Seals, puffins and slow shuffling through miles of white sand.
Tides come in, worries flood out.
Taking a seaside stroll after a stressful day is one reason I live on BC’s west coast. But the more profound reasons run deeper. Something about the ocean’s vast and unexpected ebb and flow is reassuring. A feeling that at this moment, in this fluid place, we’re all connected– after all, 70% of the earth is covered by ocean.
So, the chance to explore Oregon’s coastal communities is like visiting a good neighbour. You get to go away, and come home, at the same time.
On the road to the Oregon coast
It’s easy driving along picturesque US Route 101, hugging the Pacific all the way. Pull off anywhere and you’re bound to find rocky shores, quaint towns, the chance to leave the only footsteps amid miles of windswept sandy beaches. Seabirds soaring overhead. Gray whales cruising by year-round. About 200 are part-time residents along the coast.
Yachats and the Overleaf Lodge
Let’s start in the middle. Mile 164.4. My favourite Oregon coastal town is Yachats (pronounced YAH-hots), an ideal stop for exploring points north and south. After a few days at the wonderful Overleaf Lodge, I was beginning to feel like a local. Don’t come to the Overleaf expecting five star luxury and valet parking. The Overleaf is about glorious views (orcas, beach walks, coastal trail outside your door, tidal pools, gray whales), and understated comforts. Book the Restless Waters or Sunset Suite and soak in your deep jetted tub overlooking the ocean. Yes, please.
Delicious breakfasts are lovingly prepared. Broccoli and cheese quiche. Glass bowls overflowing with fresh fruit. Fresh-baked scones or muffins. Take-away cups of tea or coffee for those long strolls by the sea.
Stop, listen to the tide rushing in your ears, until time slows down, and there is only stillness.
Landscapes transform from vivid to vanishing in an instant. Once I pulled off the road to shoot the famous Hecate Head lighthouse. Within a few seconds, the shot went from magazine perfect to impenetrable fog. Nearby Cape Perpetua offers beautiful aerial and coastal views with incredible rewards–explosive blow holes and raging waters–all within an easy walk or hike from the visitor centre.
Seal Rock, Oregon
Another seaside village that defies words is Seal Rock, about 20 minutes drive from Yachats. A large toothy series of partially submerged rocks stretch out into the ocean. Close to shore, Elephant Rock is a sandstone sea stack, host to a huge seabird refuge. There are seals poking up from the water, tidal pools filled with bright, drooping sea stars, the occasional fisherman casting out amid herons. When we visited, a local was creating elegant raked sand images. As I was leaving, a fellow visitor turned to me and said, in the most peaceful tone, “this place is special”. See for yourself why.
Heading north from Yachats toward Newport, you’ll find the tallest lighthouse in Oregon at Yaquina Head. The offshore islands are a year-round refuge for harbor seals and a spring-summer home for thousands of nesting seabirds. Gray whales can be spotted during. their annual migrations to Mexico (late fall-early winter) and Alaska (late winter-early spring). Yaquina head lighthouse is 28 metres tall (93 feet) but it’s the setting you’ll remember. Harbour seals poking their heads up like whack-a-moles, flicking and splashing. The musical sounds of volcanic rock clacking as the waves sweeps out. Seabirds launching themselves from sculptural rocks.
Dunes instead of Michelangelo’s David, but this Florence is a truly memorable seaside town. Antique stores and restaurants, and whether or not you choose to rent a dune buggy, there are about 65 kilometres (40 miles) of rippling dunes to explore at this gateway to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
Cannon Beach is the most famous town on the coast, perfect for the resort lover–wine tastings, quaint shops and fine restaurants. Visitors from around the world pop umbrellas, slip their toes beneath white sand beaches and snap obligatory pictures of Haystack Rock, with our without puffins or sunsets. Cannon Beach is surrounded by the rugged natural beauty of forests, ocean beaches, and rivers including the slow-down splendour of Ecola State Park. Consider day tripping it in from nearby Astoria on the Columbia River. It’s a quirky, beautiful town with great shops, an excellent marine museum, quaint market, and a lovely river walk.
When to go
Traveling the Oregon coast, in June or September is ideal. July and August can be a crawl along the 101, especially around the most popular towns: Lincoln City and Cannon Beach. Locals say weather is best in September when fog and fierce rains don’t obscure all of those spectacular views.