It’s Allison from Tips for Family Trips! Today I am excited to share a destination to which my family could return every summer – the Oregon Coast. The Oregon Coast is a beautiful place to cool off and unwind, and there are lots of fun and educational activities for all ages. You can rent a beach house and use it as a base for your entire vacation or road trip down the coast, spending every night or two in a different beach town. I have done both.
Charming towns and beaches can be found along the entire Oregon Coast, but my experience is on the northern coast, which is a scenic, 2-hour drive from Portland. Most of my recommended cities are fairly close to each other, making it easy to choose a base and enjoy the activities in most of them.
Here are 5 fun cities for families on the northern Oregon Coast.
Long Beach is not technically on the Oregon Coast because it’s in Washington. However, it’s just across the Columbia River from Astoria, Oregon and has more in common with Oregon Coast destinations than other towns on the rugged Washington coast. Long Beach is a laid-back but festive town with lots of fun activities and charming shops. It’ll be hard to miss Marsh’s Free Museum. It’s not exactly a museum, and it’s not exactly charming, but there are a lot of fascinating things to see in this crazy gift shop.
With 30 miles of unbroken beach, Long Beach is home to the World’s Longest Beach. It’s not a great swimming beach, but it’s a fun place to fly a kite and play in the sand. Long Beach hosts the Washington State International Kite Festival each year in August and is home to the world’ only kite museum. Lewis and Clark first laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean here, and history-loving families will enjoy visiting the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. There are two lighthouses on the Long Beach peninsula, as well as five state parks.
Astoria is a lovely logging and fishing town built on a hillside. Astoria isn’t a beach town, but it has several worthwhile attractions. Climb the Astoria Column for a bird’s eye view of the area. Check out the 4-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge between Astoria and Long Beach, the historic Astoria Riverfront Trolley, and the Colombia River Maritime Museum. For my fellow children of the 80’s, the movies Goonies and Kindergarten Cop were filmed here, and Goonies Day was just celebrated on June 7.
Fort Clatsop, another Lewis and Clark site, is located just south of Astoria. This fort is a replica of the fort Lewis and Clark built in 1805, and it is is one of the highlights of Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, which includes several sites along the northern Oregon Coast. In nearby Fort Stevens State Park, explore the wreck of the Peter Iredale and a World War II era fort.
Seaside – Cannon Beach
These two towns are right next to each other, but they have completely different personalities. Seaside has been the definition of family fun for over 100 years. Families will find a carousel, arcade and fun center, along with family-friendly shops, restaurants, art galleries and ice cream parlors along the Promenade. The beach is a fun place to play and relax.
Cannon Beach is less carnival and more artsy. It’s an upscale artistic community, with galleries, public art, local theater and arts education opportunities. You’ll find Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, which is one of the most photographed spots on the Oregon Coast. Nearby, Ecola State Park is a great place to find hiking trails and scenic views.
Tillamook makes my list for the cheese factory alone, but there are a lot of other fun things to do here too. Tillamook has the “shortest lighthouse in Oregon” at Cape Meares as well as fun beach activities such as whale watching, hiking, clamming and kayaking. Be sure to take a tour of the Tillamook Cheese Factory and buy some cheese curds. There are samples, of course. Tillamook also has great ice cream, so bring your appetite!
Home to more cows than people, Tillamook is not likely to be as crowded as some of these other beach towns, so it may be a good option for families who prefer solitude.
If you make it down to Newport, don’t miss the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which has been listed among the 10 best aquariums in the U.S. by Parents Magazine, USA Today, and others. Our family spent a full day at this world-class aquarium when my oldest was a preschooler, and we’d love to return. Yaquina Head Lighthouse is also located near Newport. This photogenic lighthouse has a family-friendly interpretive center, lighthouse tours, and tide pools. We saw lots of sea lions on the nearby rocks and even spotted a gray whale!
Some families may agree with me that Newport has the best of both worlds – a quaint seaside community with lots of interesting things to do, with many the comforts and conveniences at home. Part of the appeal of the Oregon Coast is its isolation from the real world, but I have to admit that I was glad to find Walmart in Newport so I could stock up on diapers and other supplies for the rest of our road trip.
Newport is located about 90 minutes south of Tillamook, making it the only city on this list that is not a short drive from the rest. For an overview of all of the cities and towns along the Oregon Coast, check out this article from TripAdvisor.
The Oregon Coast can be a beautiful and dramatic destination year-round, but summer is the best time to find perfectly warm temperatures and sunshine. Large family or small, teens or toddlers, active vacation or relaxed, it’s hard to go wrong on the Oregon Coast.