Coastline view from top of Cape Kiwanda Sand Dune, Oregon - Oregon Coast Road Trip
Coastline view from top of Cape Kiwanda Sand Dune, Oregon

Oregon Coast Road Trip Guide: 3 Days of Nature

An Oregon Coast road trip is perfect for a long weekend getaway! The coastline is full of stunning viewpoints, nature, and trails. As with any road trip, it’s hard to do everything so here are my highlights. If you have more time, you can stretch it out to spend more time at each stop or make more stops. And believe me, you will want to stop often!

Lay of the Land

My boyfriend and I decided to spend Presidents’ Day Weekend navigating this Oregon Coast road trip. It was his first time in Oregon and I had only been to Portland once. So we were pretty excited to embark on this unfamiliar road trip together!

driving on Oregon Coast road trip - US Hwy 101
Driving on Oregon Coast US Highway 101

The Oregon Coast is also known as the People’s Coast because Oregon is one of the few states that has protected its coastal land. A legislation bill was passed to allow free and public access to the entire coastline – all 363 miles of it! The rugged coastline is absolutely gorgeous and to my surprise, quite diverse! Expect to encounter giant sand dunes, empty beaches, large rock formations, jaw-dropping lookout viewpoints, secret coves, and tons of wildlife especially at low tide. Microbreweries and delicious seafood will also delight the appetite of any foodie.

Throughout the 3 days of nature, we flew into Eugene, drove to Portland via the coast on US Highway 101, and then flew out from Portland. Our Oregon Coast road trip started from Eugene. Then, we drove west to Florence, then north up along the coast stopping at Lincoln City for a night. We then continued our Oregon Coast road trip up to Cannon Beach before finally driving east to Portland and spending our second night there. We drove roughly 300 miles in total over the 3 days and explored only about half of the entire state’s coastline.

There is one benefit to visiting in the winter during low season – relatively few tourists! At times, we had the entire road to ourselves. The weather cooperated most of the time. It only rained on and off on the first day. But remember to pack enough warm layers (unlike me!) since it was definitely a bit cold with the temperature ranging from 35°F at night to 45°F during the day.

Oregon Coast Road Trip from South to North

Follow along our Oregon Coast road trip itinerary from South to North for 3 days of nature. As with any road trip, a few places are must-stops. There are our highlights. I’ve also included additional stops that we would have liked to have visited if we had more time. But the winter sun had a different idea for us as it limited our daylight hours.

Day 1: Eugene to Lincoln City

Eugene

We didn’t spend too much time here. Our flight from San Francisco had been delayed so we got in really late around 1:30am, which didn’t leave much time for exploring. I will however recommend Cornbread Cafe for breakfast or brunch. It’s vegan comfort food. How is that possible you ask? Definitely normally not something either of us would have picked as our first choice. But we were curious after seeing it on literally every list of recommended places to eat. And it did not disappoint! We were shocked at how delicious everything was and how sauces like gravy could be made without any meat or dairy products. Definitely a must eat that’ll delight even the most hardcore anti-veggie carnivore out there!

Florence

The coast part of our Oregon Coast road trip started in Florence. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is the largest stretch of coastal sand dunes in North America. You can go on giant sand dune buggy tours by riding ATVs or test your sandboarding skills. Florence is near the northern end of the dunes. If you want to explore more of the sand dunes, you can take a slight detour. From Eugene, you can drive south and then west to Reedsport before going up north to Florence rather than driving straight west like we did. It’s an extra 45 minute to an hour drive. Otherwise, you can still catch great views of the sand dunes near the northern end.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area - view from Oregon Coast road trip
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Into wildlife? Stop by the Sea Lion Caves. It is America’s largest sea cave and a year-round home to the Stellar sea lion. It’s a privately owned wildlife sanctuary so there’s a fee ($14/adult) to enter. Since it was winter, we were able to see hundreds of sea lions sheltering in the cave, which put the size of the cavernous cave to scale. In the spring and summer, they usually leave the cave and move to the rock ledges in front of the cave for breeding.

