In many ways, the Oregon Coast feels like the pride and joy of Oregon. The breathtaking coastline spans an impressive 363 miles and tempts both locals and tourists alike. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of great things to do at the Oregon coast.
Growing up in Oregon, I spent most of my childhood summers at the coast. Bracing for the chilly wind while whining at my mom was par for the course — she loved this place so much and most of our weekends went to it.
As an adult I’ve learned to love the coast anew. I’ve had the freedom to explore on my own time and have found some beloved gems I’d like to share with anyone planning a visit.
Without further ado, let’s cover the best things to do at the Oregon coast (from a lifelong local’s perspective).
Best Things to Do at the Oregon Coast (Oregon Coast Bucket List)
Explore Cannon Beach
Who wouldn’t want to visit one of Oregon’s most iconic landmarks? Sitting pretty at the northern end, visiting Cannon beach is a no-brainier for those in search of the best things to do at the Oregon Coast.
Haystack Rock adorns the coastline and cements a fact every local knows: this is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world! Personally speaking, I’ve traveled to 20+ countries to date yet still find the draw of Cannon Beach irresistible.
Located a mere 1.5-hour drive from Portland, this beach is quite popular with locals and tourists alike. As always, there’s pros and cons to popularity. Thankfully the pros far outweigh the cons (okay, okay the crowds are the only cons that come to mind).
But hard to blame anyone for flocking to this area– the iconic 235′ Haystack Rock has an appeal few can stay away from. Explore Haystack Rock at low tide for colorful starfish, abundant anemones, hermit crabs and tidepools.
Offering plenty of restaurants, cafes and breweries, there’s plenty to do at Cannon Beach. Start the morning at a local cafe before heading out for a pleasant stroll down the coastline. When you’ve had your fill of walking, tuck into Pelican Brewery for great grub (and even better beer).
If you’re into birding, bring your binoculars. You’ll see Tufted Puffins (so cool), pelicans, too many seagulls and a handful of Bald Eagles. Brace your birding heart for the inevitable joy!
If helpful, my favorite areas to explore near Cannon Beach are Ecola State Park and Hug Point State Park. I’ll cover both in more detail below.
Go crabbing for Dungeness crab
The Pacific Ocean is home to a healthy population of Dungeness crab that are ripe from the picking (if you know where to look). As a local, crabbing is one of my favorite things to do at the Oregon Coast.
September through November tends to be the best time for crabbing at the coast. But based on personal experience, I tend to prefer crabbing in September because that’s when the crabs are at their fattest. You can either rent a boat or toss your cage directly from a pier.
You’ll need to know a few tips + tricks if it’s your fist time crabbing on the coast, but fret not — I have you covered. Read: 5+ Best Crabbing Spots at the Oregon Coast
Whale Watching at the Oregon Coast
I’ll be the first to admit that it took me way to long to properly partake in this popular activity at the Oregon coast. But can you blame me? Peak whale migration occurs mid-December through mid-January (and then March – May). But like most kids, I was in school during the months, we we didn’t spend much time at the coast in winter.
That all changed the year one of my coworkers generously gifted my husband and I a stay at a nice hotel in Depoe Bay as an wedding gift. We timed our stay with peak whale migration time and instantly understood the hype.
The best spot for whale watching is Depoe Bay, hands down. You can expect to find migrating whales swimming alongside our resident gray whales all along the coast. Take it from me, see a whale breach the ocean is easily one of the best things to do at the Oregon coast!
Admire the (official) end of the Lewis & Clark Trail
History buff? The turnaround at Seaside is designated as the official end of the Lewis and Clark Trail — reason alone to visit. You’re stepping foot in history!
The End of the Trail sign was built in 1940 at the turnaround where the city of Seaside meets the Pacific Ocean. The sign was built to commemorate Lewis & Clark’s 2-year expedition that spanned 4,000 miles across North America.
Building the statue at the roundabout was no coincidence. It’s a cheeky way to pay tribute to the exact point where the two men “turned around” and began their journey home.
if you’re really digging the history, take a scenic stroll a few minutes along the promenade to the Salt Works. It’s a historical site that commemorates the salt making process used during the expedition (salt was a necessity for preserving food). It’s a tiny little pop off but worthwhile if you’d like to stretch your legs before grabbing an ice cream cone in town.
“Ocian in view! O! the joy!”Captain William Clark’s Diary Entry Upon seeing the Pacific Ocean
Experience the splendor of Thor’s Well
Impressive white waves violently crash upon jagged rocks before forcing themselves into a gaping abyss and giving way to a makeshift waterfall of epic proportions. Yeah, suffice it to say — seeing Thor’s Well is undoubtedly one of the best things to do at the Oregon coast.
