Pacific Coast Highway road trip: San Francisco to Portland – Part 2


The Pacific Coast Highway is known as one of the most scenic drives in the world. As we drove from  San Francisco to Portland, we stretched this adventure on the period of five days. At a slow pace, we saw stunning coastal views, quaint towns, beautiful dunes, lush forests, and more. Read Road Trip from San Francisco to Portland – Part 1  first. Then, I invite you to travel with us into the second part of this fabulous road trip.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip – Day 3

Klamath, in California to Coos Bay, in Oregon

Distance driven: approximately 155 miles

Hotel: Edgewater Inn Coos Bay

Day three was a hop-on-hop-off stretch of the trip. The sun didn’t set until 9:00 pm, so the day was long enough for countless quick stops that revealed more beauty than we could predict.

Yurok Loop Trail

Pacific Coast HighwayIt is a short loop that starts from the Lagoon Creek Picnic Area right alongside Highway 101 and immediately enters a small wooded patch. Despite hiking only the first quarter-mile, we still had beautiful views of trees, the ocean, and dense vegetation adorned with late spring wildflowers.

Battery Point Lighthouse and Museum

Because the line was too long, we didn’t go in. Instead, we wandered between the tide pools and appreciated the views of the building. Interestingly, we learned that visits to the Battery Point Lighthouse are only possible at low tides. During high tide, the water isolates the building from the mainland. For more information about directions, schedule, and history, click here.

Pacific Coast Highway

Note: After leaving Crescent City at 11:30 am, we crossed the border between California and Oregon.

Harris Beach State Park

Located just outside downtown Brookings, this park was not only a perfect spot to stretch our legs but also a treat for our eyes. Featuring miles of soft sand, scattered rock formations, and colorful pools, the beach was gorgeous. The low tide permitted us to take a short walk while our daughter ran up and down from the gentle waves that brushed the sand.

House Rock Viewpoint

Pacific Coast Highway

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is a 12-mile stretch of coastline with a dozen viewpoints and pull-outs that lead to scenic vistas along Highway 101. The House Rock was the first viewpoint we checked in the area. Situated about 6 miles from downtown Brookings, it was a nice spot to look up the coast and spot the House Rock at a distance.

Natural Bridges Viewpoint

Pacific Coast Highway

Natural Bridges Viewpoint is an obligatory stop when traveling on the corridor. From the parking area, a section of the Coast Trail led us to an overlook that offered a phenomenal view of natural sea bridges. Despite being impressed, we quickly figured out that an overcast day or an early morning are the best time to visit this site. As the sun rises, the sunlight reflects on the bridges and adjacent foliage, making it difficult to see and photograph. My picture doesn’t do justice to the beauty of this place.

Arch Viewpoint

Pacific Coast Highway

Arch Rock, a massive natural rock arch standing in the Pacific Ocean, is located at the north end of the State Scenic Corridor. Like other sea arches, it was formed by powerful waves that cracked the hard rock until a notch formed. The best angle to see it is at the end of a short trail starting from the parking area.

Kissing Rock

Kissing Rock is an interesting rock formation that, depending on your imagination, may look like anything but a kiss. Yet, surrounded by the ocean, a long stretch of sandy beach, and small sand dunes covered by beach grass, it was a beautiful place to see.

Prehistoric Gardens

Situated on the side of Highway 101, Prehistoric Gardens hosts nearly two dozen life-size dinosaur sculptures. Replicas of prehistoric plants are also on display. As each model has informative signs, this self-guided tour was an educational experience for all of us. We easily saw the whole place in about 30 minutes.

For more information about tickets, address, and hours, click here.

Cape Blanco Lighthouse

I was disappointed when, at the gate of Cape Blanco Lighthouse, we found out it had already closed for the day. Despite not even getting close to the sight, it was interesting to know that this isolated lighthouse holds at least four Oregon records: 1) it is the oldest continually operating lighthouse, 2) it is the most westerly, 3) it has the highest lens above the sea (256 feet), and 4) Oregon’s first woman keeper, Mabel Bretherton, signed on 1903.

For more information, click here.

Bandon, OR

Pacific Coast Highway

Bandon is a charming coastal town on the south side of the Coquille River that captured our hearts. The Old Town district is lively and filled with restaurants, charming stores, and arts. The Washed Ashore Gallery features extraordinary sculptures designed by local artists that transformed trash removed from the ocean into art. While in town, we strolled through the area, checked the seals in the marina, browsed some stores, ate, and stopped at the historic Coquille River Lighthouse on the north side of the river.

Cape Arago Loop

The Cape Arago Beach Loop combines three consecutive state parks that provide stunning cliffside views of the rugged Oregon coast, crashing waves, and wildlife. As we chose to drive straight to Cape Arago State Park, located at the end of Cape Arago Highway, our plan was to make a couple of stops on our way back.

Pacific Coast Highway

The drive was absolutely fascinating! In Cape Arago State Park we not only enjoyed the spectacular views but also had a glimpse of a juvenile grey whale. In Shore Acres State Park, we appreciated the dramatic shoreline with odd rock formations, steep cliffs, and restless waves. In the Sunset Bay State Park, from a small beach partially protected by towering sea cliffs, we watched a splendid sunset.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip – Day 4

Coos Bay to Cannon Beach

Distance driven: approximately 215 miles

Hotel: The Seaside Oceanfront Inn

It was our last full day on the road. Switching between activities, brief stops and drive-thrus, we had a pleasant balanced day.

