Half a mile south of Depoe Bay , a picturesque bay has been scooped out of the sandstone bluffs. The tranquility of this calendar photo come to life is deceptive. There’s considerable evidence to suggest that this tiny embayment—and not California’s Marin County—was the site of Francis Drake’s 1579 landing, but the jury is still out. During Prohibition, bootleggers used the protected cove as a clandestine port.
Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint overlooks Whale Cove. There are picnic tables, and it’s a good spot for whale-watching, but there’s no beach access.
In 1996 the media exploded with stories raising the possibility that the tiny hamlet of Whale Cove, two miles south of Depoe Bay, could supplant Plymouth Rock as the birthplace of a nation. Rotting timbers from what is theorized to have been a stockade built by Sir Francis Drake in 1579 were unearthed in an area where stories have long circulated that the English privateer made landfall.
Over the years, these notions have been fueled by several tantalizing pieces of evidence: an unsigned ship’s log from Drake’s voyage in a museum in England that identified 44 degrees north latitude — the same as Whale Cove — as a landing site; an English shilling dating from 1560 found on the central Oregon coast  in 1982; a photo from the 1930s showing a local resident with a distinctly English sword he unearthed; and a ship’s cutlass found in Newport  in the early 19th century bearing the markings of a 16th-century English arsenal. Moreover, excavations of a nearby Indian village thought to have been buried in 1600 turned up brass items, blades, and Venetian beads.
An amateur British historian, Bob Ward, makes a compelling case for Whale Cove as the place where Drake spent five weeks in the summer of 1579. In his flagship Golden Hynde, the only one of his five-ship fleet to survive the stormy straits around Cape Horn, Drake harassed Spanish settlements throughout Latin America and plundered Spanish ships wherever he met them.
Sailing west from Mexico on its return to England via the Cape of Good Hope, the treasure-laden Golden Hynde was beset by storms, and Drake had to retreat to land to make repairs. Conventional history has held that he made landfall around San Francisco , most likely on the Marin County coast .
Ward, however, believes that Drake continued his voyage farther north into present-day Washington and sailed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca , thinking he had found the fabled Northwest Passage. Turning around before he realized his mistake, Drake then headed south down the Washington  and Oregon  coasts, where he found a sandy cove in which to drop anchor and make repairs before the long journey home.
On Drake’s return to England after four years at sea, news of his exploits were suppressed. Queen Elizabeth confiscated the logs and charts, and it would be 10 years before an official account of the voyage would be published. Then, Drake’s New Albion was described as being around 38 degrees north latitude (in northern California), in an attempt, Ward believes, to fool the Spanish into thinking the Northwest Passage was much farther south.
After Elizabeth’s death in 1603, however, new charts began to appear that placed the landing site much farther north, and early 17th-century charts show a small shallow bay labeled Novus Albionis (New Albion) that is an uncannily accurate depiction of Whale Cove.
Since the initial blizzard of publicity, there has been no final word from the archaeologists and historians involved in corroborating these claims. Because most history books have placed New Albion, Drake’s fabled lost settlement, near San Francisco, researchers will not be too quick to claim otherwise without definitive research.