After two amazing days in Washington State, we couldn’t wait to continue our trek down the Oregon Coast. Oregon quickly lived up to our expectations when we landed in the little seaside town of Astoria as soon as we crossed the border. Surprisingly, Astoria ended up being one of our favorite towns on the trip!
Astoria is full of rustic maritime charm with gorgeous views of the Columbia River to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. To get from Washington to Oregon you have to cross the famous Astoria-Megler Bridge (pictured above) which makes for an impressive entrance to the city. Our plan was to work for a bit before pitching camp and within the first hour of our visit, we found a quaint coffee shop/bookstore hybrid called Godfather Books that offered high-speed internet and plenty of local flair. We spent a few hours working and enjoying the ambiance before setting out to find a spot to camp for the night. It was a true hidden gem, much like the rest of the town.
As mentioned in Part I, we had planned to camp at Fort Stevens State Park that night (about 30 minutes outside of downtown Astoria) but ended up at a rest stop back across the border when we realized all the area campgrounds were full.
After a surprisingly pleasant night at the Dismal Nitch Rest Stop, we crossed the border yet again and decided to put in a few more hours of work from quaint Astoria. Luckily, this town offers plenty of café options and we found another loveable spot called Coffee Girl on an old pier just outside of downtown. Known as “Pier 39,” this stop was also home to a branch of Rogue Brewing Company (my personal favorite) and various other shops, cafes, and even a museum. We enjoyed our temporary office with a view, watched the sea lions swim around below the café, and hit the road again just before noon.
Overall, Astoria seems to be an up-and-coming town in a great location on the Oregon coast. There were more craft brewery and coffee shops than we could count, and the entire downtown area sits just feet from the shore of the Columbia River. The views from downtown are spectacular and the town has really held onto its old maritime roots. If you can’t tell, we really loved our time in Astoria and would recommend a stop there while traveling down Highway 101!
Fort Stevens State Park
Since we didn’t get to camp at Fort Stevens, we made our way over to the State Park to check out the famous Peter Iredale shipwreck that Google told us about. We were lucky enough to run into a Park Ranger just as we pulled up to the wreck site and he enlightened us and a few other visitors on what happened to the ship. We learned the Peter Iredale had run aground during a storm while waiting for a pilot boat to help navigate it into Astoria. The ship had hit land so hard that the masts snapped in half and rendered it useless. The Captain made the final decision to let her rot and the local Ironworks company came out days later to pillage the materials.
All that remains today is the hull of the ship which is now one of the most photographed shipwrecks in the world due to its accessibility. We jumped on that bandwagon.
After the history lesson, the Park Ranger told us that you could drive on most of the beaches in Oregon, so again we took advantage and followed the sand south.
Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock
Like Washington, Oregon also has plenty of famous sea stacks, with perhaps the biggest and most famous one located in Cannon Beach. We made a quick pit stop in this swanky beach town and enjoyed views of the gigantic sea stack, known as Haystack Rock, from the shore. In contrast to the beaches of the Washington Peninsula, Haystack Rock was surrounded by luxurious beachfront homes and did not feel nearly as remote as Ruby or Rialto Beach. Unfortunately, this became a theme the further south we drove.
However, even with the crowds, Cannon Beach was an adorable (but pricey!) town that we'd definitely recommend visiting. The ambiance reminded us of quaint seaside New England towns and made us nostalgic for home as we explored. Cannon Beach is also home to Ecola State Park which offers some great hiking trails and viewpoints. Unfortunately, the State Park was closed the day we visited so if you go, be sure to tell us what we missed!
Tillamook Cheese Factory
After plenty of beach stops along the coast, we took a recommendation from my Aunt Joanne and stopped for lunch and a tour at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook, OR (2 hours west of Eugene). Tillamook is a dairy farm co-op that sources milk from over 90 farms throughout the PNW. They produce over 1 million pounds of cheese per week and we enjoyed what seemed like a 1/2 pound of it on grilled cheese sandwiches, as well as some delicious diary in the form of ice cream.
They’re in the process of building an all-new visitor’s center, so the tour of the factory was limited. However, we did enjoy plenty of free cheese samples and learned a lot about the dairy farm operation, even with the abbreviated tour. if you find yourself in Oregon in 2018, add a stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory to your list once the new building is complete.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
At some point during the drive, I realized that we’d be passing the Heceta Head Lighthouse, one of the many lighthouses of which I became slightly obsessed with growing up (refer to Instagram for more info). We decided to end that day’s drive with a sunset over the lighthouse and luckily found a campsite close by just as the sun started to set. We hurried back to the lighthouse after claiming our site and practically ran the trail to the top to take 1,000 photos of Heceta Head with the sun setting in the background. I must say, seeing it in person beats the annual calendars I used to stare at any day ;).
If you want to spend more time at Heceta Head, the viewpoint is actually a State Park with hiking trails, a beach, and picnic area that would be a great mid-trip stop. We also learned that the Lighthouse Keeper’s home has been turned into a Bed & Breakfast which we’d highly recommended if an overnight stay is in your budget!
Still on a high from the night before, we left early the next morning to finish up the drive down the Oregon coast. We’d decided not to plan our pit stops that day and just pulled over for anything of interest. This led us to the awe-inspiring Oregon Dunes, various seaside cliff views, The Devil’s Punchbowl, and even a portion of the Oregon Trail. It was fun to leave our itinerary free for the day and just stop wherever we felt drawn.
Where to camp
Fort Stevens State Park – Astoria, OR
If you plan to spend time around Astoria, Fort Stevens State Park is a great camping option. As we learned, booking in advance is a must due to the popularity of the shipwreck and the other points of interest throughout the park. However, if you can secure a spot here, the campground is highly rated and in a great location to explore the border towns of coastal Oregon.
Alder Dune Campground – Florence, OR
We found this campground while looking for a place to camp near the Heceta Head Lighthouse. It wasn’t the cheapest option in the area, but it served as a great base camp for exploring this more remote area of Highway 101 and was only about 10 minutes south of the lighthouse. The sites were very private and included picnic tables and fire rings at each. This campground would also be a great option for a place to stay near the Oregon Dunes State Park as it’s located just north of the park boundary.
Harris Beach State Park & Campground – Brookings, OR
This campground was arguably one of our favorites of the entire road trip. Located just north of the California border, it was an affordable option in a beautiful and convenient location. We paid just $20 for the night which included hot showers, firewood, private campsites, and beach access for some gorgeous sunset views. We also found Brookings to be a surprisingly big town full of the many conveniences we were craving on the road like grocery stores, restaurants, and coffee shops (for the working travelers)!
We weren’t ready to leave Washington and Oregon behind, but our experiences in those beautiful states had us looking forward to some of the most famous sites that the PCH had to offer in California. You can read about the California-leg of our road trip in Part III of our PCH series.