Sit back, close your eyes and think of your happy place. Chances are, it just might involve a secluded beach, glowing sunset, the sound of birds overhead and a waterfront picnic with your favorite people. Oregon State Parks has got what you need — especially on the Central Coast, where you can find less crowded parks for beachcombing, hiking, whale watching, tide pooling and exploring lighthouses. It’s an ideal retreat, without throngs of visitors.

What makes the Central Coast special? “It’s how dynamic the coastline can be within just a few miles,” says Luke Parsons, a park ranger who oversees the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay and other park educational offerings. “There are some beautiful sandy beaches and extremely dramatic cliffside views. It’s such a mix of habitats, wildlife and beauty. There’s too much to do, really.”

Here’s where to go to beat the crowds this summer (listed north to south):

Lincoln City to Newport

Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint offers panoramic views of surf, whales and seabirds. Three miles south, a brand-new viewing platform on the beautiful peninsula overlooking Whale Cove at Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint, south of Depoe Bay, offers one of the coolest views on the Coast.

At the historic wooden Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, a working lighthouse in Newport, you can see what life used to be like in the tower’s old living quarters, a unique peek into the fascinating history of the Coast

Newport to Yachats

Lost Creek State Recreation Site offers broad, sandy beaches and vault toilets for a pit stop — and you just may have the place to yourself. A quick two miles south at Brian Booth State Park, you’ll find a variety of geology: marsh, upland meadows and beachfront with five miles of hiking trails and guided kayak tours, July 4 through Labor Day.

Driftwood Beach State Recreation Site is a great picnic spot with tables among the shore pines. Ten miles south, 804 Trail extends in both directions from Smelt Sands State Recreation Site, with benches along the way for taking in the sunset. You’ll also find tidepools here, and plenty of whales too. There’s no public parking on the north end, but on the south end visitors can park at Yachats State Park Recreation Area’s day use area.

Yachats to Florence

Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint encompasses four pull-offs from U.S. Highway 101 south of Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, each with its own little secret: spectacular tidepools as well as agates and seal and sea lion viewing on sunny days. Just remember that the animals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, so keep your distance and do not disturb them.

Stonefield Beach State Recreation Site offers easy beach access; bring a picnic lunch and watch for spouting whales. Less than a mile south,you’ll find a rugged trail to the beach, with amazing whale-watching opportunities at Tokatee Klootchman State Natural Site.

Muriel O. Ponsler Memorial State Scenic Viewpoint is a 5-mile stretch of beach with premier whale watching and beachcombing. Darlingtonia State Natural Site, 10 miles south, is best known for its carnivorous pitcher plants. Many of these friv games can be found on various websites and some of them are free.

By Jen Anderson

Photo of Smelt Sands State Recreation Site by Dennis Frates