Northern Oregon Coast, Best Towns & Sites to Visit

The entire coast of Oregon overflows with non-stop breathtaking landscapes. From Brookings in the south to Astoria in the north, and everything in between, the coast is a destination in itself where one can easily spend a month here savoring the flavors of each town and the remarkable sites.


Like the southern part of the coast, the Pacific Ocean continues to thrust herself forcefully with pounding waves making for a beautifully dramatic landscape although the waters seemed to slowly calm as we headed north. The beauty is so intense along the route, at times it is incomprehensible.


We split our time along the northern part of the coast in two very full afternoons (the southern part of the coast was explored over five days earlier in the road trip). The first day on the northern coast was explored via our stay in Portland when we visited the sites between Devil's Cauldron and Cannon Beach. The latter part of the northern coast was explored on our way to Washington from Portland. Here we started in Seaside and worked our way up to Astoria.


The 101, beginning in southern California and ending in Washington, is my favorite highway of all time and cannot be beat in terms of views, history, landscapes and adventures - especially once you hit the northern route of the highway, which is mainly emphasized along the coast of Oregon. Simply incredible.




Devil's Cauldron


Off the highway in Oswald West State Park is a gravel pull out with a sign marked for Elk Meadow Trailhead. This can be confusing if you are looking for the Devil's Cauldron, but rest assured, you're at the right spot. As you'll proceed, the trail is better marked and will direct you to the look out point accordingly. The trail is a .5 mile, steep and muddy walk to the cliff but rather easy overall. The ocean swells create a boiling like effect as they hit the sea stacks, thus the name.


There is an ominous vibe here that can't be dodged. Firstly, there are multiple warning signs along with ropes keeping people away from the dangerous ledge of the cliff, which is perched at over seven hundred feet above the angry waters. Secondly, as I looked down, into the cauldron, once more I contemplated the sheer force and power intrinsically engrained all around me. Yes, Mother Nature is stunning but make no mistake, her wrath is extremely destructive and I always want to be on her good side. Finally, there was a memorial set up for a man who recently, just two months ago, plunged to his death as the tree branch he sat on snapped while he was being photographed.


I feel a responsibility to share his story because it is now part of my story. I cried when I read about Steve Gastelum's death. I thought about him all evening. I am writing about him now. Somehow, I feel extremely connected to this stranger. Perhaps it is because he was forty-three, about the same age as me. Perhaps it is because, like me, he simply came to enjoy this incredible spot with no anticipation of how fragile his next few moments would be. Perhaps I continue to think about this man because his death reminds me of how precious our living moments are and that at any moment in time we too can plunge to our deaths. For some of us the end will be sooner, but we will all face it at one point. Maybe I feel connected to him because we are all connected. Just by being at the same place, we both had something in common beyond just our age. My oldest son and I also had a tiff at this site. He made a rude comment suggesting that I am insincere when crying at this man's loss of life while then photographing his memorial site. Already in an emotional state, my reaction was as tumultuous as the waters below me. I was very upset with him and then ultimately myself for reacting in the way I did. There was a lot of emotion churning inside me at Devil's Cauldron. The strikingly fatal landscape reminded me to hold on to my moments more tightly and then to each other even more firmly, even those we haven't met yet, because at the end of the day, strangers do not exist in this strange journey of life.


Hug's Point State Recreation Site


The scenic beauty here is overwhelming. In one relatively small area vegetated hills come together along a shore that is lined with volcanic rocks. In this special place a creek trickles into the sea as a waterfall pours into the ocean just a few feet away. Everything comes together so majestically, so perfectly.


It is possible to walk along the shore during low tide and see the water fall from up close, even walk through the arches. The timing didn't work out for us tide wise. Instead, we found a trail off the parking lot that guided us to a lookout point safely from above. The trail is hard to find as shrubbery blocks the path. As you go up the hill, look for the path to your right as the path nears its end. Don't be deterred by the vegetation, just brush it aside gently and make your way through.

Ecola State Park/ Indian Beach


In retrospect, we should have set aside several hours just to explore this park and its many trails. I am running out of words to describe the landscape of the Oregon coast. Surreal, fantasy like, magical, overwhelming, humbling, stunning, mesmerizing, bewitching... I have already used them all. In a land where rivers, creeks and waterfalls ubiquitously drip into the sea and where jungles and rain forests dot the coast, strange things begin to happen internally- in my mind and soul. The moment it hits you, the moment you realize the strength, possibility and power behind nature's beauty, you will be forever changed. It is inevitable.


There are many paths throughout the park. We briefly explored an uphill one towards the lighthouse which gave us an unreal perspective of the world beneath us. We also walked a trail into the jungle which reminded us all of the lush jungles of Panama. Finally, we took the stairs leading to the beach and just stood sea side for what seemed like eternity, but could have easily been five minutes as well. When you are hypnotized you lose all track of time. To the right we found the hard to find waterfall that we tried to locate earlier without luck as we were misguided by various posts. Just when we gave up on the search, it appeared before us. To see the bodies of water connecting is miraculous. Our kids found rocks that leave their trace and they drew on the overturned tree trunks, marking their names. The rocky landscape where The Goonies was shot added to a scenery that seemingly could only be created by Hollywood. In fact, this very spot is so impactful that many other films were chosen to be shot here- Twilight, Kindergarten Cop, Point break... When seeking other-worldly and fantastical, you come to the coast of Oregon.