Sea Lion Caves - stop along Oregon Coast road trip
Sea Lion Caves, Oregon

No need to go to New Zealand for your LOTR (Lord of the Ring) fantasies! The Hobbit Trail will make you feel like a hobbit as you walk down the path through gnarled trees covered in fuzzy green moss. I could imagine flower-carpeted nooks and crannies to hide in when the plants and trees bloom in the spring. The trailhead is located at Mile Marker 177 between Yachats and Florence. Look for a small parking lot on the side of the road since the trailhead can be easy to miss. It’s an easy 1-mile hike down to a sheltered beach or a slightly more difficult 2-mile hike to Heceta Head Lighthouse.

Hobbit Trail, Oregon Coast
Hobbit Trail, Oregon

The Heceta Head Lighthouse is the most photographed lighthouse in Oregon. If you visit the Sea Lion Caves, you can see the lighthouse from there too.

Cape Perpetua

Cape Perpetua was one of the top highlights of the road trip for me. The coastline is absolutely breath-taking. You can visit Sprouting Horn, Cook’s Chasm, Thor’s Well, and Devil’s Churn. It is best to visit at high tide to witness the power of the ocean. With our impeccable timing, we arrived there just after low tide but still worth it.

Sprouting Horn - stop along Oregon Coast road trip
Sprouting Horn, Oregon

Thor’s Well absolutely cannot be missed! Even at low tide, as the waves come in and out, the ocean water looks like it drains down the “well.” Be careful when getting close to the well since you don’t want to get swept out to sea. Wear waterproof gear to avoid getting wet from the ocean spray.

Thor's Well - must stop during Oregon Coast road trip
Thor’s Well, Oregon

The Cape Perpetua Day Use area provides an incredible panoramic view of the coast. It is 800 feet above sea level, making it the highest viewpoint by car on the Oregon Coast.

Viewpoint from Cape Perpetua along Oregon Coast road trip
Cape Perpetua Viewpoint, Oregon

Seal Rock

Seal Rock is a great place to stop and look at the sealife in the tidepools during low tide. As we walked along some “rocks,” I looked down to examine the rocks closer. Imagine my shock to see we were actually walking on top of mussels! The rocks were completely covered in mussels, only exposed during low tide. If you’re lucky, you may spot some harbor seals resting here as well.

Mussel-covered rocks at Seal Rock, Oregon
Sunset at Seal Rock with mussel-covered rocks, Oregon

Newport

Newport is a cute little coastal town with a historic bayfront. As the “Dungeness Crab Capital of the World”, definitely taste the shellfish here. Chowder Bowl, Local Ocean Seafoods, and Rogue Ales Brewery are all worth checking out. You can also visit the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Oregon’s tallest lighthouse.

Otter Rock and Depoe Bay

Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area is worth visiting if you have the time. I would have liked to check this place out if the day was just a little bit longer. It is a rocky beach featuring a collapsed sea cave, where you look down into the “punch bowl” to see the ocean pour in and slosh around. A great place to go during low tide so you can go down to the beach.

We didn’t stop at Depoe Bay but this is the place to go for whale watching.

Day 2: Lincoln City to Portland

Lincoln City

Lincoln City is known as the town for “Seven Miles of Smiles” because there are seven miles of beaches from Roads End to Siletz Bay. It is famous for the Finder’s Keepers glass float treasure hunt. Every day throughout the year, people hide handcrafted glass floats on the beach for others to find and keep. We weren’t lucky enough to find any.

If you are into hiking, Drift Creek Falls Hike begins 13 miles west of Siletz Bay in the lush Siuslaw National Forest and takes you to a beautiful 75-foot tall waterfall. The best part of the hike is the suspension bridge over Drift Creek on the way to the falls, which also offers a birds-eye view of the waterfalls. The hike is moderately difficult and about 3 miles roundtrip.

We stayed in Lincoln City overnight at the Surftides Lincoln City hotel. Every little detail throughout the hotel reflected its cute mermaid nautical theme. It was extremely comfortable and also has a pool and hot tub too. A beachfront view room provided an amazing opportunity to wake up to the sound of ocean waves and seagulls.

Beachfront view from Surftides Lincoln City Hotel, Oregon
Beachfront view from Surftides Lincoln City Hotel, Oregon

As I had mentioned earlier, the North Coast is full of foodie options. Use this map of the North Coast Food Trail to help you figure out where you want make some delicious stops like Nevør Shellfish farm for fresh oysters and the Jacobsen Salt Company, where you can do a salt tasting of the salt harvested from the bay. Chefs around the world use their salt, famous for its texture, pure taste, and appearance. They offer so many varieties of flavored salts such as truffle salt, black garlic salt, rosemary salt, and many many more.

Pacific City to Tillamook

The Three Capes Scenic Drive is one of the highlights of the trip and not to be missed! This is one drive that’s totally worth the side detour off the US Hwy 101. You can stop at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge for some birdwatching and Bob Straub State Park for a quiet beach stroll.

Bob Straub State Park along Oregon Coast road trip
Bob Straub State Park, Oregon

The first cape is Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City. It has one of 3 Haystack Rocks found on the Oregon Coast. This Haystack Rock is taller than the famous one at Cannon Beach at 327 feet tall. But it’s further away from the coastline so it looks smaller.

Haystack Rock at Cape Kiwanda, Oregon
Haystack Rock at Cape Kiwanda, Oregon

There’s also a gigantic sand dune to work your glutes as you walk up to the peak for incredible coastline views. From a distance, people look like tiny ants crawling up the dune. If you happen to have a board with you, you can follow the kids sandboarding down the dune. Stop at Pelican Pub and Brewery for a bite to eat and drink their industry-leading craft beer.

Cape Kiwanda Sand Dune, Oregon
Cape Kiwanda Sand Dune, Oregon

Cape Lookout State Park is the second cape. This park has over 8 miles of hiking trails through the lush forest. Beachcombing is popular here and you can find more glass floats.

The third cape is Cape Meares. We stopped at Oceanside Beach to see the Three Arch Rocks on our way to Cape Meares Lighthouse and found a fun surprising adventure.

Three Arch Rocks at Oceanside Beach, Oregon
Three Arch Rocks at Oceanside Beach, Oregon

At the end of Oceanside Beach, we noticed people going into a tunnel and not coming back out. Curious where they disappeared to, we ventured to investigate further. The tunnel turned out to be Maxwell Point Tunnel that led you to Tunnel Beach. Recent rain had partially flooded the tunnel so we had to step carefully on the few rocks that weren’t submerged in water to avoid wet feet. The empty beach on the other side was totally worth it though!

Tunnel Beach, Oregon
Tunnel Beach, Oregon

At Cape Meares, you can also visit the Cape Meares Lighthouse, Oregon’s shortest lighthouse, and the Octopus Tree, Oregon’s largest Sitka spruce tree.

The Lost Boy Cave and Lost Boy Beach can only be visited during super low tide (-1.5 or lower so check the tide charts before going). There are three points of entry with the easiest and safest from Short Beach. According to legend, it’s named Lost Boy Cave because a boy drowned here. From the cave, you can also see Three Arch Rocks and Lost Boy Beach. It’s supposed to be worth it if you can catch it at the right time. The tide wasn’t low enough when we went so we didn’t stop here.

After exploring the capes, you can satisfy your hunger at the Tillamook Creamery Cheese Factory. It’s definitely a must stop if you love cheese, especially cheddar! Avoid peak mealtime hours to avoid the crowds. You can order dishes like fried cheese curds, grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, tomato soup with cheese curds, pizzas, ice cream, and anything else that would feature cheese or dairy! Above the food court and market hall, there’s a self-guided tour of the factory where you can learn about the whole cheesemaking process from cow to supermarket shelf, complete with a cheese tasting.

