Oregon’s Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is a 363 mile highway that runs the length of the coast, from Astoria to the north to Brookings to the south. This coastline boasts 75 state parks, 9 lighthouses, many breath-taking viewpoints, and miles and miles of beautiful beaches. It has always been a favorite destination for Oregonians and tourists alike.
One of the reasons that it has remained in such pristine condition is because Governor Tom McCall and the legislature passed the Oregon Beach Bill in 1965. The bill established free and public access to Oregon’s coast and up to 16 vertical feet above low tide line. This ensured that the beaches, sea stacks, coves, wildlife and sea life, and shoreline would be protected for future generations. As a result, the Oregon public shore is called, “The People’s Coast.”
David and I had visited part of the northern coast near Rockaway Beach last year. We liked it so much that we wanted to see more of it. So, one sunny day, we took a day trip to see some of the central coast.
The town of Lincoln City, where our adventure began, is only about a 2 hour drive from Portland. We stopped by the Visitor Center first and we learned about a special program that the city has implemented called “Finders Keepers.” Every day, they hide glass floats along its 7 miles of beach. Each float is a hand blown glass orb and, when you find it, it’s yours to keep. These treasures are “hidden” at random times above the high tide mark and below the beach embankment. The city’s only request is that you register it and that you only take one per person per year. When you register your “find,” you will receive a certificate of authenticity and the artist’s bio. If you want to make your own float, you can go to the Lincoln City Glass Center. Unfortunately we did not have time to search for a float but we thought that this was a very creative way to promote their city and its beaches.From Lincoln City, we drove 9 miles farther south on Hwy. 101 to Depoe Bay, which has the world’s smallest navigable harbor. This bay is also known as the “Whale Watching Capital of Oregon Coast.” It is a prime whale watching site because there is a pod of gray whales that remain in this area feeding for about 10 months of the year. We spoke to a lady who said that she had seen 7-8 whales in the bay at one time. We got to see 5-6 of them ourselves at several locations along the coast. It was so fascinating to watch them.
About 5 miles from Depoe Bay is Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area. The punchbowl is a geological feature along the rocky coast. It is thought that at one time there were two caves carved out by the ocean’s force. Both caves collapsed leaving only the sides and a round open-air punchbowl formation. When the tide is low, you can hike down into the caves and look up through the opening. When the tide is high, the punchbowl fills with water. If you don’t want to hike down to see it, you can view it from the overlook area on the cliff. From the overlook, we spotted another enormous gray whale feeding offshore. We also watched a group of surfers waiting to “catch a wave” down below.
Our next stop was at the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, the second oldest one on the Oregon coast. Located in Newport, this lighthouse first came to life in 1873. The Fresnel lens made in Paris in 1868 is still in use today and is visible 19 miles offshore. Sitting 162 feet atop the Yaquina Head cliff, this 93 feet tall beacon of light is the tallest one on the Oregon Coast. In addition to the lighthouse itself, there is a dwelling which was built for the lighthouse keeper and his family. It is truly a lovely sight to behold on a calm and sunny day.
Managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area has an Interpretive Center near the lighthouse that is open from 10 AM – 4 PM. They also offer tours of the lighthouse but you must reserve those in advance. Although we arrived too late to take one of the tours, we were able to see a pair of peregrine falcons that were nesting near the Interpretive Center. One of the rangers had set up a viewing scope and we were able to see them up close. That was a real treat.
By the time we left the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, we were hungry so we made our way to Newport’s Historic Bayfront. David had found us a good restaurant, Local Ocean, which was right on the waterfront. Not only was the meal great but the view from our table couldn’t be beat. As we looked out over the harbor, we saw fishing boats coming and going and we could hear the sea lions that make their home there. Newport is the largest city on the central Oregon Coast and is also known as “the friendliest town.” We certainly found the people there to be very welcoming.
We had a fun time exploring some of the central part of the Oregon Coast. Surprisingly, by the end of the day we had only driven along 25 miles of the coastline. So, after today, that leaves us about 300 more miles to see. I guess we will just have to plan another trip to the Oregon Coast soon.