When people think of road trips to the coast, they often think of California. But what I’ve learned recently is that California’s got some competition– the Oregon Coast! The entire coast of Oregon is jam-packed with nature parks, rugged coastlines, coastal villages, and equally as breathtaking views. No matter the season, the Oregon Coast is a rejuvenating getaway.
From Portland, the quickest and easiest spot to visit on the coast is Cannon Beach and the surrounding towns. Cannon Beach is one of the most scenic and most well-known towns on the Oregon Coast. That huge triangular rock jutting out of the ocean–yup, that’s located in Cannon Beach.
Cannon Beach and the Northern Oregon Coast is only 80 miles (1.5 hours) from downtown Portland, making it an excellent day trip or weekend trip option. There are a plethora of things to do here, including hiking, lounging on the beach, strolling through farmer’s markets, visiting art galleries, and admiring tide pools full of life.
PORTLAND TO OREGON COAST: THE ITINERARY
Since we’re California natives, there was no way we were going to miss the chance to visit the Oregon Coast on our one-month stay in Portland. We decided to pair our day trip from Portland to Cannon Beach with a few of the other lesser-known attractions/towns on the Oregon Coast. With that, we had set our sights on visiting Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, Seaside, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, and Astoria, OR.
Going into this day trip, we knew we wanted to eat a whole lot of seafood. We had heard great things about Mo’s Seafood and Chowder (their clam chowder is a must-try), so this was a priority for us. Prior to hitting the road, I had done a lot of research about which towns and activities we were going to visit, so we had a great, jam-packed itinerary for the day. I jotted down some notes, packed the car, and we were off bright and early on a beautiful Sunday morning.
CANNON BEACH, OR
Cannon Beach was our first stop upon driving in from Portland. We wanted to make sure we had time to explore the beach and see Haystack Rock before the crowds came in, so we decided that this would be the first thing we did after grabbing coffee and amazingly delicious pastries (banana bread and a scone) at Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters. We arrived at the coffee shop around 9am, and surprisingly, lots of people were awake and in line. (Later on, I figured out why the line was so long–compared to Portland, there aren’t as many coffee shops in Cannon Beach.)
We parked around downtown 2nd street and headed towards one of the many beach access points. Parking was free which was a nice surprise! From there, we walked a leisurely mile or so along the beach to Haystack Rock, taking in the sights of families and their dogs enjoying their morning on the beach. The weather could not have been more perfect. It was fogless, windless, and to top it all off, the sun was peeking through a light layer of cloud coverage so that it wasn’t too warm of a late morning.
Haystack Rock was such a sight to see, from the minute we laid eyes on it til the moment we were standing beneath its mighty presence. The tide was extremely low that day, so we were able to spend some time checking out the tidepools that were exposed. Our entire experience here was magical, except for the fact that there were a ton of flies flying around the tidepool area. They were harmless, but obviously, no one likes the feeling of flies landing and tickling your arm with their dirty legs.
After getting back to our car and the downtown area, we decided to get lunch. Our first choice was MacGregor’s of Cannon Beach. The inside of the restaurant was beckoning us with its cabin-like feel, and the food on the menu looked so hearty and comforting. They have breakfast all day (like chicken fried steak and homemade flapjacks), as well as lunch options (like fish and chips, sandwiches, and clam chowder). We wanted to try all of it! The wait ended up being about 30 minutes long, and because we were starving, we made a last-minute decision to grab something quick so we could spend time after exploring downtown Cannon Beach.
We opted for Tom’s Fish N Chips, a quick and affordable seafood option. Their burgers sounded awesome, but we ended up sharing a tray of fish and chips since we knew we were going to sample a ton of food that day. After scarfing down our fish and chips, we headed straight for Crepe Neptune for a light post-lunch dessert. Everything we ate was so delicious and hit the spot perfectly.
We then spent the next hour or so wandering around downtown. So many charming art galleries, boutique shops, candy shops, restaurants, and cafes! My favorite shop here was Bruce’s Candy Kitchen–and from the looks of other visitors strolling through town with candy bags in their hands, it’s definitely a local favorite as well. There was also the Yuletides Christmas Store selling ornaments year-round, and since I’m a sucker for anything festive, I spend a good few minutes browsing the shop and letting my inner child dance around inside me.
ECOLA STATE PARK, OR
Though we had fully intended to visit Ecola State Park for some morning hiking, we accidentally spent too much time admiring Cannon Beach, taking jumping photos in front of the rock, and exploring tide pools that by the time we got back to our car, it was already lunchtime and we had yet to go to Seaside, Astoria, or Lewis and Clark National Historic Park.
Despite not actually getting to visit, these were the two hikes we intended to do:
- Clatsop Loop Trail from Indian Beach – a 2.8-mile loop trail located near Cannon Beach, Oregon that features beautiful wildflowers and sweeping coastal views. The trail follows the edge of Tillamook Head through the rainforest, emerging at multiple sheer cliff viewpoints. There are some great views of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse and because there’s a good incline, you’ll get a short workout in.
- Ecola Point to Crescent Beach – a 2.5 mile roundtrip hike featuring a remarkable beautiful stretch of uncrowded beach even during the busiest times of the year. If you visit at low tide, you can walk north to Ecola Point to see its striking rock formations. This trail is steep and is sometimes slippery, but the payoff is so worth the struggle.
