Few highways capture the traveler’s imagination like U.S. Route 101, which spans all 363 enchanting miles of the Oregon Coast and winds through its storied towns and cities. The Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, as it’s known, was designated an All-American Road in 2002, and it’s easy to wax poetic about its awe-inspiring highlights: secluded beaches open to everyone by law; coastal mountains forested with towering conifers and laced with hiking trails; nearly a dozen historic lighthouses; and the freshest, most sustainable seafood you’ll taste anywhere.
That’s just for starters — you could easily spend a lifetime rambling up and down the 101, discovering something new around every curve in the road. Inspired yet? Read up on these 10 road-trip essentials and rally your pod. Here’s a road map of a few favorite experiences to add to your next family road trip when it’s safe to travel. As you explore, follow our travel tips for safe driving as well as tips on how to stay safe at the beach this winter. Also see our FAQ on how the Coast is prepared to greet you during COVID-19.
Astoria to Warrenton (5 miles)
What better way to start your adventure than by foot in Astoria, famous for its riverfront brewpub scene and historic attractions? After touring Astoria’s downtown, head to nearby Warrenton to explore the great outdoors. Also, don’t miss beachcombing for sand dollars and other treasures along the northernmost section of the Oregon Coast Trail. The route runs north to south mostly along the beaches, with some segments winding through state parks and public lands.
Gearhart to Manzanita (25 miles)
Get your fill of wide-open beaches and plenty of space to roam on the sandy shores of Gearhart and Seaside, which beckon adventurous families with a fun-loving downtown that marks the centennial anniversary of its Promenade in 2021. Make a quick stop at Sweet Shop Gearhart to grab a treat and see the cool “Trantler” sculpture out front: Part tree, part antler, a local artist created it to symbolize unity in the face of the community’s challenges around elk populations and forest clear-cutting. Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach is a magnet for visitors in the warmer months, but the cooler months invite plenty of opportunities for storm watching from a safe distance and browsing through the numerous galleries. Fly a kite on a quiet beach in Manzanita, spoiling yourself with treats from the local cafes and boutique shops. Then hike up Neahkahnie Mountain for a spectacular view of the coastline below; part of the 5-mile out-and-back climb to the summit is steep but worth every step.
Three Capes Scenic Loop (40 miles)
Drive the 40-mile Three Capes Scenic Loop around Tillamook, which will take you on a tour of a few of the Coast’s most famous lighthouses. Fuel up along the way with ice cream and cheese, climb Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, and try your hand at clamming in Netarts Bay. (Visit MyODFW.com for resources, videos and tips on family-friendly clamming, crabbing and fishing along the Coast — an easy add-on to any road trip.) Make sure to stop at some of the secret spots on the Tillamook Bay Heritage Route — a self-guided tour of almost two dozen sites along the bay. Pick up a basket of fresh-caught fish ’n chips and enjoy a quiet, family-friendly ramble around the nature loop at Kilchis Point Reserve.
Lincoln City to Newport (25 miles)
If you enjoy beachcombing with a purpose, you’ll love searching for the colorful glass floats that are hidden along Lincoln City’s 7 miles of sandy shores. You find it, you keep it. At Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge, take the family for a walk along the short nature trail and bring the canoe or kayak for a sweet paddle. There’s also a prime spot for fishing along the Siletz River. Lincoln City, Depoe Bay and Newport also have some of the finest fresh-caught seafood on the Coast — grab an order of fish tacos or chowder to go and enjoy at your favorite scenic picnic spot. Spot some whales and catch the ocean spray in Depoe Bay, dubbed Oregon’s capital of whale watching. Bring your own binoculars to spot gray whales as they blow, dive and breach year-round.
Waldport to Florence (33 miles)
The pristine beaches and quiet, forested trails of Waldport and Yachats are favorites among locals, with some one-of-a-kind spots for wildlife viewing and getting that perfect shot of Heceta Head Lighthouse and other landmarks. Get sandy at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area near Florence, the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America, rising up to 500 feet above sea level. Whether you go to hike, ride a sand board, take photos, ride horses, camp or find a waterway to paddle on, it’s a playground you won’t find anywhere else. Consider booking a guided dune-buggy, whale-watching or charter-boat fishing tour for an insider’s look at this magical place so rich with natural treasures.
Reedsport to Coos Bay (27 miles)
The crowds thin out on Oregon’s Southern Coast, which is great news for those looking for more room to roam without hustle and bustle and concerns about parking spots. If you’re looking for a place to start, the Wild Rivers Coast Food Trail offers up three delightful routes you can take to explore the farms, seafood markets, scenic vistas, ocean-to-table restaurants and craft brewpubs with patio seating. Coos Bay is home to a mural honoring hometown track legend Steve Prefontaine and the largest farmers market on the Coast (June through October).
Bandon to Port Orford (26 miles)
Have you seen the sand labyrinth at Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint? In the warmer months and on cooler days when it’s dry out, a local artist creates giant, elaborate circles in the sand for visitors to marvel at. It washes away when the tide comes in, and he starts with a clean slate. Browse Bandon’s vibrant, walkable Old Town district and soak up the views of the sea stacks along the rugged shoreline. Nearby, nature lovers will appreciate the clamming, waterfowl hunting, bird watching and more opportunities at Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re feeling adventurous, explore some of the region’s top coastal mountain bike trails or tee off at the world-famous Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. Watch the crabbers pull up their catch at the Port of Port Orford, and take home some fresh Dungeness crab for a DIY dinner.
Port Orford to Brookings (56 miles)
Hop on two wheels on the miles of wide-open beaches of Oregon’s Southern Coast, a great place to try out the accessible sport of fat biking on the beach as well as road biking on the Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway in Port Orford. This is also one of the most beautiful places on the Coast to paddle, with so many options for river or ocean trips. Guided kayak tours are a safe, family-friendly bet. A trip to the Coast isn’t complete without tide pools, and Harris Beach State Park in Brookings couldn’t be more stunning. One of Oregon’s seven designated marine gardens, it’s dotted with dazzling rock formations including the aptly named Arch Rock. At low tide you’re likely to see sea stars, green anemones, hermit crabs and more.
If you go:
Whenever you’re recreating in Oregon’s coastal natural areas, make sure to follow the Code of the Coast to make your visit fun and safe for everyone, including plants and animals. When using the trails, respect all signs posting beach restrictions due to snowy plover nesting season (Mar. 15–Sept. 15), keeping dogs, bikes, kites and drones off these beaches in these areas. Stay on the trail, since wandering out into a meadow may damage plants critical to the Oregon silverspot butterfly, a threatened species. Keep pets and children within a safe distance on the trail, carry a map and dress in layers, and prepare for adventure — the Coast is full of surprises.
Find a host of lodging options on the Coast, from ocean-view hotels and deluxe family vacation rentals to romantic B&Bs, convenient downtown motels, pet-friendly accommodations, campgrounds for RV and tent camping, and more.