California has long been the stronghold of American beach culture; long hair tussled by hours in salt water, permanently sandy beachside bungalows, and a general bohemian lifestyle. Unfortunately, that idyllic image is getting lost; mansions and boutique shopping are replacing many classic beach towns. Out in the surf lineup, it’s likely 50% middle-aged tech CEOs who just relocated from Ohio and bought a board at Costco. The California surfer dude is an endangered species. Quietly, many worshipers of the simpler beach bum life are beginning to appear in the north, in Oregon. The Oregon coast is undeniably beautiful — wild seas have created sandy beaches that retreat into densely forested and dramatic cliff lines for miles.
As for the local culture, much of the coast is scarcely populated but the small towns reveal a slightly harder version of the classic beach stereotype. Surfers aren’t bare-chested but instead fully suited-up to protect themselves from the cold waters. The rest of the population are mostly long-time residents that at first glance toe the line of beach hippie and hardcore Pacific fishermen. Whether to escape the costs, crowds and bougie culture of their southern neighbors, to surf, or to generally experience a coastline that is largely untouched, Oregon has many remarkable beaches worthy of visiting. Our following top picks highlight some of the best.
A town of only about 8,500 people, Lincoln City recently got a lot of hype, as it was the first city in America to experience totality during the 2017 Eclipse. Much of the city is along the coast but backs up to a lake less than a mile from the coast. Called Devil’s Lake, it’s connected to the Pacific by one of the shortest rivers in the world. When retreating from the beach the city offers a popular historical museum and lots of crafts studios, some notably specializing in glassblowing art.
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
A peninsula extending into the ocean from Agate Beach, the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is accessible from multiple trails that wind through spruce and fir trees. Beyond the forests, the paths continue on to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse is the tallest in Oregon and one of the most picturesque spots in the state with the roads and footpaths skating through a meadow often populated by seasonal wildflowers. Standing tall above the cliffs, the lighthouse maintains a very traditional look as it has been essentially untouched since being built in Paris in 1868.
Working its reputation up to be one of the champions of the Oregon surf scene, Cannon Beach, despite its small stature, is arguably the most scenic beach in Oregon. Towering sea stacks, freestanding rock formations climbing out of the waves intermittently guard the beach. The most iconic of these, Haystack Rock, a monolith at 235 feet, is best known for its size and shark fin shape. Ecola State Park connects to Cannon Beach and is admired by archeological buffs, as it was a significant site for the Tillamook tribe. For those doubting Cannon’s scenic qualities, here’s a fun fact: Cannon was a primary filming location for cult classic movies The Goonies and Point Break (also for Twilight, but whatever).
Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area
An hour and a half road trip down Highway 101 from Cannon Beach is Pacific City, home to the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. Cape Kiwanda has a reputation for a combination of wind and swells that make it a playground for the occasional thrill seeking kiteboarder or windsurfer. Rising above the sea, Cape Kiwanda has one lofty sand dune and climbing it makes for a fun, family-friendly activity after a picnic on the shore.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
A little under a two-hour drive west from Eugene, Oregon’s second largest city and home to the popular University of Oregon Ducks, Oregon Dunes is conveniently in between admired coastal towns Florence and Coos Bay. Great for camping and letting an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) loose, Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area is comprised of 40 miles of wind-blown sand dunes that will please the hardiest of adventurers, as well as traditional families.
It’s possible that some Oregonians and proud outdoors people may not want this location revealed, but even with the proper directions, getting to Secret Beach takes some work. Located off mile marker 345 on the 101, visitors must hike a moderately difficult out and back trail for 1.5 miles. Those electing to make the trek are treated to a secluded beach amongst a cove created by rocks protruding from the Pacific Ocean. Some lucky beachgoers may get good glimpses at sea lions or even spy migratory gray whales in the distance.