48 Hours on the Central Oregon Coast
From sleeping in a 1950s-style motor-lodge to witnessing a geyser that spouts during high tide, I’d say our two-day road trip from Portland to the Central Oregon Coast was a success. We are extremely fortunate to live within such close proximity to the Pacific Ocean—90 minutes or so—we surely take advantage and visit often. We should probably even add this to our 50 Things to do in Portland list!
It was early January, and the tail-end of “whale weekend” on the Oregon Coast. During winter nearly 20,000 gray whales migrate south from mid-December through mid-January, to the warmer waters of Mexico. From late March through June the whales will return, on their way back towards Alaska. The Oregon State Parks website has a list of the best points along the coast for viewing whales, from the shipwreck at St. Stevens to Brookings on the California border. Having only two days for the road trip, we settled on the quiet town of Yachats, a place we’ve always heard good things about, along with Newport 30 minutes north, and one of our favorite places on the Oregon Coast. Between the towns lies a popular natural area known as Cape Perpetua, a state park we’ve briefly visited before and looked forward to returning. The Cape also happens to feature a few of the listed whale watching sites, like the Sea Lion Caves and Cooks Chasm.
Yachats, “The Gem of the Oregon Coast”
Yachats has been coined “the gem of the Oregon Coast,” and the quaint, neat little town certainly lives up to its name. We stayed a few miles outside of the village, at Deane’s Oceanfront Lodge because of its positive reviews, continental breakfast and beachside location, a great value for only $92 a night.
Although the rooms were recently remodeled, Deane’s still has its original 1950s, kitchy charm. The lobby is very wooded and cozy, featuring a small gift shop and a ton of random B-list movies you take back to your room—we couldn’t decide on one. The staff at Deane’s were super friendly and accommodating, taking their customer service and guest satisfaction seriously.
After a warm check-in, we proceeded to our room, not knowing how fortunate we were to receive what only two rooms at the motel have—a really cool portable kitchenette; we’ve never seen anything like it before! Bonus, there was even a log of summer sausage in the drawer! (Surprisingly, we did not eat it.)
The room was super clean and recently remodeled with beachy vibes. The electric fireplace was a nice addition to the room, along with the original, retro glass-block shower. The room had a back door, where we were pleasantly surprised to find a huge patio, with a picnic table and a few chairs for each room. We chatted with our friendly neighbors about the awesomeness of the Oregon coast, then made our way down a long walkway toward the crashing waves. The backyard featured a communal fire pit and a giant open space that beckoned for some horseshoe pits!
Cutting between these rad looking sandstone cliffs a staircase leads down to the beach. We were mesmerized by the crashing waves, beachfront homes and some giant. Peering upon the horizon, we hoped to spot whales—spouts, tails or fins—which ultimately never materialized. The sun started setting, the rain kept falling, and dinner was calling: it was time to head into Yachats for some grub.
There was a funky place online that caught our attention when researching lodging, the Drift Inn, because it was advertising a unique safari-themed room with the COOLEST tiled shower. Although it looked neat, we simply couldn’t pass up the price at Deane’s, saving $40—that’s like, four craft cocktails!🍹
Not only is the Drift Inn a motel, it’s a bar, restaurant and gift shop. The place has an interesting story, involving a former owner named Lester who made most of his money from the bars’ pool tables. After Lester passed, his family apparently found $20,000 worth of quarters in the trunk of his car that he always kept parked outside the bar!
Something to really appreciate about The Drift Inn is the live music that plays nearly every night of the week. Another unique addition is the Italian-made parasols hanging from the entire ceiling; they’re all for sale, so feel free to take your favorite home. Multiple delicate and original glass light fixtures also decorated the ceiling, including a jellyfish chandelier that caught your eyes as soon as you entered the room. The mismatched cloth napkins created a homey yet funky feel that totally fit the restaurants’ vibe. Not surprising, the bathrooms had eclectic and colorful tile-work to match.
Fortunately the awesomeness didn’t stop there— literally all the food we ordered was A-MAZING. The menu is all over the map, including burgers, samosas, rice bowls and seafood. Our journey began with an order of spicy, smoked chicken wings, covered in a sauce mixture of Frank’s Red Hot and She Devil sauce, and a HUGE $2.50 oyster shooter (with two oysters!). For dinner we ordered a wood-fired, pepperoni and sausage pizza and the comforting chicken pot pie.
