A road trip along the Oregon Coast Highway in southern Oregon is the perfect summer adventure. Stay in quaint seaside towns. Marvel as the pine-covered mountains reach right to the sea creating scenic cliffside vistas out across the Pacific Ocean. Explore the tide pools along the rocky shores. Stroll long sandy beaches. Admire the sea stacks that dot the coast. Plus the seafood!!
We took a 1 week circular road trip in this beautiful area of the United States that included: 200 miles of coastal driving along the Oregon Coast Highway, stays in two Oregon coastal towns, and a non-coastal stay in the mountains of Northern California – we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore the nearby redwood forests.
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Starting Point – Eugene Oregon
Our trip started in Eugene, Oregon’s second largest city. It’s here where we rented our car for the journey, after flying directly into Eugene Airport from our home in Salt Lake City. Eugene is a perfect road trip gateway to the southern Oregon Coast as it is only 70 minutes away by car.
I lived in Portland for three years and made many trips out to the Oregon Coast during my time there. More people visit the northern Oregon coast due to its proximity to Portland. Cannon Beach is probably the best known destination on this part of the Oregon Coast, and photos of its haystack rock are a common postcard picture for the Oregon Coast. The southern coast is a little too far for a quick trip from Portland, so it’s less visited. But the scenery is just as spectacular – maybe more spectacular. Plus, California’s Redwood State Parks start just across the Oregon border, offering an easy road-tripping opportunity to see a different kind of natural wonder.
First Stop – Yachats Oregon
From the Eugene airport, we drove directly to the town of Florence which sits just inland from the coast on the Siuslaw River, and then headed north along the Oregon Coast Highway for another 30 minutes to the small coastal town of Yachats. This 25 mile stretch of coastal highway should not to be missed! The road climbs high above the ocean and offers spectacular vistas out from the cliffs and mountains that hug the shore, out across the Pacific. We passed the scenic Heceta Head Lighthouse and eventually passed through Cape Perpetua Scenic Area before descending back down to flat coastline at Yachats.
Yachats is exactly what you would expect in a small Oregon coastal town – a few boutiques and souvenir stores, a grocery store, and a several good seafood shacks. We ate freshly caught King salmon at Luna Sea Fish House on an outdoor picnic table with views of nearby Cape Perpetua while washing it down with a bottle of local Oregon beer.
We stayed at Deane’s Oceanfront Lodge just a few miles north of Yachats. Deane’s is a classic park-your-car-in-front-of-your-room motel. I found it on Booking.com. In my tripping for this trip, I noticed that many of the older motels in this part of Oregon have been updated and refurbished, and are still a popular offering for road-trippers.
I chose Deane’s because it seemed the apppropriate throw-back experience for the first night of our road trip. But I also chose Deane’s for it’s beach access. Deane’s has a large open yard in the back that leads out to a ledge overlooking the ocean and the beach below. A wooden staircase gives access to the wide expanse of sandy beach. This is an Oregon beach, so it was not warm…. even in July. But we put on our jackets and still enjoyed a long beachside stroll.
Main Sight – Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area was our main draw for staying in Yachats. Cape Perpetua is part of the Suislaw National Forest and so has a visitors center, well-maintained parking areas, and lots of trails. We spent several hours our first morning in Oregon exploring the Cape Perpetua area. Trails from the main Visitor Center go directly down to the rocky shore where we explored features with the names of Devil’s Churn, Thor’s Well, and Spouting Horn. Tidal pools also abound and are easy to access.
Second Stop – Port Orford Oregon
We then drove 2.5 hours south along the coast to our next stop – Port Orford. There are more charming towns along the Oregon Coast than Port Orford. However, you would be hard pressed to find a better AirBNB on the Oregon Coast than Redfish Loft. I found this rental early in my tripping for this road trip, and it was immediately clear that 3 nights in Port Orford would be the centerpiece of our trip. Staying at Redfish Loft is a perfect example of why I love Vacation Rentals.
Redfish Loft is a studio apartment that sits above a restaurant (also called Redfish) which sits on a ledge directly above a long expanse of beach. It has big picture windows and a good-sized balcony with views views views. The owner is a glass artist whose gallery is also part of the complex – gallery, restaurant, AirBNB rental. Redfish Loft was everything we hoped. In fact, I had hiking plans for the area that didn’t even materialize because we just decided to mostly hang out and soak it all in.
