Whereas exploring Utah is like stumbling upon Mars, visiting the Oregon Coast is like finding Paradise. It is unimaginable that our country only continues to get more and more beautiful as we proceed to explore it. Yet, it does. My time spent on the coast of Oregon had me constantly thinking of how to be a better person and human being. The dramatic and intense scenery somehow made things feel simpler. With each sunset and crashing of a wave, there came a whisper that everything is going to be ok. The skies were blue, the sun shone bright and a small cloud always playfully lurked around the valley near The Pistol River, low enough to be touched. Temperatures were steady at fifty-five degrees. This area of Oregon is known to have much milder weather than other parts of the state. However, trust me, there is nothing else mild about this region. My soul was satiated in many ways here. I even had some pretty important personal breakthroughs that were long overdue. Being exposed to such a remarkable scenery had me focused on how insignificant some things I pay too much attention to really are. Like the hostess in San Francisco (see post), did I really get upset by her lack of service? I mean, the sun rises and sets in perfect harmony, with so many other miraculous things that occur, like clock work, each day and I actually got fazed by her rudeness? Yup. I did. But that was while I was in San Francisco! In Oregon, nothing can faze you but the blinding possibilities of everything you can ever dream of. This is a place where dreams are made, love intensifies, the soul transcends, miracles abound, breakthroughs surface...this is a land where magic really exists.
Samuel Boardman State Scenic Corridor
Twelve miles of windy roads will guide you along a forested and rugged coastline filled with pockets of spectacular views. No matter the time of day or which spots you choose to soak in the views, you will always be wowed. This has to be the most incredible road in the United States.
Beach House 101
We found Beach House 101 on Airbnb. I honestly couldn't have wished for a better accommodation during our stay. This house served us perfectly in terms of size, location, and spectacular landscapes. The beach house is located in Gold Beach, OR right off the 101 in a small, private beachside community. We enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving here, a few movie nights and lots of playing in the arcade room. More so, hopping on to the 101 to see all the sites that I will highlight below was a cinch. I will miss hearing the Pacific crashing outside our patio and will truly forever treasure the many wonderful memories we made in, and around, this home.
Upon booking our home through Airbnb we received instructions from the owner informing us that we were in a tsunami zone. The last Tsunami on this part of the coast was in the 1960s but it's threat clearly continues to lurk. We kept this information on the DL in order not to frighten the kids. The 101 has several tsunami zone warning signs that we must have passed dozens of times. With each sign we passed we were sure the kids would finally notice the warnings, but they never did. They too must have been too hypnotized by the landscape to notice.
I was eager to find this beach as soon as my new Instagram friends from Oregon mentioned how many times they tried to find it unsuccessfully. Those who know me know I love a good challenge! So off I went digging online to gather as many tips as I could to locate this sought after spot.
You will find paradise when heading South on the Samuel Boardman Corridor, just north of Thunder Rock Cove Lookout and 1/3 mile south of milepost 345 on U.S. 101. Look to the right to find a small gravel parking lot off the side of the highway (see first picture below).
You will find two trails.
The first trail, to your left, is an extremely challenging and steep trail in the midst of a lush, moss-kissed forest. We began our search for The Secret Beach on this trail but we kept questioning our treacherous path as it was getting more harrowing by the minute. After approximately a .2 mile stretch that took us over thirty minutes to cover, we decided to give up because the path ahead was looking even more narrow, muddy and uncertain.
When we got back to the parking lot my super star husband decided to check the trail on the right that we originally passed because of how muddy it was. He checked out the first few hundred feet and assured us this was the better trail. YES! This trail is easy to navigate and after just .6 miles we reached The Garden of Eden. When the forest opened up into the landscape ahead, I literally gasped and felt tears well up. The beauty before me was incomprehensible and overwhelming.
There are two ways to get to these natural wonders. One way is to take the 1/4 mile trailhead from The Secret Beach. We chose to drive just a couple of minutes further south to the Natural Bridges Viewpoint lookout instead. The trail offers unobstructed views of the two naturally occurring bridges. We visited at high tide as the Pacific Ocean ferociously pounded the rocks while the sun was beginning to set. There have been adventure seekers who visit at low tide and actually walk through the formations. This site offers a dramatic landscape at any time of day.
The state park offers lots of trails that lead to a pristine beach hugged by rolling dunes covered in vegetation. For those who have traveled to Iceland before, the vista here reminded us of the Icelandic landscape we were lucky to explore a couple of years ago. Everything about the southern part of the Oregon coast seems otherworldly and I found myself often wondering if any of it is real.
Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge
This scenic bridge, just outside of Gold Beach, carries drivers on Route 101 across the Rogue River. It took us to Otter Point as well as an off-the-beaten path that had an unusual, and quirky, art installation of miniature homes with funny inscriptions like "who's your daddy?" One of the most fun things about a road trip is just following the road and seeing where it takes you. The road is full of surprises!
