The Oregon Coast is undisputedly dramatic and beautiful. With incredible rock formations, soft sandy beaches, historic lighthouses, and that wicked PNW wind coming in handy for kite flying to boogie boarding – if you’re brave! – which towns should you stop at along the 101 Highway for the best Oregon beach vacation?
It all depends on how much time you have in your itinerary. Do you want to be on the beach, or just near the beach? Will you be looking to cover as many scenic sites and tourist stops as possible, or do you prefer to set up camp and explore just your local neighborhood?
With 360 miles of coast to choose from, it’s no wonder the choice is hard. Whatever type of family vacation in Oregon you are after, there’s an Oregon coastal town just for you! We’re going to cover them all from North to South so you can perfectly plot out your Oregon coast vacation itinerary.
This post is part of our Pacific North West series
Top Tips for Visiting the Oregon Coast
Before we dive into the best coastal towns in Oregon, there are a few important planning tips you should note:
- Reservations in advance are strongly recommended for the summer. Be it hotels or holiday rental accommodations in Oregon, through to campgrounds and RV resorts, the best places get snapped up early. We have included some reservation links below for each town to help you book in advance.
- State Parks have daily parking fees – You pay $5 a day, but it’s good for 24 hours. Alternatively, get yourself a 12 month parking pass for just $30 (or 2-years $50) for all Oregon State Parks, or invest in an Oregon Pacific Coast Passport for $10 for 5 days or a $35 annual charge.
- Let’s be frank; it’s always a little cool on the Oregon Coast! Even in the peak of summer, pack a sweater and dress in layers, largely to deal with the wind. The temperature rarely climbs over 68°F, but days can be crisp and sunny.
- Bring a wetsuit if you want to hit the water! Even in the summer, water temperature won’t creep about 60°F. Lows drop to around 50°F in winter.
- On the bright side, the middle of winter on the Oregon Coast is not below freezing – expect daytime highs of around 39°F! We certainly wouldn’t recommend swimming, even with a kids wetsuit, but the Oregon Coast is ideal for a winter hike (do expect to get wet!), then snuggle up by a warm fire.
- Wear your sunscreen! Don’t let the ever-present fog deceive you; you can still get sunburn on the Oregon Coast. Always bring hats, sunscreen, and raincoats, whatever time of year. This is, after all, the Pacific Northwest!
- The windy conditions make it ideal for kite flying! Make sure you pick up some kites before you head to the coast; we’d also recommend some good beach shoes and rock pooling gear, kids binoculars are great for the trails, along with all your usual road-tripping essentials.
- Never turn your back on the kids! Should go without saying, but remember the winds can be brutal, and pathways can be steep and often unstable underfoot. It truly is a magnificent coastline to explore, but exercise extra care and attention, especially with very little ones.
- Take it easy on the road! Driving the 101 is not a race, and, particularly in summer, you’ll find long stretches with no passing lanes and no doubt a string of cars stuck behind RVs. Plan your days with plenty of stops and patience, and enjoy the view!
Map of the Best Oregon Coast Towns
Heading along Highway 101, here are our favorite coastal towns, campsites and the key attractions along the Oregon Coast you’ll want to base your journey around:
We simply have to start with Astoria! While it’s true that it’s not directly facing the Pacific Ocean, it’s where all great journeys along the Oregon Coast commence! Astoria is packed full of lovely Victorian-era homes located in the hills that overlook the mouth of the Columbia River.
Of course, Astoria is also Oregon’s oldest town – dating back to the early 18th century. It has one of Oregon’s best museums, Fort Clatsop National Memorial, which details Lewis and Clark’s expedition to Oregon over 200 years ago.
While in Astoria, don’t miss the Columbia River Maritime Museum or perhaps ride an antique carousel. Astoria is Oregon at its best!
Fort Stevens State Park
Not a town per se, but worth mentioning alongside Astoria is Fort Stevens State Park. In addition to plenty of places to camp, the park offers stunning ocean views and plenty of beach access – perfect for swimming, surfing, fishing, and beachcombing.
The most famous and iconic stopping point in Fort Stevens State Park, even if you won’t be staying the night, is the Wreck of the Peter Iredale. Don’t be surprised by just how tiny it is in real life! And if you come in summer, do expect it to be crawling with other tourists too.
The park is also home to a variety of interesting historical landmarks, including the remains of the Civil War-era Fort Stevens. Kids will love exploring the fort’s many tunnels and gun emplacements, the perfect spot for outdoor activities.
Although there are plentiful camping sites, summer reservations in advance are essential.
(This is a State Park and is covered by the Oregon Pacific Coast Passport).
Irresistible Seaside is one of the most popular spots on the Oregon Coast. Admittedly, it has lost some of its small-town charm and is now one of the largest coastal stops; dominated by ice cream shops, video game arcades, and crowds of tourists, it remains a must-see for your Oregon family vacation.
