The beautiful central Oregon coast is a heady mix of rugged rocks, imposing cliffs and some amazing sandy beaches
The Oregon Coast is beautiful and rugged, but even in the height of the summer, there are few days where you would describe it as a “beach” holiday in the true sense. The Pacific Ocean crashes hard into the Oregon coast, especially in the winter when the waters are stirred up but frequent storms. It has more than its fair share of rain and wind.
That said the coastline is beautiful, there are some wonderful beaches which are rarely crowded and make for fabulous walks, even in the winter. We love going there just to see the Ocean and blow away the cobwebs of daily life.
For this trip we decided to stop in two cities along the central Oregon coast; Yachats (pronounced Yar-harts) and Florence.
- Seal Rock (14 miles North of Yachats)
- Thors Well (3 miles South of Yachats)
- Devil’s Churn (2 miles South of Yachats)
- Heceta Head (12 miles North of Florence, 13 miles South of Yachats)
- Sea Lion Caves (10 miles North of Florence, 15 miles South of Yachats)
- Florence (25 miles south of Yachats)
- Oregon Dunes (22 miles south of Florence)
Our first stop was in Yachats, where we had booked into a small cottage via Airbnb. The town is small with a handful of small boutique shops, bars and restaurants. There is a very small bay that provides a beach at low tide, but apart from that, there is no beach to speak of. What there is are some lovely walks along the coast where there are rock pools and small patches of sand where you can find tortured pieces of driftwood.
March, needless to say, can be quite chilly on the Pacific coast in the North West and it was indeed a grey, chilly day when we headed north from Yachats to Seal Rock. It is about a 14-mile journey along Highway 101. The weather was bracing when we arrived so not surprisingly the beach was empty. Braving the elements we walked the path down to the beach and took a walk along the shore. Appropriately, there were a number of seals basking on the rocks just off the main Seal Rock edifice.
Thor’s Well is found on the Oregon coast near Cape Perpetua. At first sight, it appears the be a gaping, seemingly bottomless sinkhole swallowing the unbroken stream of seawater around it. Thor’s Well, as the natural wonder is known, is not actually bottomless; it is, however, very dangerous.
Also known as the drainpipe of the Pacific, the well is actually a hole in the rock that only appears to drain water from the ocean. According to some researchers, the Well probably started out as a sea cave dug out by the waves before the roof eventually collapsed and created openings at the bottom and top through which the ocean sprays. The huge hole is likely only around 20 feet (six metres) deep, but it still manages to produce amazing sights. (Not for the faint of heart, however!)
The site is most spectacular at high tide, or during storms when water washes violently over the rocks and funnels into the hole. During these sudden torrents, unsuspecting visitors to the site run the risk of being swept right into the maelstrom.
It is only a 25-mile drive south from Yachats to Florence, but there are several interesting places to stop off en route.
Located just south of Yachats is the Devil’s Churn, a wave carved inlet. Here you can watch the crashing waves and the dramatic churning action of the ocean. You can stand high above on the cliffs and look down on the frothing waters below or if you are more adventurous, you can take the path and stairs down the very edge (which is quite scary, so if you have kids you need to keep a close eye on them). The walk down is easy but coming back up, of course, is a bit more challenging – but you don’t have to be too fit.
This deep chasm exposes the shoreline’s volcanic history and shows the relentless, violent power of the ocean. The chasm likely started as a narrow fracture or collapsed lava tube in the volcanic bedrock. Over many thousands of years under the constant pounding force of the ocean waves it’s now more than 80 feet wide where it opens at the ocean.
Just 12 miles north of Florence is Heceta Head. Here you’ll find a very nice little beach and nestled above this a lighthouse. The lightkeepers house is actually a bed and breakfast if you want to stay there. There are trails up to the lighthouse itself and beyond that, the trail system heads off north along the coast.
We took the trail up to the lighthouse. It is a little steep but not very challenging. The lighthouse itself is very cute and gives a great view down on the beach and along the coast. There is a trail that climbs up above the lighthouse and eventually connects with the Hobbit Trail. We decided to go a little away along the track. The trail is clearly marked but rustic and being spring there was a lot of muddy spots to negotiate. The route takes you through some ancient forest and we were lucky enough to be there when there was some dappled sunlight which made the whole experience magical. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to see a Hobbit!
Highway 101 climbs steeply from the beach at Heceta Head and at the top there is a pull-in that provides an excellent view back toward the lighthouse. Also below there is a beach where you will often see (and almost certainly hear) Californian sea lions frolicking on the beach and in the crashing waves. When we were here in March was also saw a bald eagle roosting on the rocks and grey whales. In the springtime, you will see the whales on their migration from Baja, Mexico where they breed on their way to the feeding grounds off of Alaska. We were extremely lucky to see several whales and one in particular who was very frisky and breached (where the whale leaps clear out of the water) many times as it travelled northwards.
Sea Lions Caves
Just a little bit further on from this pull-in there is a small visitors centre for the sea lions caves. Here you can pay to take some steps down into a cave which sea lions frequent. It costs $14.00 for adults and $8.00 for children.
Sea Lion Caves is America’s largest sea cave and the year-round home of the Steller sea lion, but sea lions are not always in the Cave. They are wild animals and we are not a zoo so these protected animals come and go as they please, as is their nature. Winter months will usually find hundreds of sea lions in the Cave and when spring arrives, breeding and birthing time, the sea lions will move from the Cave to the rookery areas (the rock ledges out in front of the Cave) and will remain there through the summer.
