A myriad of dramatic scenery dominates the Pacific Coast of Oregon, making it one of the most photographed coastlines in the country. The spirited towns and historic villages are gateways to wind-swept beaches, obscure sand dunes, massive rock arches, and towering sea cliffs—all sheathed in evergreen.

Heceta Head and the Sea Lion Caves lure in the masses, but you can still find less crowded spots.Oregon’s North Coast stretches from the swift-flowing Columbia River at Astoria, one of the oldest American settlements west of the Rockies, to the rich dairy lands of Tillamook County. Scattered among the scenes of ship crossings and grazing cows are fragments of the past from the ruins of the famous Peter Iredale shipwreck to the replica of Fort Clatsop, where the Corps of Discovery waited out the harsh winter of 1805. Beachfront villages welcome weekend visitors and vacationers with unique shops, cafés, and galleries.

A shipwreck on the beach near Fort Stevens State Park. Photo © Peter Iredale/Dreamstime.

A shipwreck on the beach near Fort Stevens State Park. Photo © Peter Iredale/Dreamstime.

The Central Coast spans 60 miles from Lincoln City to Yachats, with stops in family-friendly beach towns like Newport and Florence in between. Heceta Head and the Sea Lion Caves lure in the masses, but you can still find less crowded spots, especially along the shifting sands of the Oregon Dunes, which extend down to Coos Bay.

Along the South Coast, stunning scenery continues from one dramatic cape to another, all the way through the most dramatic drive in the state, along the Samuel Boardman State Scenic Corridor. Along the way, you’ll encounter everything from untamed rivers to life-sized dinosaurs.

Planning Your Time

A five-day trip will allow you to stop at all the major points of interest. Another option is to take five days to thoroughly explore one section of the coast: the North Coast, Astoria to Pacific City; the Central Coast, Lincoln City to Florence; or the South Coast, Reedsport to Brookings.

Although all towns along the coastline offer lodging, food, and fuel, larger towns and resort destinations such as Astoria, Cannon Beach, Newport, Florence, and Bandon have more travel-friendly options.

The Pacific Coast Highway through Oregon is well maintained. Numerous twists and sharp turns hugging the edges of high cliffs provide phenomenal views and treacherous driving. Allow extra time to safely navigate the roadway.

A sea stack on the beach at Port Orford, Oregon.

Port Orford along the Oregon Coast. Photo © Tim Mossholder/123rf.

Getting There by Car

Interstate-5 (I-5), the major north-south artery of the West Coast, connects Oregon to Washington in the north and California in the south. The most viable highway for inbound travelers from the east is I-84, connecting Oregon to Idaho. I-84 extends west all the way to Portland.

The great Columbia River is the border between Oregon and Washington, linked together by the Astoria-Megler Bridge in the North Coast town of Astoria, and by the I-5 Bridge in Portland.

The Central Coast can be approached from Eugene via OR-126, which travels east to the seaside town of Florence.

The South Coast is easily accessed from Medford via US-199 south. The highway dips into Northern California and then curves up to the Oregon coast town of Brookings.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip.