Hike dunes, watch for whales, and enjoy clam chowder and micro-brews during this scenic four-day road trip.

By Megan McMorris / Photography by Douglas Merriam
August 14, 2008

October 2005

The Oregon coast is famous for its 350 miles of public beachesand dramatic cliff-side lighthouses, and fall is an ideal time tovisit: Prices are lower than during the summer season, the beachesand towns have a little more elbow room, and the cool fall breezeis refreshing. From whale watching to hiking to antique shopping,it seems there's something new to do around each curve. When itcomes time to eat, there are plenty of seafood restaurants andbrewpubs in the area―Oregon has more than 70 microbreweriesacross the state. What better place to enjoy a locally made pintwhile watching waves crash against the shore than in a seasiderestaurant?

This four-day, 255-mile road trip starts in Astoria, the oldestsettlement west of the Rockies, and travels down Highway 101through charming towns in the north and central coast, each with aunique range of offerings. Fly in and out of Portland, which hasthe closest large airport. The two-hour drive to Astoria on U.S.Highway 30 takes you along the Columbia River, and U.S. Highway 26traverses the coastal range. With sweeping vistas all around you,it may be hard to keep your eyes on the road, so build frequentstops into your trip and remember to pack your camera.

Day One: Astoria

Nestled along the Columbia River, this fishing town, once the"cannery capital" of the United States, has polished its image inrecent years, converting some of its waterfront canneries intorestaurants, shops, and galleries. History lovers will enjoy howthe town has retained its blue-collar feel, which is part of itscharm. Start your trip at the 125-foot-high Astoria Column (503-325-2963), the highest point in town,and climb 164 steps for a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean andthe town below.

Next, check out the Columbia River Maritime Museum (503-325-2323, www.crmm.org),with interactive exhibits, including piloting a tugboat and achance to walk on the bridge of a World War II destroyer. While onthe waterfront, climb aboard the Riverfront Trolley (503-325-8790), which is run by a team offriendly volunteers who share the history of Astoria during the45-minute trip. Hop off at the 11th Street pier to stroll the manyart galleries and antiques shops there, and along the main drag ofCommercial Street. Then have lunch at the Wet Dog Café (503-325-6975), Astoria's only brewpub.Housed in a converted waterfront warehouse, the Wet Dog'straditional pub fare features fish and chips, plus eight microbrewson tap.

After lunch, watch fishing boats from the Sixth Street pierbefore jumping back in the car for a 10-mile trip west to Fort Stevens State Park (800-551-6949, www.oregonstateparks.org).The 3,700-acre park originally served as a military fort and is nowhome to the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale, an English sailing shipthat ended its working life here in 1906. Ask for self-guided tourmaterial at the information kiosk to plan your afternoon, includingtouring the abandoned fort and military museum. There are also 14miles of biking and seven miles of hiking trails that wind throughthe park.

Where to stay: Built in 1902, the historic Rosebriar Hotel (room rates from $69; 800-487-0224, www.rosebriar.net) in downtownAstoria was once a convent. You can rent a carriage house or choosefrom one of 12 rooms in the main building, some of which overlookthe river.

Day Two: Seaside and CannonBeachIt's only 16 miles from Astoria to tiny Seaside, but itfeels like you're stepping into another world where a carousel, anarcade, bumper go-cart parks, and other carnival-like sites sitbetween the shops on Broadway, the town's main street. (Fordecades, Seaside was also the home of one of classic cookbookauthor James Beard's cooking schools, though it no longer exists.)Have breakfast on Broadway at Pig 'N Pancake (503-738-7243, www.pignpancake.com), a localeatery famous for its dozen pancake varieties. Then walk toward thewaterfront until you reach Heritage Square, home to the Seaside Candy Man and his 170 flavors of saltwater taffy(503-738-5280, www.seasidecandyman.com).

Back in the car, continue south on Highway 101 for nine miles toCannon Beach, where Hemlock Street is lined with antiquesshops, secondhand bookstores, and art galleries featuring the workof local artists. After shopping, watch seabirds nest at the beachnext to Hay-stack Rock. At 235 feet, it's the third-highest seastack (rock island) in the world and a great spot to explore tidepools. Stop for a predinner pint at Bill's Tavern (503-436-2202)―we recommend thefruit-flavored Blackberry Beauty―before heading over to cozy J.P.'s at Cannon Beach (503-436-0908) for fresh, localsalmon and Oregon pinot noir.

Where to stay: Check into the Cannon Beach Hotel (room rates from $70; 800-238-4107), aEuropean-style bed-and-breakfast where your stay includes a Frenchbasket of pastries and fruit delivered to your door with the papereach morning.

Day Three: Tillamook, Lincoln City,and Newport

The highway veers inland during the 50-mile trip south fromCannon Beach to Tillamook. You'll know you're there when you seecows; the area is famous for its dairy industry. Sample four typesof cheddar cheese, plus 40 flavors of ice cream, during a tour ofthe Tillamook Cheese Factory (503-815-1300, www.tillamookcheese.com),Oregon's largest cheese factory, which also offers delicioushomemade curds.

Spend the early afternoon driving along the Three Capes Scenic Route, a meandering 40-mile stretch ofshoreline. Stop at Cape Lookout State Park for what's considered the best viewof the Oregon coast. Hike two and a half easy miles along thepeninsula as waves crash 400 feet below. The cape is named not onlyfor its vantage point, but also for its 28 designatedwhale-watching spots. Twice a year (mainly during the months ofDecember and March), grey whales can be seen on their way fromAlaska to Baja California, Mexico, then back again. Trainedvolunteers man the posts during certain whale-watching weeks tohelp you spot the spouts (visit www.whalespoken.org for moreinformation).

Back on four wheels, continue south for 45 miles to Lincoln City, which boasts the shortest river in the world,the 120-foot D River, and proclaims itself as the kite capital ofthe world. This month, watch hundreds of kites fly across the skyduring the annual Fall Kite Festival, October 8 and 9. While here,enjoy local rockfish, Pacific halibut, and Oregon shrimp at the Blackfish Café (541-996-1007, www.blackfishcafe.com).Then drive another 30 miles to Newport to top off the evening at the Rogue Ales Public House (541-265-3188, www.rogue.com),which has more than 20 house beers (free tastings will aid yourdecision making).

Where to stay: Climb aboard the Newport Belle (room rates from $100; 800-348-1922, www.newportbelle.com), abed-and-breakfast stern-wheeler (with five spacious rooms and decksto lounge on), docked at the Newport Marina.

Day Four: Newport and the OregonDunes

Start the day walking through Newport's Old Town bay-front area,and watch sea lions sunning themselves on various decks along theway. Stop for lunch at Mo's (541-265-7512, www.moschowder.com), where thefirst bowl of the locals' favorite clam chowder was served morethan 50 years ago.

Ten miles south on Highway 101, you'll find the town of SealRock, named for the seal-shaped rocks that jut 20 feet above thewater. Another 25 miles farther is Heceta Head Lighthouse. Climb the steep half-mile to thelighthouse, and notice the old lightkeeper's house on the cliffside on your way up.

Stop by the sea lion cave just south of Heceta Head, then wrapup your trip with a visit to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area 30 miles south(541-271-3611). Here the sand dunes reach 500 feet above sea level.The best place to climb them is at the Umpqua Dunes (10 miles south along Highway 101; look for theUmpqua Dunes Trail signpost), or rent an all-terrain vehicle at Dune Buggy Adventures (rates from $35 per hour;541-271-6972, www.dunebuggyadventure.com).

Where to stay: For a room with a cliff-side view of theocean, return to Heceta Head Lighthouse―the old lightkeeper'shouse is now a six-room bed-and-breakfast (room rates from $133;866-547-3696, www.hecetalighthouse.com).

Enjoy an early start for your three-hour return trip toPortland. From Newport, take U.S. Highway 20 to Interstate 5 ifyou're looking for the fastest route. Or retrace your steps andstop by places you missed―and have one more bowl of heartyNorthwest chowder.

Megan McMorris is author of Foghorn Outdoors Oregon Hiking. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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