Strolling the 1.5-mile-long Seaside promenade is a must, as is the Seaside Aquarium if you’re traveling with kids. You certainly won’t run short of things to do in Seaside, but just be aware it’s more like a larger coastal city than a quaint little town. It can make a great town for basing yourself in and taking day trips to the nearby easy-to-reach towns, parks, and attractions.
Where to Stay: Modern family digs in the center of town try Inn at Seaside, or for a longer stay, look at one of these fabulous seaside cottages in Seaside perfect for families.
Most famous for being home to Haystack Rock, there’s plenty more to Cannon Beach not to be missed and making it worthy of more than just a photo stop (besides, you may find you’re waiting around for the perfect tide time for a while!) Part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, this beach town is a nature-lovers delight!
At low tide, it is easy to stroll all the way out to these impressive rock formations. In addition, kids will love searching out marine life, from sea stars and crabs to anemones, and spotting puffins perched on the rocks. It is one of the best beaches in Oregon for families.
Although many families prefer the amenities of Seaside and all the entertainment on offer, we felt Cannon Beach had a more laid-back feel and was the best place for getting to nearby state parks for exploring on foot. If you need more amenities, it’s easy to head into Seaside for the day.
TOP TIP: Watch your tides! Some of the best waterside caves can be found along the coast here, our favorite spot is Hug Point, just south of Cannon Beach, but you can get trapped if the tide comes in!
(Ecola State Park can be accessed on the Oregon Pacific Coast Passport)
As you pop out from the drive through the lush forests of Ecola State Park and Oswald West State Park, prepare to be blown away! A dazzling coastline of uninterrupted beaches awaits at the end of this rocky outcrop.
Make sure to pull over at one of the coastal viewing points, as this truly is one of the most beautiful places in the state, before descending to Manzanita and Nehalem Bay. Manzanita offers 7 gorgeous miles of pristine sandy white beach.
If it’s the tranquil waterside beauty you are after, then Manzanita is a peaceful coastal dream in Oregon. Accommodation within this quaint little town is limited, but it’s a hugely popular spot with campers taking advantage of Nehalem Bay State Park, with offers 4-miles of uninterrupted sandy beach along the Pacific coast, as well as access to the calm waters of Nehalm Bay and extensive bike trails.
Next up along the coast, we come to Rockaway Beach, another popular destination for families and one of the closest and most accessible beaches to Portland, only 85-miles away. This long sandy stretch is a simple and unassuming beach, perfect for kite flying and simply unwinding on the waterfront.
Rockaway Beach is popular in whale watching season and also plays host to several summer festivals. The Pirate Festival, a pirate-themed function, and the Rockaway Beach Festival showcasing fireworks, among other fun family-engaging activities.
You can’t miss the Twin Rocks in the ocean (as you can guess, a quite distinguishable pair of sea stacks), and several RV parks can be found along this stretch of the Oregon coast. Take the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad down to Garibaldi for a quick day visit.
Stop in at Tillamook
Another one not entirely on the coast but the next town you’ll come to is Tillamook, famous for the Tillamook Creamery! Best to tackle this popular roadside attraction early in the day.
Yes, the ice cream IS as good as everyone goes on about, and the free tour is good if it isn’t crowded; we’d suggest if the cars are already in the overflow car park, drive on. (Don’t worry, you can get yummy Tillamook ice cream everywhere along the coast!)
Heading onwards, a great spot to make a little detour off the 101 is to the tiny town of Oceanside. If it’s the serene beach you want, then you’ll be in for a treat with caves, secret tunnels, and agates, making it one of the best hidden gem Oregon tourist destinations.
Oceanside has flat sandy beaches and small stream kids can splash in, which is easily accessible. The tunnels on the cliffside are rough and dark; however, a short distance leads you to another rock and pebble-filled beach.
Where to stay: You’ll find RV parks and campsite sites in this area but limited chain hotels. This is a favorite place for hiring a secluded ocean view cottage and simply enjoying the crashing ocean waves
Visiting Cape Kiwanda and Pacific City Beach is one of the great things to do on the coast of Oregon. The beach is popular because it has some of the best waves – grab that boogie board!
Situated north of Pacific City, Cape Kiwanda has one of Oregon’s best panoramic views of the coast and the ocean. Whether you want to climb the dunes, hike on the accessible trails nearby, explore the tide pools, and, when lucky, get to witness the whales spouting from afar, we highly recommend a visit to this fantastic destination.
Where to stay: Try something unique and stay at the Hart’s Camp Airstream Hotel & RV Park
Neskowin Beach is another family-friendly Oregon coast town for those seeking a smaller village setting. Often overshadowed by the larger towns to either side, Neskowin Beach is one of a kind as it consists of 2000-year-old ghost forest tree stumps that rise out of the water at low tide.
