Vast, rugged and scenic are three words that come when describing Oregon’s Coast. It’s perfect for photographers, nature lovers, and small-town explorers – but it’s too cool for dedicated sun worshippers.
Everything here is connected through U.S. 101, the Coast Highway that’s nestled between the pounding Pacific surf and the Coast Range. Around every corner there’s something new – a lighthouse, a peninsula, immense sand dunes, huge rock mounts, and towns that scream out “Explore Here”.
Many Baby Boomers who want to explore America’s beauty have a dozen or more National Parks on their bucket list. Few would include the Oregon Coast, but they should. In many ways similar to Maine’s Coast, it’s cooler and less crowded.
We chose Yachats and Newport in the Central Oregon Coast for the variety of scenes available within 50 miles. Yachats is a small town with a mix of great restaurants, art, and coastal hiking in a particularly rugged section; Newport is a small city centered around a harbor and peninsula with interesting attractions.
The Pacific is the one constant on the coast. The surf often breaks on huge, guano covered rocks sending spray hundreds of feet in that air. Sea birds are everywhere. The nice thing is that the entire coast is open to public access through an Oregon state law.
Though much is visible from the highway, there are an endless stretch of pul- overs and parks. Most, but not all of the parking is free.
To properly explore, you need to know the tide and the wave conditions. Low tide and wave heights lets you go down to the water and explore tide pools and cave-like structures such as the Devil’s Punchbowl. While at high tide, you stay on the vistas and look down at the maelstrom such as at Devil’s Churn or Cook’s Chasm.
The Lighthouses and Vistas
Occasionally, the north-south coast is punctuated by some high east-to-west ridges or peninsulas. These are favored locations for lighthouses such as at Yaquina Head, near Newport, and Heceda Head, 20 miles south of Yachats. A lighthouse tour takes place at Yaquina and a tour of a keeper’s cottage at Heceda Head
Some peninsulas lack lighthouse, such as the one at Perpetua Head near Yachats. The view from this vista is one of the best on the coast.
The Towns and Harbors
Newport is home to popular attractions including the Oregon Coast Aquarium and an historic bay front area that is part working waterfront and part tourist attraction with shops and restaurants. Attractions include Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Wax Works wax museum and an acclaimed marine life boat tour. The barking of sea lions on the bay front docks frequently resonates throughout the area and the blubbery beasts always draw a crowd.
Several epic murals, a classic Coast Guard station, and an art deco bridge crossing the harbor add to the maritime feel of this place. IF you are after a wide selection of restaurants and lodging, Newport is the place.
On the other hand, the small town of Yachats 20 miles south is a charmer. The 804 trail stretches for seven miles along the coast and the town is filled with art galleries, wood carvers, and has a covered bridge in a inland area. Oceanfront hotels practically vibrate next to the pounding surf.
Tips for Visiting
Bring a National Park Service pass if you own one. It may help you get into some of the parks for free.
Consider combining your visit with a trip to Southern Oregon’s wild Rogue River for rafting and/or Crater Lake.
Portland International Airport is about three hours distant. If you love small airports see if you can get a connection into Eugene, Oregon, (about 90 minutes away) or Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in North Bend, Oregon (also about 90 minutes away).
Best time of year to visit late July through early October when there is a lot of sun and little rain. Late spring and early summers tend to be foggy. If you love dramatic seas and isolated, fireside evenings – plus some dreary days –winter can be special here.
Dress in layers. In summer, the temperature difference between the coast and places 15 miles inland is dramatic. Typical summer temperatures are in the 60s on the coast, but could be in the 80s just a few miles away.