Oregon’s Central Coast has something for everyone. Whatever the reason for your visit, whether it is for natural scenic beauty, beach combing, adventure, history, or just relaxation and culinary delights, you will not be disappointed.
Typically the Central Coast of Oregon includes areas from Depoe Bay at the north end to Florence at the southern end and everything in between. Rugged sea side cliffs are punctuated by areas of flat sandy beaches and river estuaries where you will find good harbors where small cities are located. On our most recent three day trip, we covered the ground between Nye Beach just north of Newport all the way down to Florence. For those having at least one more day, I would recommend visiting Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Otter Rock and Agate Beach before having lunch in Depoe Bay, which claims that it has the world’s smallest navigable harbor. Depending on what time of year you go, you might likely spot a migrating Gray Whale just off the coast.
We left our home in the high desert in the morning and made the 4 hour drive across the Cascade Mountains and arrived at Nye Beach by early afternoon. It wasn’t raining and there was a steady Northwest wind. It was just cool enough with the wind that you wanted to wear long sleeves. We were greeted on our walk to the beach by a para-glider who maneuvered his craft just over our path.
Located on the banks of the Yaquina River, the harbor of Newport is a hub for commercial fishing and crabbing, in addition to offering attractions for tourists. The downtown has lots of buildings with Victorian architecture. You will likely see commercial fishermen mingling with tourists in this Bayfront area.
Right next to Pacific Seafoods Inc., immediately adjacent to downtown is a short pier overlooking the docks that California Sea Lions like to rest on. Their raucous bellows can be heard from almost anywhere on the Bayfront.
Oregon Artists have painted many murals on the buildings in downtown Newport. The mural below was painted by Bend artist Rick Chambers, the husband of a former co-worker of mine.
south of Newport
Once you cross the river on Hwy. 101 you will be able to access the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science Center. Just a little further to the south is the turn off to the Mike Miller Educational Trail Head. We’ve passed by here many times without visiting, but were glad we stopped this time.
The gentle path leads you through the rain forest. We walked through a tunnel of lush growth with azaleas in bloom all around us.
Yachats is roughly half way between the towns of Newport and Florence. We chose to make Yachats (pronounced YAH’ hots) our home base to explore the Central Coast. We stayed two nights at the Overleaf lodge in Yachats as we have stayed there previously and found it to be a nice property. Besides being centrally located between Newport and Florence, it is adjacent to some spectacular natural features such as the Devil’s Churn, Cape Perpetua, and Heceta Head Lighthouse.
All rooms at the Overleaf Lodge have an ocean view. There is a trail you can walk into town from outside of your room that parallels the coastline just above the beach. We usually have a room on the ground floor with a patio right outside, with close shoreline access.
The reception area has a dining room adjacent to it and breakfast is included. Guests are given their choice of a welcome cocktail or soft drink upon their first night’s arrival.
Yachats, also known as the “Gem of the Oregon Coast”, is a friendly town, small enough that all of the locals know one another. They are welcoming to out of town guests. Even the wildlife show their respect for others by keeping at least 6 feet away and wearing masks to keep the community safe!
Just a few miles away to the south on the coastal highway will bring you to the Devil’s Churn, a narrow cut into the volcanic cliffs where the pounding surf beats loudly against the rocks.
Close by are the high, rugged cliffs of Cape Perpetua, which begs a drive up a sinuous road to reach the top where you are afforded breathtaking views of the coastline from the vantage point of a seagull.
There are some trails from the top parking lot which go into the surrounding rain forest. If you are lucky enough, you might run into a deer grazing in the trail. I saw this little one just a few hundred feet from the top parking lot.
From Cape Perpetua you have access to 26 miles of interconnected looping hiking trails. If you are less energetic, you can drive back down to sea level and take a short walk to see Thor’s Well, an ocean sinkhole.
Further south on the Coast Highway will bring you past Heceta Head lighthouse. There is a pull off on the side of the highway where you can take a picture like the one below. For a small fee for close-by parking, one can enter the grounds of the lighthouse and wander around the keeper’s house.
There are many accessible beaches on the route to Florence. We passed up many of them and chose to hike the trail to Hobbit Beach, so named because of the 1/2 mile trip you have to hike through the rainforest to get to the beach.
If you have ever read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy or the prequel “The Hobbit” you will imagine that you are walking through the Mirkwood Forest. The twisted trees resemble the Ents in that story. As you walk through the tunneled, dark forest you will find yourself peeking around the corner in hopes of spotting an elf, a dwarf, or some hobbits.
The trail descends through the forest and opens up to a secluded beach where you will see just a few other people. The car parking area on the side of the highway is small which keeps the number of hikers low. You should always consult a tide table ahead of time to check the times and heights of the day’s tides. The highest tide fluctuations coincide closely with the phases of the moon when it is either New or Full.
Traveling further south, the landscape makes a dramatic transition from sea cliffs to a long area dominated by sand dunes. Florence is known as “Oregon’s Coastal Playground” due to the nearby Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area which is a mecca for dune buggies, sand-boarders, birders and hikers.
Like Newport, Florence has an Old Town situated on a river, this one being the Siuslaw River. Old Town has a lot of shops and restaurants that add to the charm of the waterfront location.
One of Beth’s favorite shops is Bonjour, an International clothing store. I appreciate that they thoughtfully put a chair outside the front door for husbands to relax in while their wives are shopping inside. If it is still too cold to sit in the shade outside the store, there is a nice coffee shop a block and a half away under the bridge.
Crossing over the bridge from Old Town will bring you to the entrance to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
Take the South Jetty Road west from Hwy 101 into the dunes. There are several parking areas to access the high dunes and it is several miles to the end of the road at the South Jetty of the Siuslaw River. Lydia’s broom was in bloom among the foredunes when we visited in late May.
The dunes are quite high and rival the height of the dunes in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. They aren’t quite as high as the ones we climbed in Namibia though. There are several trails that lead from a plethora of car parks along the road.
Some areas are designated for off road vehicles and dune buggies. While that is not our preferred mode of recreation, we did stop and take some pictures in those areas.
After exploring Florence and the Dunes area, we retreated back to Yachats and the comfort of the Overleaf Hotel. To our amazement, the Oscar Meyer Weenie-mobile was parked in the parking lot near our car. What a life the driver must have being paid to travel the country in that one-of-a-kind RV!
The Overleaf has a few charging stations in their parking lot for electric vehicles too.
After breakfast the next morning, we headed out the door of the hotel and took the Coastal Trail to the North. The Oregon Coast Trail covers nearly all but 10% of Oregon’s 362 mile coastline. It crosses beaches, climbs over headland, winds through shaded forest corridors and passes through 28 coastal towns. Some parts of the trail are on the shoulder of Hwy 101 and not all of the trail is contiguous. About 10% of the entire length of the trail has “gap” sections, where it is either too dangerous or routes are inaccessible. But even a day hike on a section offers rewards for the hiker.
Having our need for Ocean air satisfied, we again felt the need to smell sagebrush and juniper, so we headed back over the Cascade Mountains and returned home. The picture below is of Mt. Washington near Santiam Pass. In a few more months throngs of thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail will be passing by here. There won’t be nearly the much snow when we make a return trip to the Oregon Coast later in the year.