Cruise from Gold Beach to Gearhart to discover the unfettered beauty of the Oregon Coast with its gorgeous lighthouses, secret beaches, and charming small towns.
June 12, 2017
| Updated September 11, 2019
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The Coast with the Most
A few months before, I’d started thinking about driving up U.S. 101 from California to Northwest beaches for a dream Oregon Coast road trip. It was a romantic idea, one that would take me along rocky coastlines like the ones that flood Instagram feeds with the tag #vanlife. We’ve all seen them—filtered images of boho road-trippers who have swapped homes for vintage camper vans and an ever-changing landscape of foggy highways, cozy campfires, and mugs of chai. I wasn’t about to permanently give up my house keys, but a week or two on the road had its allure. A quick online search unearthed a Vanagon rental company called Peace Vans in Seattle. What follow are the stops I made along the way from south to north, conjuring a landscape and a lifetime memory well worth getting a little lost for. —Jody Berger
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A scenic small town where the Rogue River meets the ocean, Gold Beach is a haven for fishing, wind surfing, beachcombing, and more adventures along an Oregon Coast road trip.
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Prehistoric Gardens, Port Orford
Travel back in time on a self-guided tour of this living restoration of a prehistoric temperate rainforest. Follow the dinosaur tracks to spy 23 life-size dino replicas, as well as old-growth trees, gigantic ferns, and more plant life evocative of Jurassic Park (minus the danger).
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Crazy Norwegian's Fish & Chips, Port Orford
A solid road-food stop, Crazy's fish and chips are the big draws on the menu, but you can't go wrong with their Oregon Bay shrimp-melt, clam chowder, local fried oysters, and more delectable seafood.
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Cape Blanco State Park
The prominent headland of Cape Blanco is an Instagrammer's dream come true—and a must-stop for any Oregon Coast road trip. The park has more than 50 sites for tents, vans, and horse camping, but is laid out such that, deep in the trees and far from any human sounds, each spot offers a sense of solitude. Whether you're camping in a tent or out of a camper van, you can lose yourself stargazing and staring at the tops of 100-foot Douglas firs from your sleeping bag.
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Cape Blanco Lighthouse
Since its construction was complete in 1870, this lighthouse has regally shone its beam from rugged Cape Blanco State Park.
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View from Cape Blanco Lighthouse
Visitors can ascend the interior spiral staircase up to the lantern room to see the Fresnel lens up close and take in the perch's amazing views.
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A quintessential beach town with old-time flavor, Bandon is known for its stunning beaches, home to otherwordly rock formations jutting out of the waves. But it's also great for a nostalgic boardwalk stroll and a quaint collection of shops and eateries in Old Town.
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Tony's Crab Shack & Seafood Grill, Bandon
"Always fresh, never deep fried" is the motto at this tried-and-true seafood restaurant. Bandon is known for its locally sourced Dungeness crab, and Tony's does it justice. Also not to miss on the menu: the cioppino, clam pasta, and fish platters.
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Shore Acres State Park
For a different nature experience from the rest of your wilder Oregon Coast road trip, visit this scenic state park set on what used to be the grand estate of a Pacific Northwest timber baron. The beautifully landscaped grounds feature a variety of plants, including the selections at two exceptional rose gardens. The park is also a top spot for whale watching and taking in views of the waves.
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Sunset Bay State Park
The ideal spot for an unparalleled coastal camping experience, the park features year-round tent, RV, and yurt camping sites located just a short walk from the beach. When you're not snuggled up at camp, you'll love exploring the park's sandy beaches and hiking trails that connect to other local gems, Shore Acres and Cape Arago State Parks.
For a unique glimpse of the coastal region's wildlife, make a stop at this year-round shelter for Steller sea lions north of Florence. Hundreds gather inside the sea cave (the largest in the country) primarily in wintertime, while in spring through summer they move to the outer coastal ledges for breeding and birthing. Sea lions aren't the only attraction here: the wildlife preserve also happens to be an excellent vantage point for gray whale and sea bird sightings.
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Ocean, near Florence
When the light hits the beach a certain way and turns its smooth, wet surface into a pseudo-mirror, it's hard to distinguish between the water's mini wave caps and the reflections of clouds in the sky. In other words, pure Oregon Coast road-trip magic.
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Coastal Cliffs near Florence
The dramatic coastal cliffs along Oregon's 101 are nothing short of spectacular. Lush greenery, vibrant wildflowers, and peekaboo views of pocket beaches where the waves crash make for endless photo opps.
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Devils Elbow State Park
Tucked inside Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, Devils Elbow gives you easy access to the lighthouse as well as a trail affording a spectacular view of the coast north to Cape Perpetua. But coastline isn't all you'll spy here. Puffins, cormorants, gulls, and other birds flock to nearby wildlife refuge islands, while whales and sea lions and whales can be spotted from the shore.
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Cape Creek Bridge, Lane County
The Oregon Coast Highway traverses this iconic arch bridge, located a few miles south of Heceta Head Lighthouse.
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Heceta Head Lighthouse, Florence
No Oregon Coast road-trip would be complete without a stop at this iconic working lighthouse.
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Heceta Head Light
The 56-foot-tall lighthouse shines the strongest beam on the Oregon Coast and has stood sentry on the shore since 1888. The lighthouse and adjacent keepers quarters are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Get equal helpings of nature and culture in this small-town gem located at the base of the Coastal Pacific Range. From exploring the old-growth forests and tidal blowholes of nearby Cape Perpetua Scenic Area to tasting wine and seafood back in town, Yachats is a favorite place to unwind on the state's central coast.
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Sand Dunes, near Newport
One of the most unique geological features of the region, the dramatic sand dunes can sometimes tower as high as 500 feet above sea level.
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This small coastal city has many maritime activities to offer: the excellent Oregon Coast Aquarium, the interactive Hatfield Marine Science Center, top-notch fishing and crabbing, and of course, a scenic stretch of shore. Need a break from the seaside theme? Check out the city's quirky art scene and sample pints at local favorite Rogue Brewery.
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Yaquina Bay Bridge, Newport
The arch bridge spanning the bay in Newport has become an iconic symbol to check out on an Oregon Coast road trip. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge is an excellent subject for your travel photos, but we also recommend taking a scenic stroll across for some up-close architectural appreciation.
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Stroll the quaint downtown of this village located at the nexus of the Pacific, the Nehalem River, and Nahalem Bay. Activities on the water feature prominently here, while galleries, antique shops, and a winery round out the experience.
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The living is easy in the traffic light-free seaside town of Gearhart, where you can enjoy a day of antiquing capped off by a stay in a boutique inn. But the big draw here is the local unspoiled beach. Hunker down here to end your Oregon Coast road trip in the best way.