South Fork Smith River/Myrtle Beach, California
We crossed paths with this beautiful trail on our way to the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Spontaneously, we pulled over to follow the short, windy and steep Myrtle Beach trail to the South Fork Smith River. Nature continuously works her magic. I never expected to find, in the middle of a forest filled with redwoods, a pristine river that is so clear we could actually see the riverbed through the water approximately one hundred feet away.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, CA
About an hour south from Gold Beach thousands of acres of redwoods stand the test of time, erected proudly for an average of six hundred years! These massive trees command the respect of all those they encounter. We opted to pay homage on the Stout Memorial Grove trail which promises a strong connection with the redwoods and honestly, it's also a super short .6 mile loop trail (there are much longer trails in the park). The trees are massive and utterly stunning. In six hundred years what have they seen? How much has changed? What hasn't changed at all? What have they heard? What stories would they share with us if they could speak? As we walked the path, I had this nagging wish to receive advice from just one of the trees. While meandering through their embrace, I couldn't help but feel so small. I couldn't help but think that somewhere within their wise trunks they carry big messages. Whether or not you believe trees could talk, I highly suggest a quiet walk here. You will hear voices, even if they are your own reminding you of how lucky you are to be alive and how magical our planet earth is.
Harris Beach State Park
To say that the coast of Oregon is beautiful would be a huge understatement. The entire coast along the southern part of the state will literally make you gasp at every turn. Harris Beach State Park is along the twelve mile stretch of ocean-hugging miles along the Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor. Here, huge rock formations arise out of the sea as it's waves crash relentlessly onto them. We visited during low tide and were able to enjoy an endless stretch of soft, golden brown sand that assisted with the perfect reflections being created as the sun was preparing to set. We also accidentally found an unmarked trail that led us to the well-know Arch Rock, which is typically viewed from a higher view point. When you walk south along the shore, you will reach a naturally occurring dead end created by a mammoth boulder. Here, walk to the right and hop your way over the fallen tree trunks and hundreds of rocks towards a tiny, muddy trail. Follow this path down to the other side of the beach. To your right you will see the arch up close and personal. If possible, visit an hour before the sun sets- the glow that emitted through the arch at this time of the day was truly spectacular.
On our last day on the coast we began to make our way towards Portland and decided to check out some other towns along the coast. The skies were overcast with many clouds dominating the sky and the Pacific Ocean was as ferocious as ever. It may just be the time of year that we visited, but we have never seen such feisty waters. Even in her moments of wrath, Mother Nature will entrance you by her hypnotic dances. Driving up the coast gave us an even wider perspective of the area. Surprisingly, most people in this part of Oregon do not wear their masks when they are enjoying nature's many sites. Also, from Gold Beach to Pacific City, Trump/Pence flags dominate the lawns of locals. Since Portland is one of the more liberal cities in the country we wrongly assumed that the entire state would be as well. In most states, coastal cities tend to lean left but not here. We also really appreciated the hefty littering penalties of up to $6,250 for those who dare to tarnish this pristine and immaculate part of our country. It is important to also note that people here love their sunsets and seem to celebrate it daily. People ceremoniously plant their beach chairs and light bonfires as the day nears its end and drivers literally pull over wherever possible to catch the last five minutes before the sun says her goodbyes. Finally, as we drove up the coast and wove in and out of Tsunami zones I kept my focus on how powerful our surroundings are both mentally and physically. Dividing our time along the many little towns helped us feel more familiar with the overall lifestyle and culture here and how vastly different it is than the one we are accustomed to in NYC.
Our first stop was in Old Town Bandon, an adorable little town with a lot of character. Standing proud on the main strip are three large sculptures made out of recycled plastic previously found in the ocean. Washed Ashore is the brainchild behind these creations. They have a store around the corner with more exhibits but they are closed during the pandemic.
Umpqua River Lighthouse
We tried to find some great sand dune gazing spots once we learned that this part of the coast is famous for their wild and bizarre sand formations. We went to two recommended areas: Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and Umpqua Dunes. Unfortunately we could not locate the trail, or even the beach, at either points. However, we did come by the lovely Umpqua River Lighthouse. Since learning a few years ago that lighthouses are slowly becoming extinct, I have a whole new appreciation for them and whenever I cross paths with one I always stop to say hello.
Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area
We were extremely excited to see elk in the wild at this popular elk sighting spot. As we pulled up we found seven elks lazily lounging in the meadow for a 10:00am catch up. They were too far to capture on camera but their presence was close enough for me to say it was a delightful encounter. The viewing area is rather expansive so I would think that some days there are likely hundreds of elks that roam this area. Also, the drive to the viewing area is so beautiful that it is worth it to take that route for the landscape alone.
As we continued on the 101 we drove past a birds eye view of a lake and bridge hundreds of feet below. We were unable to pull over to the lookout points because they crept up too quickly and since we were on a highway it was hard to make a sudden, sharp turn. When exploring the area make a mental note to drive slow . There are two spots that offer unobstructed views that will take your breath away. Unfortunately, by the time we drove slower we had missed those two lookouts and couldn't view the lake until we were at the bottom of the valley at eye level with it. Still a stunner!
