10 reasons to hit the road along Oregon’s North Coast

The 75-mile stretch of Oregon Highway 101 from Astoria to Tillamook offers an exciting day trip. This route, also known as the Oregon Coast Highway, can be reached in a couple of hours from Portland and includes a traverse of the Northern Oregon Coast Range.

The varied terrain and charming towns make this a lovely way to spend a day on the road.


Astoria, the state’s first city and the largest on this trip, is located on the northwest tip of Oregon. At this point, the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, and this historic city offers a wealth of walking tours and water activities along the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

The Riverfront Trolley is a $1 deal that takes you on a one-hour round trip along the River Walk, stopping at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. The Museum provides a variety of interactive experiences about shipwrecks, information about perilous bar crossings, and a U.S. Coast Guard bar pilot pulling boat.

Drive up to The Astoria Column, a monument to the Pacific Northwest and the people who settled there, as well as the Chinook Indian culture. If you are physically capable of climbing to the top, you will have bragging rights to a 360-degree view of the city, bay, and river. The Column is colorfully lit up at night for all to see from below. This city is also rich in film history, with The Goonies being shot in town and further south in Cannon Beach.


The town of Seaside is a short drive south on Highway 101. This family-friendly destination has everything from kite festivals to sandcastle competitions to bumper cars. Local restaurants tempt you with freshly caught crab and other seafood, or if the kids want fast-food fries, you’ll find them on 101, along with other national chains.

A walk along the Promenade (or The Prom, as locals refer to it) provides a 1.5-mile paved path along the coast. A history lesson about the Lewis and Clark expedition can be found along the walkway, culminating in a bronze statue commemorating The End of the Trail. This is where the explorers came to an end on their 4,000-mile journey and turned around to return home.

Ecola State Park

Back on Highway 101, heading south toward Cannon Beach, the road deviates slightly inland to pass through Ecola State Park. This nine-mile-long park offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, hiking trails, and glimpses of the famous Haystack Rock. Enter the town of Cannon Beach to get a better look at this massive rock.

Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach presents itself as a more affluent, artsy neighborhood with galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars. There are no fast-food chains here, and it is slightly more expensive than its northern neighbor. There is plenty of parking throughout town, and it’s a short walk to the beach for a view of Haystack. When the tide comes in, you can walk up to it and look for colorful sea life in the tide pools.

Between April and August, the continental United States is home to the largest onshore population of tufted puffins. Recent sightings of stranded cougars during high tide have alerted beachgoers, but this is an unusual occurrence.

When leaving town, you may want to take South Hemlock Street, which eventually merges with Highway 101. This is a popular spot to see elegant elk munching on the lush landscapes of local homeowners. Herds have also been spotted on the beach near Haystack during sunrise and sunset.


Back on the road, a few miles south, are three charming towns: Manzanita, Nehalem, and Wheeler. Before reaching Manzanita’s main street, you’ll need to stop at a couple of scenic overlooks from Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain. These locations provide breathtaking views and photo opportunities of Manzanita Beach and the Pacific Ocean, with a trailhead accessible from the south viewpoint.

From there, head south to Manzanita’s Laneda Avenue for a drive down to the beach through this pleasant town with locally owned shops and restaurants. If you’re looking for a casual food truck, go to Manzanita Mudd Dogs for an authentic Chicago hot dog or have it custom-made to your specifications. There is a good selection of restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The beach is easily accessible, with the Neah-Kah-Nie visible from the water.


When you arrive in Nehalem, don’t blink or you’ll miss out on the North Coast Pinball Lounge, the local distillery Spirits of the West, and Buttercup, a gourmet chowder and ice cream restaurant. Watch as your favorite chowder is prepared in front of you, then enjoy it on the Nehalem River’s banks. Before you leave, don’t forget to sample their homemade ice cream creations.


Next, visit Wheeler’s antique shops and marina for a taste of old-world charm before continuing south for more discoveries. Keep an eye out for the old crabbing boat at the entrance to Kelly’s Brighton Marina on your way to Rockaway Beach. This is the place to go for crabbing lessons, and the kids will enjoy this campground, which has boat rentals available for your adventure.

Rockaway Beach

On a clear day, Rockaway Beach provides a stunning view of the Twin Rocks, but be prepared for fog banks to roll in at any time. Kites are popular here, and if you like corn dogs, the Original Pronto Pup is a must-see.


Before entering the downtown district, stop by Tillamook Creamery to see how your favorite cheese and ice cream are made. Entry is free, and there are numerous samples available. This facility, dubbed “The House Cheddar Built,” offers tours, tastings, and ice cream treats. Following your visit, have lunch at the Dutch Mill Café on Main Avenue, where you will be immersed in an authentic 1950s diner.


To finish your journey along the northeast coast, take Highway 131 west for 6 miles to Oceanside along the Three Capes Scenic Loop. On a clear day, the Three Arch Rocks can be seen as you hike up to the Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse. You’ll get a close-up look at the beacon as well as breathtaking views of the Pacific.

This trip only scratches the surface of what the Oregon coast has to offer, but it can be completed in a single day. It will take a few more days to fully appreciate the entire coastline.

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