If you don’t have time to travel the entire Pacific Coast Highway, choosing a starting point in one of several travel hubs (Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Diego) and venturing out from there breaks the trip into easily-manageable chunks.
This five-day itinerary assumes you’ve started in Seattle and picks up there. Wherever your starting point, set your GPS for Astoria, where our explorations of coastal Oregon begin.
Lake Quinault to Cannon Beach
(146 miles/236 kilometers, 3.5 hrs)
Get an early start, following US-101 south along Willapa Bay. Then it’s welcome to Oregon!
Stop in Astoria for lunch before climbing the 164-step spiral staircase to the top of the Astoria Column for the perfect view of the Astoria Bridge. Check out the Columbia River Maritime Museum (one of the state’s best). Explore Fort Clatsop, the centerpiece of sprawling Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.
Continue past the little towns of Gearhart and Seaside before arriving at artsy Cannon Beach—home to impressive Haystack Rock. Stop for lunch before some shopping and gallery-hopping. Check in at enchanting Stephanie Inn. Enjoy a leisurely dinner before calling it a night.
Excursion to Portland
(80 miles/128 kilometers, 1.5 hrs)
From Cannon Beach, you can continue south down the coast toward Newport, or head east on US-26 for an inland excursion to Portland.
Take two days to explore the city of “mosts”: most parks, most bikeable, most breweries, most indie coffee shops. Stop at famed Powell’s City of Books and enjoy a one-of-a-kind treat at Voodoo Doughnut. Sip tea in the Portland Japanese Garden (most authentic outside of Japan) and ramble along the manicured trails in Washington Park. Ride a bike along the banks of the Willamette River, breaking to watch the sunset, and end your day with dinner in the Pearl District.
To return to the coast, take US-26 west back to Cannon Beach. Another option is to divert from US-26 onto OR-6 West to Tillamook (74 mi / 118 km / 1.5 hrs) and continue on US-101 South to Lincoln City, as described on Day 8 below.
Cannon Beach to Newport
(125 miles/202 kilometers, 4 hrs)
Set out early from Cannon Beach for a morning packed with memorable views. Begin just south of town at Hug Point before exploring the beautiful beaches at Oswald West State Park. Continue south to the Three Capes Scenic Loop. Try to spot migrating whales from the Cape Meares scenic viewpoint. Farther on, follow the trail at Cape Lookout State Park through the forest. Or wander mammoth-sized dunes at Cape Kiwanda.
Back on US-101, drive south, past Tillamook to Lincoln City, a good stop for lunch. If you’re here during June or October, head to the beach to watch colorful soaring kites. Otherwise, continue south, making stops at Otter Crest Loop for 360-degree views of the coast and Devil’s Punchbowl, where sea and rock engage in an inconclusive battle.
Continue south to Newport, where you should bypass the tourist traps in favor of renowned Oregon Coast Aquarium, Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, and Yaquina Head Lighthouse Head to quaint Nye Beach for dinner, followed by live music at Nana’s Irish Pub. Stay at the literary-themed Sylvia Beach Hotel, which boasts astounding cliffside views.
Newport to Gold Beach
(192 miles/310 kilometers, 4.5 hrs)
Fill up your tank and get back on the road, driving between the forested mountains of the coast range and the Pacific Ocean. Just past the historic Heceta Head lighthouse, spectacular windswept sand takes shape along the stretch of Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which stretches 47 miles from Florence in the north to North Bend on the south. Stop at Old Town in Florence for a bite to eat. Then put on a pair of goggles to surf the dunes riding an ATV.
Continue for another 125 miles, passing Lakeside, North Bend, and Coos Bay. Stop for photo-ops in Bandon, with its dramatic views of boulders, sea stacks, and Cape Blanco Light, the oldest lighthouse in Oregon.
Stop for the night in Gold Beach, reserving a room at Tu Tu Tun Lodge, set high above the Rogue River.
Travel Maps of Coastal Oregon
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip.