Coastline view from top of Cape Kiwanda Sand Dune, Oregon
Coastline view from top of Cape Kiwanda Sand Dune, Oregon

A 3 Day Itinerary for an Oregon Coast Road Trip

Taking a road trip along the stunning Oregon coast is perfect for a long weekend getaway. 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!

My boyfriend and I decided to spend this year’s Presidents’ Day Weekend doing this Oregon Coast road trip. It was his first time in Oregon and I had only been to Portland once before so the road trip would be new for both of us!

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! There were giant sand dunes, empty beaches, large rock formations, jaw-dropping lookout viewpoints, secret coves, and tons of wildlife especially at low tide. A foodie would also be delighted with all the microbreweries and delicious seafood available throughout the coast too.

We flew into Eugene, drove to Portland via the coast on US Highway 101, and flew back to San Francisco from Portland. So from Eugene, we drove west to Florence, then north up along the coast stopping at Lincoln City for a night. We then continued up the coast 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 about half of the entire state’s coastline.

Since we were visiting in the winter during low season, there were relatively few tourists. Sometimes we felt like we had the entire road to ourselves! The weather cooperated for most of the time. It only rained on and off on the first day but it was definitely a bit cold with the temperature ranging from 35°F at night to 45°F during the day.

Here was our 3 day itinerary from South to North with a few places that are must stops. For those with more time, I’ve also included additional stops that we would have liked to have visited but didn’t have time.

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. Normally not something either of us would have chosen but we were curious to see how good it could be since it was 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 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 go sandboarding. Florence is near the northern end of the dunes. Alternatively, 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 if you want to explore more of the sand dunes. Otherwise you can still catch great views of the sand dunes near the northern end.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

The Sea Lion Caves is America’s largest sea cave and 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 time, we were able to see hundreds of sea lions. 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, Oregon

The Hobbit Trail will make you feel like a hobbit as you walk down the path through gnarled trees covered in green moss. When we went, there were tons of green shrubbery. So I could see how in the spring, when the plants and trees bloom flowers, there are plenty of flower-carpeted nooks and crannies to hide in. 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

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 highlights of the 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 timing, we managed to get there a little after low tide.

Sprouting Horn, Oregon

Thor’s Well cannot be missed. Be careful when getting close to the well since you don’t want to get swept out to sea and you will get wet from the ocean spray. Even at low tide, you can see the ocean water looks like it is draining away down the “well.”

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.

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 was shocked to learn we were actually walking on top of mussels! The rocks were completely covered in mussels, which are exposed during low tide. Harbor seals also stop to rest here as well.

Sunset at Seal Rock with mussel-covered rocks, Oregon

Newport

Newport is a cute little coastal town with a historic bayfront and also known as the “Dungeness Crab Capital of the World!” Definitely eat dungeness crab 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.

Lincoln City

Lincoln City is known as the town for “Seven Miles of Smiles.” There’s seven miles of beaches from Roads End to Siletz Bay. It is famous for the Finder’s Keepers glass float treasure hunt. Everyday throughout the year, handcrafted glass floats are hidden on the beach for people to find and keep.

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. But best part of the hike is the suspension bridge over Drift Creek on the way to the falls and also offers a birds-eye view of the waterfalls. The hike is a moderately difficult 3 mile roundtrip.

We stayed in Lincoln City overnight at the Surftides Lincoln City hotel. Use this Booking.com link to get $25 off. It was a super cute hotel with a mermard nautical theme. It was extremely comfortable and also has a pool and hot tub too. We booked a room with a beachfront view so it was amazing to wake up to the sound of ocean waves and seagulls.

Beachfront view from Surftides Lincoln City Hotel, Oregon

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 varities 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 a 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 stroll along a quiet beach.

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 so it looks smaller.

Haystack Rock at Cape Kiwanda, Oregon

There’s also gigantic sand dune that you can walk up to the peak for incredible views up and down the coastline. From a distance, people look like tiny ants walking up the dune. We saw many 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 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.

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

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 for awhile. So we ventured to investigate further. The tunnel turned out to be Maxwell Point Tunnel that led you to Tunnel Beach. The tunnel was partially flooded from the recent rain so you had to step carefully on the few rocks that weren’t submerged in water to avoid getting wet. The empty beach on the other side was totally worth it though!

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! It can be quite crowded with people so try to avoid peak mealtime hours. 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

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

The most famous and most photographed Haystack Rock is located at Cannon Beach. It is 235 feet tall with a few smaller rocks known as the Needles. It is one of Oregon’s most recognizable landmarks. We got there just in time for sunset. I wish we had more time to walk up and down the beach to see the rock formations from its many angles. But it got very cold very quickly after the sun set. There’s just enough water in sand on the beach to create beautiful reflections. Definitely a must stop!

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 go on 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.

Portland

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

“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 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 mile roundtrip and moderately difficult with some steep uphill climbs.

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 and was so surprised when Google Maps announced “Welcome to Washington.” It had totally slipped our minds that the scenic Columbia River served as the state border between Oregon and Washington.

Cape Horn Lookout, Washington

It was such a wonderful nature-filled long weekend! We would have loved to have had more time to check out more places but 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 would love 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. Oregon Coast Highway is definitely a road trip that’s worth the drive for all the beautiful scenic landscapes and good food!

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