When I put together my bucket list of road trips, there are many that come to mind. But if I had to put my finger on one that I would put at the top of the list, driving the 101 from one end of Oregon to the other would be at the top. I decided that Memorial Day week would be a good time to go since the weather would be pleasant and the crowds would not be out in full summer force. Now when I say that I would be driving the Oregon Coast, I actually started in Northern California since Redwoods National Park is just a few miles over the state line. I’m not going to pass up such a spot for a simple logistics technicality.
So I begin my journey in Redwood National Park, just south of Crescent City, CA. The first thing that comes to mind about the area is how surprisingly devoid of human impact exists. The area remains fairly untouched with the exception of the highway that winds its way through the trees and over the rolling hills along the coastline. The next thing I notice is the obvious, the size of these giants have to be seen to be believed. These behemoths go so far into the sky, you have a hard time seeing the tops some times. When you get into a thick grove of them, it’s like driving in a tunnel. At the base, they are bigger around than my car. As I came out of the trees I came back to the coastline where I stopped to take in the craggy views and noticed something strange, red sand. I’m not talking fire engine red, but very similar to the color of the trees. I’m not sure if the two are related, but it’s quite the coincidence. So my feeling about the park is that it is something worth seeing, but you don’t need to allocate more than a day for it.
Putting California in the rear view mirror it is on to Oregon, the reason that I am here. The first thing that I will say is that I felt like there were three different areas along the way, southern, central, and northern coasts. Each of the three brought different things to the table and each had their own distinctive charms.
Since I was driving north, I came into Southern Oregon and immediately I found the connection to nature I wanted. The southern coast is dominated by the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor. There are not many towns along the corridor and the coast is very jagged with many capes and overlooks that give the opportunity to see out for miles from high perchs. Harris Beach is just north of Brookings and is the primary place for the residents to get some sand between their toes and enjoy the summer sun. Cape Ferrelo is just further to the north and gives a much different perspective from hundreds of feet above the beach line below. There are numerous other pullouts and trails to hike along the corridor, any of which are worth the time to get out and stretch the legs a little. The biggest take away is that this part of the coast is for the person trying to find some solitude. The crowds are non-existent and trails are plentiful.
Next, I made my way further north to the town of Bandon. The town has a quaint downtown that sits at the mouth of the Coquille River. There was a farmer’s market with some fresh local seafood and many small shops and restaurants. I really wasn’t expecting the amount of activity that was present, and I came away fairly impressed with the town. However, I really only had one reason for wanting to stop here and that reason was golf. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is one of the most impressive golf destinations I have seen and really gives the player the feeling that they are golfing in Scotland. Golf carts are not allowed and they offer caddie services to make the experience more authentic. The experience does come with a steep price, but I figured that it’s something that I probably won’t be doing again, so why not splurge a little. There are multiple courses, but I chose the one that ran along the shoreline because, why not! I have to say that some of the cliffs that you hit along/over got a little intimidating, and the wind blew so hard that it made the round less than optimal. But I guess that is the way the course is supposed to be played.
As I moved into the central coast the coastline started to have this nice mix of jagged cliffs and rolling sand dunes. The Oregon Dunes National Rec Area between the towns of Reedsport and Florence was littered with people taking out their dune buggies and ATVs. There are many places to rent both if it is something you’re interested in. After driving along the wind-swept beaches for a while, you climb back up into cliffs of the Cape Perpetua Area. After a while of stopping and going, I started to train myself on where to stop based on the amount of other cars parked along the highway. The downside is obvious, there are going to be more crowds, but usually there was reason for that. Cooks Chasm is a perfect example of that. As I got off the highway, the roadside pullout looks no different than any other but the pullout was filled with cars which was not common along the way. Instead of a sandy beach, there were rock formations jetting out into the ocean. The different shapes of rock formations created some unique features. Sprouting Horn is a slot between the rocks that the waves would funnel into and hit with force sending ocean water dozens of feet into the air. My personal favorite was Thor’s Well, which looked like a simple hole in the rocks. But, at certain points of the tide cycle, the waves would come under the face of the well and explode up and out the top. The foamy seawater would make a beautiful contrast with the black rocks.
So after spending the morning climbing around in the rocks of Cooks Chasm, I took the winding road up to the lookout high above. Out of all the high lookouts along the coast this one was easily the highest. At a touch over 800 feet above the ocean below, you get the same feeling as you would looking out from the top of a skyscraper.
After spending the day climbing and hiking, I stopped for the evening in the town of Yachats (pronounced ya-HOTS). The town is on the smaller side, but was probably my most enjoyable stop. There is a small, but vibrant downtown with a small yet tasty brewery and numerous restaurants of all levels of fancy. That being said, I got my dinner from a food truck. Best fish tacos I’ve every had! After dinner I walked over to Yachats State Park and just lounged on the rocks watching the tide come in. There is just something soothing about the sounds of waves crashing on the rocks and the seagulls overhead.
So after my wonderful stay at the Drift Inn I started my journey back up again. I made a pit stop in Newport to check out the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Considering that it was not very big, it was very nice. They had some large tanks that went up and over your head in the hallways and the outside areas were simple but gave some close interactions with otters, sea lions, and native birds. It’s not the type of place to spend an entire day, but if you have an hour or two to spend, it’s not a bad option.
The next town I came to was Tillamook. Now, if you were looking for the red-headed stepchild of the Oregon Coast this is it, and I use that term with nothing but affection. If you didn’t know where you were and just got dropped into town, you would think you were somewhere in Wisconsin or another Midwestern state. There are dairy farms everywhere, a huge cheese factory, and other cheese oriented stores that are just fantastic. The town is along the 101 but sits off the coast by a good dozen miles. It was a nice change-up in the middle of all these coastal towns. I was able to find a couple parks nearby to get some like hiking in (Munson Creek and Tillamook Forest Center). Another really interesting point of interest is the Tillamook Air Museum. There are many different historic planes and helicopters, but the majority of the museum focuses on World War II, but the aircraft are from many other time periods.
After leaving Tillamook and joining back with the coast, I came into what I consider the Northern Coast. One of the overriding things I noticed on the trip was that the further north I went, the more crowded and touristy it felt. The state parks started charging fees, the traffic thickened up, and the trinket shops became more common. That does not mean that the area was a loss. Cannon Beach is a very affluent town with some great dining options and a great beach, highlighted by Haystock Rock.
The town of Seaside has a weekend resort town kind of feel with many big hotels lining the beach. At the northwest tip of the state is the old Fort Stevens. The fort was built back in the 1800s as a base of operations for protecting the fur trade after Lewis and Clark made their trip to the west coast. The base was active through World War II as a training base and was decommissioned shortly after. What remains is something that could almost be considered ruins.
Finally, the last town the Oregon Coast has to offer is Astoria. Astoria is the oldest permanent settlement on the Pacific Coast, dating back to 1811. The city sits on the mouth of the Columbia River as it empties into the Pacific. There are numerous old Victorian homes that sit up on the hills overlooking the downtown which I’m not sure if it is in the process of fading or reinventing itself. There are a few closed storefronts that look quite a bit dated, but there are some new businesses going in along the boardwalk. It seems as though the town is transitioning from a blue-collar fishing community to more of a tourism based economy. Most of the new businesses seem to be breweries, coffee shops, restaurants, and cannabis stores, which are much more common than I would expect. I ended up at Buoy Brewing and had a great experience. I sat in the taproom that looked out over the river and just unwound from the long trip.
So that’s as far as I can go before moving into a new jurisdiction to the north. I guess I can find out what is on the other side of this huge bridge.
Only one way to find, off we go!