Trip Planner: The Northern Oregon Coast

The northern coast of Oregon is more than just Haystack Rock

written by Sheila Miller

Picking your favorite part of the Oregon coastline is like picking your favorite flavor of ice cream. It’s all pretty great, and some of it depends on what you grew up with. This spring, I decided it was time to mix it up a bit. As a native Portlander, I spent my youth near the northern border of the state. But there are wonders as you leave your comfort zone. I set out to find them on the Northern Oregon Coast.

From Gearhart to Garibaldi, we spent some time exploring the northern Oregon coastline. It’s a lovely drive filled with hidden gems. Along the northern coast, Highway 101 winds through lush, green state parks and then cuts inland to Nehalem Bay, passing boat marinas and small antiques shops and running parallel to a railroad track along which an old steamer runs.


Sand Trap • Seals • Seafood

Start in Gearhart. This is a charming little hamlet just minutes outside of Seaside, and it’s where much of the moneyed Portland crowd goes on the weekends. The shingled, white-trimmed homes all seem to match, and the center of town features a few restaurants, art galleries and antique shops. The beach here is particularly quiet and gorgeous. If you’re a golfer, there are several golf courses nearby, some private—Gearhart Golf Links is a great option at $85 for a round in the high season, and is the oldest golf course west of the Mississippi.

In 2012, McMenamins opened Gearhart Hotel adjacent to the golf course, and it’s a perfect addition to the area. The Sand Trap Pub is an easy spot to grab dinner after a day at the coast or on the course.

When you tire of Gearhart’s quiet, head for Seaside, which is anything but low-key. This city is big on low-brow fun, and is the hub for much of the northern coast with all the amenities for a great vacation. Must-sees include the Seaside Aquarium, where you can feed fish to seals, as well as the several blocks of arcade and amusement rides and a carousel in the mall on Broadway Street, the main drag.

But Seaside is growing up. While it’s been attraction-heavy for decades, Seaside is adding good restaurants, interesting bars and some new, hip shops. For a good breakfast or lunch, try Firehouse Grill. Its industrial style is cool, and its menu is filled with homestyle food and breakfast drinks. Or head to Bell Buoy, where you can never go wrong. This seafood store always has the freshest crab and other delicacies that make visiting the coast so special.

Head out from Seaside on the one-way hike along Tillamook Head. It’s a challenging 6 miles that ends in Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach. The hike is along a promontory used by William Clark and members of the expedition, after Clark split from Lewis in 1806. Ecola State Park is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of state parks along the northern Oregon coast. Ecola features 9 miles of coastline and a large network of trails, but head just south, to Cannon Beach, that iconic beach town with Haystack Rock standing sentinel in the surf. Look for the sand castle contest this June, which is entering its 55th year.

After all the outdoor exploring, Cannon Beach is the perfect spot to end your first day. Grab a drink at the Cannon Beach Distillery, the new Pelican Brewing pub or Public Coast Brewing. Or, head over to Cannon Beach Hardware and Public House, also known as the Screw & Brew, and pick up some paint and a pint. If you’re looking for fine dining, The Irish Table is a great option—offering fresh, farm-to-table foods with an Irish twist. Or check out Newmans at 988, which has all kinds of fresh seafood on the menu every day. If you’re interested in the seafood without a side of atmosphere and fine dining, swing by Ecola Seafoods Restaurant & Market.

Finally, Cannon Beach truly has some of the best hotel options on the coast. The Stephanie Inn, with views of the ocean and Haystack Rock, has been charming guests since 1993. It is steps from the sand and a perfect coastal retreat. Or try the Tolovana Inn, which has big rooms and a great view of the ocean.


Surf • Antiques • Railroads

Neahkahnie Mountain is a great hiking spot.

After a hearty breakfast at the greatest tradition on the northern coast, Pig ’n’ Pancake, head south on 101 for more beautiful state parks. First up, Hug Point State Recreation Site, which offers a cove beach and a seasonal waterfall, as well as caves and tide pools. Before there was a highway along the coast, stagecoaches traveled this area of the beach, and you can still see wheel ruts in the rock here along the original road. But be aware—when the tide comes in you could get stuck, so check tides before you explore this area.

Continue your tour of Oregon’s wonders at Oswald West State Park, which is named for the governor who established the beach highway law that protected our state’s beaches as public land. It features Short Sand Beach, a favorite for surfers and just a half-mile walk through old-growth forest to the stunning sands. If you’re a surfer, you can rent the gear at Cleanline Surf in Seaside and join the party, or hike up Neahkahnie Mountain or Cape Falcon. There are more than a dozen miles of hiking trails through rainforest here. 

Rockaway Beach’s Twin Rocks.

Lunch in Manzanita, a perfect example of the laidback Oregon coastal town. Here you can grab lunch at Wanda’s Cafe & Bakery (just finishing up renovations), then sit on the patio at The Winery at Manzanita and indulge in a glass of wine and s’mores by the firepit. Or try the Big Wave Cafe for fresh seafood such as crab cakes and razor clams. You could explore Manzanita for the rest of the day, but if it’s time to move on, don’t miss Nehalem Bay State Park. Wind through a forested area to reach this secluded destination, with its paved bike paths and a great beach area.

Head inland to Nehalem and Wheeler, both of which have adorable “main street” locations along Highway 101 that feature boutiques and antique shops. Wheeler has two neat antique shops—Wheeler Station and Wheeler Treasures—filled with strange and glorious finds. You could call it a day and stay the night at the Old Wheeler Hotel, the historic center of town with rehabbed rooms that face the beautiful bay.

If you keep going, you’ll be rewarded with more adventures. New this year, the Oregon Coast Railriders offers a two-hour pedal along the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad tracks (the other option starts in Bay City, just north of Tillamook). Travel past the Nehalem River, through trees and across a steel bridge. You can also kayak on the water in the Nehalem Watershed, thanks to the Tillamook Estuary Partnership, which operates water trails throughout Tillamook County.

Or head down to Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach. The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad runs trains all summer between the two cities. The trains run along tracks once owned by the Southern Pacific and Port of Tillamook Bay railroads. Both Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach are charming towns to check out once you’re off the train.

In Rockaway Beach, head down to the beach to see Twin Rocks, an interesting formation in the water. In Garibaldi, check out the port, where working fishermen make a living. The port also has restaurants with tons of fresh seafood and a public boat launch for those who want to charter a boat and head out crabbing or fishing. Finish off your day with a trip to the Garibaldi Maritime Museum to get a bit more context for the beautiful, and dangerous, seascapes you’ve been admiring. 




Bell Buoy, Seaside

Firehouse Grill, Seaside

Pelican Brewing, Cannon Beach

Public Coast Brewing,
Cannon Beach

Mo’s, Cannon Beach

The Bistro, Cannon Beach

Big Wave Cafe, Manzanita


McMenamins Gearhart Hotel

Tolovana Inn

Stephanie Inn

Old Wheeler Hotel

Coast Cabins, Manzanita


Oregon Coast Railriders

Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad

Antiquing in Wheeler

Visiting the state parks

The Winery at Manzanita

Kayak in Nehalem

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