THE OREGON COAST
  Gorgeous Beyond Compare
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The beautiful state of Oregon has some of Americaís most breathtaking scenery... snow-capped mountains, stunning ocean views, river gorges... even deserts, rainforests, lava flows and fossil beds. The Beaver State has 180 state parks, 81 of which are on or near the stateís Pacific coast. Most of Oregonís population is concentrated in the Willamette River Valley, about 50-75 miles from the Pacific coast. Oregonís three largest cities... Portland, Salem and Eugene are all thriving cities full of family attractions. Families and nature-lovers are sure to revel in Oregonís splendor.

Our Oregon visit was the middle part of our 2-week American Northwest vacation in late June of 2004. My daughters (11 and 13) and I had just spent two strenuous, exhilarating, days enjoying downtown Seattleís multitude of fascinating, man-made attractions. It was time for something more physically and spiritually relaxing. Over the course of two days days, we drove the entire length of Oregonís Pacific Coast Highway (US 101)... a non-stop barrage of stunning picture-post-card views. We dipped down into extreme northern California to see Redwood National Park before we drove back north into central Oregon where we experienced Oregonís most beautiful single scene, Crater Lake. From there, we traveled north to the Bend, Oregon area, where we discovered a very scenic, and relatively unknown, area filled with natural beauty and a multitude of activities for families and those who love the outdoors. From Bend, we drove east across the state on US 26, an exhausting, yet interesting drive across eastern Oregon.

PART 1 - OREGON COAST

US Route 101 follows the entire Oregon coast. It is an engineering triumph... stretching about 400 miles from Astoria south to Brookings and into California. The two-lane highway winds amidst the coastís rocky high-relief terrain. You may be driving along a sandy beach... minutes later, you are overlooking the ocean... on a road carved into the side of a steep cliff... after that, maybe a stretch of forest or sand dunes. You never know what youíll see around the next curve, but itís likely that it will be spectacular. This road is not meant for those in a hurry. There are many hills and curves. The rural speed limit ranges from 45-55 mph. Due to the terrain, most communities do not sprawl far from the highway, making them long and skinny. Therefore, there are a great deal of 25, 30, 35 mph speed limits beyond what a road map may seem to indicate. The road itself is an engineering triumph. Rarely straying far from the ocean, at times the roadway is precariously carved into steep, rocky cliffs. There are plenty of places to pull over to enjoy the view. Oregon has an outstanding park system. Along the highway, there is an Oregon State Park, State Recreation Site, State Natural Area or State Scenic Viewpoint on the average of EVERY FIVE MILES. Beyond the park system attractions, there are plenty of other places to pull over and take in the view. Some are well-marked with signs, others are not... so drive with caution. The vehicle in front of you may slam on its brakes... or a car may dart in front of you as it exits a pullover.

Oregonís Pacific Coast Highway is known for its series of beautiful bridges designed by legendary Oregon State Bridge Engineer, Conde McCullough. Spanning the mouths of the numerous rivers flowing into the Pacific, these bridges are architectural masterpieces. Their graceful arches and artistic detail perfectly complement their beautiful surroundings. There are also several lighthouses along the Oregon coast, most of which are fairly easily accessible. I snapped some great photos of six of them.

I will not attempt to list all of the attractions and scenic views along the Oregon coast... the view is incredible just about anywhere. Here are some of the highlights from north to south... so get out your Oregon map and follow along...

The Astoria Column

Astoria, Oregon is located at the mouth of the Columbia River on the Washington / Oregon border. It was here that Lewis and Clark completed their cross-continental trek and first laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean in 1805. That historic moment and other area history has been commemorated in the Astoria Column. Resembling a huge Roman column, the 125-foot structure is perched atop Coxcomb Hill, Astoriaís highest point. From there, visitors are afforded great views of the wide Columbia River, Pacific Ocean and the surrounding hilly landscape. A very detailed 14-scene mural spirals up the column. Visitors may climb the 164 steps spiraling up the columnís interior to an outside observation platform at the top. Even if you donít climb the tower, the view is still worth it. Admission is just a dollar per vehicle. The Astoria Column is a great way to begin (or end) your Oregon coast drive.

