Growing up in the Seattle area of the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon Coast was a regular destination for our family vacations. After getting married and moving to Portland for grad school, I again spent weekend after weekend, now with my husband, exploring the vast coastal area full of whales, sea life, nature, and ocean waves. Now raising our family in Boise, Idaho, we still make regular trips to the coast with our own 4 children and it remains one of our favorite family vacations. Here are some things to know when planning a vacation to the Oregon Coast!
What’s the Oregon Coast Like?
The first important thing to know about the Oregon Coast is to understand that it’s not like a southern California coast. It’s a completely different vibe. You won’t see a lot of people lounging on the sand in bikinis slathering on sunscreen and pulling out the surfboards. You’ll see everyone in hoodies and sunglasses with windbreakers and Chacos. You’ll hike, and go beach-combing in search of seashells and drift wood. You’ll make bonfires on the beach and watch for whales and sea otters. You’ll visit lighthouses and antique shops, eat salt water taffy and visit hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurants right on the beach. Nature is its crowning jewel, and it is breathtaking.
Where Should I go on the Coast?
The Oregon Coast isn’t just a one-city destination like I’ve found lots of people think it is. It’s over 300 miles of coast line, dotted with city after city. Each place has their own charm and depending on what you’d like to do on your trip, you might enjoy different destinations. I can’t tell you where to go! If you’re planning a trip for the first time, I’d do some research and simply Google Oregon coast beach towns and start seeing what catches your eye.
There are cities like SeaSide and Cannon Beach that are popular tourist destinations in the north. You’ll find promenades and plenty of hotels with ample shopping, restaurants, and activities. Then there are cities like Manzanita, known for charming shops and the small-town feel. There are lots places that feel off the grid, right smack in the middle of nature, and just about everything in between. The landscape of the Oregon coast is gorgeous absolutely everywhere. You cannot go wrong.
I can tell you from my personal experience, my favorite area is in between Pacific City and Newport. We especially love the Lincoln City/Depoe Bay area. However don’t just copy me! There are SO many great places along the coast. We personally like areas that are less populated. We like to be off the grid a little and out in nature- but many of you might enjoy places that have more touristy stuff to do, so just do some research. If you are trying to plan a trip for a large group, I would absolutely just find housing that works best for your group, and enjoy your vacation wherever it’s located!
Where Should I stay?
On the Oregon Coast, there are ample homes available for rent. You can also find some condos and hotels if that’s your style, but most people choose beach homes. Besides Airbnb and Vrbo, there are tons of companies that source homes for reasonable prices. A simple google search will do the trick! Over the years we have found lots of houses on short notice during all times of the year. If you want to book something specific, be aware that the prime summer months often book up well in advance so you will want to keep an eye on things and book early.
What’s the Weather Like on the Oregon Coast?
This might be the most important thing you get out of this post if you’re traveling on vacation to the Oregon Coast: You absolutely 100% must be okay with overcast skies and some rain. You have to expect it. If you luck out and get glorious blue skies and sunshine for your entire trip (like I did in most of the photos here) than you can consider it a bonus, but just be aware that for much of the year, the coast is cloudy and cool. I’ve had some of the most beautiful weather imaginable on my trips, and I’ve also had days where we’ve hunkered down inside and played games and watched movies because the weather was so bad. You need to be both mentally and physically prepared for a variety of weather conditions!
Can you Swim on the Oregon Coast?
Can you? Yes. Do most people? Not so much. In the middle of summer when temperatures are warm, you’ll see more people splashing around in the water, but more often than not, people are reading books in the sand or just getting feet wet. Now my family is a different story. Apparently we’re built for cold water because you’ll find my people body surfing on giant pink flamingo floaties, which is definitely not the norm! Just be aware, the water is COLD year round! The beaches however are also known for huge, wide, sandy areas. There’s so much room, it almost never feels crowded. It’s perfect for sand castles and getting your feet wet.
Sara where did you go on your recent trip to the Coast?
When planning a large group trip to the Oregon Coast, like I did recently with my family reunion, my favorite places to stay are beach rental neighborhoods. There are neighborhood developments where each family or smaller group of people can have their own house, yet still all be close together. You can also let each family book their own house, just letting them know what neighborhood you are in. Previously we have stayed at Olivia Beach, which we loved, and in the summer of 2019 we stayed at Bella Beach (owned by the same company), which has been one of my favorite locations, ever!
If you are renting properties here, look at the map first and see where they are located. I chose several units that were attached or next to each other, and also not only beach front, but right on the stairs that lead to the sand. This location was absolutely perfect for us. I loved not having to pack everything up and make going to the beach a big “event.” Instead, people just walked back and forth to the sand and we could see everything right from our porch to keep an eye on things. Cousins went from house to house and all over and it was so convenient. (The specific units we rented were Bella View, Water’s Edge, and Sea it All. For reference we had 9 adults and 14 kids)
What kinds of things do you do on the Oregon Coast?
Relax, for starters. Nature is the crowning jewel of the Oregon Coast. No matter what city you stay in, it’s worth hopping in your car one day and just driving. Pull up Google Maps on your phone, or TripAdvisor, or simply watch for the signs of the side of the road for scenic drives, view points, and pull-offs. They will be everywhere. Just drive and stop at your leisure- it’s one of my favorite ways to find things that hardly ever show up in any sort of guide book.
My kids favorite activity is definitely exploring tide pools and sea life. These photos below are from Cobble Beach, right under Yaquina Head Light house. It’s a fantastic area and one of the largest tide pool areas in the southern part of the coast, fully staffed by park rangers. This bay is also home to a local pod of whales, which during we July we saw over and over again, and up SO close!
We also love hiking and exploring hidden beaches and caves. A quick google search will bring up hikes in a variety of levels. This trip we discovered these amazing sea caves at Short Beach. It’s an almost secret cove nestled in near Cape Mears Lighthouse if you’re in that area. You always have to be REALLY careful in areas like this because of the changing tides, but this was one of the coolest places I’ve been and it was totally deserted when we were there.
The sandy beaches are huge and provide an endless playground for both kids and adults. It’s perfect for frisbee and paddle ball (when the weather is nice), long walks and afternoon naps. It’s generally pretty windy so keep that in mind, and probably have a sweatshirt in your beach bag along with your sunscreen.
Even if we’re a little far away, we almost always make the drive to the famous Tillamook Creamery! It’s been an institution in Tillamook, Oregon for years, but recently was completely re-designed and if you’re a fan of the brand, it’s worth the trip. Watch your favorite cheese being made, have lunch and get a giant ice cream cone, and explore the interactive areas. It’s one of our favorite places.
Oregon is also famous for kites! There are local kite shops in just about every town. My kids LOVE flying kites and we always come home with a new one.
In addition to all of these fun things, you’ll find horseback riding, biking, shopping, glass blowing, antiquing, whale watching, boating, crabbing, clamming, fishing, just to name a few. I hope I’ve given you a little taste of the Oregon Coast! It will forever be one of my favorite places to be with my family.
Interested in more Travel? See some of my other favorite places by clicking, here!