Wish Lists & Hidden Gems

Oregon’s Coastal Gem Towns

The Oregon coast feels like a secret pocket hidden in a forgotten memory. Beautiful surprises are always in season. Fresh, local food is always in season. Adventure and relaxation, too, are always in season. (Pick berries at local farms.) There are rivers that tumble from the Cascades, rolling placidly to the Pacific. Wildlife and ocean walks, nights filled with the rhythm of tides that rock you to sleep. Rocky headlands with amazing views, some of the world’s largest coastal dunes, and migrating whales.

Oregon’s Coastal Gem Towns

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From north to south, the first Oregon coastal town is Astoria, sitting on the banks of the mighty Columbia River. Astoria has been through high times and low times, and right now it seems to have hit its stride. It’s still a town of captains and fishermen, but it’s also become a cultural mecca. These days, a fourth-generation fisherman is likely to be found drinking espresso with a gallery owner. There’s harmony between the newly arrived fine chefs and the long-time residents. Here, quirky characters are treasured.

Only 90 minutes south of Portland, Cannon Beach is a fine, coastal Oregon experience. Visit Haystack Rock, National Wildlife Refuge. It rises 235 feet above the shore—have a picnic at its base, then discover the tidepools and nesting seabirds. (There are puffins here.) The town itself is a little jewel, filled with galleries, cafes, cuisine, and unique shopping opportunities. The beach has been named by National Geographic as “One of the World’s 100 Most Beautiful Places.”

Heading south, Newport is a town that has welcomed travelers for 150 years. It’s tucked between coastal mountains, the Pacific, and Yaquina Bay. Venture out to the lighthouse, Yaquina Head. It’s 93-feet-tall, was built in 1872, and sits on a lava flow that was formed 14 million years ago. Newport has two areas—Nye Beach and Bayfront. Nye has hot sea baths, art, and kitschy shops. Bayfront is a working waterfront that welcomes visitors. (You may feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Enjoy!)

Right in the center of the coast, the town of Florence is adventure-central. Sand dune buggies and uncrowded beaches. Horseback riding, beachcombing, tidepooling, and boogie boarding. Go inland just a bit for a dazzling forest where you can hike and forage. Keep your eye out for waterfalls—go behind one. At the sea, there’s crabbing and clamming. Inland, there are dozens of small lakes. Hit old-town Florence for antiques and local cuisine. This is an excellent spot for your coastal Oregon base.

Coos Bay has sweet beaches, dunes, and a State Park with botanical gardens, perched on a cliff. This is a great place for adventures in nature. Consider bird watching, clamming, wildlife, seals, and cycling. Coos Bay is the largest community on the coast, and it is the area’s commercial center. The downtown has been spruced up, and it’s a decent place to go antiquing and visit galleries with local art.

Heading south is Bandon—a place that epitomizes a getaway. Bandon has not been formed and shaped by its residents; rather nature has shaped this small town. There are unparalleled ocean views that stretch forever. Sunsets are extraordinary here. Go inland, and there are wild, tangled forests that run with clear streams. Act like a local if a storm picks up—bundle up and enjoy watching the spectacle. As in Coos Bay, there’s horseback riding, fishing, crabbing, and golf, but it’s more low-key here. When you leave town, stop at the cranberry bogs. They’re wonderful.

The town of Gold Beach is wilder still. This is the place to raft the Rogue River, one of the largest rivers in Oregon. Go salmon fishing or windsurfing. If you want to renew, this is the place for you. Walk for miles on secluded beaches and just set everything down. Be in nature. Be in the moment.

The Oregon coast may be the best of all worlds—it’s remote and it’s accessible. Whether you’re taking off from California’s Bay Area, Portland, Seattle, or the Sacramento area, you simply hop on Highway 101 and head north. Remember how to breathe, eat well, and feel nature’s wild glory.

Interested in exploring the wonders of Oregon and Washington states? Discover our Pacific Northwest itineraries.