Oregon is one of the best-kept secrets in the United States when it comes to beaches. That might come as a surprise, given Oregon's notoriously cloudy, rainy weather and high latitude. But its 363 miles of rugged shoreline is not only dotted by sandy beaches, cinematic headlands, dramatic driftwood gyres, and prime surfing waves, it's protected from development as The People's Coast.
Since the Beach Bill was passed in 1913, Oregon's beaches, coves, and coastline have been reserved as public lands for the enjoyment of Oregonians. From the northern beach towns of Astoria and Cannon Beach with their proximity to Washington and Portland to the central coast dotted with lighthouses and dramatic dunes to the warm "banana belt" of southern Oregon that's sunnier and milder than its siblings, there's a little something for everyone on the People's Coast.
If you're having trouble deciding which beach is right for you, don't worry. We've narrowed it down to 11 of the best beaches in Oregon.
1. Cannon Beach
Charming Cannon Beach is one of the most popular beach towns on the Oregon coast, thanks in large part to its iconic symbol – Haystack Rock. This beautiful hulking monolith rises 235ft and has had cameos in several movies. It's part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and home to a variety of seabirds, including the charmingly cute tufted puffin. During low tide, you can walk out to the rock and investigate tide pools (though you should never remove anything from them) and sea caves. In summer, volunteers are on hand to help protect the area and provide information.
When the waves are up, rent a board and wetsuit from the Cleanline surf shop – a friendly local spot that rents out boards and wetsuits and can give advice on good places to surf. Or you can take part in Cannon Beach's largest festival, Sandcastle Day (typically held in June, dates depend on tides), which has teams competing for originality and execution in sand sculpture.
Oregon's largest resort town is popular, gaudy and unpretentious seaside, which attracts families and young folks looking for a fun and affordable beach getaway. On summer weekends and during holidays or festivals the town's central precinct – dominated by ice-cream shops, video-game arcades and gift stores – is thronged with tourists and takes on a carnival-like atmosphere. Bicycles and surreys have the run of Seaside's 2-mile boardwalk, called 'the Prom,' but at least most of the miles of sandy beach are relatively peaceful. Join the pedaling hordes on the promenade by renting bikes and four-wheel surreys at Prom Bike & Hobby Shop. For advice on where to hit the waves, there's Cleanline Surf Company. During spring break, expect a wilder party atmosphere.
One of the Oregon coast's best-kept secrets is the neat and friendly little town of Yachats (ya-hots). Lying at the base of massive Cape Perpetua, Yachats offers the memorable scenery of a rugged and windswept land. People come here to get away from it all, which isn't hard to do along this relatively undeveloped stretch of coast. Not only is the beach close to town an ideal stretch of sand and sea stacks, but Cape Perpetua also gives you even more room to roam and take in the coast.
Located 3 miles south of Yachats, this volcanic remnant was sighted and named by England's Captain James Cook in 1778. Famous for dramatic rock formations and crashing surf, the area contains numerous trails that explore ancient shell middens, tide pools and old-growth forests. Views from the cape are incredible, taking in coastal promontories from Cape Foulweather to Cape Arago. Warm up after exploring with a bite and a beer at the Yachats Brewing & Farmstore.
4. Gold Beach, Oregon
At the mouth of the Rogue River, Gold Beach got its start when the precious ore was discovered here in 1853. The mines didn't strike it rich compared to other places, but the town remained. Then in the early 20th century, salmon-rich waters caught the fancy of gentlemen anglers such as Jack London and Zane Grey. The coast around Gold Beach is spectacular.
Take a break at Cape Sebastian State Park, a rocky headland 7 miles south, for a panorama stretching from California to Cape Blanco. Flex your legs on a 1.5-mile walking trail to the cape; from December to April, keep your eyes peeled for whales. Gold Beach's other big attraction is jet-boat excursions up the Rogue River, one of Oregon's wildest and most remote. Wildlife-viewing is good, with deer, elk, otters, beavers, eagles and osprey.
5. Florence and the Oregon Dunes
Stretching for nearly 50 miles between Florence and Coos Bay, the Oregon Dunes form the largest expanse of oceanfront sand dunes in the USA. The dunes tower up to 500ft and undulate inland as far as 3 miles to meet coastal forests, harboring curious ecosystems that sustain an abundance of wildlife, especially birds. The area inspired Frank Herbert to pen his epic sci-fi Dune novels.
The very northern and southern sections of the dunes are dominated by dune buggies and dirt bikes (off-highway vehicles, or OHVs); avoid hiking in these areas. The central section of the dunes is closed to OHVs and preserved for wildlife and more peaceful human activities such as hiking and canoeing. Find your way to Florence's Old Town neighborhood to see the town's most charming side: a quaint waterfront district nestled along the scenic Siuslaw River next to the Oregon Coast's prettiest harbor.
