Travel Nurse Assignments: Live Like a Local – Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast is one of the most magnificent places in the United States. With stunning beaches, charming locales, and unparalleled scenery, this stretch of coastline should be on every travel nurse’s bucket list. Let’s take a journey down U.S. Highway 101, which runs the entire length of the Oregon Coast, and explore some of the wonderful cities and towns along the way!
North Oregon Coast
The first stop on our journey down the Oregon Coast is the city of Astoria. Located where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, Astoria was the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Lewis and Clark ended their famous expedition south of Astoria at Fort Clatsop, where they first laid eyes on the Pacific. The city flourished during the nineteenth century as a major trading center for timber, fishing, and fur. While fishing and the sea remain a big part of Astoria’s identity, the city is no longer the major economic hub it once was. Today, tourism is the main breadwinner for Astoria, driven by the city’s natural beauty, historic charm, and reputation as the gateway to the Oregon Coast.
Things to Do
There are numerous natural and historic attractions to experience. Lewis and Clark National Historical Park takes you inside the reconstructed Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark’s expedition spent the winter of 1805-06. You can visit the site of their historic canoe landing and explore the multitude of trails and interpretive signs. Fort Stevens State Park is a 4,300-acre park situated on the coast and an excellent spot for beach activities and birdwatching. You’ll also find the remnants of the shipwreck Peter Iredale rusting on the beach. The ship ran aground in 1906 and is one of the most accessible shipwrecks on the Oregon Coast. It makes for a great photo opportunity, especially at sunset.
The Astoria Column is another impressive landmark worth visiting. The 125-foot column was designed as a monument to the west and was completed in 1926. It is adorned with artwork commemorating the history of Astoria, and visitors can climb the 164 steps to the observation deck for spectacular views of the city.
Take a walk on the Astoria Riverwalk to get a feel for the downtown vibes in the city. Along the way, you’ll find world-class museums like the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Also, along your route, check out delicious restaurants like Bridgewater Bistro and craft breweries like Astoria Brewing Company. If you don’t feel like walking, you can ride the historic streetcar instead. Astoria also has a growing arts scene and was featured in Hollywood films that became cult classics like The Goonies and Kindergarten Cop. You can visit locations throughout Astoria associated with the movies, including The Goonies house and the Oregon Film Museum.
Continuing south on U.S. Highway 101, we arrive in the beach community of Seaside. Seaside earned a reputation as a resort community for West Coast elites when people started building beach cottages in the late nineteenth century. One of these people was Alexandre Gilbert, a French immigrant, and businessman who became mayor of Seaside in 1912. As mayor, Gilbert was instrumental in developing Seaside by donating land and overseeing the town’s growth. He built the Gilbert District, which still survives today, and houses many of Seaside’s boutique shops, pubs, and eateries.
Things to Do
Gilbert also donated the land for the famous Seaside Promenade, which has become one of Seaside’s most beloved attractions. No visit is complete without a stroll along the 1.5-mile promenade. Whether you want to walk, bike, longboard, or rollerblade, it doesn’t matter! One thing is for sure; you’ll be treated to spectacular ocean views every step of the way! Seaside’s aesthetic is similar to Santa Monica or the Jersey Shore, with a mixture of beautiful scenery, fun arcade games, and amusement park rides. Explore the Tillamook Head National Recreation Trail on the north end of Ecola State Park. The trail takes you through a spectacular old-growth forest with occasional views of the water and a view of the abandoned Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Or, you can head inland to Saddle Mountain State Natural Area, cherished for rare wildflowers and stunning viewpoints of Oregon’s Coastal Range.
In town, check out the Seaside Aquarium, where you can see unique species endemic to the area and even feed some seals! For entertainment, visit the Funland Arcade with bumper cars and hundreds of arcade games to choose from. Or, head to Captain Kid Amusement Park for go-karts and mini-golf. For food and drink, Finn’s Fish House has outdoor seating just a few blocks from the beach, or try The Vineside, a wine bar specializing in small-plate tapas.