This small coastal inlet has warm water compared to ocean water which is perfect for children to enjoy. If you proceed a bit further north, you’ll find Nestucca Bay, an undeveloped sanctuary that is ideal for kayaking and canoeing.
Lincoln City in Oregon is a great coastal town due to its location – nestled right on the Pacific Coast and surrounded by lush forests and inland waterways. The town is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Oregon and a variety of fun activities and attractions.
Devils Lake State Recreation Area is hugely popular with water enthusiasts. You can try your hand at surfing, fishing, boating, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding.
As with much of the Oregon Coast, tide pooling is popular – many rate Olivia Beach as one of the best spots. Alternatively, if you don’t want to get your feet wet, strolling along the shoreline or gathering around a bonfire as you watch the lovely sunset is an experience like no other.
The city holds two kite festivals every year as well as 4 July celebrations, and several indoor arcade-style amusements can be found for those rainy days. If you love your taffy, you’ll also find plenty of candy stores here!
Where to stay: Being a larger coastal town, there’s a good range of choices here if you are after hotel/motel accommodation near the beach or vacation rentals right on the waterfront. Devil’s Lake State Recreation Area is a top choice for campers that love to be near town.
A tiny fishing town with a big reputation! It’s two claims to fame – “the world’s smallest navigable harbor” and “the whale watching capital of the Oregon Coast” – so you can guess why this town is so popular with visitors!
Even outside of whale watching season, Depoe Bay has an undeniable charm. Close to natural wonders like Devil’s Punchbowl and Otter Crest Loop scenic road nearby, it’s an ideal spot to base your family for a secluded seaside stay.
Where to stay: This is the perfect spot to grab yourself a vacation rental overlooking the ocean
Newport is one of the largest and best beach towns in Oregon. We highly recommend this as a top stopping point for a few days when traveling the Oregon Coast with kids.
If you’re a seafood fan, the Historic Bayfront is the place to be. While you dine, you also witness the sea lions bark on the docks, a truly memorable experience while overlooking the picturesque Yaquina Bay Bridge. Yes, there are quite a few “touristy” shops along the Bayfront, and parking can be challenging, but the kids won’t be able to resist the selection of candy stores, too!
The Oregon Coast Aquarium on Yaquina Bay is another great place to visit in Newport. You can go on underwater walks and see the marine life or seabird aviary while at the Aquarium. Hatfield Marine Science Center is another excellent educational choice.
Spare plenty of time for active outdoor activities too. A visit to Yaquina Head Lighthouse (if kids aren’t lighthoused-out yet!) is a must; try the hike to Drift Creek Falls and spare some time for a stop at the giant Newport Coast Park playground.
And, of course, the beach! Just north of town is Agate Beach, one of the most popular on the central coast for sandcastle building and kite flying, or miles and miles of soft white sand can be enjoyed in South Beach State Park.
Where to stay: South Beach State Park is home to one of the best family campgrounds on the Oregon Coast, packed with amenities and only a bike ride to town. There’s a lot of choice in vacation rentals and hotels/motels in Newport and surrounds; try Hallmark Resort right on the beach.
Yachats (pronounced Yah-hots, as we found out!) is one of the best coastal towns in Oregon for a peaceful retreat. Although a small town, it has a big reputation for having all a tourist needs, hence why it’s named “the gem of the Oregon coast.”
The town itself is close to the beach and boasts some great galleries, gift shops, breweries, and restaurants – Luna Sea Fish House comes highly rated for seafood lovers.
Make sure to check out the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center; with its wrap-around observation deck, it offers one of the best views of Cape Perpetua. During the summer months, guided tours are on offer.
Immediately south, you’ll find the infamous Thor’s Well. This natural wonder is a great roadside viewing stop, as is Heceta Head lighthouse, one of the most photographed in the state!
Where to stay: Some quality campsites worth consideration Cape Perpetua Campground and Tillicum Beach Campground or for a touch of luxury on the Oregon Coast they highly acclaimed Overleaf Lodge & Spa.
TOP TIP: There may not be much of a distance between Newport, Yachats, and Florence, but as you can see, this section of the Oregon coast is packed with the most site seeing, so do allow a full day for this short drive even if it doesn’t look too far on the map.
This coastal destination with rolling dunes is among the best family beaches in Oregon. A trip to Florence Beach is family-friendly and worthwhile as there are numerous recreational activities you and your loved ones can engage in.
Rent a dune buggy or ride horseback to navigate the dunes while exploring the shoreline. Kayakers are in for a treat as the Siltcoos cascading river provides all the thrill you need.
During late summer, the Siltcoos Lake is an excellent salmon spot, ideal for angling. Adventures can hike on the easily accessible Hobbit trail with a breathtaking ocean view. Some notable amenities nearby include antique shops, boutiques, and riverfront hotels serving great food.
