We’ve cast about high and low for the freshest, family-friendliest spots to play, eat and sleep on the Oregon coast.
Oregon’s sublime 360-mile shoreline is sometimes called the People’s Coast, and the reputation’s well-earned: From its host of budget-friendly lodging options and its trove of carefully preserved marine wonders to the endless miles of pristine trails for hiking and biking, this coast has it all, and kids are welcome to jump into the mix just about everywhere.
In celebration of the long-awaited summer season, we’ve cooked up three fun-filled itineraries to bring your family face-to-face with the best stuff you’ve never seen along Oregon’s North, Central and South Coasts. Pick your favorite and decamp for a weekend, or string them together and explore the length of the family-friendliest coast around.
The North Coast: Trail Mix
Looking to get active with your elementary-school-aged kids? Pack the bikes and hiking boots and take an up-tempo tour of scenic coastal trails new and old, peppered with historic stop-offs, then reward yourself with sustainable bites at a few locally beloved restaurants.
Stay: Astoria’s historic Norblad Hotel offers a playful blend of coastal/urban sensibilities, with simple-yet-stylish budget room options (some with river views) for those who don’t mind a toilet down the hall. Or hit up Seaside’s newly opened Ashore Hotel, a pet-and-family-friendly boutique hotel featuring free cruiser bikes, an outdoor firepit and a saltwater soak pool.
Play: Fort Stevens State Park, located a 20-minute drive south of Astoria, features 9 meandering miles of paved biking trails peppered with historic attractions kids will actually care about, like a shipwreck and old war bunkers. Afterward, peek in on Painted Rock Beach, a secret stretch of sand just south of Seaside festooned with piles of colorful rocks artfully decorated by visitors past. Leave your own message behind and enjoy panoramic views of Tillamook Head, a picturesque Pacific coast promontory. Then hike through Sitka Sedge State Natural Area, a recently designated state park north of Pacific City with a diverse spread of natural wonders, from tidal flats and saltwater marshes to wetlands, forested dunes and an estuary. It’s the perfect place to coax older kids away from their devices — there’s no cell service!
Eat: Grab a morning bite at Yolk, Manzanita’s new all-day breakfast joint; it’s earning rave reviews for its huevos rancheros and lemon ricotta pancakes. Later, tuck into the crispiest fish around at Tom’s Fish & Chips, a low-key takeaway joint located just a block from the shoreline in Cannon Beach. Or sit for a spell and enjoy sustainably and locally sourced seafood delights in a relaxed atmosphere (with Nehalem Bay views) at the newly opened Salmonberry Saloon in the village of Wheeler.
Pro tip: Book early. Or better yet, come late! The North Coast is packed in high summer, but post-Labor day, things settle considerably, and the weather is often fantastic.
Travel time from Downtown PDX to Astoria: 95 miles/2 hours.
The Central Coast: Follow the Light
This chilled-out coastal jaunt features low-key, easy-access activities suited to multigenerational beach groups, including infants and grandparents. Explore a storied stretch of seaside lighthouses — many still operating — then wander the forest primeval before enjoying a hearty offering of coastal comfort food.
Stay: The oceanfront Driftwood Shores Resort and Conference Center in Florence features an indoor aquatic center, bonfire kits, and sandboards for rent (the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is right nearby). For a gentle foray into family-style camping, rent a well-appointed log cabin or yurt at the lesser-visited Umpqua Lighthouse State Park outside of Reedsport — this small spot is a hidden gem!
Play: Cape Perpetua’s easy-to-navigate trails meander through the majestic old-growth trees of the Siuslaw National Forest, where you can wrap your arms (partway) around the Giant Spruce, a 500-year-old tree towering 200 feet into the canopy. Then embark on a driving tour of four functioning lighthouses offset by dramatic views, each with an onsite interpretive center. Start at Yaquina Head Lighthouse, just north of Newport, then stop off at the nearby Yaquina Bay Lighthouse before heading to Heceta Head Lighthouse, just north of Florence. Finish with a visit to the Umpqua River Lighthouse — Oregon’s oldest — whose adjoining maritime museum sits within an active U.S. Coast Guard Station. Scads of historical photos and nautical treasures are on display, and you can even climb to the top.
Eat: Delicious breakfast standards are on offer at the Otis Cafe outside Lincoln City, famed for its quick-and-friendly service as much as its German potatoes. Clearwater Restaurant in Newport is lauded for locally sourced plates and spectacular views, but this place also deserves a medal for kid-friendliness. It features a designated “Kids Lounge” where littles (and their parents) can get their wiggles out while awaiting dinner, and the deck offers prime sea lion spotting.
Pro tip: Download the Oregon Coast Visitors Association Lighthouse app from your smartphone for easy navigation among the beachside beacons.
