US Route 101 is one of the most breathtaking road trips in America, winding along 363 miles of the Oregon coast.
Traveling between the mouth of the Columbia River and the old-growth redwoods of Northern California, you’ll encounter charming costal towns about every thirty miles along the drive. A local historian recently explained to me this is the approximate distance a horse could travel in a day.
We spent the better part of this past summer driving 101 in sections. This strategy provided an unhurried, in-depth appreciation for the diversity and natural beauty of the entire coast. Some towns, like Cannon Beach, are well known for romantic vacations. And of course, Tillamook draws busloads of hungry tourists in search of ice cream and cheese. Here are our four favorite towns for families.
West of Portland
Rockaway Beach: Rockaway Beach is an excellent place to fly a kite. Near constant winds and a wide, sandy beach are a perfect combination and likely on any random sunny afternoon. When your neck is sore from looking into the sky, wander down the main drag in search of an ice cream cone or watch a glass-blowing demonstration at one of several local art studios.
Neskowin: If you find yourself in Neskowin at low tide, walk out to the beach and look for the 2,000-year-old remains of decayed cedar and spruce tree trunks. Another low-tide activity we enjoy is buying a clamming license so we can dig for our dinner. We found a bucket full of steamer clams under the Girabaldi pier earlier (above, right) this summer, but you’ll find popular clamming spots all up and down the coast.
Newport: One of the larger costal communities, Newport offers opportunities to watch fishing and crabbing boats come into port. We like to dine at Rogue Brewers on the Bay (take a brewery tour if you have the time.) Families with younger kids will enjoy the Oregon Coast Aquarium or the free Hatfield Marine Science Center.
West of Eugene
Florence: One of our favorite destinations is Florence, located in the heart of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and the birthplace of sandboarding. A historic downtown district offers plenty of options for shopping and fine dining. Just north of town are the sea-lion caves and the highly-photographed Heceta Head Lighthouse.
Of course, you can’t go wrong simply walking the beach or exploring one of the many state parks, natural forests, wildlife refuges, and marine reserves. Each town has a chamber of commerce or visitors center with maps, tide tables and suggestions for local activities.
Have you driven along the Oregon Coast? Share your favorite town below!
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Julie Henning is the new owner (but longtime editor) of the family travel website Road Trips for Families. She recently moved to Eugene, Oregon with her husband, three kid, and black lab.