This spot is most breathtaking at high tide when the waves kick it up a notch. The salty seawater streams in and out of the whole with such fervor your won’t be able to look away.
But word of caution — some visitors head down to the rock face to get a closer look, I’d caution against getting too close (and always wear sturdy closed-toe shoes).
If you choose to get close, know that you risk being swept up by the current (especially at high tide).
There’s a tiny trail that will take you closer to the waterfall while still keeping you at a safe distance (I never get too close to the base — I have a young husband at home!).
Close or far, you’ll see in no time why locals take out-of-town visitors here. It’s easily one of the coolest things to see at the Oregon coast.
Eat your weight in cheese at the Tillamook Cheese Factory
Confession time: The Tillamook Cheese Factory is one of my favorite places in Oregon for nostalgia’s sake alone.
My parents used to bribe us with Tillamook ice cream to keep us calm during the 1.5 drive from Portland. “The first person to see the ocean gets the first ice cream cone” my mother would plead desperately.
It worked like a charm, we couldn’t see her cracking under the pressure of spending almost two hours in the car with 5 kids (don’t look at me, I’m just lucky enough to snatch the #2 spot).
Since then, no trip to the coast feels complete without a scoop of marionberry ice cream and squeaky cheese.
We’ve taken many friends here over the years and the consensus is the same — visiting the Tillamook Cheese Factory is one of the best things to do at the Oregon coast.
Hike the largest coastal sand dunes in North America
Few know that the Oregon coast is home to the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in the country (and one of the largest in the world).
As such, no list of the best things to do at the Oregon coast is complete without mentioning the epic John Dellenback Dunes Trail.
Explore this natural wonder for yourself by lacing up your favorite pair of hiking boots. Most of the accessible areas in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area are constantly full of sand buggies but the Dellenback Dunes trail is an exception. It’s reserved exclusively for hikers.
This Oregon coast trail offers such a unique hiking experience because it takes you from the woods to soft sand dunes, through a forest and finally the ocean.
If you’re into jaw-dropping views of never-ending sand dunes along a pristine coastline overlooking the sea, then this is the perfect hike on the Oregon Coast for you. What’s more, solitude is possible to come by because this trail isn’t heavily trafficked.
Perhaps best known as the filming location for The Goonies, Astoria is not technically an Oregon coast beach town because it sits at the mouth of the Columbia River, but try telling that to a local.
Regardless of the technicality, nothing stops this gem from being one the most beloved and historic Oregon Coast beach towns. It’s also the oldest city in Oregon, which means swinging by is an essential thing to do while visiting the Oregon Coast.
The town is chock-full of maritime history, so swing by the Columbia River Maritime Museum to get a better appreciation of the importance of the land. Then, head to the Astoria Column for breathtaking views of the city below.
See where Lewis & Clark camped in the winter of 1805
Let’s take it back to Lewis & Clark, shall we?
While exploring Astoria, I suggest visiting Fort Clatsop, a replica of the winter encampment used during the 1805 expedition. The encampment was recreated using notes from diaries and journals, how cool is that?
Located in present day Astoria, this spot is a gold mine for history buffs (and kids too). Study the fort, explore the interpretive center and sign up for the ranger-led walk through.
The history alone makes this one of the best things to do at the Oregon coast, you won’t want to miss it.
Then, learn about the Peter Iredale Shipwreck
After that, head over to Fort Stevens State Park to see the most iconic shipwreck on the Oregon coast — the wreck of Peter Iredale.
The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel vessel that sailed the sea before running ashore in 1906 while en route to the Columbia River.
The ship was abandoned and the structure began to deteriorate until all that remained was the rusted wreckage we see today. This is one of the most popular things to see at the Oregon coast and it’s always fun to watch kids getting excited as they study the structure.
Catch sunset at Ecola State Park
Ecola State Park is often considered one of the most beautiful state parks in Oregon. As such, paying a visit (especially at sunset) is one of the best things to do at the Oregon coast.
Ecola is the Chinook word for whale. Lewis and Clark’s expedition led men this way to view a beached whale. The men went to barter for blubber and oil, but Clark found himself awestruck by the beauty, he wrote:
“From this point I beheld the grandest and most pleasing prospects which my eyes ever surveyed, in my frount a boundless Ocean . . . . the Seas brak with great force [and] gives this Coast a most romantic appearance.”
You took the words right out of my mouth, Clark. Anyone that lays their eyes on this beauty won’t be able to shake it — this is easily one of the most beautiful things to see at the Oregon coast.