A huge drawcard to this central section of the Oregon coast is the Sea Lion Caves, 11 miles north of Florence. Note although part of the Oregon/Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve, this attraction is privately owned, and entrance charges are applied for the upkeep of the area.
They occupy the caves in winter and head out to the rookery area from Spring and through summer. They are wild animals, so no guarantee of a showing, but appearances are almost certain!
Where to stay: Try Best Western Pier Point Inn, or the best-regarded campground nearby is Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park offering RV hook-up sites as well as yurts but book 6 months in advance)
(Honeyman State Park is covered on the Oregon Pacific Coast Passport)
Other stops to consider on the Southern Oregon Coast
Not quite making it to our “top” list, but a few other stops south of Florence are worth mentioning depending on your family’s interest:
- Once you hit this southern point in Oregon, some branch off to head east and into the Rogue Valley. From Reedsport, take State Route 38 along the Umpqua River for a stunningly picturesque route inland.
- A hugely popular coastal stop worth a mention, though there’s no town around, is the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park. The lighthouse, of course, is the drawcard, as is the camping ground, one of the smallest but most highly regarded forest camping spots on the southern Oregon Coast.
- One of the lesser-known but lovely long stretches of sandy white beach, quiet and secluded, is Horsfall Beach in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Camping is possible here, but be aware that the area is popular with OHV Riders overnight.
- You’ll also pass through North Bend and Coos Bay, not quite on the beach but again pleasant little towns. This can be a popular spot to stop for lunch or stay the night if you want to explore deeper into the Oregon dunes.
Keeping to the 101 South, you’ll be rewarded with a stop in the wonderfully laid-back Bandon. Popular for a stroll are the Old Town district and marina; there’s a lovely boardwalk, including Friday and Saturday Farmers Markets.
Bandon is also a well-known destination for horse lovers, with horseback rides possible along the beach year-round.
The best beach access points are found on Beach Loop Drive, which also offers whale spotting opportunities in the spring. Coquille Point is very popular with families for its long sandy beaches, spectacular rock formations, driftwoods for fort building, spotting nesting birds, sea lions, and tide pools.
At the Rogue River’s mouth, Gold Beach is a small town hidden gem on the Oregon Coast. The weather here is much warmer than in the north, earning this stretch of the coast down to Brookings the nickname “the Banana Belt”. Expect a perfect mix of secluded beaches and vast sand dunes mixed with outdoor adventure.
Gold Beach has numerous activities for everyone, from angling to jet boating with Jerry’s Rogue Jets. The easily accessible Cape Sebastian Trail, 7 miles south of Gold Beach, leads to great picnic spots, an ideal destination, especially if you’re with your family.
Gold Beach is also a good spot for watching migratory whales From December to April.
Sitting just 6 miles north of the California-Oregon border and the start of Redwood country, Brookings is a popular starting or ending town for many travelers to the Oregon Coast.
Still with a quaint small-town feel, wander the storefronts at the Port of Brookings and grab yourself one last Orgeon ice cream!
From Brookings, you can travel just 4-miles to the Samuel H Boardman State Scenic Corridor for some simply breathtaking coastline views – Arch Rock Picnic Area, Thunder Rock Cove, and Natural Bridges are all popular spots.
Kids will love tide pooling at Harris Beach State Park at low tide. It’s also one of the best spots for catching that very last Oregon Coast sunset.
A word on booking your Oregon Coastal Trip
- We were total new kids on the block when it came to picking out accommodation; all State Park on-site accommodation is booked out MONTHS in advance! (They open bookings 9 months in advance, in fact). With no tents of our own for this trip, we needed towns with proper bedrooms and plenty of amenities nearby, as we were basically living out of our car!
- If you’re happy to go a little more “off the beaten path” and have the right gear, don’t miss some incredible state parks for camping (not nearly as “rustic” as it might seem if you can nab a luxury cabin or yurt!)
- We have done a ton of research, though, ready for the next booking season to open up! Pop on over here for a review of campgrounds on the Oregon Coast (coming soon!)
- These state park stops will also give you more stretches of unspoiled beach; at times, you can have beaches completely to yourselves!
- If you leave yourself enough booking time, you can rent an RV through Outdoorsy to enjoy all the best the Orgon coast offers beyond just the great coastal towns of Oregon we’ve mentioned here.
Exploring Further around the Pacific Northwest of the United States
Extending your family road trip beyond Oregon, you may also be interested in
- 20 Incredible spots to visit in Northern California
- Awesome things to do in Bend, Oregon with Kids
- The Most Beautiful Beaches on the Olympic Peninsula, WA
- Unmissable stops on the USA West Coast
- The most stunning family-friendly Beaches in California
- You’ll find our complete collection of PNW Road Trip articles here
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