Seaside

With a two-mile boardwalk, three-mile beach and oodles of shops and hotels, Seaside is likely the Oregon coastís most "touristy" community. Seaside has a museum, aquarium, lots of restaurants, amusement rides and plenty of other family-friendly activities. We just took a quick look at the town, but if youíre looking to spend two or three days in one spot along the Oregon coast, this is probably your best option.

Cannon Beach

So named from a cannon that washed ashore from a 19th century shipwreck, Cannon Beach is an artsy-craftsy little town. Itís art galleries, quaint appearance and scenic rock formations are its main draw. Although we didnít visit any of the numerous galleries, their clean, well-maintained exteriors and window displays seemed to indicate a thriving artistic community. It is obvious that this small town has some strict rules concerning business signs and storefronts.

The entire Oregon coast is dotted with huge monolithic rock formations protruding from the sea just off the shore. Cannon Beach is home to one of the largest of these monoliths, Haystack Rock, towering 235 feet above the ocean. As is the case with all of the coastís rocky areas, there are tidal pools all around the Haystack Rock area. At low tide, these pools consist of trapped ocean water amid the rocky shore. The pools are all teeming with sea animals which can be seen up close. Youíre certain to see lots of colorful starfish on the rocks... often so plentiful that they are on top of each other. We also saw sea anemones, lots of barnacles, an occasional crab and some other unidentified organisms.

Cannon Beach is also home to my lone Oregon restaurant recommendation, "Pigín Pancake". As implied, Pigín Pancake specializes in breakfast... and they do it well. They have three locations (Astoria, Seaside and Cannon Beach), but this one is the snazziest. Of course, they have the typical bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes, hash browns breakfasts... but they also have fancier stuff like dungeness crab omelettes (my choice), exotic pancakes (e.g. Swedish pancakes with "imported lingonberries") and lots of those sophisticated coffee drinks associated with the west coast. Although Cannon Beach was very quiet at 9 AM, Pigín Pancake was packed, so itís very popular with the locals. The parking lot was full, so we had to park in a lot 2-3 blocks away, indicating that parking is probably very difficult when this town gets hoppiní in the middle of the day. Although the restaurant is medium-sized to large, we had a 15-20 minute wait for a table. This Pigín Pancake location also serves lunch. Our waiter was quite friendly, but he was stretched. Our food arrived hot and was delicious, but delivery was a bit slow. Prices are a bit on the high side, but not unreasonable. Breakfast at Pigín Pancake is an opportunity to be in the midst of the local culture. If youíre not in a hurry, then I highly recommend Cannon Beach Pigín Pancake. Pigín Pancake, 223 S. Hemlock (main drag), Cannon Beach OR 97110.

Tillamook

This tiny town is best known for its cheese factory, Tillamook Cheese just north of the town. The factory welcomes tourists and offers tours, and some free tasty treats. Tillamook Cheese is located right on the highway and has a huge parking lot. Itís free and easily accessible. There is about a 30-mile stretch of Highway 101 south of Tillamook that does not follow the coast. We wanted to stay along the coast, so we drove the Netarts Highway, part of the Three Capes Scenic Loop which intersects Hwy. 101 in downtown Tillamook. Itís clearly marked... just turn west toward the coast. Built on sandy, unstable ground, this rough road is filled with bumps, dips, cracks and holes. We stopped at the Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint to see the Cape Meares Lighthouse. This recently restored lighthouse was built in 1889 and commissioned on January 1, 1890. It is located about 10 miles west of Tillamook. Like many Oregon lighthouses, it is constructed on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It has a large red light and a huge Fresnel lens. Visitors may climb to the top (for free) and see the light mechanism. The structure also houses a small gift shop. We did not drive the entire Three Capes Scenic Loop, electing to take Sandlake Road back to Hwy. 101.

