. Archaeological sites date back 6,000 years.

Captain James Cook bestowed the name back in 1778, when he named it for Saint Perpetua. While the visitor center is temporarily closed, you can download the USDA Forest Service’s mobile app for information on the area.

Where to stay near Cape Perpetua Scenic Area

Fireside Motel has several oceanfront views, so close that you can hear the surf on the rocks below. Plus, it’s in Yachats, which is just fun to say.

See the light at Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head Lighthouse has been guiding sailors since 1894. Its first-order Fresnel lens, the largest of its type, beams light 21 miles into the sea. It’s the brightest lighthouse on the Oregon coast, and one of the most picturesque in the country.

The parking lot for Heceta Head Lighthouse is located east of the Oregon Coast Highway, and you’ll need to walk under Cape Creek Bridge, a double-tiered structure reminiscent of a Roman aqueduct. 

Cape Creek Bridge

If it looks similar to other bridges along Oregon’s 101, especially the Alsea Bay Bridge, it’s for good reason. Turns out they were designed by the same man: Conde McCullough. 

The designs are distinctive, with arched steel painted green and art deco concrete columns. Built between 1921 and 1936, they bring a sense of unity to the drive, making 101 through Oregon not just a means of getting from one place to another, but also a destination itself.

The former lighthouse keeper’s home is now a Forest Service-run bed and breakfast. You’ll pass it on the way to the lighthouse itself. 

We were lucky enough to come across a volunteer, who told us to keep hiking up the trail and we’d find the absolute best view of the lighthouse. At the top of the trail we came eye to eye with that powerful Fresnel lens: always listen to National Park Service volunteers.

first-order Fresnel lens at Heceta Head

Always ask the locals! Just one of 50 tips for planning an AMAZING road trip.

Where to stay near Heceta Head Lighthouse

You can’t get any closer than the Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast. Rates are, understandably, pretty high, so if you want something more affordable, drive a little bit to Florence. The Best Western Pier Point Inn is highly rated and is in a great location. There are nearly thirty restaurants within three-quarters of a mile.

Oregon Coast Road Trip FAQs

  • How many days does it take to drive the Oregon Coast?

    As many days as you’d like! You can drive this stretch from Florence to Astoria in two days, but it’s better to plan for longer so you’re not rushed.

  • What is the best month to visit the Oregon Coast?

    If you want to see whales, the best time to visit is the end of December and the end of March. For gorgeous weather and stunning views, June is a better bet.
    If you do visit in June, be sure to book your campsites and your hotel rooms in advance.

  • What is the most scenic part of the Oregon Coast?

    It’s all scenic! Cape Perpetua is particularly stunning, but there are fantastic views up and down the Oregon coast.

  • Where does the Oregon coast road trip start?

    Dunes on the Oregon Coast

    If you start in Astoria, you’ll be on the ocean side of the Pacific Coast Highway. This makes not only your view better, but it’s also easier to pull off for those scenic views.

  • Where should I go after my Oregon coast road trip?

    Head east to Crater Lake National Park. You’ll be amazed by the stunning blue waters.

Oregon Coast Road Trip Map

There are many more places you could stop on your Oregon road trip, but if you’ve got limited time, these are the highlights.