Arguably the crown jewel of the Oregon Coast, Cannon Beach is one of the most popular destinations in the entire state of Oregon. Like Seaside, the town started to grow as settlers moved to the area in the late nineteenth century. In 1898, a cannon from an old shipwreck was discovered at Arch Cape just south of town. This sparked a movement by locals to rename the town from Elk Creek to Cannon Beach. The scenery around Cannon Beach is truly unparalleled, headlined by the iconic Haystack Rock. This impressive sea stack rises 235 ft. in the air and makes for a stunning backdrop for photos. Climbing on Haystack Rock is forbidden because the rock is a sanctuary for birds and marine life. However, at low tide, you can walk right up to the rock to view tidepools with colorful sea stars and Tufted Puffins perched on the rock.
Things to Do
One of the most beloved beaches on the West Coast, you could spend your whole visit on Cannon Beach and leave happy. However, there’s even more great nature to experience outside of town. To the north, Ecola State Park awaits you with miles of hiking trails and secluded beaches. Take the Clatsop Loop Trail at Indian Beach, an easy hike that features interpretive signs and plenty of ocean views. The trail also hooks up with the Tillamook Head Trail in Seaside, so you can hike the entire length of the state park if you wish. To the south, Oswald West State Park has similar scenery and recreation opportunities. If you’re looking to catch the perfect wave, you’ll want to visit Short Sand Beach, which is popular with the local surfers.
Walking around Cannon Beach, you’ll find unique boutiques, impressive art galleries, and even a glassblowing studio. There are all kinds of events and festivals in the summer, including the annual Sandcastle Contest held every June. For food, you can’t leave without having a bowl of delicious clam chowder from Mo’s Restaurant or stop by the Public Coast Brewing House for a beer!
From Cannon Beach, we head inland to the pastoral town of Tillamook. The name comes from the Tillamook people who historically inhabited the area and are the southernmost tribe of the Coast Salish peoples. Nicknamed the land of cheese, trees, and ocean breeze, Tillamook has long been associated with dairy farming and agriculture. Farmers flocked to the area in the late nineteenth century due to the abundance of rain and fertile land perfect for growing crops and raising livestock. In 1909, Tillamook Creamery opened, cementing the town’s legacy as a dairy capital of the United States.
Things to Do
The creamery is the most popular attraction in town, and visitors come from far and wide to tour the 38,500 sq. ft. facility. There’s a farm exhibit where you can view the cows on the pasture and an indoor viewing gallery where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the cheese factory. Best of all, the tours are free to the public! There’s also a cafe with a menu chock-full of Tillamook products, including extra-creamy Tillamook ice cream!
If you’re lactose intolerant, don’t worry, you can still enjoy Tillamook! The best beaches near town are on the Bayocean Peninsula. It’s the perfect place to take a long walk, relax, and enjoy marine wildlife viewing. Cape Mears State Park is another scenic spot, albeit without any beaches. There is a beautiful lighthouse overlooking the ocean and a couple of short walking trails. It’s a prime nesting site for seabirds from April through July, and you might even spot a migrating gray whale. If you’re in the mood for a scenic drive, consider driving the Three Capes Scenic Loop. It’s one of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of the area.
Also, in town, the Tillamook Air Museum is a must-see for history buffs and aircraft enthusiasts. The museum is located inside a giant WWII blimp hangar. It has a couple of old planes on display, as well as an array of WWII artifacts. In August, the Tillamook County Fair takes over the town, featuring the iconic Pig-N-Ford Races!
Our first stop on the Central Oregon Coast is Lincoln City, an hour south of Tillamook. The city was unincorporated until 1965, when several communities in the area came together to form one big town. City officials determined that using one of the historical names of the aforementioned communities would be too controversial with residents. So, they started a contest to determine a new name. Lincoln City was chosen from an idea submitted by local school children and comes from the county’s name, which is named after Abraham Lincoln.
