There’s something special about the Oregon coast. With 363 miles of free and public shoreline, getting sandy is a given, but the best beaches here come with bonuses like whales and sea lions as well as scenic stretches to send kites soaring. You can learn how to catch Dungeness crabs and identify plankton, go hiking or simply wander through colorful seaside towns in search of seafood and saltwater taffy. Instead of a swimsuit, pack a sweatshirt (or two) and take advantage of all the family-friendly activities the coast has to offer.
Visiting the Family-Friendly Oregon Coast
Most families start a coastal Oregon adventure by touching down at Portland International Airport. Depending on traffic, driving to the central coast will take a bit more than two hours. Parents looking to break up the drive with a little adult pampering (and to break up the drive) can consider a quick stop at White Rose Estate Winery & Vineyard. Do some wine tasting or simply pick up a bottle to enjoy later. A scenic stretch overlooking the vineyards offers little ones a nice spot to stretch their legs and work out pent-up travel wiggles.
A Seaside Stop in Newport
Newport is the type of coastal town that will make the whole family smile. Lined with boats, colorful maritime murals and plenty of shops, wandering here at any pace comes easy. But Newport isn’t just for visitors. It’s home to a bustling fishing fleet, and in between storefronts you’ll see fishermen unloading their boats with the catch of the day.
Stand just about anywhere and you can see and hear sea lions making a ruckus. Make your way to the Port Dock One for a bird’s-eye view of the sea lion docks — it’s located on the Newport Bay Front and easy to find. Male sea lions have hauled out here for almost 20 years. While it’s smaller than San Francisco’s similar hangout spot at Pier 39, the sea lions put on quite a show, barking, splashing and snoozing in the sunshine. Males migrate to Oregon in late summer, remaining through early spring, when they return to the Channel Islands of Southern California for breeding season. Oregon State University hosts a sea lion webcam that’ll get young and old excited about a visit.
Wildlife On the Water
The more you know about the Oregon coast and its wilder inhabitants, the more you’ll appreciate its beauty. Marine Discovery Tours operates two-hour sea life cruises from the Newport Bay Front. Seasoned captains and onboard naturalists are top-notch, sharing information in a relaxing and enjoyable way. Routes can vary a bit depending on ocean conditions, but during your family’s time on the water, you’ll look for a variety of wildlife including gray whales, seals, sea lions, harbor porpoise and a number of marine birds. Sailors of all ages will learn how to identify plankton, see historic lighthouses and catch Dungeness crab. If you’re feeling brave, the crew will teach you how to hold a crab without fear of being bitten.
Having crabs scurrying at their feet just might encourage younger kids to give seafood a try. About a 5-minute walk from the Marine Discovery Tours dock is Local Ocean, a neighborhood favorite with fantastic harbor views. The downstairs boasts an open kitchen, tables and a fish market where all of the fresh, locally sourced seafood includes the name of the boat responsible for the catch. Upstairs are more tables in a bit of a quieter setting.
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Oregon Coast Aquarium
As it’s less than two miles from Local Ocean, a stop at the Oregon Coast Aquarium is easy to squeeze in after lunch. Along with a number of indoor exhibits, the aquarium offers outdoor exhibits that are home to sea otters, harbor seals, California sea lions and a giant Pacific octopus. The Seabird Aviary is one of the largest walk-through aviaries in North America.
See the Lights
Newport is home to two lighthouses. Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, built in 1871 and the only historic wooden Oregon lighthouse still standing, is believed to be the oldest structure in the city. It takes just two flights of stairs to reach the watch room. More tiring is a trip up the 114 steps at Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Oregon’s tallest. First lit in 1873, this 93-foot tower that took about a year and more than 370,000 bricks to build. Ranger-led tours are offered daily, when staffing and weather permit.
Shoreline Sand and Scenery
The Yaquina Head Lighthouse is just one of many attractions at the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area — rangers on duty can help families plan activities like tidepooling and wildlife sighting. During high tide, harbor seals often rest on the rocks at Quarry Cove, and during the spring breeding season you might even catch sight of pups on the shores. Long, sandy Agate Beach is visible from the Yaquina Head ONA, but to reach it you’ll need to head a quarter of a mile south on Highway 101 to the Agate Beach Wayside turnoff.
Rugged as opposed to sandy, Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint doesn’t fit the definition of the typical beach. But no one in the family will miss building sandcastles — they’ll be too busy trying to spot gray whales. Bring a picnic and binoculars and enjoy the show. Boiler Bay is named for the remnants of the freighter ship J. Marhoffer, which shipwrecked off the point in 1910. At low tide, the ship’s boiler is visible, inspiring the area’s name.
Local surfers and paddlers come to Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area in search of the perfect wave. Located in Pacific City, it’s home to striking Haystack Rock (not to be confused with the more famous Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach) and the Pacific Dory Fleet of flat-bottomed boats that take off from the beach into the waves.
Families who enjoy hiking will want to save at least a few hours to explore Cape Lookout State Park. Considered an easy to moderate hike, the Cape Trail is 2.4 miles to the end of Cape Lookout. Depending on how fast you move and how many photos you take, expect the trek to take one to two hours each way. You’ll see all ages and abilities, including leashed dogs, on Cape Trail. It’s fairly flat and level, so older school-age kids accustomed to hiking should be up to the challenge of this out-and-back trail. But keep them in arm’s reach: At some spots, rocky cliffs that give way to panoramic views also plunge hundreds of feet to the ocean below.
And just a reminder: Layers are your friend almost everywhere along the Oregon Coast. It’s better to have them and be able to peel them off than endure a coastal chill.
Where to Stay Along the Oregon Coast with Kids
There are a number of seaside motels along the central Oregon Coast, but Salishan Spa & Golf Resort is a bit of a local legend. Opened in 1965, the resort blends beautifully with the 250 acres of forested land it calls home. There are 205 rooms, but because of its layout and design, at times you’ll feel as though you have it to yourself.
Deluxe and Premier Rooms offer queen sleeper sofas and space for traveling families to spread out. Parents should take advantage of the spa and 18-hole golf course. There are also indoor tennis facilities, an indoor pool and a hot tub, along with a fitness center and sauna.
The four restaurants on the property include the Sun Room. Attic Lounge, the Grill and the resort’s signature restaurant, Samphire. Each boasts menus created using locally sourced farm foods, fish, cheese, wine and more. Executive Chef Andrew Garrison seems to have made friends with all the right providers.
Salishan is also home to an impressive collection of Pacific Northwest art. Kids may not take notice of the paintings, but the seal carved from a single piece of driftwood should make them smile.
Editor’s Note: Dana’s trip to Oregon was sponsored by Salishan Spa & Golf Resort. As always, our thoughts and opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Dana Rebmann.