Best Beaches on the North Oregon Coast
Discover and Explore the Best Beaches Near Seaside, Gearhart, Cannon Beach, and Manzanita!Rugged cliffs dropping into the ocean, sandy beaches in secluded coves, forested shorelines, panoramic views of miles of craggy coastline – the North Oregon Coast simply has some of the most incredible scenery on the planet! While the sandy city beaches are all popular with visitors, there is much more diversity here than meets the eye when you arrive in town. The beach also provides great opportunities for birdwatching on marshy estuaries, tide-pooling on rocky shores, or visiting lighthouses on coastal headlands. Here are a few of the best beaches on the north coast for whatever activities interest you!
Seaside Beach, with the popular Surfer's Cove on the south and three miles of sandy beach stretching north to "The Estuary" where three streams converge and flow into the ocean, has all three of the major intertidal habitats: rocky shore, sandy shore, and marshy shore. The cove and the beach off of Avenue U are popular with surfers, and the estuary area is popular with bird watchers and sunset photographers. By far, the most popular spot on this stretch of beach is just below The Turnaround at downtown Seaside. There are lifeguards on duty during the busiest times of the summer months. Bring a volleyball because the nets are up in the summer, build sandcastles, or swing on the swing set. If you prefer to hang out at a less crowded beach, there is a parking lot at 12th Avenue and the beach at the north end of Seaside.
The Prom: Seaside is famous for its paved promenade, "The Prom," which stretches along the beach for approximately 1.5 miles from Avenue U on the south, past The Turnaround downtown, and on to end at 12th Avenue on the north. It is lighted at night and is lined with benches every block or so. It is a popular walking spot for locals and visitors alike!
Short Sands Beach at Oswald West State Park
Short Sands Beach, or "Shorties" to the locals, is on an incredibly beautiful sheltered cove in the Coast Range of Oregon and is a popular spot with surfers. It is roughly 18 miles south of Seaside or 5 miles north of Manzanita. There are three parking lots for Short Sands Beach. The main parking lot, complete with public restrooms, is the second (middle) one. The trails from the parking lots wind nearly a mile downhill through old-growth forests and along a clear mountain stream, but those with health concerns should keep in mind that they wind uphill on the way back. It is an easy incline for those of average fitness. This beach is well worth the trouble though! Pack a lunch and spend the day. And again, beware of driftwood and surf-rolled logs.
Neah-kah-nie Mountain - Don't Miss This Stunning View! Between Manzanita and Short Sands Beach, Coast Highway 101 passes over Neah-kah-nie Mountain, where you'll find some of the most breathtaking views anywhere that are reachable by car. From the highway, the cliffs of this 1,681-foot mountain drop an average of nearly 600 feet to the ocean. There are several pull-outs and you'll want to stop at more than one because the view is unique at each. While looking across the vast expanse of ocean, you may be lucky enough to spot a whale spouting. On the south side, you can see Nehalem Bay and the towns along the coast.
Hug Point is also popular as one of northern Oregon's unique and beautiful beaches but without a hike. Its foremost feature – and the one which gave the beach its name – is the old road bed cut into the basalt. Before Highway 101 was built, the only way to travel the Oregon coast was along the beach. Even at low tide, it was impossible to go around the headland at this spot so the roadbed was built on the headland. To get around this headland the stagecoach had to "hug the point" at low tide, and now you know the rest of the story! When the tide is out you can walk the road bed and still see wagon wheel tracks in the rock. During extreme lowest tides you can explore the tidepools at the bottom of the headland, but don't get caught there! The tides can come in fast.
Another of Hug Point's extraordinary features is a small waterfall on the beach that is a popular spot for weddings. Hug Point Beach is also a great site for geology enthusiasts, as there are easily accessible cliffs and shallow caves along the beach, and there is evidence that this location was part of the ancient Columbia River delta in eons gone by.
Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock
Check the Tides! You'll Want to Visit Haystack Rock at the Lowest Possible Tide.