Things to Do
Lincoln City is a popular vacation destination for the major cities of Portland and Salem, and there are countless beach activities to enjoy. Roads End State Recreation Site offers secluded beach access perfect for quintessential long walks on the beach. A short trail from the parking area leads down to the beach next to a small creek. From the beach, you’ll be greeted by tidepools, shorebirds, and quaint beach cottages keeping watch over the area. Siletz Bay Park is another great spot to get in touch with the coastal nature, located on the north end of Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge. There are great walking trails near the wildlife refuge, where you’re almost guaranteed to see shorebirds and seals. The mudflats are also a popular spot for clamming and crabbing.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you’re walking around is the city’s connection to glass art and glassblowing. The Lincoln City Glass Center is located in the Historic Taft District and is a truly unique experience. Visitors can design their own piece of glass art or wander the gallery and shop to view beautiful examples of hand-blown glass. Finders Keepers is a tradition in the city where hand-blown glass floats are left along the beach for people to find. As the name suggests, if you find a glass float, you get to keep it! No strings attached! The Taft neighborhood is also a great spot for refreshments, with places like Shucker’s Oyster Bar and Rusty Truck Brewing.
About 25 miles south of Lincoln City, Newport is a bustling seaport and the largest city on the central Oregon Coast. The area was home to the Yaquina people, who inhabited the region for nearly three thousand years before the arrival of European settlers. Many places around Newport still bear the Yaquina name, including Yaquina Bay, Yaquina Head, and the Yaquina River. The town of Yaquina, four miles east of Newport, was the western terminus for the Oregon Pacific Railroad. Yaquina was a major destination for travelers from the Willamette Valley visiting the Oregon Coast. Today, if you drive through Yaquina, you would never know that such a town existed. Newport is certainly the commercial and tourist hub for the region.
Things to Do
It’s pretty clear why the town developed into a major travel destination. The city is teeming with natural beauty and boasts some of the best beaches on the entire coast. Places like Nye Beach were attracting tourists as early as the late 1800s. It’s the most visited beach in Newport because it’s easily accessible and adjacent to a funky neighborhood packed with great shops and eateries. Furthermore, Beverly Beach State Park is a premier recreation site just north of town, with miles of pristine beachfront. There’s a campground in the state park with campsites steps away from the water, so you can listen to the ocean as you sleep.
Moreover, South Beach State Park is popular with locals and tourists alike and is a prime spot for surfing and kayaking. From the park, you also have great views of the iconic Yaquina Bay Bridge, one of the most beautiful bridges in Oregon. If you visit Agate Beach State Recreation Site, consider taking the 4.4 mile Ocean to Bay Trail. The trail leads from the beach through a beautiful forest to Yaquina Bay. Arguably, the main attraction is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, located in Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. Built-in 1873, it’s the tallest lighthouse in Oregon and draws more than 350,000 visitors per year. In town, Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site also has a historic lighthouse and is a great place to bring your dog for a walk!
Also, in town, check out the Oregon Coast Aquarium. With over 15,000 marine animals to visit, it’s a must-see in Newport and consistently rated one of the top aquariums in the nation. If you’ve never been whale watching, Newport is one of the best places to try it out, and you can book a tour with Marine Discovery Tours. Newport is also a craft beer destination, so if you’re a connoisseur, you have to check out the Rogue Bayfront Public House or the Taphouse at Nye Creek.
25 miles south of Newport lies the hidden gem of Yachats (pronounced Yah-hots). The frequently mispronounced name of the town is a derivation of the Alsea name Ya’Xaik, which means “dark water at the foot of the mountain”. The Alsea were one of several tribes who inhabited the area, along with the Coos and Lower Umpqua. In the 1860s and 1870s, the U.S. government forcibly relocated these tribes 80 miles north of Yachats to make way for white settlers. Many peaceful Native Americans died during this upheaval.