Oregon Dunes Overlook
This easy to find overlook offered some peeks of the sand dunes. I love how the sand and sea are separated by shrubbery here. I must also share that the bathroom here was spotless.
13 miles south of Thor's Well is probably the best lookout point to enjoy the dunes dominating the landscape. The day was beginning to get hazy so our view was not as clear as it normally would be. Regardless we were able to appreciate the flair they bring to this part of the coast. Here they seemed to tower over the shore more than in the other areas we drove past. It is not a marked viewpoint so watch your GPS and look for it on your way to Thor's Well.
Haceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint
Perched 1,000 feet high on the edge of a cliff this lighthouse is impossible to pass or overlook. It's beacon can be seen twenty-one miles from land, even through the foggiest conditions. The assistant lightkeeper's house is now a B & B and can be rented by those who want unforgettable views and some insight of what it was like to be a lightkeeper. If I had known about this lodging option beforehand....
Hands down, this was my favorite stop along the drive up the coast. All we could do was stand there in silence mesmerized by what the ocean was up to. As omnipotent as she is, here is where she claims her stake as the master of our earth. The basalt shoreline was getting quite a beating the day we visited. I couldn't help but feel so vulnerable and powerless knowing that if we stood too close we could be swept up in one of her violent crashes in an instant. After months on the road, watching nature exercise her many emotions, I have become very humble in her presence. Third row, middle photo, shows that people will do just about anything to catch that perfect Insta-worthy photo. That man crossed over into the area that clearly warns of high risk of being swept to see and dying. Then he proceeded to walk a couple of hundred more feet towards Thor's Well, which is basically a hole in the sea (although there is actually an exit hole twenty feet deep that sends the water back into the sea). I am sure he got an incredible shot from his up-close perspective. I though, prefer a shot at life and admired the incredible sites around me from a safe distance. We could have probably sat here for hours. None of us were able to keep our eyes off the ocean and her violent dances.
Yachats is reminiscent of Woodstock, NY with its bohemian locals strolling the sidewalks full of eccentric shops and restaurants. Except here, the sea is always in your view and the town has even more edge than Woodstock since most of the businesses in Yachats have been around for many years and there are no new trendy shops popping up to cater to a certain crowd. You get the real deal here and I just adored this colorful little town. By the time we arrived we were starving. I took the advice of @the_inspired_travelers who recommended we stop for a bite at The Driftwood Inn. Oregon is on restrictive measures allowing restaurants to serve take out only. We were able to enjoy our delicious meal on one of their outside picnic tables. Their service was great and their funky décor fit right in with the vibe of the town. Gosh I loved it here.
Newport, Historic Bayfront
We had mixed feelings about this town. The town has... well, a gritty feel to it. Newport clearly thrives on the fishing industry. Many seafood shops and plants line the water's edge. Several men were on the pier casting their nets to catch the crabs they then tossed into buckets. There are some odd attractions like lama sculptures that wear masks and signs asking people to keep at a social distance. There was a homeless man roaming the sidewalks and stopping to chat with the crabs waiting to be boiled in the buckets along the sidewalks, the stench of fish was overwhelming, signs urging for help solving a murder that occurred 36 years ago were pasted on every lamp post and somewhere in the background we could here the relentless barks of seals. Despite all this, the town does have its own unique charm in its own spooky way.
We ordered a delicious order of popcorn shrimp (when in Rome!) from Gino's Ocean Blue and went on our merry way leaving unsure of how we felt about this place. It is unusual for sure, but definitely worth a stop!
Watching the Pacific Ocean slamming into this hollow rock formation with a thunderous roar was a momentous experience. I read that if timed well, at low tide visitors are able to walk into the structure to experience the very space that bares the brunt of the sea's constant beating throughout the day. I have a hunch that there isn't a time of the day the trumps another. It is impossible to be anything but impressed by the sites and surroundings at any time of day.
The energy at Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City was incredible. The shore was the busiest one we have visited with dozens of folks lighting up campfires as they readied themselves for a spectacular sunset. Brave souls donned their wetsuits and dove into the frigid waters while many others just took leisurely strolls along the water. Our NY state license plate received a lot of attention reminding us once more of how far we have come! This was the perfect place to end our explorations of the coast of Oregon and make our way to Portland.
There were a few other spots and towns we expected to visit along the way like Neskowin Beach State Park, Oceanside and Tillamook but we savored our time in the other coastal towns that we enjoyed so much we couldn't pull away in time to fit everything in. Although we completed the route we took in ten hours, realistically it should be enjoyed at a slower pace over at least three nights in order to soak up the character of each area. Truth be told, what we covered in the last five days could have easily been stretched over two weeks. Maybe it's just me but I just can't get enough of this part of our country. These five days have been remarkable in every way.