Travel

The Most Beautiful Beaches Along Oregon's Magnificent Coastline

You could use a beach day.

Unless you’re a tourist or a fresh transplant, the idea of having a “beach day” rarely involves a trip to the coast. Portlanders are river, lake, and waterfall people when a day of suds, sunshine, and swimming is concerned, and although plenty of primo beach spots are only 90 minutes away, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the water of the Pacific Ocean rarely tops a frigid 54 degrees, meaning the idea of taking a dip to cool off is insane. 

Regardless, the 363 miles of Oregon coastline are dotted with one breathtaking view after another, and it’s still a fine place to take a load off outdoors without the sizable crowds that flock to more popular beach spots closer to Portland on a hot day. Tourism is still in full swing, and it’s best to check in advance for things like state-mandated closures that can pop up seemingly at random due Covid-19. Keep an eye on local news outlets for stories about locals pleading for tourists to stay home as well (we see you, Bend), as it’s best to tread lightly and respect the wishes of the folks who call these places home all year round. And don't forget your mask.

shipwreck Peter Iredale
Peter Iredale Shipwreck | Sue Stokes/Shutterstock

Fort Stevens State Park

The epic final scene of the classic 1985 film The Goonies was actually filmed about 20 miles south of here in Cannon Beach, but you won’t find a better place to satisfy your adventurous spirit and gawk at a spooky old shipwreck while brackish ocean breeze pummels any exposed skin. The area near the mouth of the Columbia River -- which divides Oregon and Washington and drains into the Pacific in nearby Astoria -- has for centuries earned a reputation as a widow-making death trap for ships of all sizes, and the Peter Iredale met its end on this very beach in October of 1906. You can walk right up to it at low tide, and the surrounding state park offers a variety of hikeable trails as well as bike rentals, campsites, and a 9-hole disc golf course to putz around on when the edibles finally kick in and the Iredale’s vibes become a bit too menacing.

Seaside Beach

Of the many tell-tale signs that help Portlanders identify a gaggle of tourists in their midst, few are as easily recognizable as an immaculate neon-green sweatshirt with the words “Seaside, Oregon” stamped on the front. And who can blame them for falling for the charms of this bizarre, distinctly Oregonian enclave of boardwalk kitsch and #saltlife indoctrination? If you’re all-in on taking your grandparents, your kids, or your girlfriend on an oceanside stroll with a big old bag of taffy in hand whilst doing your best to avoid young Bay Area tourists, this is where you want to be.

Seaside is also home to a pair of legit surf spots -- the break near the terminus of Avenue U and an infamous locals-only spot known as The Cove -- but we’re required by law to inform you that you might get your windows busted out for showing up without a local acting as your sherpa. If you’re unsure about this arrangement, swing by Cleanline Surf to rent some gear and ask the dude or dudette behind the counter about the protocol.

Cannon Beach
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach | Jorge Molina/Shutterstock

Cannon Beach

If Oregonians were given just one choice of a photo that best represented the coast, there’s a good chance they’d pick one with the sun setting over Haystack Rock. The towering 235-foot column of basalt was formed by lava millions of years ago, and today it’s likely one of the most visited attractions on the coast. The wide beaches in its midst are perfect for playing fetch with your dog or lighting up a fire and cracking a cold boy or two. Depending on your worldview, the scene will feel straight out of a Sigur Ros video or a Miller Chill commercial. Either way, it’s pretty dang cool. 

Also, the town of Cannon Beach is one of two cities in Oregon where it’s legal to wander around with an open container. Parking here can be a real pain on the weekends, so your best bet is to ditch the car at the earliest opportunity, roll through the palatial new Pelican Brewing location for a sixer of Beak Breaker, then spend the day ambling about at a safe distance from others.

Oswald West State Park

Now that Indian Beach is closed to car traffic due to a landslide, it’s very likely that the user-friendly beach at Oswald West is about to be even more lit than it already was. At the end of a one-mile hike along the Short Sand Creek you’ll find Short Sand Beach, or “Shorty’s” as it’s known to the throngs of entry-level surfers from Portland who show up every weekend with soft-top longboards strapped to their shiny new Tacomas. It’s great for these types, as it’s cove-like layout makes it nearly impossible to get carried away by riptide. It’s one of the few beaches that’s blown out with tourists and still chill. If a pristine shoreline that backs into mounds of rocks and driftwood at the base of rocky, redwood- and hemlock-lined cliffs is what your mind’s eye conjures when you imagine a beach in Oregon, this is the spot.

Rockaway Beach

Drive along the 101 long enough and a pattern begins to emerge: a coffee shop here, a scenic turnoff there, an oceanside retirement village filled with ocean-themed art galleries and wine bars about every 60 miles or so. Rockaway Beach refuses to conveniently fit any of those molds, and though it’s not the most exciting place to be past 9pm, it still oozes the kind of ramshackle, retro charm that transplants who grew up going to dingy beach towns on the East Coast will adore. And it’s also home to Pronto Pup, which is a charming little corn dog hut that alleges they invented the coastal town junkfood classic when their buns got rained on in 1930.

Diamond Beach is a fine place to stare at the waves while you wonder what your life would be like if you lived in a place like Rockaway Beach, which is probably as exciting as it sounds. If you’re looking for surfable waves, venture another 15 minutes south to the Barview Jetty, which has nice breaks in the fall and proximity to a solid taco truck you can’t miss when you turn off the 101.

Cape Lookout

It’s a bummer the oceanfront campsites at Cape Lookout State Park are only available with a 30-day advance reservation. The joy of getting lucky and snagging one of its walk-up sites is a beloved past-time for many who ate too much cheese at the nearby Tillamook Cheese Factory (which is also reservation-only, for now) to safely drive home the day of. Camping aside, the Cape Lookout trail is one of the most balanced coastal hikes when it comes to effort and epic views, and it’s worth the trip even if you have to drive home afterwards. Sour beer stans are required by law to swing by de Garde Brewing in downtown Tillamook for a bottle of their world-beating wild ale, which is regarded as some of the best in the world despite the out-there location and open-air fermentation that takes place just miles from an active dairy farm.

Pacific City

On one hand of Oregon’s populist beach spots is Short Sands, with its enclosed ambiance and almost hidden nature on account of the mile-long hike to get there. One the other hand is Pacific City, a beach that’s so easy to get to you can literally drive your car right onto it. In the summer it often resembles a beer commercial with all the city slickers throwing down brewskis out of the tailgates of their SUVs while the ocean crashes just a few feet away, and this point is further bolstered by the presence of Pelican Brewing -- one of the coast’s best and oldest breweries -- just a handful of yards in your rearview. A trip in the fall and early winter is when you can catch some tasty waves, and you really can’t beat the fact that Pelican has a shower attached to its backside for washing off wetsuits when you’re ready to call it a day.

Otter Rock

Located about halfway between Lincoln City and Newport, Otter Rock is just right for all sorts of day-use adventures that don’t require quick access to the amenities of a larger coastal town. Above the beach you’ll find a restroom with a shoer station, a surf shop, a small coffee shop, a Mo’s seafood and chowder stand, and that’s pretty much it. Down below you’ll find a scene comparable to Short Sands, with young families trying their hands at various board sports while older tourists hang back and watch the wind pulverize the shoreline and down the kites of their grandkids.

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Pete Cottell is a writer and barista who’s been making fun of Portland since he emigrated here from Ohio in 2013. Follow his escapades at @VanifestDestiny.