Lincoln City

This town is home to a natural curiosity... the "worldís shortest river". Linking Devils Lake with the Pacific, the shallow, 120 foot long D River isnít too much longer than the width of the bridge that crosses it. Billing itself as the "Kite Capital of the World", Lincoln City is home to numerous kite festivals along the beach where the D River meets the sea. A festival was in progress when we were passing through. Make sure to stop at some of the pulloffs about 5 - 15 miles south of Lincoln City. The views are especially stunning there.

 

  CLICK ON THUMBNAILS FOR LARGER IMAGE
ASTORIA COLUMN - ASTORIA
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SEASIDE
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PIG'N PANCAKE - CANNON BEACH
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TILLAMOOK CHEESE
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SCENERY
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US 101
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THE D RIVER - WORLD'S SHORTEST RIVER
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THE D RIVER
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UMPQUA RIVER LIGHTHOUSE
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BRIDGE
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BRIDGE
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HECETA HEAD LIGHTHOUSE
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TIDAL POOL MARINE LIFE
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TIDAL POOL MARINE LIFE
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CAPE MEARES LIGHTHOUSE
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VIEW OF OTTER ROCK
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Newport

If youíre looking for something to do beyond the scenery. Newport is home to the acclaimed Oregon Coast Aquarium. AAAís only "gem" attraction along the Oregon Coast. Newport is also the home of the Hatfield Marine Science Center. We didnít visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium, but we did spend about Ĺ hour at the Hatfield Marine Science Center., Oregon State Universityís marine research and teaching facility. The small facility has aquariums, a simulated tide pool, turtle exhibits and more. Itís free, but mild pressure is applied for donations. At the entrance, visitors must pass a large, transparent donation box with two smiling staff members standing around it. Make sure to stop at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, located about 1/4 mile off the road near the north end of the Yaquina Bay Bridge. Believed to be the oldest structure in Newport, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was built in 1871. It appears out of character when compared to other Oregon lighthouses because the large living quarters are attached to the light itself. From the lighthouse access road, youíll be treated to a great view of the Yaquina Bay Bridge, one of the largest and perhaps the most beautiful of the McCullough bridges.

Florence

The 50-mile stretch between Newport and Florence is entirely on the coast and has the highest concentration of state recreation facilities (19). The Heceta Head Lighthouse is located about 10 miles north of Florence. Built in 1894, the Heceta Head Lighthouse is constructed on a ledge over 200 feet above the ocean. Due to its spectacular surroundings and classic design, is believed that it is the most photographed lighthouse in the United States... Iíll bet youíve already seen a picture of it. There is a 3 dollar per vehicle admission fee to the scenic viewpoint. If you just want to photograph the lighthouse and donít want to pay the fee, there are some pulloffs just south of the lighthouse where you can snap some nice photos.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches for about 50 miles between Florence and Coos Bay. The huge white sand dune surrounded by green conifers make for an unusual bit of scenery. The Umpqua Lighthouse is located about 15 miles north of Coos Bay. Located on the south side of Winchester Bay, this tall lighthouse was built among a grove of tall pines in 1894. Its classic lighthouse design features a huge, brilliant, red and white lens.

Coos Bay / North Bend

With a combined population of just around 25,000, the adjacent towns of Coos Bay and North Bend form the largest community along the Oregon coast. The local economy depends largely upon forestry and its ports, and is less dependent of tourism, so this area is not as scenic as many of the other smaller coastal communities, nor does it have any great tourist attractions. It does have a number of restaurants and hotels. We spent the night at the Best Western Holiday Motel.

Bandon

Our first stop the following morning was the Coquille River Lighthouse. Constructed in 1896, the Coquille River Lighthouse is located in Bullards Beach State Park near Bandon. Situated at the mouth of the Coquille River, it is about a 3-4 mile drive off the highway. For the purpose of photography, this was my favorite lighthouse stop. At 7:00 AM, the lighthouse was drenched in the early morning sun. The lighthouse has a wide variety of foregrounds and backgrounds with which to frame the lighthouse... sand, driftwood, rocks, flowers and the sea. There are no other buildings, utility poles, etc. nearby to clutter the picture.