Travel time from Downtown PDX to Florence: 171 miles/3 hours
The South Coast: Beach Wonders on the Cheap
Looking for an interactive, cost-effective way to explore with tweens and teens in tow? Camp the coastline, catch your own lunch, and marvel at an array of watery wonders, from seas, bogs, and rivers to a prized marine reserve.
Stay: Loon Lake Lodge and RV Resort in Reedsport bills itself as a “family vacation treasure,” and it definitely lives up to the claim. Cottages, RV and tent camping are available, plus an on-site marina and deli and fun family diversions like crafting and karaoke. Another South Coast camping pick: Bullards Beach State Park, a large, family-friendly park north of Bandon. Yurts and campsites are available, and adjoining hiking paths wind through sandy dunes and marsh to a serene 4.5-mile stretch of beach.
Play: The newly completed Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway offers a 60-mile web of customizable biking options winding through three state parks, beginning at Cape Blanco in Port Orford and stretching inland to the Copper Salmon Wilderness. Enjoy expansive river and sea vistas as you cruise past cranberry bogs, swimming holes, and lighthouses. Then, marvel at a wealth of protected marine life at nearby Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve — one of just five such designated coastal reserves — whose tidepools house a vibrant mix of crab, nudibranchs, sea stars and algae.
Eat: True to its name, Mattie’s Pancake House in Brookings offers up steamy hotcake stacks dressed in everything from fruit to chocolate chips, plus 18 types of omelet, all available to go. Rent traps and poles from Tony’s Crab Shack and coax your dinner from an easy-to-access boat ramp dock on the Coquille River. The fishing’s good year round and the Dungeness crab and red rock crab begin to hit their prime at the tail end of summer. Tony’s will even clean and cook your catch when you’re done. If nothing’s biting, head to Coos Bay’s Fisherman’s Seafood Market, a barge-turned-restaurant/fishmonger that boasts the freshest seafood around.
Pro tip: Battle Rock Park is the place to be on July 4th if you want to catch the Oregon Coast’s most impressive fireworks display.
Travel time from Downtown PDX to Bandon: 246 miles/4.5 hours
Get to Know Your People’s Coast!
Our coastline harbors a rich (and quirky) history. Did you know …
Oregon’s beaches are also (technically) public highways. Fearing the encroachment of private developers intent on privatizing the state’s best beaches, Oregon Governor Oswald West declared the wet-sand areas of all beaches as public highways in 1913, ensuring they’d remain fully accessible to Oregonians. In 1967, the Oregon Legislature passed the so-called “Beach Bill,” which expanded the designation to include the coast’s dry-sand and vegetation portions. Thanks, Gov!
The Tillamook Creamery gets 1.3 million visitors a year. This iconic, 100-year-old dairy, renowned for its generous spread of free samples, recently expanded its girth to accommodate even more hungry hordes. The bigger, better and fully revamped Tillamook Creamery Visitor Center offers more dining and shopping space, more food options, and better cheese- and ice cream-making views. (And, yes, even more cheese samples.)
One coastal mountain might hide buried treasure. Some North Coast residents believe that a treasure chest brimming with gold is hidden somewhere on Neahkahnie Mountain, just north of Manzanita. Legend has it that in the 1600s, sailors from a wrecked Spanish galleon were seen rowing to shore, carrying a heavy chest up the mountainside, and burying it. Hopeful prospectors have combed Neahkahnie for traces of treasure ever since.
Let it Rain!
Keep these foul-weather-friendly picks in your back pocket, and you’ll be sitting pretty, no matter the weather.
Captain Gray’s Port of Play, Astoria
This Astoria Parks and Recreation indoor play center features mats, trikes, scooters, slides, and plenty of room to roam for kids aged 0-10. The center’s creative, hands-on exhibits will also keep tiny bodies (and minds) occupied.
Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria
Learn all about the Pacific Northwest’s signature river in this soaring space on the Astoria waterfront, from waves that can crest at 40 feet during severe winter weather to legendary salmon fishing runs. Kids will love taking a tour of a real floating lightship, docked just outside the museum.
Cannon Beach History Center and Museum, Cannon Beach
This small-but-mighty museum offers interactive rotating and permanent exhibits, a small-scale replica of a Native American longhouse, a gift shop filled with local treasures, and the friendliest museum staff around.
Charleston Marine Life Center, Charleston
This recently opened center wows with its collection of marine life and artifacts, including complete whale and sea lion skeletons, a large, colorful aquarium, tidepool touch tanks, and interactive exhibits.
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
In May 2019, this coastal marine sciences mainstay will debut a retro-futuristic exhibit titled The Argonaut. It’s being billed as a “SteamPunk Powered Undersea Adventure” and will feature live animals, absurd contraptions, and something called a “steamship submersible.” We’re intrigued!