Port Orford is small and sleepy. There is not a lot going on there. The best restaurant is Redfish, and you should definitely eat here, but it is pricey for twice-daily eating. My favorite meal during this stop was 30 miles north in the town of Bandon (known for it’s world-famous Bandon Dunes Golf Resort which is consistently ranked one of the top golf courses in the world). We drove up there one night and ate fresh Dungeness Crab on the pier at Tony’s Crab Shack.
Sights in the Port Orford area
Battle Rock Wayside Park
Redfish Loft sits just above Battle Rock Wayside Park – a long expanse of beach marked with the pillar-like rock formations that can be found along so much of the Oregon Coast. We spent hours every day strolling the beach and exploring the tide pools and rock formations. Once again, it was not a warm lay-out-on-the-beach experience. The temps were generally in the high 60s which felt colder with the wind. But it was also not uncomfortable with a jacket.
Cape Blanco Lighthouse
We did venture out to Cape Blanco lighthouse – just a few miles north of Port Orford. The lighthouse dates back to 1870, is the only working lighthouse in Oregon. It happens to sit on the second most westerly point in the United States. Tours inside the lighthouse are available, but only on certain days of the week. We happened to go on a non-tour day. It was still an interesting place to visit and the views out across the coastline are expansive.
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
The Samuel Boardman Corridor is an another expanse of spectacular coastline scenery along the southern Oregon Coast. It stretches along 12 miles of coastal highway, and is marked by various lookout points and pullouts with short trails. It only takes 50 minutes to get from Port Orford to Arch Rock – the first major site in the Corridor. We drove through the Samuel Boardman Corridor on our way to California, rather than making a down and back trip from Port Orford. In addition to stopping at Arch Rock, we also stopped for a short hike to view the Natural Bridges, and took another hike through a forest to a meadow to a view out across the Pacific.
Third Stop – Gasquet California
We headed next to Northern California and the Redwood Forests. California has 49 state parks that feature the giant redwood trees. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park just outside of Crescent City is the northernmost of these parks. It’s less than 30 minutes from the Oregon-California border so an easy extension of an Oregon Coast road trip
We stayed at a great VRBO rental in a small mountain town just east of Jedediah Smith Park called Gasquet. This rental was a small cabin (originally a local doctor’s fishing cabin) located adjacent to the owner’s more modern house. Both were situated just above the edge of the Smith River, surrounded by tall pines and mountainsides. It featured a great outdoor patio area with easy access to the river (we actually saw river otters!). Like our stay at Redfish Loft, we found ourselves relaxing at our rental more than we originally intended because we enjoyed the beauty of location so much. You can check out more details about this rental by clicking here.
The owner recommended that we stop in Brookings Oregon and shop for food before arriving. We wisely followed that suggestion. There aren’t any dining options in the immediate area. We barbecued on the outdoor grill and dined on the scenic patio both nights.
Main Sight – Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Redwood trees are the tallest living thing on earth. They can reach height of 350 feet and it is awe-inspiring to stand next to and look up at the tops of these giants. We ventured into the Jedidiah Smith Park several times. I had originally planned on visiting several additional parks farther south, but we decided that Jedediah Smith gave us the redwood experience we wanted.
We spent most our time in Stout Grove which is considered the most scenic grove of redwoods in the park (one writer called it the most scenic in the world). The first time, we stopped on our initial foray into the park, as we slowly drove along the unpaved Howland Hill Road which cuts across the length of the park. We pulled off and parked in Stout Grove’s small parking lot from where a short asphalt trail descends into the grove.
We returned a second time in the late afternoon. I had read that 4pm on a summer day is the best time to experience the grove. At this time, the sun hits at the perfect angle for lighting up the foliage in the grove. This visit we parked a little further east on Howland Hill Road and hiked the mile-long River Trail into the Grove. We timed it perfectly and the lighting within the grove added an extra layer of other-worldliness to an already other-worldly place.
Return to Eugene Oregon
We completed a full loop on our road trip by driving northeast through Grant’s Pass Oregon and ultimately finishing the trip driving north on Interstate 5. The drive from Gasquet to Eugene took 3.5 hours.
We spent a final night in Eugene before flying out the next morning. We stayed at the Excelsior Inn. This converted University of Oregon frat house is now an upscale Italian restaurant and small hotel. Each room is named for a different classical music composer and are very nicely furnished. We stayed in the Chopin room. An excellent cooked breakfast is provided in the restaurant and included in the room rate.
Me and Mrs. Thorough Tripper thoroughly loved our Oregon Coast Road Trip – beautiful scenery, unique experiences, good seafood, and plenty of time to relax. If you want to read about other great travel locations in the USA, check out this post about a weekend in Tucson Arizona. Or this one about Moab Utah.