Even the side salad was shockingly amazing, made with leafy greens, beets and a fabulous raspberry-walnut dressing. Although the dessert menu of house-made delicacies looked tempting, there simply was no way to shovel any more food into these gullets. After snapping a few shots of the smooth merman mural, we headed back north to Deane’s for a nightcap. We’ll surely be stopping by our new favorite restaurant, The Drift Inn, on every future trip through Yachats.
The following morning we made sure to wake in time to catch the free continental breakfast, basically a requirement for us while traveling. It was nothing special, just coffee and donuts, but it was enough to hold us over until lunch. The trip wouldn’t be complete without making a final trip down to the beach, and this time there were seals! Or sea lions, it’s hard to tell when all you can see are their little heads popping up and down in the surf. Regardless, it was SO cool and every time is just as exciting! (Does anyone else agree that sea lions look like fat cats without ears, legs or a tail, anyone?)
Our first destination was south to the Sea Lions caves, supposedly one of the best places to view whales during their migration. The weather was all over the place that morning, alternating from gray to sunny, raining on and off, when all of a sudden a beautiful double rainbow appeared over the ocean! Hightailing it over to the edge of a cliff, we found a bench to stop and take a view pictures and videos, where we were fortunately joined by a precious little corgi to enjoy the magic.
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
Continuing south from Yachats, passing by countless parks, campgrounds and beach access roads along 101, we made our way through the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and Siuslaw National Forest. This protected area features tidepools, old-growth forests, 26 miles of hiking trails, wildlife and plenty of cool stuff. The Headland sits 800 feet above the ocean and is the highest viewpoint accessed by car along the Oregon Coast.
The weather and timing was perfect for seeing Thor’s Well—rainy, stormy and one hour before high tide. Described as the gate to Hell and the drainpipe of the sea, it may not sound pleasant, but the geological wonder is actually really neat. When tide levels are high, water drains into the hole, appearing to disappear into the sea. Visit during low tide for close-up pictures of Thor’s Well, as the slippery rocks can be very dangerous—you don’t want to be “that guy.” Be sure to check the tide tables, always stay aware of the time, and be especially cautious of sneaker waves.
Thor’s Well isn’t signed, but it’s still pretty simple to find. Approximately half of a mile south from the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center look for signs to the Spouting Horn and Cook’s Chasm, accessible by foot on the 0.4 mile Captain Cook Trail. For the shortest hike to Thor’s Well, start at this trailhead, though you may also find the connecting Cape Cove Trail in the area. The Spouting Horn is a salt water fountain, resembling a Yellowstone geyser and is best viewed an hour before high tide. Waves flow in and out of the chasm, forcing water through a hole in the rock, creating pressure that shoots it high into the air every few minutes. As you descend the stairs toward the Spouting Horn, look to the right towards the ocean to find Thor’s Well. It wasn’t long before we saw the 20-foot deep hole sucking water into the earth.
The adventure continued south to the Sea Lions Caves, the largest sea cave in America. Having visited before, we didn’t feel the need to pay $28 to visit, as there’s no guarantee it will be filled with majestic sea lions. On our last trip there were about 40 Steller sea lions in the cave, though there can be a few hundred at one time! The gift shops live cameras showed nearly 100, but instead we grabbed a bag of delicious popcorn (made in coconut oil) and left. Afterall, the purpose of driving to the caves was to look for whales, as it’s listed as a whale watching point along the Oregon coast. We stopped on the windy balcony to search for whales, scanning the sea for fins or blowhole spouts, and after seeing nothing, retreated back to the car and headed north.
Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint and state park was the next stop on the tour. There is a $5 fee to use the park which can be paid at a small pay station at the far end of the lot. The rocky beach in this cove is very accessible and beautiful. Heceta Head and the old keeper’s house can be reached by a short and easy half-mile hike. Armed with a new GoPro Hero Black 7, we began our trek and starting filming our very first action video!
The hike is a steady uphill incline, but gradual and relatively short, passing through dense old-growth forest. Not so long into the walk, the trail snakes along the cliffline where you can pear out to the massive, endless ocean. We could even hear sea lions barking out down below! Within 10-15 minutes we arrived to the 56-foot high Heceta Head lighthouse; first illuminating its bright light in 1894, it’s reported to be one of the strongest along the Oregon coast. We’ve seen all the lighthouses along the state’s coast, but they’re still cool every time. A friendly tour guide snapped our picture before beginning the short descent back down to the beach. We passed by the historic keeper’s house again, which now operates as a bed and breakfast and event space. #lifegoal #futureBNBowners
The Stone Shelter is another cool landmark not too far from the lighthouse. Built in 1934, it sits on top of a 45-million-year-old volcano and was used as an observation point during World War II.