And I swear I’m not fangirling on Lewis & Clark. It’s just that the coast’s history is strongly intertwined with their endeavor.
Indulge in seafood at Luna Sea Fish House
I’ve eaten my weight in fish and chips over the years and will still be the first to show up when invited for me. Heck, I’ll run over if needed.
I love the stuff, and nobody does it better than Luna Sea Fish House in Yachats. Perfectly crispy outside, satisfyingly moist inside — I crave this dish so much I’m often tempted to make the 2 hour drive from Portland on a whim. So do me a favor and take one of the team if you’re in the area, this spot is worth a detour.
But take note, this place isn’t a hidden gem by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a top destination at the Oregon coast for seafood lovers, so expect a wait most hours of the day.
I’ve tried a ton of dishes from Luna Sea over the years and everything is top notch. My husband is a sucker for their Slumgullion (unfortunate name, I know, but this twist on traditional chowder is memorable) and I can’t resists ordering the clams. Okay, my mouth is watering so we best move on.
Explore the Ghost Forest in Neskowin
The quaint town of Neskowin has been able to skirt the commercialization taking most of the other Oregon Coast towns by storm. As such, both Neskowin Beach and the small town feel less crowded than other areas along the coast.
The beach itself is a sight to behold. Both Proposal Rock and the Ghost Forest. The Ghost Forest is comprised of 2000-year-old stumps from ancient Sitka spruce that spanned impressive heights of 200-feet. Meandering past the stumps is one of the most unique things to do at the Oregon coast.
Spend an evening at Pelican Brewing
Boasting four locations at the coast, Pelican Brewing is the best way to wrap an epic day at the Oregon Coast. Founded in 1996 in Pacific City, the brewery was a passion project of three friends eager to share their craft with the world.
The wild success was a scant dream until customers started trying the stuff and coming back for more. Beloved by locals and visitors alike, a wait is all but guaranteed, especially during the lunch and dinner hour.
I typically order the flights because I love tasting newcomers alongside the precious classics. Regardless of what you order, you can’t go wrong.
Hike God’s Thumb
If you’re in the hiking mood, don’t miss the God’s Thumb hike. It’s arguably the best heart-thumping activity at the Oregon Coast.
The steep cliff that juts out towards the sea is shaped like a giant thumb, earning the colorful moniker “God’s Thumb.” Note: None of the trail signs read “God’s Thumb” because this hike is officially known as “The Knoll.” Follow signs that lead toward The Knoll.
Knowing where to park your car is the most confusing part about this entire hike! Here’s coordinates to the closest parking lot. If that lot is full, your best bet — to avoid getting cited or towed — is to park at Road’s End State Recreation Site and walk along the road until you reach the trailhead.
The trail meanders through a dense spruce forest known for being extremely muddy after rainfall. Continue down the trail until you reach the God’s Thumb viewpoint and soak in the views before beginning the sharp ascent to the summit.
From the top, you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled breathtaking views of Oregon’s vast coastline and large stretches of Lincoln City. It’s an incredible experience, which is why this is easily one of the best hikes in Oregon!
Note: Good hiking boots are a must on this hike because the trail is steep and gets slippery even during dry days.”
Experience Circles in the Sand in Bandon, Oregon
Bandon, Oregon is filled to the brim with creative locals that have turned this little coastal town into an alluring place for visitors and locals alike.
There’s so much to do (and learn), you can easily spend an entire weekend in Bandon and leave wanting more. The beach is marked by intriguing rock formations and jagged cliffs.
I suggest starting your day in Old Town Bandon, where fun little shops line the main street. If you’re visiting on a Friday or Saturday, make time to explore the old town marketplace where local artisans are eager to share their talents and crafts.
You can’t visit Bandon without taking the Beach Loop Drive and exploring Circles in the Sand (late April thru August). Both are bound to entertain you for hours. And if you love birding make a beeline for the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge where you can watch venerable falcons grace the sky.
The intention of Circles in the Sand is to share love, joy and kindness. Team Circles creates sand labyrinths surrounded by intricate designs and artwork. We invite everyone to enjoy a walk on the sand path. Learn more here.
Make sure to check out Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint as well, that’s another great spot for birding at the Oregon Coast.
Pick up fresh oysters at Nevør Shellfish Farm
Seafood lovers are spoiled for choice at the Oregon coast. Don’t make the mistake of eating burgers while visiting! No, make your way to Nevør Shellfish Farm for fresh caught oysters at reasonable prices.
The unassuming shack is easy to drive past if you don’t know to look for it. The hand-written signs on the edge of the parking lot serve as a cue — pop in! Selling oysters by the dozen, this is a great spot in Tillamook Bay worth knowing about.