Fast forward to the present day, and Yachats is a quiet beach town that is much less developed than their neighbors to the north and south. With a population of just under 700 people, it’s the place to go if you’re looking for peace and solitude or a romantic getaway. In 2007, Budget Travel magazine featured Yachats as one of the “10 Coolest Small Towns in Oregon.” The town was also listed among the “Top 10 Up-and-Coming Vacation Destinations in the U.S.” by Virtualtourist in 2009.
Things to Do
If outdoor recreation is your thing, this is the place for you! With tons of great hiking and biking trails, state parks, and scenic overlooks, the hardest part is figuring out what to do first! Smelt Sands State Recreation Site is a good place to unwind and watch the waves crash against the rocks. There’s also a short hiking trail that follows the coastline called The 804 Trail, with plenty of benches along the way to enjoy views of the ocean.
The 804 trail also connects with longer hiking trails like the Ya’Xaik Trail, which goes into the old-growth trees of Siuslaw National Forest. In town, browse the local shops and art galleries to get a sense of Yachats’ funky vibe. When you get hungry, you can stop for a slice of “zza” at Outta Gas Pizza or kick back with a refreshing pint at Yachats Brewing and Farmstore.
Further south, Yachats State Recreation Site offers some of the best views around, and the viewing platforms overlooking the state park are perfect for whale watching. Continue heading south to explore Cape Perpetua State Scenic Area, which towers 800 ft. above Yachats, and is the highest viewpoint on the Oregon Coast accessible by car. If you’d rather hike to the overlook, you can take Amanda’s Trail, which is 7.4 miles roundtrip. Back at sea level, you’ll find amazing photo opportunities at Thor’s Well, known as the drainpipe of the Pacific.
Our last stop along the central Oregon Coast is Florence, home of the Oregon Sand Dunes. The dunes formed millions of years ago from the sedimentary rock of the Coast Range Mountains. As rock was moved downstream by rivers, it tumbled and abraded itself into sand. Over time, wind and tides pushed the sand 2.5 miles up from the shoreline and formed the impressive dunes that exist today.
A Whale of a Time
Florence is also known for one of the most infamous incidents on the Oregon Coast. In 1970, a dead Sperm whale washed up on the beach. The whale was 45 ft. long, weighed 8 tons, and clearly had been dead for quite some time. The smell of the whale’s rotting flesh was overpowering, and highway crews from the Oregon Department of Transportation were called in to remove the carcass. After assessing their options, they decided to blow up the whale using dynamite. Let’s just say the plan did not work out as expected.
Spectators gathered on the bluffs above the beach to witness the demolition. When the dynamite was detonated, the blast sent chunks of whale flesh everywhere, sending people running for safety. No one was injured, but a parked car was destroyed by a large chunk of blubber over a quarter of a mile away. Most of the whale remained on the beach, and they had to bury what was left. You can learn more about this famous event at Exploding Whale Memorial Park. Needless to say, nobody ever tried to blow up a whale in Florence again.
Things to Do
There are beaches in Florence, but of course, the main attraction is the dunes. Oregon Sand Dunes National Recreation Area is an adult playground with Off-Highway Vehicle riding, hiking, paddling, wildlife viewing, and much more! You can rent dune buggies and ATVs at various locations, and it’s a great way to explore the dunes. The South Jetty Area is another scenic spot with dunes and beach access, and it’s also a popular windsurfing spot. If you want to get up close and personal with the wildlife, you’ve got to check out Sea Lion Caves, a private wildlife preserve, and America’s largest sea cave! In town, enjoy window shopping in Florence’s Historic Old Town, and stop into The Waterfront Depot for some delicious seafood!
