Highlights of driving the Oregon coast

Known as The People’s Coast, the Oregon coastline stretches 584km from border to border beside the Pacific Ocean.

On this route, explore craggy headlands, crashing waves, sandy beaches, rocky tide pools and coastal communities brimming with character. Some towns are geared toward visitors with galleries and resorts, others are simple and sturdy fishing villages where residents still pull their living from the sea.

The People’s Coast is a feast for the senses and frequent stops are mandatory. It’s no wonder the coast is one of Oregon’s 7 Wonders.

Travel Oregon offers this description to help you plan your coastal road trip.

Astoria to Garibaldi

The road trip begins in the northwest corner of Oregon in Astoria. Established as a fur-trading post in 1811, it’s the oldest immigrant settlement west of the Rockies. Yet with its vital location — where the mighty Columbia River meets the Pacific — Astoria’s heritage is even more intertwined with the sea. The terrific Columbia River Maritime Museum anchors a beguiling downtown of passing ships, Victorian captain’s homes, seafood restaurants and walking paths along the old cannery wharves.

At Fort Stevens State Park, witness the spectacle of the Columbia Bar, the often-wicked meeting of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. Nearby, Fort Clatsop re-creates the winter camp of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Cannon Beach is filled with galleries, boutiques and views of 70 metre Haystack Rock offshore. In between lies Ecola State Park, a delight of sandy coves, forested trails and the cliff-edged cape of Tillamook Head. The road winds past more cliffs and coves, climbing to more than 215 metres above the Pacific, before descending around the rich estuary of Nehalem Bay.

Garibaldi to Newport

The road arcs inland around Tillamook Bay at Garibaldi, a hub for fishing and kayaking. In Tillamook, take a self-guided tour and sample cheeses at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Head west on OR-131 for a detour along the Three Capes Scenic Loop to the Cape Meares Lighthouse, then backtrack south to Cape Lookout State Park.

Further south is the massive sand dune of Cape Kiwanda in the little beach town of Pacific City. The route rejoins the road north of Lincoln City, which draws kite flyers to its breezy beaches, skilled surfers to Nelscott Reef and hikers seeking solitude to the Cascade Head Preserve.

The fishing village of Depoe Bay bills itself as the smallest navigable harbour in the world, where fishing boats and whale-watching excursions thread through a rocky channel to the Pacific. Gray whales tend to linger here, along with the many whales that migrate along the Coast.

Nearby, the collapsed sea cave called Devils Punchbowl churns with swirling seawater. Explore more marine gardens and Oregon’s tallest lighthouse at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.

Newport to Coos Bay

Newport sits on Yaquina Bay, marked by the pretty 1871 Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, Oregon’s last remaining wooden lighthouse. Visitors wander among the shops and restaurants of Nye Beach, and along the working bayfront, noisy with barking sea lions.

Across the bay, the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science Center enlighten visitors about what goes on below the surface, with tanks and interactive displays.

Near Yachats, waves swirl against the base of 245m Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, and trails lead through old-growth forest above. 19.3km south, the Heceta Head Lighthouse is Oregon’s brightest beacon and no doubt one of its most photographed. Visitors can tour the tower and stay in the lightkeeper’s home, now a B&B.

At the nearby Sea Lion Caves, an elevator descends 63m to an observation area in a huge natural cavern, where Steller sea lions and other wildlife gather. It’s one of the oldest private attractions along the Oregon Coast.

At Florence, you’ll find fishing boats and shop-filled historic buildings line up along the Siuslaw River. Across the Siuslaw River Bridge, the coast gives way to kilometres of high dunes and sandy beaches, stretching all the way to Coos Bay. Near the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, businesses offer dune-buggy tours, sandboarding equipment, and ATV rentals.

Coos Bay to Brookings

The Oregon Coast’s largest city and the largest natural harbour between Seattle and San Francisco, Coos Bay is a busy port for commercial and recreational fishing, crabbing and clamming. Nearby, the Charleston to Bandon Tour Route hugs the coast, reuniting with US-101 in Bandon at the mouth of the Coquille River. Bandon is known for its world-class golf and sandy beaches punctuated with dramatic sea stacks.

Next, you greet the coastline at Port Orford, an exceptionally scenic fishing harbour and the start of the newly designated Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway. Harbour seals and sea lions often frequent the rocky outcrops at Port Orford Heads State Park.

The Sixes and Elk rivers draining down from the Coast Range offer great salmon and steelhead fishing. The Rogue River, a Wild and Scenic River famed for its rafting and fishing, meets the Pacific at Gold Beach. Jet-boat tours power upriver for a look at the scenic Lower Rogue.

Beyond Pistol River, a famous windsurfing spot, 19km of coastline are designated as the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, with ample overlooks, hiking trails, and beach access. The highway concludes south of Brookings, a region known for its temperate “banana belt” climate and the largest stand of coastal redwoods in the state.