Haystack Rock/ Cannon Beach


Haystack Rock rises two hundred and thirty feet from the shoreline. Its dominating presence is somehow gentle and inviting as it shares its home with the calmest waters we have yet to see on this part of the coast. The massive rock is one of the most popular attractions on the Oregon coast and is also another film location for a scene in The Goonies. The reflection of the rocks here are so clear and obvious. They extend an invitation of sorts to look at our own reflections and stare deeper into ourselves to figure out who we want to be during this short time on this magical planet.

Cannon Beach


One of my favorite coastal towns, Cannon Beach was brightly lit and ready for the holiday season. The main street is lined with adorable stores, artisan shops and restaurants. It is a very well-maintained city with beautiful wainscotted architecture and chatty locals who are friendlier than most. This town just exudes warmth, hospitality and overall great vibes.

Bruce's Candy Kitchen (Cannon Beach)


I've written about my penchant for shopping at every local chocolate and candy shop I pass. Bruce's Candy Kitchen is a playful shop with every brand of candy you can think of along with their own homemade specialties. We heard that their peanut butter filled, chocolate dipped Oreo cookies are to die for so we naturally indulged ourselves. Yes, they are oh soooooooo good! We also picked up a bag of cookies and cream popcorn (just because we never imagined that this even existed) and a bag of their Chicago mixed popcorn (which is a mix of their cheddar and caramel corn popped masterpieces). I get giddy with joy whenever we come across these delicious finds!


Pelican Brewing (Cannon Beach)


We missed the opportunity to dine at their Pacific City location so we made it a point to grab some grub at this spot that locals rave about. My husband and son loved their "famous" clam chowder soup and the kids devoured the mac and cheese, which uses cheese from nearby Tillamook Cheese Factory. We also noshed on some crunchy onion rings served with a delicious, spicy homemade sauce and the General Tsao's cauliflower. Great vibe, location, food and service! Not surprising as they all seem to come together naturally in this town.

Seaside


We quickly noted the characteristics that make this a popular beachside destination. Seaside proudly maintains its 1920's architecture while making room for new construction along Broadway, its main drag. The stretch is filled with shops, cafes and several fun activities catered towards children like bumper cars and an arcade. As a kid, this would have definitely been a dreamy summer destination. In fact, I love it as one even as a grown up. Seaside is another favorite town of ours along the coast of Oregon.


Wreck of the Peter Iredale


In a land of waterfalls, beaches, rainforests, canyons and jungles, shipwrecks also plant themselves along the shore. There is just no way to escape a dramatic landscape anywhere along the coast of Oregon. The ruined ship has been abandoned since 1906 as it was trying to make its way to the Columbia River and now rests in the sand at Fort Stevens State Park for visitors to marvel at along a gorgeous stretch of beach with calm waters and dunes.


Astoria


The Goonies, a pretty epic film made in the 80s, was mainly shot in this coastal town. Fans can make their way through the city visiting Mikey's house, Mikey's dad's workplace, the county jail where Ma and Francis Fratelli help Jake escape and the bowling alley where Chunk has his temper tantrum. If you're not a fan of the movie, there is still plenty to enjoy in Old Town and along the Riverwalk.


If I haven't yet convinced you that Oregon is a place of whimsical tales, fantasies and magic, maybe this little anecdote will help. As soon as we entered Astoria we were pulled over by a police officer for apparently speeding (driving 45 mph in a 35 mph zone). This was our first time being pulled over on the entire road trip, my husband is a meticulous driver. Yet, we encountered the friendliest officer who dutifully asked us to produce our license, registration and proof of insurance while carrying a lengthy and friendly conversation with us as we gathered the paperwork. After he checked out our records, he returned to the car with our documentation and let us go ticket-free. Now, if this doesn't convince you of Oregon's other-worldliness, I don't know what else will....


The Astoria Column


This unusual structure was built in 1926 by the Great Northern Railway in commemoration of the city and the hardworking men who built the railroads that passed through it. At 125 feet high, the observation deck offers panoramic views of the surrounding vistas. Unfortunately, during Covid, the tower is closed for climbing. However, the views are still there to soak in and admire.

Bowpicker Fish & Chips


We were really excited to pick up the highly acclaimed fish and chips at Bowpicker's while we were strolling the Riverwalk in Astoria. I rarely write bad reviews and I feel bad doing so. On the other hand, I also feel like I am doing people a service by informing them of what to really expect if they choose to eat at this stationary boat converted into a small frying kitchen. There is a lot of hype around this fish & chips shack. When we arrived at 11:30am there was already a long line formed with about thirty people in front of us. As we inched our way towards the ordering window I really started to second guess eating here. There were cobwebs all over the boat truck (think food truck in a boat shape). The hand sanitizers, signs and condiments left on the counters looked like they were there for over a decade. The smell of the fryer wafting outside the window was making me nauseous. I thought I was being a food snob so I toughed it out and convinced myself this would be an amazing meal. It wasn't. I had two bites of my fish and one French fry and handed the rest to my husband who then dealt with stomach issues all day. As you can see in the pictures, the place looks cute, their prices are great and their reviews are wonderful. Maybe its just me? Maybe it was just the day we went? Or maybe, it just really isn't wise to eat here. We have had much better fish & chips in less-known Oregon restaurants.

From Astoria we started making our way up towards Washington. Highway 101 continued to mesmerize us with its windy roads and beautiful views while it hugged Hood Canal until it dropped us off in Port Angeles. Although there are countless coasts that are quite beautiful in the world, the coast of Oregon is just on a whole other level. Added to its scenic grandeur are the countless charming towns that dot the sea and the endless miracles that await to be witnessed along the way. If you don't believe in miracles or magic, you will after spending some times here. I promise.