Our first stop on the last leg of our journey is Coos Bay, the most populous city on the Oregon Coast. The bay is the lifeblood of the city and was the catalyst for population growth and economic prosperity in the region. Historically, the Coos, Lower Umpqua, Siuslaw, and Coquille tribes lived, hunted, and fished along the bay for thousands of years. The town began to develop after survivors of the Captain Lincoln shipwreck established a permanent settlement in 1852. During WWII, the government used the shipyards to build minesweepers and rescue tugs, and national lumber companies began expanding operations in the region, significantly contributing to the town’s development.
Things to Do
Known as the gateway to Oregon’s adventure coast, Coos Bay bustles with a busy harbor and scenic state parks. Cape Arago State Park is teeming with natural scenery, and it’s the perfect spot to watch fishing boats and merchant ships entering and leaving the bay. The South Cove Trail leads to a sandy beach where you can search for sand dollars and explore superior tidepools.
The North Cove trail provides access for fishing and has stellar views of Shell Island, a national wildlife refuge. The famous English explorer Sir Francis Drake landed at Cape Arago in 1579, and there is a monument of him in the park. Sunset Bay State Park is another popular state park just north of Cape Arago. As the name suggests, it’s one of the best places in town to enjoy the sunset. You’ll also be treated to lovely views of Gregory Point and the Cape Arago Lighthouse.
There’s also a series of hiking trails that link Sunset Bay to Cape Arago State Park and Shore Acres State Park in between. Shore Acres was once the home of timber baron Louis J. Simpson, and he constructed formal gardens which you can still enjoy today. There is a Japanese garden, two rose gardens, and other native flowers that bloom throughout the spring and summer. Downtown Coos Bay still has a historical aesthetic, and you can dive into the history of the region at the Coos History Museum. The Coos Bay Boardwalk provides excellent views of the harbor, and it’s also where you’ll find great restaurants and boutique shops. Try the seafood platter at Shark Bites Cafe, or head to the German-themed Blue Heron Bistro for traditional German cuisine in a festive atmosphere.
Many places on our list claim to be the most scenic location on the Oregon Coast, but Bandon truly lives up to the billing. With gorgeous beaches, stunning rock formations, and a laid-back vibe, visitors will be instantly struck by the sheer beauty of this incredible town. Founded by an Irish immigrant named George Bennett in 1873, and the main industry in town is cranberry harvesting. In 1936, Bandon was devastated by a forest fire that caused huge amounts of damage and destroyed the entire commercial district. The fire spread rapidly through town due to the abundance of gorse, a non-native plant that is highly flammable and grows like a weed. Ironically, it was George Bennett who first introduced gorse to the area. Despite the small population, the town flourishes thanks to the healthy tourism industry.
Things to Do
There are miles and miles of beautiful beachfront to explore. Bullards Beach State Park is 2 miles north of downtown, located at the mouth of the Coquille River. It’s a beachcomber’s dream, with hiking and biking paths and small dunes that are perfect for relaxing and enjoying the sweeping vistas. Furthermore, the beach is great for horseback riding, with 11 miles of trails and plenty of space to gallop. South of Bandon, enjoy the sprawling Bandon State Natural Area, with several spots to access the beach and ample parking. This beach is often less crowded than others in town, so it’s a great option if you’re looking for solitude.
Photographers will be overjoyed at the number of rock formations waiting to greet you. Devil’s Kitchen at the north end of the natural area is dotted with salty sea stacks, and it’s also where the trailhead for the Bandon Beach Hike is. You can start there or take off from Coquille Point; the choice is yours! Face Rock Scenic Viewpoint is another cool area, and some people say you can hear a maiden’s voice in the wind. In town, marvel at the impressive sea stacks of Kronenburg County Park and the iconic Wizard’s Hat. Bandon is also known as a golf destination, and there are a few golf courses nearby, including the world-class Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. For refreshments, the views at Edgewaters pair nicely with the cuisine, and you can’t go wrong with the local craft brew scene at Bandon Brewing Company!