The views from the shelter are absolutely breathtaking, as you can see for miles! To find the stone shelter, drive to the top of Cape Perpetua and look for the Whispering Spruce Trail. According to the Forest Service website the short walk from the parking lot to the shelter is only 750 feet. On both visits to the Stone Shelter we’ve been #blessed, as cloudy skies seem to clear, rain stops, and the sun comes out long enough to snap some amazing pictures of the coast.
The next stop was one of Oregon’s 54 covered bridges—the Yachats Covered Bridge, built in 1938 over the North Fork of the Yachats River. It was only a 20-minute detour, most of the seven-mile drive winding along the river. Since we find covered bridges to be rather neat, we decided it was worth going out of the way since we don’t travel to the central coast too often. The weather was erratic again, fat rain turning to slushy snow a few times on the scenic drive. From Yachats River Rd., turn left onto North Yachats River Rd. and drive for two more miles on a quasi-one way, dirt road—it’s that kind of road no one travels on unless you live there. The numerous ‘No Trespassing’ signs didn’t necessarily make us feel so welcome either…
We were pretty excited to see this bridge, probably more so than any others, because finding it meant we could GTFO of there quicker. Before jumping out to snap some shots we noticed a truck approaching from the opposite direction, so we tried to be quick. The bridge was alright, as admirers of covered bridges we appreciated it, but it was by far anything special. It wasn’t long before we realized the truck was MIA…where did it disappear to, in the middle of NOWHERE? Maybe we watch way too many real crime documentaries, but something about this whole detour trip felt ominous! Driving as fast as the situation allowed, back to civilization, we hightailed it away from there and continued north to Newport.
Exploring Newport to Pacific City
Hello, Newport! This fishing port on the coast of Oregon is one of our favorite places to visit time and time again. We headed to our regular lunchtime spot down at the historic bay front, Ocean Bleu at Gino’s. My usual order is the local steamed clams in a lemon, garlic and white wine butter sauce, surrounded by yummy crostinis—it’s a beautiful dish. Bob was also winning with his choice of rockfish tacos.
There’s a reason we come back to Gino’s on most visits to Newport, it’s simple and good! We were so full after lunch that we even forgot to make our regular trip further down the docks to see the resident sea lions.
At 4:00 p.m. it was finally time to check into our favorite Newport hotel, the Elizabeth Street Inn. We randomly discovered this place about four years ago, the feature of all-oceanfront rooms at discounted prices first catching our attention. Now we stay here every return trip to Newport. As mentioned, every single room has a private balcony with ocean views. Bonus, they upgraded to gorgeous teak table sets on each balcony and they look great. Bob ceremoniously put on his white, fluffy robe, switched on the electric fireplace and pulled the balcony door open for the night (literally).
Bob was excited to try his first timelapse GoPro video, so the first priority was utilizing our new accessories, in this case the octopus tripod, to capture the setting sun. We wrapped the legs around the balcony railing and sat back to watch the magic happen. That’s when we noticed the patio down below, outside of the pool, had been refreshed with string lights and fire pits—the Elizabeth stepping up their game once again!
After maxing and relaxing, it was time to eat again. We stayed close, venturing to a new spot for us, Nana’s Irish Pub in the Nye Beach district. The menu was basically what you’d expect for an Irish pub, and the place seemed cool, but we encountered the strangest vibes! I’m not sure if we looked like tourists or hipsters or aliens, but the crowd would not stop glaring at us! Thankfully the friendly waitress sat us in the empty back room (maybe she thought we were weird, too?). The food and drinks were good, and regardless of the weird welcome, I think we’d give Nana’s another shot in the future. They had cute merch and lots more food we wanted to try on the menu.
Another reason we keep coming back to the Elizabeth: FREE WARM COOKIES in the lobby at 8:00 p.m. every night. We returned by 8:08 p.m., perfect timing, or so you’d think, both ready to grab a respectful handful of cookies—by that I mean like three-to-four cookies each. Next, I cannot even describe the incredible disappointment we felt upon seeing that ALL the cookies were GONE, besides an entire row of lemon (F-ing lemon?) cookies and one sad and broken chocolate chipper. (Meanwhile, a suspicious family waits for the elevator with napkin-veiled stacks in their hands…) Luckily, that’s not the norm, so we grabbed the half cookie and some lemons, because who can resist any cookie really?
