Written by Michelle Harris
Oregon’s North Coast is its own world, where historic landmarks, ‘80s nostalgia, and trendy craft breweries coexist. A hotspot for numerous film locations, including The Goonies and Free Willy, the Oregon Coast is also where explorers Lewis and Clark ended their famed expedition. The 90-mile Northern Coast section, which begins in Astoria and ends in Pacific City, skirts down Highway 101 (also known as the Oregon Coast Highway). This scenic highway winds along towering sea cliffs, coastal forests, and picturesque beach towns, creating an unforgettable experience.
Housed in the former Clatsop County Jail in Astoria—a working jail from 1914 to 1976—the Oregon Film Museum was also a filming location for The Goonies, Short Circuit, and Come See the Paradise. The museum is a love letter to other iconic films produced in Oregon, such as The Shining and Stand By Me. Recreate famous movie scenes with a green screen and props, and step back into the ‘80s through the exhibit of memorabilia on display inside the former jail’s cells.
Situated where the Columbia River flows into the Pacific Ocean, Fort Stevens served as a military defense installation from the Civil War through World War II. The 4,300-acre park, located in Hammond, is now a recreation haven with hiking trails, camping, and wildlife viewing. The historic fort is also home to a military museum that offers underground tours of a gun battery during the summer. The highlight of the park, however, is the Peter Iredale, a 1906 shipwreck that sits right on Clatsop Spit.
Seaside’s 1.5-mile oceanside promenade was originally built as a wooden boardwalk in the 1920s. Perfect for people watching, there are a few beach trails along the Seaside Promenade that offer a chance to walk along the grassy sand bluffs toward the Pacific Ocean. Dive into history at the Lewis and Clark Salt Cairn, a historic monument located just off the promenade, marking the campsite where the explorers produced salt; a statue at the Seaside Turnaround commemorates their journey. The promenade is just steps away from classic boardwalk attractions such as a carousel, vintage arcade, and bumper cars.
An Oregon Coast road trip would not be complete without stopping to get some fresh Dungeness crab, and Bell Buoy of Seaside is a convenient place to grab a bite while heading out of town. Located right off the Oregon Coast Highway, the family-run business has been selling seafood since 1946. Take a seat on the back patio next to the creek, and chow down on fresh, locally sourced crab and razor clams.
Just north of downtown Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park sits right on Tillamook Head and extends along 9 miles of coastline. With its highest point reaching over 1,000 feet, the park is one of the best places along the Northern Oregon Coast to take in panoramic ocean views. There are 8 miles of trails located within the park, as well as tidepools at Crescent Beach. Hike along craggy cliffs while enjoying a bird’s-eye view of secluded beach coves and Haystack Rock. For a historic hike, do the Clatsop Loop Trail, a 2.5-mile interpretive loop that leads to the ruins of a World War II bunker and a view of Tillamook Rock Light. Nicknamed “Terrible Tilly,” the abandoned lighthouse sits perched on top of a rock in the middle of the ocean.
One of the best parts about visiting any beach town is perusing a local candy shop—and Bruce’s Candy Kitchen is no exception. Located on Cannon Beach’s bustling main drag, the retro candy shop sells an assortment of fresh salt water taffy made in house. A big glass window peeks into the kitchen, where the taffy is made the old-fashioned way—by hand and with a pulling machine. Other treats include handmade chocolates, caramel apples, and fudge.
It’s possible in Oregon to spend the morning skiing at Mount Hood and then drive out to Oswald West State Park for surfing or boogie boarding at Short Sand Beach. While riding the waves isn’t for everyone, a half-mile trail weaves through lush, old-growth forest and ends at Short Sand Beach, a secluded beach cove sheltered by forest and sandstone cliffs. From the beach, visitors can access the Cape Falcon trail, which leads to a scenic viewpoint, or the more challenging Neahkahnie Mountain trail.
There’s no shortage of hotels along Oregon’s North Coast, but the tiny home resort at Sheltered Nook on Tillamook Bay offers comfort along with unique digs. Only a few blocks off the Oregon Coast Highway, Sheltered Nook has six custom-built 385-square-foot homes, each decorated with a different beach theme. The tiny homes surround a communal fire pit and the property includes a 9-hole disc golf course. Located in Bay City, the resort is a short trip to a number of attractions, including the Tillamook Cheese Factory, Oregon Coast Railriders, and Kilchis Point Reserve, a nature reserve with 2 miles of interpretive trails. Sheltered Nook’s amenities include a fully equipped kitchen, a private deck with a propane grill, and complimentary DVDs and board games.
Perched 200 feet above the ocean, Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint is home to a 38-foot lighthouse, the shortest in the state. The 240-acre park’s bizarre-looking Sitka spruce tree has become a roadside attraction on its own. Said to be around 250 to 300 years old, it’s been dubbed the “Octopus Tree” due to several smaller trunks that grow out of the main trunk. A short out-and-back trail leads to the Octopus Tree from the parking lot and then continues for another few miles through an old-growth forest. Before heading out, park in the lot at the park’s entrance and take a quarter-mile hike to see Oregon’s largest Sitka spruce, which towers at 144 feet.
Sand Lake Recreation Area covers 1,076 acres of open sand dunes and is a great stop for off-roading enthusiasts. The park is located 15 miles southwest of Tillamook in Cloverdale, where vehicle rentals are available at Sandlake Tsunami ATV Rental, LLC. Not a fan of off-road adventures? The Sand Lake Estuary, which is adjacent to Sand Lake Recreation Area, has plenty of outdoor opportunities such as fishing, crabbing, kayaking, and hiking.
Cap off the journey with a pint of beer at Pelican Brewing Company in Pacific City. One of three Pelican Brewery locations along the coast, the oceanfront taproom and pub in Pacific City is the company’s original home. The inviting brewery sits right on the beach within view of Cape Kiwanda and Pacific City’s Haystack Rock. In addition to the selection of tasty craft beer, the restaurant offers a range of dining options including burgers, pizza, salad, and seafood.