Sand surfing the dunes of Florence

While planning this trip, we read about Sand Master Park and the beautiful dunes in Florence.  Located right off Highway 101, it features forty acres of sculpted sand dunes that please both novice sandboarders and pros. When our daughter (a snowboarder fan) heard about it, she immediately convinced us to make it the top of our list. I’m glad we did. We not only attempted to sandboard for the first time but also adventured on a dune buggy ride.

We started with the 30-minute dune buggy tour and LOVED it. It was thrilling but never unsafe. Our motorist drove so fast (permission given) that several times all I saw was a cloud of sand soaring on my side. When we finished, we had sand in our hair, mouth, ears, nose, and inside of our clothes. A week later, despite several washes, I could still find bits of sand in my daughter’s curly hair.

Next, came the sandboarding. Following basic instructions at the rental shop, we headed to the nearby smaller dunes where we practiced for about an hour. Feeling confident, we moved to the bigger slopes located behind Fred Meyer store. It was fun, but the peak of our morning was at Honeyman State Park. It not only provided longer rides, but also phenomenal views of dunes, lakes, and flora. Our daughter had a blast, and so did we. The initial plan was to spend a couple of hours at the park, but we played for the entire morning.

Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

Click here for more information about directions, hours, and rates.

Sea Lion Cave

The Sea Lion Cave was another remarkable nature experience. First of all, it is America’s largest sea cave. Stretching the full length of a football field and soaring to the height of a 12-story building, it holds plenty of educational material that tells the history of the cave, plus all the animals that use the place as their natural habitat. An open hole on the cave’s wall provided an extended view of over 100 sea lions resting on the boulders or riding the waves as they enter the area. In the opposite direction, another opening on the wall gave us a view of the coast and of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.

Sea Lion Cave

An elevator to the right of the Visitor Center took us to the cave. Constructed in a drilled and blasted 215-foot vertical tunnel through solid rock, the elevator travels a distance equivalent to 20 stories in about 50 seconds.

Pacific Coast Highway

Back on top, to the left of the Visitor Center, there is another viewing area where we saw over 200 sea lions sunbathing on a beach. To our delight, a whale made a brief appearance on the water’s surface.

Cook’s Chasm

Cook’s Chasm is a volcanic, rocky formation along the Oregon Coast, just three miles south of Yachats. Due to waves constantly crashing into the shore, caves and holes formed. Through those caves and holes, strong currents burst up in the air. Thor’s Well and Spouting Horn are two examples of these wonders.

Pacific Coast Highway

Thor’s Well is a circular, 20-foot deep hole with openings at the top and bottom. At high tide, as the waves roll underneath, the water explodes through the top aperture in a forceful spray. Then the water drains back, making Thor’s Well constantly overflowing and emptying itself.

Spouting Horn sits in a narrow sea cave sculpted into the rougher sections of the coast. When a big wave crashes against the walls, water forces through the opening, causing a whale-like spray.

Lincoln City: D River and 45th parallel

Driving thru on Highway 101, just outside of Lincoln City, we glimpsed two interesting signs. First was ‘D River, the world’s shortest river.’ In the past, there was a debate between Lincoln City, in Oregon, and Great Falls, in Montana, over which of them gets to be the home of the world’s shortest river. In 1990, after many discussions, Guinness listed the Oregon D River, 120-feet-long, as the world’s shortest during high tides.

Then we passed the 45th Parallel North. As we explained to our daughter what that means, she was fascinated to hear that we were crossing the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole.  

Tillamook Creamery

Visiting the Tillamook Creamery was entertaining and informative. Through wide glass windows on the second floor, the three of us watched the step-by-step cheese production line. Wall signs outline the process as it starts when the milk arrives and ends when cheese is packed and ready to leave the facility. Humans and robots work side-by-side, assembling packages. We ended touring the area at the sample bar where we tasted a variety of Tillamook cheeses.

Downstairs, we browsed through the enormous gift shop. We wanted to eat at the restaurant and have their renowned ice cream, but the lines were ridiculously long. Next time!

Garibaldi’s Pier

Pacific Coast Highway

At over 700 feet in length, Garibaldi’s Pier’s End pier is the longest in Oregon. A stroll to the end of it was the perfect way to wrap up our day as we felt surrounded by silence and the stunning view of Tillamook Bay. It is located across U.S. Highway 101 from the historical Coast Guard Headquarters building.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip- Day 5

Cannon Beach to Portland

Before heading out to Portland, we toured Cannon Beach as much as we could. The city was getting ready for the parade, so some streets were closed. After breakfast at Crepe Neptune, we left the city to visit Haystack Rock.

Haystack Rock

Haystack Rock rises 235 feet at the edge of the shoreline. Despite the cold, gray day, it was still beautiful as the beach seemed magical and mysterious with Haystack Rock majestically sitting on the pristine coastline. Few other people were in the area. Because we visited at low tide, we walked right up to it and checked the tidepools crammed with sea stars, anemones, and other creatures.

Wrapping up

Cannon Beach was the end of this fabulous road trip. From there, we drove about 90 miles straight to Portland, where we stayed for three days. The northwest coast is gorgeous, and I’m so glad we finally had a chance to see a lot of it. There is much more to explore. The three of us agreed we would love to go back one day. And we will.

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