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.
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Table of Contents
NORTHERN OREGON COAST: IN A NUTSHELL
Here’s a quick overview of all the useful info you need to plan an awesome trip!
- When To Go: The weather is nicest between July and September, though the winter months can be a whole different vibe and experience, too!
- Where To Stay: Cannon Beach has lots of accommodations. We love the Inn at Cannon Beach ($$) for the free bfast – The Ocean Lodge ($$$) for oceanfront views and free bfast!
- Nearest Airport: Fly into Portland International Airport (PDX), approximately 80 miles away. From there, enjoy the drive to the Oregon coastline.
- How to Get Around: You will need a car to explore the coastal beauty and nearby state parks + small towns. We recommend using Rentalcars.com to find the best deal.
- Must-Do’s: Take a morning stroll along the iconic Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, hike around Ecola State Park for wowza views, eat yummy seafood at Mo’s Seafood & Chowder, enjoy the nostalgic charm at Seaside, and pop on over to the nearby town of Astoria.
- Before You Go: Pack layers (and even a rain jacket) for varying coastal weather and prep your road trip essentials!
- Need a guided tour from Portland? : Go with this one – Oregon Coast Day Trip: Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock (8 hours)
PORTLAND TO OREGON COAST: AN OVERVIEW
Portland is only 1.5 hours away from the Pacific Ocean (approximately 80 miles), but driving along the coast can take way more time than that if you add in all the great stops. It’s not a long trip, nor is it a boring one! It’s a fun, super-scenic, and breathtaking experience!
Along the way, you’ll get to discover some of the reasons why Oregon is so great: the Oregon coast’s rocky vistas, miles of public beaches, fishing towns, family attractions, microbrews, and fresh seafood.
The Oregon Coast is a whopping 363 miles (584 km) of rugged shoreline. However, this trip is centered on the North Coast (Astoria to Cannon Beach, OR), making this an easy day trip to the Pacific Ocean from Portland.
Need a rental car for your trip? To find cheap rental cars, I recommend using Rentalcars.com. Their search tool is one of the best I’ve found!
ARE YOU ROAD TRIP READY? YOUR QUICK CHECKLIST:
License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
Spare Tire | In addition to carrying a spare tire with you, don’t forget to check your current tire conditions before you set off as well.
Jumper Cables / Car Jump Starter | A must-have for any road trip! If you’re looking to invest in something exponentially more powerful/convenient than simple jumper cables, get the NOCO Boost HD Car Battery Jump Starter Box. This tool was sent from heaven and serves as a car jump starter, portable power bank, LED flashlight, and 12-volt portable power–all in one!
iOttie car mount | This is my partner in crime on any road trip. It’s got an amazing grip and popping your phone in and out of the mount could not be easier. If you’re renting a rental car and you’re not sure if it has a navigation screen, bring a phone mount with you. The iOttie attaches by suction, so it’s easy to transport from car to car.
Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This convenient little kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road trip. Not only will you be able to keep beverages cold and refreshing, but you will also be able to keep perishables fresh. A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more.
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. Perhaps this was a seasonal thing.
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 its 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.
CONSIDER TAKING A GUIDED TOUR OF THE OREGON COAST
Don’t want to worry about the logistics of renting a car, driving long distances, or getting to Cannon Beach, OR? Consider a day trip from Portland to the Oregon Coast.
- Oregon Coast Day Trip: Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock – On this 8-hour full day tour, visit the charming towns of Manzanita and Cannon Beach, browse antique shops and art galleries, and stop at several beaches on the Oregon Coast. Transportation from Portland is included!
- Oregon Coast Tour from Portland – On this 7.5-hour full day tour, travel the picturesque US Hwy 101 through quaint beach towns, stopping in Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, and Oswald West State Park.
OTHER TOWNS TO VISIT ON THE OREGON COAST
If you’ve got a little more time to extend your road trip, I’d recommend checking out these other towns/sights on the Oregon Coast. The further south you go, the more you’ll need to consider an overnight stay on the coast.
- Rockaway Beach – a quieter version of Cannon Beach full of restaurants, gift shops, and miles of beach
- Tillamook – best known as home to the Tillamook Cheese Factory
- Cape Lookout State Park – great hiking trails and even better ocean views
- Lincoln City – a well-known destination for beach-goers from Portland and Salem
- Siletz Bay – one of the most pristine bays where kayaking is a must, also offers fishing and oceanfront restaurants
- Newport – a very popular destination attracting families, tourists, and beachgoers throughout the year
- Yachats – a pedestrian and cyclist friendly town surrounded by epic coastal views; Cape Perpetua Scenic Area is a must
- Florence – features a wonderful Old Town district best known for its shopping and dining
WHAT TO PACK FOR AN OREGON COAST DAY TRIP
- Umbrella | An umbrella, particularly a wind-proof umbrella, is crucial when traveling to destinations with varying/unpredictable weather. If you have an umbrella with you, then it means the rain can’t stop you from enjoying your trip and exploring the outdoors.
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on spending some time on the river or in the ocean, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — they’re comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
- Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any coastal destination. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. Despite the options I have here, one thing is for sure— I’m never without some sort of outer layer. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
- Puffy Jacket | You’re going to need layers for the Oregon Coast. The coastal climate brings chilly evenings year-round, even on warm summer days. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of outdoor adventuring!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Osprey Daylite Daypack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for a day hike.
- Laundry Bag | Outdoor activities = lots of sweaty, smelly, dirty, and worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire travel bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
- Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Sun protection is key for any outdoor destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun.
- Sunscreen | Remember to put on sunscreen even if there is cloud coverage. UV rays in overcast conditions are particularly strong, so don’t overlook it.
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great breweries and eateries… the last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
- Firewood and fire starter | If you plan to bonfire
- Picnic Blanket | for many hours of enjoyment by Haystack Rock
- Picnic food & materials
- WayAway | This site compares flight ticket fares from hundreds of agencies. You’re going to get the best prices on the market, at least $10 lower than those on Skyscanner, Kayak, and Priceline.com. The best part is? The WayAway Plus membership. With the membership, you’ll get up to 10% cash back on airline tickets, hotel bookings, car rentals, and other travel services.
- DEAL ALERT! Use code ‘travelswithelle’ for 10% off WayAway Plus.
- Booking.com | Honestly, this is my go-to accommodation booking site. This site has free cancellation and no prepayment required on reservations which is huge for me. It also has amazing abilities to filter accommodation options by rating and price. Honestly, it’s shaved off so many hours of endless research for me and has made booking hotels and other accommodations a breeze.
- Viator | Viator is a huge online marketplace for all things tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, ATV tours, sailing trips, walking tours, hot air ballooning, and more.
- Go City | Go City offers great value-for-the-money attraction passes in various destinations around the world. Whenever I want to play tourist in a city, I always check to see if Go City operates in that city. The money you can save with this pass is unreal (as opposed to buying admission tickets for various attractions separately).
- SafetyWing | SafetyWing is by far one of the best travel medical insurance for travelers as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those heading abroad.
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