We have been here in the past and in our opinion, it is not worth the cost or effort – especially as you can see them for free from the cliffs. There are often not that many sea lions in the caves and the smell are, well, ghastly!
As you enter Florence from the North you will see signs for Darlingtonia State Natural Site. If you are interested in unusual fauna then it is well worth a little detour. Darlingtonia are found in boggy areas in Northern California and Southwestern Oregon. Their leaves look very similar to cobra heads and they are carnivorous, luring flies with their nectar and trapping them inside where they come to their end in a pool of digestive juices. Urgh! It only takes a little while to walk around the site. We were here in March which is not the best season to see these plants in their full glory – for that you need to be here in late Spring / early Summer.
Now to Florence.
Were had decided to spend a couple of days here and had booked ourselves in what turned out to be a delightful Airbnb cottage, only steps from the beach.
The beach at Florence is phenomenal. It is vast and is lined by some very impressive sand dunes. It was a beautiful sunny day and we decided soon after arriving at the cottage to head out for a nice walk along the beach. As we worked our way to the beach it felt very pleasant to be outside in the warm spring sun. Sadly, our moment of pleasure was to be short-lived because as soon as we peaked the sand dunes we were greeted by a robust and cold wind. We remained sanguine in the prospect of our walk, and we headed out regardless. One of the characteristics of beaches in the North West United States is a healthy collection of driftwood and some clever folks had taken these and turned them into quite elaborate structures. On a warmer day we may have spent time admiring them, but today they simply offer welcome shelter from the blustery onshore breeze.
We had not been here before and had only passed by on our travels up and down the coast – and we were pleasantly surprised. The town is set a little back from the coast along a river estuary so it was sheltered from the wind so it was very pleasant to be walking around even at the end of March. There is a very quaint marina and a couple of streets of admittedly touristy shops – but it was a pleasure to walk around and peruse the shops. There are also a number of good looking restaurants (we didn’t have time to try any) and several coffee shops (which we did try a couple of … which were excellent). The most iconic landmark in the town is the bridge over the river which leads south to the large and impressive Oregon Sand Dunes State Park. If you like riding off-road vehicles over large and steep sand dunes without heading to the Sahara desert.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is a special place. One of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world, the stark, mist-shrouded views of dunes, forests, and ocean in such close proximity to one another are rare and hauntingly beautiful. Many plants and animals, including some found in few other places, call this area home. In 1972, Congress designated this 31,500-acre portion of the Siuslaw National Forest as a National Recreation Area in recognition of its unique values.
Adventure and solitude await! Among the tree islands, open dunes, wetlands, and beaches you will find Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) riding, hiking, paddling, wildlife viewing, birding, camping, picnicking or simply stroll among the dunes and along the vast expanses of sandy beach.
Where to stay
The Fireside Inn in Yachats provides a stunning overlook onto the Pacific Ocean, in just a few steps you are out onto the path that runs along the shoreline where you can watch the waves crashing on to the rocks below.
This is a pet-friendly hotel so you can bring along Fido. Amenities include; free continental breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and free parking. There is even a charging station for electric vehicles!
To get more information check out hotels.com
More upscale and therefore pricey than the Fireside Inn is the Overleaf Lodge which sits above Oregon’s rugged coast, with pounding surf and tide pools just a few feet from the Lodge. Accommodations offer spectacular ocean views, many from private hot tubs.
Overleaf Lodge offers a full-service spa, work out room, steam rooms and sauna, while just outside is the historic 804 Trail, which follows the path of the Indigenous Peoples and later settlers.
Check out hotels.com for more information
Deane’s Oceanfront Lodge is a 2-star motel centrally located in Yachats. Reasonably priced with Ocean access you’ll love this place. The accommodation is basic but clean and comfortable. They claim the newly renovated rooms have ‘vintage charm’ with their whitewashed cedar walls. Some of the rooms are Ocean facing – all have a microwave oven and flat-screen TV, and there are some with kitchenettes.
The lodge is pet friendly and has free Wi-Fi and plenty of parking.
For more information on the Wayside Inn check out hotels.com
The River House Inn is nestled in Old Town Florence on the Siuslaw River. The Inn is within walking distance of the best shops, galleries, and restaurants in town—just a block or two down Bay Street from our front door.
This 2 start Inn is moderately priced. Most rooms have a river view and a private balcony. Amenities include; free continental breakfast, free WiFi, and free parking. The River House Inn is not pet friendly.
To get more information check out hotels.com
If you are interested in a beachfront hotel then the Driftwood Shores Resort might be more for you. It is located only steps away from the spectacular Heceta Beach, which is a long sandy beach. Accommodations offer spectacular ocean views
Driftwood Shores has an indoor pool and a restaurant. There is also free Wi-Fi and plenty of parking. The city centre of Florence is 5 miles away, so it is not really walkable.
Check out hotels.com for more information
The Best Western Pier Point Inn is a 2 1/2 star hotel centrally located in Florence. Reasonably priced and on the waterfront, you’ll love this place. The Inn is an easy walk to downtown Florence with its quaint shops, bars and restaurants. You can also walk along the Suislaw River and enjoy the marina.
The Inn is pet friendly and has free Wi-Fi and plenty of parking. It also has a gym and an indoor pool. The hotel restaurant has a fabulous view of the river.
For more information on the Pier Point Inn check out hotels.com
How to get there