Exploring Oregon's Best Beaches

Oregon's 300 miles of public coastline is the backdrop for thrills, serenity, rejuvenation, and romance. From yawning expanses of sand dotted with beach chairs to tiny patches bounded by surf-shaped cliffs, the state’s shoreline often draws comparisons to New Zealand.

Most awe inspiring are the massive rock formations just offshore in the northern and southern sections of the coast, breaking up the Pacific horizon. Beaches along the north coast, from Astoria to Pacific City, are perfect for romantic strolls on the sands. The central-coast beaches, from Lincoln City to Florence, are long and wide, providing perfect conditions for sunbathers, children, clam diggers, horseback riders, and surfers. The southern-coast beaches from Reedsport to Brookings are less populated, ideal for getting away from it all.

In late July and August the climate is kind to sun worshippers. During the shoulder months, keep layers of clothing handy for the unpredictable temperature swings. Winter can be downright blustery, a time that many seaside inns optimistically call "storm-watching season."

Glass Floats: Finders Keepers

Since 1997, between mid-October and Memorial Day, more than 2,000 handcrafted glass floats made by local artists have been hidden along Lincoln City's 7½-mile public beach. If you happen to come upon one, call the local tourism office (800/452–2151) to register it, and find out which artist made it. While antique glass floats are extremely rare, these new versions make great souvenirs.

The Oregon Coast’s Best Beaches

Cannon Beach. In the shadow of glorious Haystack Rock, this beach is wide, flat, and perfect for bird-watching, exploring tide pools, building sand castles, and romantic walks in the sea mist. Each June the city holds a sand-castle contest, drawing artists and thousands of visitors. The rest of the year the beach is far less populated. The dapper beachfront town has several of the region’s swankiest hotels and finest restaurants, as well as spots for surfing, hiking, and beachcombing.

Pacific City. This beach is postcard perfect, with its colorful fleet of dories sitting on the sand and massive Cape Kiwanda dune flanking the shore to the north. Like Cannon Beach, this town also has a huge (less famous) Haystack Rock that provides the perfect scenic backdrop for horseback riders, beach strollers, and people with shovels chasing sand-covered clams. With safe beach breaks that are ideal for beginners and larger peaks a bit to the south, this is also a great spot for surfers. Winter-storm-watchers love Pacific City, where winds exceeding 75 mph twist Sitka spruce, and tides deposit driftwood and logs on the beach.

Winchester Bay. One reason the Pacific Northwest isn't known for its amusement parks is because nature hurls more thrills than any rattling contraption could ever provide. This certainly is true at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Here riders of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) will encounter some of the most radical slips, dips, hills, and chills in the nation. It is the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America, extending for 40 miles, from Florence to Coos Bay. More than 1.5 million people visit the dunes each year. For those who just want to swim, relax, hike, and marvel at the amazing expanse of dunes against the ocean, there are spaces off-limits to motorized vehicles. Overlooking the beach is the gorgeous Umpqua River Lighthouse.

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. It doesn't get any wilder than this—or more spectacular. The 12-mile strip of forested, rugged coastline between Gold Beach and Brookings is dotted with smaller sand beaches, some more accessible than others. Here visitors will find the amazing Arch Rock and Natural Bridges and can hike 27 miles of the Oregon Coast Trail. Beach highlights include Whaleshead Beach, Secret Beach, and Thunder Rock Cove, where you might spot migrating gray whales. From the 345-foot-high Thomas Creek Bridge you can take a moderately difficult hike down to admire the gorgeous, jagged rocks off China Beach.

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