You’ll have a choice to make: take your oysters to go or get them shucked on site. I typically order mine to-go because the prices are way lower. Swing by a nearby shop for a bottle of wine and have a romantic evening with your special someone.
Splitting oysters and wine while a cozy fire rages on in the background, this has to be one of the most romantic things to do at the Oregon coast.
Visit the iconic lighthouses along the coast
There are currently 11 lighthouses at the Oregon Coast — nine original lighthouses and two private lighthouses that are certified by the US Coast Guard. All nine of the original lighthouses have been added to the national Register of Historic Places.
Most of the lighthouses built along the Oregon Coast were constructed to support shipping and fishing along the Oregon Coast. Today, seven of the nine original lighthouses are open to the public and exploring as many as you can is one of the best things to do at the Oregon Coast (especially with kids in tow).
You may enjoy reading: The 11 Iconic Lighthouses along the Oregon Coast
Hike Sweet Creek Falls
Sweet Creek Falls is an epic four-tier waterfall that cascades down 70 feet into a large pool of icy water that acts as a great lunch spot too.
The trail guides visitors to all four tiers of the waterfall which is handy because some of the tiers are only visible from certain vantage points.
The first tier cascades 10 feet, the second drop creates a horsetail formation whilst dropping 30 feet before merging with the final two tiers that clock in at 15 feet each. The culmination of this watery splendor feels like a feast for the eyes.
And since certain bends in the creek keep some of the waterfall out of view, the best way to experience this in all its glory is by partaking in an incredible waterfall hike.
Otherwise you may only see the bottom two tiers, which are still pretty epic but only half the story. To that end, if you’re looking to stretch your legs, this is one of the best things to do at the Oregon Coast.
Visit Jacobsen Sea Salt
Remember the Salt Works I mentioned earlier (part of Lewis & Clark’s expedition)? Well it turns our Lewis and Clark aren’t the only ones making salt from the Pacific.
Jacobsen Sea Salt needs no introduction. Sold in stores across the country, these salts are made at the coast. As such, popping in for a visit is one of the best things to do at the Oregon Coast.
I will admit that the operation is much smaller than expected. A tiny little shack serves as a makeshift shop, while massive containers of boiling sea water quietly rage in the background. I’ll also admit that the prices are too high for my liking, but dang — this is good stuff.
I normally pick up the small slide tins ($4-5) as a souvenir. I love the infused flavors (the lemon is noteworthy) but again — don’t make me chose between paying rent or buying salt.
Oregon Coast Activities to Avoid
The Sea Lion Caves
I remember visiting the Sea Lion Caves as a kid. My mom was told it was one of the best things to do at the Oregon coast, but I’m convinced only an enemy would say that. Well, either an enemy or someone that’s never visited the Sea Lion Caves for themselves.
The caves are impressive, no doubt. Considered the largest sea cave in the country, you can observe Steller Sea Lions take refuge alongside young cubs. So what gives? Well, for starters, the caves are so stinky and I couldn’t get out fast enough.
Plus, it’s an expensive experience at the Oregon coast because it’s a short stop overall. Some folks like it, some folks don’t. I find myself in the latter camp.
And I know you’re dying to no — yes, my mom is still friends with the gal that told us to visit, but now we know to verify everything she says.
I’ve visited the Seaside Aquarium on several occasions growing up, but I always left wanting more. The experience always seemed oddly sad to me, so I don’t recommend visiting. In fact, I completely forget it exists until I notice signs while exploring Seaside.
Best Things to Do Oregon Coast (Post Summary)
In sum, here’s a quick roundup of the best things to do at the Oregon coast.
- Explore Cannon Beach
- Go crabbing for Dungeness crabs
- Whale Watching at the Oregon Coast
- Admire the (official) end of the Lewis & Clark Trail
- Experience the splendor of Thor’s Well
- Eat your weight in cheese at the Tillamook Cheese Factory
- Hike the largest sand dunes in North America
- Explore Astoria, the oldest town in Oregon
- Catch sunset at Ecola State Park
- Indulge in seafood at Luna Sea Fish House
- Check out where Lewis & Clark camped for the winter
- Then, learn about the Peter Iredale Shipwreck
- Explore the haunted forest of petrified wood
- Spend an evening at Pelican Brewery
- Hike God’s Thumb
- Bandon Circles
- Pick up fresh oysters at Nevør Shellfish Farm
- Visit the iconic lighthouses along the coast
- Hike Sweet Creek Falls
- Visit Jacobsen Sea Salt
Map of Oregon coast activities | Oregon coast bucket list