Tillamook Creamery, Oregon
Tillamook Creamery, Oregon

Munson Creek Falls could be worth a visit since it is the highest waterfall along the Oregon coast. It’s an easy 0.6 mi hike to the three-tiered 319-foot tall waterfall. However, it’s not located on the Three Capes Scenic Drive, so you would have to double back.

Some potential additional stops

After Tillamook Creamery, we wanted to make it to Cannon Beach for sunset so we didn’t stop at any other places along the way. But here are a few other options you can consider if you have the time.

In Garibaldi, Pier’s End is Oregon’s longest pier at 700 feet long. If you’re a big fan of trains, you can also board the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, an authentic steam powered train, to go to Rockaway Beach. Rockaway Beach is a small coast town with a few shops to explore if interested. The Emily Reed Shipwreck may also be visible on the beach. If you’re a big fan of corn dogs, stop by Pronto Pup, where they were invented.

Oswald West State Park has a few hikes that may be worth checking out like hiking the Neahkahnie Mountain Loop (moderately difficult 8 mile lollipop loop), hiking to the Summit Viewpoint (moderate 3 mile roundtrip), or hiking to Short Sand Beach (easy 1.2 mile roundtrip) where you can see a suspension bridge along the way. Hug Point State Recreation Site also has great views of the coast. Hug Point Hike is an easy 0.5 mile roundtrip that you should only visit at low tide.

Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach marks the end of the coastal part of our Oregon Coast road trip. It is home to one of Oregon’s most recognizable landmarks. None other than the most famous and most photographed Haystack Rock. It is 235 feet tall with a few smaller rocks known as the Needles. We got there just in time for sunset. I wish we had more time to walk along the beach to see the rock formations from every angle. But it got very cold very quickly after the sun set. There’s just enough water in the sand on the beach to create beautiful reflections. Definitely a must stop!

Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock - highlight of Oregon Coast road trip
Sunset at Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon

Ecola State Park near the northern end of Cannon Beach is worth a visit if you have time. I would have loved to visit this park and hike a few trails if the day had been just a little bit longer. Ecola Point, Indian Beach, and Crescent Beach are worth a visit for beautiful views of Cannon Beach and the Haystack Rock.

Day 3: Portland and Multnomah Falls

Portland

Portland was our final stop of the road trip. We didn’t spend too much time in the city itself since we knew we would be back another time. There’s such an amazing food and bar scene there. It’s the perfect place to spend the last night. Keep Portland Weird!

Keep Portland Weird wall
“Keep Portland Weird” wall at Portland, Oregon

Before our early evening flight the next day, we did visit Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge just outside the city and hiked all the way to the top of waterfalls. Since it had snowed the week before, parts of the trail were still covered in snow. Once we reached the top, you were literally on top of the waterfall and looking down over it. It’s 2.4 miles roundtrip and moderately difficult with some steep uphill climbs.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Multnomah Falls, Oregon

We had about an hour to kill before driving to the airport, so we stopped at Cape Horn Lookout. As we drove from Multnomah Falls to the lookout point, we drove over the Bridge of Gods. Surprisingly, Google Maps announced “Welcome to Washington.” It had totally slipped our minds that the scenic Columbia River serves as the state border between Oregon and Washington.

Cape Horn Lookout, Washington
Cape Horn Lookout, Washington

What a wonderful nature-filled long weekend! We would have loved to have had more time to check out more places. But we don’t feel like we missed anything that we really wanted to visit. Instead of driving the coastal section in 2 days as we did, taking 3 days would have given us a little more time to leisurely explore. We definitely plan to visit again to see the rest of the North Coast from Cannon Beach to Astoria as well as driving south from Florence to the California state border. An Oregon Coast road trip is definitely worth the drive for all the beautiful scenic landscapes and good food!

Cape Perpetua Viewpoint, Oregon Coast Road Trip Guide - Pinterest pin

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