3 Can't-Miss Stops on an Oregon Coast Road Trip
Growing up in Oregon, the coast was a favorite destination for our families. And now that we full-time in our RV, we have made it a point to get back there in the summer and early fall when the weather can be ideal. The Oregon Coast is 363 miles long and all of its beautiful beaches are open to the public. Here are some of our favorite spots with tips for where to camp, play, eat, and drink.
Near the California border, Brookings is known as being in the "Banana Belt" for its mild weather and is one of the warmer spots on the coast. This is a fairly isolated area that sees fewer visitors than some of the towns closer to Oregon's population centers in the Willamette Valley. The rugged coastline to the north is especially scenic and undeveloped. Drivers will want to keep their eyes on the undulating road and take frequent breaks to soak in the scenery.
Where to Camp
We think Oregon has some of the nicest state parks anywhere and Harris Beach State Park is one of the best. If you are lucky or quick with the reservation system, you can score an ocean-view spot or opt for an easier-to-find site nestled in the woods. All of the spots are a short walk to the beautiful namesake Harris Beach.
Play: Best Activities in Brookings
All of Oregon's beaches are not only public but dog-friendly places where you can let your furry friends off-leash to romp in the sand. After we get our campsite set up, our first stop is a walk down to Harris Beach with our dog Crosby. He enjoys the running and we enjoy the rocky outcroppings with tide pools and views of Bird Island, which is the largest on the coast and home to the Tinted Puffin.
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is also just north of town and has 12 miles of rugged and wild coastline with viewpoints and trails. This is a favorite of photographers.
What to Eat & Drink
We like to head down to the harbor to buy seafood to cook at camp. Pacific Ocean Harvesters has some great fresh seafood. A visit to the coast isn't complete for us without a crab dinner. Go earlier in the day for the best selection.
Another option is Chetco Brewing Company - a friendly little spot to sample some tasty beer. They will let you try a free sample of their brews and we like to grab a growler (64oz container) to go.
Florence on the Central Coast bills itself as "Oregon's Playground." Rightfully so, with its proximity to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area with towering sand dunes that can reach 500 feet. We also love its quaint historic Old Town on the Siuslaw River.
Where to Camp
Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park is located three miles south of town and adjacent to the dunes, making it a top choice for those interested in visiting the dunes. Summer weekends can get a little loud with all the ATVs and dune buggies out having fun, so you might opt for the quieter Lane County Harbor Vista Campground.
Boondocking/free camping can be hard to find in this area, but Indian casinos like Three Rivers Casino offer free dry camping in their parking lot if you join their player's club.
Play: Best Activities in Florence
Off-road recreation enthusiasts will definitely want to check out the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. If you didn't bring your toys, there are a number of places to rent them in town. We also enjoy hiking the dunes and the beach in the non-motorized South Jetty area.
Heceta Head Lighthouse is a short 13-mile drive north of town. The lighthouse was built in 1894 and still has a working light that can be seen 21 miles out to sea. The lighthouse sits on a cliff overlooking the ocean and is in a beautiful area with miles of hiking trails.
What to Eat & Drink
We usually like to head down to Old Town, which offers a lot of meal options. The best clam chowder on the coast can be a controversial topic, but Mo's on the river is probably the best-known spot. Bridgewater Fish House and Zebra Bar has great seafood. For a dive bar happy hour, the Beachcomber Pub is a good value. If the weather is nice (don't laugh, you might get lucky), we like to sit outside at The Firehouse Restaurant & Lounge which has great views of the river.
We saved what we consider the best for last -- Pacific City. This is our favorite little town on the coast. While some of the Oregon Coast towns on Highway 101 (we're looking at you Lincoln City) can feel a little congested - especially in the summer - Pacific City is located a few miles west of the highway on a beautiful area of the coast.
Where to Camp
We stay at the Pacific City Thousand Trails just out of town. The campground is across the street from a great beach we can walk across to or drive our Jeep for a tailgating picnic. The city introduced a free shuttle that stops at the campground and takes you into town, if we don't feel like driving and want to enjoy an adult beverage.
Play: Best Activities in Pacific City
You can also drive your car at the beach in town, which is next to the spectacular Cape Kiwanda area. Activities here include hiking the sand dunes, hang gliding and kite flying. You can also just hang out and watch the local fisherman launch their dory boats right from the beach.
Cape Kiwanda is part of the Three Capes Scenic Route. You will definitely want to drive north to see Cape Lookout. We like the hike out to the end of Cape Lookout which has some pretty amazing views and makes for a good whale watching spot.
What to Eat & Drink
The Pelican Pub & Brewery is a reliable spot for good beer and food, and their location right on the beach is hard to beat. An outdoor table with a view can be hard to come by in peak season and good weather but they also offer to-go beer you can enjoy by a fire on the beach.
Sportsman's Pub-n-Grub in town offers reasonably priced food and drink. It's a bit of a dive bar, but a friendly one. Their locally caught fresh line cod fish and chips are excellent.
While you could technically stop in all of these cities in one long day of exploring, planning to stay at each of these locations for a few days or more can offer a great opportunity to really get a feel for what this area of Oregon has to offer.
This is by no means a complete list of everything to see and do on the coast; just a few of our favorites. Have you been? What are some of your favorites? Care to weigh in on the great clam chowder controversy? Let us know in the comments!
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