Cannon Beach Haystack Rock

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Perfect Itinerary for the Northern Oregon Coast

The entire Oregon coastline from Brookings to Astoria takes about 8 hours to drive (without stopping to take in the beauty). This Oregon Coast road trip itinerary covers the northern 1/3 of the coastline since we were starting in McMinnville. Along this route, you will find so many areas to explore, wide sandy beaches, and some great coastal hiking.

Pacific City, Oregon To Catch Highway 101

The first stop on this Oregon coast itinerary is Pacific City, one of many small towns dotting the coastline on this drive and the perfect place to pick up Highway 101 for the drive north. The area around Pacific City offers a lot of adventure. One of the premier spots to check out is the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, where you can experience breathtaking views and witness the power of the Pacific Ocean. This is the first stop on what is known as the Three Capes Scenic Route (including Cape Meares and Cape Lookout, where we will also explore).

While in the area, check out the dory boats. Pacific City is home to a fleet of about 300 dory boats, and many launch from the beach next to Pelican Brewery. The fishermen literally run their small boats into the water. While there, check out the Pelican Brewery; its setting right on the beach is a good place for soaking up the views, and the beer and food are pretty good as well. The local beach is surrounded by large sand dunes that make the beach feel private and removed. It is also home to the first of many sea stacks you will find on this drive. These are outcrops of rock standing in the ocean.

Tillamook For Cheese & A Hike

The next stopon our Oregon coast itinerary is Tillamook, the town that Cheddar built. Life would be sad without cheese. It’s right up there, with butter and bacon as my favorite things. As you drive up the coast to Cannon Beach, a stop at the Tillamook Creamery is a must. Aside from the great cheese (Fried Cheddar Cheese Curds, Triple Cheese Mac, Double Cheddar Grilled Cheese, you get the idea) and ice cream, you get a cheese-making lesson. On the second level is a self-guided tour with viewing windows of the factory below.

A short drive will take you to the Cape Meares lighthouse. It’s a short walk out to this treasure. Open from April until October, this small but beautiful lighthouse is worth a stop. You can also visit the town of Garibaldi for some local seafood.

Visit Cape Lookout State Park for a great hike to the tip of Cape Lookout. It’s a 5-mile round-trip hike and relatively flat and one of the best places to hike along the coast. But beware, it can be muddy and rocky in places. Our trek was mostly shrouded in fog, with a light mist through dense forest. When we reached the lookout, we were rewarded with a spectacular clearing of the fog; although it was short-lived, we enjoyed the beautiful views. The coastal sounds and the trees covered in moss made for a rewarding adventure.

The Misty Haystack Rock At Cannon Beach

The next stop on our Oregon coast itinerary is Cannon Beach, with its iconic Haystack Rock (one of the many rock formations along the coastline). The town is quaint and offers excellent dining and shopping options. But the reason you visit is the wide and sandy beach. This beach is great even at high tide but incredible at low tide when you can explore Haystack Rock. It is surrounded by wildlife, starfish, birds, and more. It is windy and cool with mist, but a walk along the beach at low tide rewards you with an up-close experience with Haystack Rock. There is a very knowledgeable volunteer there to tell you all about what you find in the tide pools.

Our hotel, The Stephanie Inn, is directly on the beach about 300 yards south of the Haystack. So you can’t ask for a better view. This hotel is expensive, starting at $469 a night for a room with a Mountain View and going up to over $750 a night. The location and all the beautiful touches make it worth the price. A great breakfast is included in the morning, and nightly wine and beer happy hour plus an evening nightcap are all included. It is worth the splurge if you can.

Cannon Beach offers a number of other lodging options, from AirBnB and VRBO rentals to all ranges of accommodations. The Ocean Lodge and the Inn At Cannon Beach are two nice options and less expensive than The Stephanie Inn.

But the highlight of our stay in Cannon Beach was our beach bonfire. Although it was a bit misty and windy as the sun set and our fire roared along with the sounds of the ocean in the background, we could not have asked for a more relaxing experience. The hotel has a beach fire butler to set up your chairs, the fire, and drinks. We would have stayed all night!

Several beaches along the coast permit certain types of beach fires. In addition to Cannon Beach, you can also enjoy a beach bonfire in Lincoln City, Pacific City, Rockaway Beach, and Seaside. This is one of the best things to do, but follow the rules when building your fire and be sure to extinguish it completely when done.

The next day, we explored Ecola State Park, which is only a few miles north of the hotel. Along the Oregon Coast, you will find a number of state parks to explore; this is one of the best stops. The trail out to Indian Beach was a perfect walk. It’s got a few climbs, but nothing too strenuous. You can drive to the beach, but the short hike is worth it. Again, we were shrouded in fog and mist, but the wildlife on the beach was incredible.

The town of Cannon Beach is worth a stroll. Some great shops that include a place to pick up a local favorite, Jacobsen Salt (they harvest salt from the Pacific Northwest seawater). Dining options include the Stephanie Inn Dining Room, which offers a delicious culinary experience (the only drawback is the lack of a view from the restaurant). The Driftwood Restaurant & Lounge is a more casual option in town (I loved the clam chowder).

All the gray did not prevail for the entire stay; like a miracle, the skies cleared up in the afternoon but only over Cannon Beach (the rest of the coast was still covered in clouds). And under the sunny blue skies, the Haystacks and Cannon Beach were perfect.

Starfish and marine life in tidal pool near Haystack on Cannon Beach

North To Astoria

As you head north to Astoria, you will come upon Seaside, a quaint beach town worth stopping to explore. This is your classic beach town with carnival games, pizza, and an expansive beach. But the big thing here is a game called Fascination Ball (a classic amusement park game from the 1920s), so when in town, check it out. During the summer, parking is tight, so it might take time to find a space in a public parking lot.

On your way to Astoria, check out Fort Stevens State Park. With a famous shipwreck, great hiking trails, and home to some of the most in-demand beach campsites in Oregon, it’s a place to check out. And at certain times of the year, you can even drive on the beach.

When you reach Astoria, the town will look familiar; it’s been the backdrop for a number of movies, including The Goonies. Things to check out in Astoria include the 125-foot-tall Astoria Column, a monument to the Pacific Northwest history, or walk the River Walk and explore downtown shops, breweries, and seafood restaurants.

At this point, you have reached the northernmost point on the Oregon coast itinerary; the next stop is Washington State.

For more details on a trip to Oregon, check out these blog posts.

Discover Waterfalls and Hiking Trails, Travel Oregon with a 7-day Adventure

Portland Oregon Travel, 1 Day – 4 Fun Things To Do

Best Small Wineries Worth Visiting In Willamette Valley

View of Haystack from Ecola State Park
Below are links and resources to help you plan The perfect trip

Travel Resources

  • HOTELS
    Booking.com and Expedia.com are great resources for accommodations around the world. Book almost any hotel directly from these links.
  • TOURS
    The best places to book tours and activities are Viator or Get Your Guide . From great food tours to guided hiking adventures to local walking tours, you will find great experiences to add to your travels here.
  • FOOD EXPERIENCES
    EatWith is a great resource for authentic culinary experiences with passionate locals worldwide. Connecting travelers with hosts in over 130 countries, providing unique, intimate, and immersive experiences in private homes and exclusive venues.
  • TRAINS
    Trainline is Europe’s leading train and coach app. They work with over 210 rail and coach companies to help their customers travel to thousands of destinations across 45 countries. 

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