There’s something exhilarating about looking out into the ocean and seeing a spout from a gray whale’s blow hole for the first time — or the hundredth. Whale watching is a rite of passage on the Oregon Coast, and Oregon State Parks’ Whale Watching Center in downtown Depoe Bay is at the heart of it all. Set to reopen after a major redesign and expansion in early March 2020, visitors will get to enjoy a brand-new interpretive experience with hands-on exhibits and interactive displays.

Bring your binoculars and head outside, down the steps, to see the world’s smallest harbor. After you’ve gotten enough salty spray in the face, it might be time to warm up with a hearty bowl of chowder — and you’ll find a handful of great options within walking distance. Gracie’s Sea Hag offers its award-winning bowls of creamy scratch-made chowder, while Chowder Bowl is a crowd favorite as well. And half a mile north is one of the most beloved restaurants on the Coast, Tidal Raves Seafood Grill, with ocean views, an upscale ambiance, and classic dishes like Dungeness crab cakes and pan-fried oysters, as well as the fresh catch of the day.

Looking for a little afternoon pick-me-up? Left Coast Coffee Co. is a delightful spot for espresso and bags of fresh-roasted beans to go. If you haven’t been wine tasting in a cave, stop into Depoe Bay Winery for a complimentary tasting of their reds and whites as well as dessert and fruit wines — all made with Oregon fruits and berries. Once fortified, walk along the main street and find saltwater taffy, clothing boutiques, cozy bookshops and whale-themed gifts.

The rugged shores here offer some of the most Instagrammable views along Oregon’s 363-mile coastline. There’s no shortage of spectacular spots to watch waves crash — and gaze out at the ocean to spot more whales, sea lions and a host of sea birds on their winter migration. Starting on Highway 101 South, follow signs for Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint, a forested bluff with picnic tables for a tranquil retreat 2 miles south. Back on the highway, another 2 miles south is Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint, with panoramic views 500 feet above sea level. (Drive the 4.2-mile scenic drive around Otter Crest Loop for some of the Coast’s most breathtaking views, uncrowded and ripe for exploring in the winter months.)  Another 2 miles south, park the car at Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area, which leads to Otter Rock Marine Reserve, where you can explore tide pools and take a long stroll on Beverly Beach. Continuing 9.5 miles south, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse is worth a self-guided tour — it’s free and open (by donation) to the public every day except major holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

— Jen Anderson

Photo by Greg Vaughn / Alamy Stock Photo