The Elizabeth Street Inn meets one major requirement for our road-trip hotels, i.e., free breakfast. I’m pretty sure we fell in love with the place a little more after discovering the new mini waffle maker in the kitchen! This obviously called for waffle breakfast sandwiches. They also upgraded to a new fridge, coffee and juice machines, and added a few more food choices. We’ve been known to wake up early for first breakfast and return for second breakfast right before the buffet closes, but this time we only had time for one breakfast, so we made the most of it. #winning
The trip was coming to an end, but we were not ready to give up on the whales just yet. Skies were clear and the seas calmer, so we decided to take the long drive home to pass through Depoe Bay, the “whale watching capital of the Oregon Coast.” Unfortunately for us it didn’t live up to its reputation that day: the whale watching center was closed and we didn’t see a thing. I’ve been fortunate enough to see whales there before, so always make sure to stop, just in case.
A little while later we found ourselves in a familiar area of southern Tillamook County, seeing the signs to Pacific City; “PC” is another one of our favorite coastal towns. Home to the famed Cape Kiwanda State Natural area (and former Duckbill rock, a natural sandstone formation that was sadly destroyed by vandals) and located on the Three Capes Scenic Route, it’s one of the most beautiful places along the Oregon coast. We used to think the famous Hackstack rock shown in the movie, “The Goonies”, was the only “haystack” rock on the coast—until visiting PC, and eventually traveling the entire Oregon coast, to learn that it’s a type of rock and there’s actually a few. Ironically, Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach is undoubtedly the most famous and visited of them all. Standing at 235 feet and featuring accessible tide pools is obviously impressive, but the haystack rock in PC is actually 327 feet tall! It’s an awesome rock, with a little arm hanging off the right side. It just sucks that it’s so far out into the water.
There’s plenty of free parking at Cape Kiwanda in the giant state-owned parking lot, it’s almost right on the beach and conveniently located next to one of the best breweries on the coast, Pelican Pub. Had we not just eaten the biggest breakfast ever you best believe we would have stopped for lunch. One of the coolest things about this beach is that you can almost guarantee to see surfers, and on this trip there were TONS of them. They’re fascinating to watch, but how can that water not be freezing???
There’s a huge dune at Cape Kiwanda where you’ll often see streams of people climbing up and down, like ants marching. Near the dune and on the cliff sits the Headlands Lodge, a brand new, amazing hotel. We stopped by to check it out and the friendliest staff member took us on a tour of the entire place—it’s unbelievable! It almost makes the $300 price tag per night seem reasonable. After seeing the fancy rooms, over-the-top spa and gym, outside hot tub with drink service and ocean views, along with an onsite restaurant, the lodge has certainly been added to the bucket list.
From there we headed northbound for 30 minutes to Tillamook, catching Route 6 for the final 90-minute drive over the coast range to Portland. It was a gorgeous, foggy drive on the windy roads. Route 6 is pretty great during the winter because there are seasonal waterfalls all over the place, and because the trees are thinner you can get better glimpses of them and the year-round falls this time of year. Easily accessible is Fern Rock Falls, a 35-foot cutey on the side of the road with a huge parking area. It’s easy to miss if you’re not on the lookout.
This concludes our awesome and action-packed 48-hour trip to the Central Oregon Coast. From Portland, you can drive to Newport in two hours and to Yachats in three. If you like to eat, keep your eyes peeled for Bob’s next burger chronicles. He discovered two new places to review on the trip, including The Newport Cafe and Alice’s Restaurant in Tillamook.
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Bob and Nicole in the house! Currently living the dream in Portland, Oregon, with our cat sons, Purrito, ten, and Luigi, three, but originally both from Upstate New York (Go Bills!).
We have a passion for adventure, seizing all opportunities to see or experience something new! In our downtime we especially love road-trips around the Pacific Northwest, often exploring the great outdoors, but also intrigued with the quirky and lesser-known oddities we find along the way.
Fun facts about Bob: Diehard Buffalo Bills fan who hates melted cheese and wearing shoes. A literal viking with a stellar red beard, but is not actually a ginger. If he could eat only one thing for the rest of his life it would be hamburgers.
Fun facts about Nicole: Self-proclaimed crazy cat lady with a wicked sweet tooth, particularly for cookies. Creative and crafty DIY project-er, with lots of ideas and mostly unfinished projects. Amateur runner who loves the outdoors, including camping and hiking, especially to waterfalls (Pisces!).