Port Orford

Another lighthouse, the Cape Blanco Lighthouse is located about 10 miles north of Port Orford. Built in 1870, the Cape Blanco Lighthouse is Oregon's oldest lighthouse, most westerly lighthouse, and highest lighthouse above the ocean. Situated within Cape Blanco State Park, tours of the lighthouse are offered from April - October and are two dollars for adults and a dollar for kids.

One of Oregonís oddest attractions is located on US 101 about 12 miles south of Port Orford. Tacky and gaudy, yet delightfully unique, Prehistoric Gardens is a guilty pleasure. The attraction is located in a small sliver of Oregonís temperate rainforest. A short trail winds through a section of the eerie terrain. Although it was a sunny morning, not much sun managed to shine through the tall trees filled with moss and other growth. The trail is lined with ferns. The signs and rocks are dotted with lichens and mosquitoes abound. In short, this is the type of environment typically associated with prehistoric creatures. This environment serves as a perfect backdrop for Prehistoric Gardenís collection of life size dinosaur sculptures... ranging in size from about 5 feet long to about 40 feet tall. Sculptor E.V. Nelson has been creating these "scientifically-correct" (according to their brochure) sculptures since 1953. The sculptures are placed along the trail with some information on each prehistoric animal depicted. Hereís the tacky part... Although itís possible to deduce quite a bit about a dinosaurís appearance from itís skeleton, one must guess as to the color of its skin. It is on this point where the artist let his imagination run free. Youíll see a black dimetrodon with red spots and stripes. Youíll see a duck-billed dinosaur with a giraffe pattern, a pteranodon resembling a stained glass window and a yellow-bellied T-Rex. And really... whoís going to prove the artist wrong? Prehistoric Gardens is a quick, fun attraction for families and kids growing weary of looking at rocks and lighthouses. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and kids 11-17 and $5 for kids 3-10.

Brookings

Marking the southern end of the Oregon coast, Brookings has few attractions, but itís a good place to find a hotel or grab a bite to eat.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

All types of tourists are sure to enjoy what Oregon has to offer. Iíve focused on scenery and automobile touring. But Oregon has much to offer to campers, hikers, fishermen and those who enjoy the outdoors. Although we didnít visit the heavily populated Willamette Valley, Portland, Salem and Eugene have many family-friendly attractions. Even though we visited many very scenic areas, we didnít see two of the stateís most scenic and popular areas, Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. At this point in my life, I consider my annual two-week summer vacation to be "reconnaissance for my retirement". Iíll definitely spend considerably more time in Oregon when the kids are grown and my work is done.

 

 
SCENERY
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YAQUINA BAY LIGHTHOUSE
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CAPE BLANCO LIGHTHOUSE
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YAQUINA BAY BRIDGE - NEWPORT
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SCENERY
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BRIDGE
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BRIDGE
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COQUILLE RIVER LIGHTHOUSE
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SCENERY
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WINDSURFERS
 
BRIDGE
 
SCENERY
 
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  COLD WATER   STARFISH   CRAB
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  PREHISTORIC GARDENS - PORT ORFORD   PREHISTORIC GARDENS   PREHISTORIC GARDENS
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  PREHISTORIC GARDENS   PREHISTORIC GARDENS   PREHISTORIC GARDENS
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  PREHISTORIC GARDENS   REAL SNAIL AT PREHISTORIC GARDENS   ASTORIA COLUMN PLAQUE
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Read my reviews from our 2003 travels on epinions.com:

Helena, Montana

The Oregon Coast

The Bend Area - Central Oregon

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

The Mall Of America - Minneapolis

North Dakota (Don't Laugh!... There ARE some things to see here!)

Science Fiction Hall of Fame - Seattle

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

A LIST OF ALL OF MY EPINIONS.COM REVIEWS