One of the more laid-back beach resorts on Oregon's coast is the hamlet of Manzanita, boasting lovely white-sand beaches and a slightly upscale clientele. It's much smaller and far less hyped than Cannon Beach, and still retains a peaceful atmosphere, although there's a lot more going on here these days than even a few years ago. Still, it's easy to find peace and quiet, relax on the beach, and take part in some mellow activities.
To stretch your legs a bit, hike up nearby Neahkahnie Mountain, from where you get a spectacular view over the coast. Oswald West State Park shouldn't be missed, either. This beautiful preserve just north of Manzanita is comprised of dense coastal rainforest and two headlands. For a good hike, take the 2.4-mile trail to Cape Falcon, which offers expansive views and good birdwatching. Surfers and body boarders can head a quarter-mile from the highway parking lot to Short Sand Beach, which offers good waves. There are kayaking opportunities just 4 miles south in Wheeler.
Just 6 miles from the California border, Brookings is a balmy commercial town on the bay of the Chetco River. Winter temperatures hover around 60°F (15°C), making Brookings the state's 'banana belt' and a mecca for retirees. Four miles north of Brookings, US 101 winds over 11 miles of headlands through Samuel H Boardman State Park, which contains some of Oregon's most beautiful coastline. Along the highway are a number of roadside turnouts and picnic areas with short trails leading to secluded beaches and dramatic viewpoints. Marching far out to sea are tiny island chains, home to shorebirds and braying sea lions.
Pretty Lone Ranch Beach, the southernmost turnoff, has picnic opportunities and tidepools in a sandy cove studded with triangular sea stacks. Half a mile north is the turnoff to Cape Ferrelo, with great ocean vistas. A further mile north is House Rock Viewpoint, a high windy promontory with more stunning views. North of the Thomas Creek Bridge (Oregon's highest at 345ft) is the turnoff for Natural Bridge Viewpoint, where you can see rock arches – the remnants of collapsed sea caves – just off the coast. And at Arch Rock Point, about a mile north, are interesting, eroded volcanic headlands.
Roads lead inland from Brookings up the Chetco River to the western edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Oregon's only redwood forests are also found in this area – head to Alfred A Loeb State Park to see them, although the real giants are further south in California.
The cute little town of Bandon sits at the bay of the Coquille River. Its Old Town district has been gentrified into a picturesque harborside location that offers pleasant strolling, window-shopping and sweets-tasting. South of town, and not obvious from the highway, are miles of sandy beaches broken by outcroppings of towering rocks – home to a large number of chattering sea birds. Ledges of stone rise out of the surf to provide shelter for seals, sea lions and myriad forms of life in tide pools.
Head west to Beach Loop Drive for the best beach access points. There's good whale-watching here in the spring, and there's marine life to see all year round. At Coquille Point, sea lions and shorebirds inhabit Table Rock. A path leads over the headland at Face Rock State Park Wayside to sandier beaches around Face Rock. After you've worked up an appetite, head to Tony's Crab Shack for some incredibly fresh seafood.
Five miles from where the mighty Umpqua River joins the Pacific Ocean is Reedsport, the historic port that ushered out the immense bounty of logs cut in the wide Umpqua River drainage. Today Reedsport is a small town getting smaller, but it still boasts a few area attractions. Its location in the middle of the Oregon Dunes makes it an ideal base for exploring the region. About 4 miles south of town you can tour the 1894 Umpqua River Lighthouse; the lighthouse's museum (200 yds away) is free. Opposite is a whale-watching platform, and a nearby nature trail rings freshwater Lake Marie, which is popular for swimming.
10. Depoe Bay
Located 10 miles south of Lincoln City, little Depoe Bay is edged by modern timeshare condominiums but still retains some original coastal charm. It lays claim to having the 'world's smallest navigable harbor' and being the 'world's whale-watching capital' – pretty big talk for such a pint-sized town. Whale-watching and charter fishing are the main attractions in the area year-round, though 5 miles south of town there is also the Devil's Punchbowl, an impressive collapsed sea cave that churns with waves and offers good tidepools nearby (get there via Otter Crest Loop, a scenic road).
11. Indian Beach
North of Cannon Beach at the foot of Tillamook Head in Ecola State Park, Indian Beach is popular with surfers and stood in for La Push beach in the original Twilight movie. It's a sight for sore eyes, too – a landslide washed out the trail leading to Indian Beach in 2017 and it only recently reopened. There are numerous hiking trails in the area, including up to the top of the headlands, which provide expansive views of the coastline. Because of Indian Beach's proximity to Portland, however, it's important to arrive early to beat the crowds.
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