55 miles south of Bandon, the city of Gold Beach is relatively undeveloped and offers the perfect blend of solitude and adventure. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, you’ll find an amazing combination of pristine beaches and unspoiled old-growth forests. Settlers came to the area in the 1850s, and the name Gold Beach came about in 1890 after miners discovered large deposits of gold in the area. The city is famous for using mailboats to deliver mail up the Rouge River to the small logging community of Agness since 1895. It’s one of two rural mailboats still in operation in the U.S. today.
Things to Do
Outdoor enthusiasts rejoice! You’ve reached the promised land! From hiking and biking to fishing and jet boat tours, there are activities for everyone to enjoy! Jerry’s Rogue Jets is a popular attraction and has a variety of whitewater riverboat tours. It’s a truly unique experience and gives you access to scenic areas only accessible by riverboat. However, the tours are a bit pricey. If you’re looking for something more affordable, consider driving 16 miles north to the Prehistoric Gardens. This quirky roadside attraction is a must-visit and takes visitors on a path through lush rainforest, complete with life-sized replicas of actual dinosaurs!
There are a couple of state parks nearby that are definitely worth visiting near Gold Beach. Otter Point State Recreation Site is a hidden gem to the north, with easy beach access and excellent walking and hiking trails. Cape Sebastian State Scenic Corridor awaits you to the south, with an easy 1.5-mile trail through an old Sitka spruce forest and striking panoramic views. If you like road biking, consider a trip to the nearby town of Port Orford and take a self-guided tour of the Wild Rivers Coastal Scenic Bikeway. After a day full of recreating, head to Barnacle Bistro for eclectic American-traditional favorites. Also, make sure to stop by Arch Rock Brewing for a pint!
Brookings is the last stop on our road trip down the Oregon Coast, about 7 miles from the border with California. The town developed under the guidance of John E. Brookings, who started the Brookings Timber Company in 1908. During WWII, the first targeted bombing campaign by Japan on the mainland U.S. occurred near Brookings. A Japanese floatplane, piloted by Nobuo Fujita, targeted the forest around Mount Emily with the intent of starting massive forest fires. The plan failed, and the attack only caused minor damage. After the war ended, Fujita was invited back to Brookings as a token of peace. Fujita presented his family’s 400-year-old samurai sword to the city to show remorse for his actions during the war. He returned to Brookings several times during his life as an informal ambassador for peace and friendship.
Things to Do
Brookings has an abundance of state parks and scenic beaches to explore, and temperatures in Brookings are warmer on average than other Oregon Coast towns. Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is a 12 mile stretch of Highway 101 between Gold Beach and Brookings that hugs the coastline. The drive will not disappoint and is lined with scenic viewpoints, secret beaches, and offshore rock formations to explore. Harris Beach State Park is a great option to enjoy a traditional beach day. There’s also a campground with six yurts available that make for a unique camping experience. Crissey Field State Recreation Site is a welcoming beach with wetlands on the California border, and the visitors center is powered 100% by green energy. Furthermore, the Oregon Redwoods Trail nearby is one of only two old-growth redwood groves in Oregon.
In town, Azalea Park dazzles visitors in the springtime with their native wild azaleas. The park also has a slew of amenities, including athletic fields, a lawn area with picnic tables, and a stage that hosts free summer concerts every Sunday. Chetco Point Park is another fantastic spot, with one of the most stunning vistas on the south coast. If you want to escape the ocean for a bit, head east into the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest to Alfred A. Loeb State Park, simply called “Loeb” by locals. The park is adjacent to the Chetco River and is perfect for floating on a paddleboard or intertube.
If you’re a foodie, you’ll fall in love with the myriad of restaurants in town. Brookings has several eclectic eateries and farm-to-table cuisine with places like Craft Chophouse and Lounge and Nick’s Hamburger Shop. Of course, no trip to Brookings would be complete without visiting the Chetco Brewing Company. It’s a fan-favorite on the Oregon Coast and also has a dog-friendly taproom!