Next stop– Seaside! Seaside, Oregon is a nostalgic family-friendly resort town that has become a popular coastal destination for travelers visiting the Oregon Coast. Seaside was historically one of the first popular resort towns, drawing tourists from all over the world.
Upon parking our car, we headed straight for the downtown area for an introductory stroll. The first thing we noticed about Seaside was that it seemed to be geared towards families and children, as opposed to Cannon Beach which seemed to cater more towards couples and retired people. This could have been due to the quirky, retro atmosphere that Seaside carries (similar to Santa Cruz, CA).
Since some football game was on, we stopped by Hop & Vine Bottle Shop and Taproom for some light beer tasting and TV time. Shortly after, we headed back for downtown and spotted something that we hadn’t seen for months due to the pandemic–an arcade that was actually open! Funland was such a refreshing find! It features a slew of exciting attractions for children and teens, including the largest arcade on the North Oregon coast, a skeeball room, air hockey, pinball machines, and even a bumper car section. Even though we didn’t play any of the games ourselves, it was fun being able to watch all the action go down.
We continued walking through the main streets, taking the long way back to our car, crossing the river, to see as much as we could. Since we still wanted to check out Astoria, we only spent about 1.5 hours in Seaside and decided to head to Astoria around 3:30pm.
We fully realized that we missed out on so much more than Seaside had to offer, but made a note to self to come back and explore deeper! Some things we have on our list for next time: hike the Tillamook Head rainforest, check out the old Seaside Aquarium, and eat at Bell Buoy of Seaside.
First stop in Astoria– Josephson’s Smokehouse for some high quality smoked salmon. If you didn’t know, Astoria is known for its high-quality salmon. Astoria sits strategically on the Columbia River, near the mouth of the Pacific Ocean. This is a key migratory route for spawning salmon and albacore tuna, which meant it was a prominent fishing town in its prime day. At its peak, the town boasted a population of just 12,000 people, but 30 fish canneries. Fish is a big deal here!
Upon stepping into the small shop, I immediately knew that Josephson’s Smokehouse was a smoked fish wonderland. There were so many varieties of canned salmon, salmon jerky, and smoked wild-caught salmon prepared all types of ways–with garlic pepper, with spicy pepper, in a wine-maple marinade, hot-smoked, etc. We opted for the wine-maple smoked salmon, which tasted absolutely heavenly (we ended up eating it the next day at home, served with polenta). After getting our salmon, we headed for the heart of the city.
Upon parking in the downtown area, I was immediately impressed by the historical buildings and architecture the city held. The historical atmosphere was so different from what we had experienced earlier in the day at both Cannon Beach, OR and Seaside, OR. Astoria was also so much bigger than what I had originally thought it would be! There were blocks and blocks of shops/restaurants/breweries to check out in Downtown Astoria, as well as things to see on the Astoria Riverwalk as well.
At this point, we realized we absolutely needed to come back to the Oregon Coast for more time to further explore the many parks and towns at the Oregon Coast. After all, I also had Lewis and Clark National Historical Park on my itinerary, but by the time we got to Astoria, it was about to close for the night! So instead of stretching ourselves too thin, we decided to skip the national historic park and instead get acquainted with the town of Astoria (we plan to allocate more days to explore the Oregon Coast on our next trip here).
We had a few hours to kill before dinner at Mo’s Seafood and Chowder, so after exploring downtown and browsing the many vintage shops and gift stores, we headed for the docks to Frite & Scoop for some “appetizer” fries (we love specialty frite shops). However, we were so bummed to find out they had actually run out of fries! We were so looking forward to trying these and vowed that we’d come back to Astoria in the future just for the frites and homemade sauces.
We walked around the docks and the various antique stalls around and noticed a bunch of breweries in the area, including Astoria Brewing Company and Buoy Brewing, each with patrons lounging peacefully outdoors enjoying their view of the Columbia River.
After putting our name down for Mo’s we headed to the Columbia River Maritime Museum and enjoyed the river views for a few minutes before we ran back to finally eat. We were on a mission to taste more fish and chips, so we ordered exactly that, plus two sides of the iconic clam chowder along with a grilled shrimp salad sandwich (a grilled cheese with shrimp), and their original Dinner Salad (cabbage salad with shrimp).
Tip: Definitely, definitely get the clam chowder at Mo’s. It was completely life-changing. The shrimp dinner salad was recommended by our waiter and we’re glad she told us to get it– it was so simple yet so delicious.
After dinner, we considered getting Custard King, but our stomachs were too stuffed at that point and we ended up creepily watching people eat more than anything. We opted for a walk instead, exploring the streets that we missed the first time around in downtown Astoria. We walked by Fort George Brewery + Public House and decided we also had to come back to eat/drink here. After a bit of digestion, we headed back to our car for the long drive back to Portland.
Each of the three coastal towns on this road trip was amazing in their own way. They each had very distinct atmospheres about them, which meant at no point in the day did it feel repetitive to us. The only negative thing about it was that we didn’t have enough hours in a day. For our next Oregon Coast road trip, we plan to spend at least 2 days in this area exploring some of the same destinations, as well as the ones we missed the first time around.
Hands down, this Portland to Oregon Coast day trip is one of my fondest memories from when I lived in Portland.
I’d highly recommend this road trip to anyone looking to explore the Northern Oregon Coast for a few days! It really is the perfect getaway from the city life.