Cannon Beach is a sandy beach in the town of the same name. It was named for cannons that washed ashore from a shipwreck. Home to the famous Haystack Rock, one of the most photographed sites in Oregon. Haystack Rock is the remnant of a small headland that eons ago cropped out from the craggy coastline but now stands sentinel offshore. At 237 feet in height, it is one of the world's largest monoliths. It's a nesting site for a number of species of seabirds, including the rare Black Oystercatchers, but is best known as the only nesting spot south of Alaska in North America for Tufted Puffins.
Haystack Rock: The best place to find parking for visiting Haystack Rock is at Cannon Beach City Hall, on the corner of Hemlock and Gower. During summer months at low tide you'll find the Haystack Rock Awareness Program's "rocky shore interpreters" stationed near the rock. They will have several spotting scopes set up on the beach for watching the seabirds, and they are also stationed at the base of the rock to show visitors the unique intertidal creatures found there. Of course, there are a myriad of sea stars, hermit crabs, and gooseneck barnacles to be found, but if you're patient and observant, you can find cute little rock crabs running through the mussels, and at very low tides, you might be fortunate enough to find colorful nudibranchs in the tidepools!
Cannon Beach Photography Opportunity: Although you can't reach the beach from this spot, the Silver Point roadside pull-out on Hwy. 101 just south of Cannon Beach provides a panoramic view of Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock, and Tillamook Head in the distance.
Ecola State Park & Indian Beach
Best Views of Terrible Tilly From Land!
Ecola means "whale" in the language of the Clatsop Tribe of the North Oregon Coast, and this state park is the site where Lewis & Clark traded with them for blubber from a beached whale. The park is a short drive through the forest at the northern end of the City of Cannon Beach – the same route the kids took on their bicycles in Goonies – and features trails, picnic areas, and Indian Beach, which is accessible from its own parking lot and is popular with surfers. At Ecola Park you can get the closest views possible from the land of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, "Terrible Tillie," in the ocean a mile off the end of Tillamook Head. A state parks pass or day-use fee is required for the park, but it's worth the small fee to visit this stunning beach.
Gearhart Beach & North
Even though Gearhart Beach is only separated from Seaside Beach by an estuary, the landscape is very different on this uncrowded beach. The beach is accessible from several spots in town by paths over the beachgrass-covered dunes or from the vehicle beach access on 10th Street at the north end of town. From the 10th Street access, you can drive down onto the beach to park, or keep on driving north on the secluded beach at low tide to some of the best clamming spots around. In summer, you can drive north as far as the wreck of the Peter Iredale at Fort Stevens, and in winter (low tide only, and 4WD recommended) you can keep on going to the South Jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River.
In regard to driving on the beach, a word of caution is in order! You need to know what you're doing and use caution at all times. Dogs, kids, and shorebirds can come from seemingly nowhere. Observe the speed limit, keep your eye on the sand so you don't get hung up on a buried chunk of driftwood, and never, ever spin donuts. Not only is it illegal, but it has sometimes been deadly. Obviously, low tide is the best time for driving on the beach, and you should stay on or near the hard sand. On a daily basis, people get their cars stuck in the sand, and towing companies, if they will come out onto the beach at all, charge an-arm-and-a-leg to get you out. Do not drive on or just below the dunes as they can easily collapse. Don't try to imitate TV commercials by driving in the water, and be sure that you can get out of the way of sneaker waves. There are actually a few cars buried several feet down in the sand or underwater offshore near Gearhart Beach that have been permanently lost to the surf. Try explaining that one to your insurance company! (Or to your dad....)
Little Beach: The secluded north side of the estuary that separates Seaside and Gearhart is known to the locals in Gearhart as "Little Beach." Little Beach was a popular spot for the Clatsop Peoples who had a village at what is now Gearhart. It still has water and sand but is sheltered from the wind and waves. You can find paths between houses at the south end of Gearhart, or walk south along the beach to the estuary to reach it. There is also a trail that goes south through the dunes and past small groves of shore pine to Little Beach. Don't tell the locals who told you where to find this spot!
Manzanita Beach – Fantasies of Buried Treasure!
The town of Manzanita has an uncrowded beach that features seven miles of pristine sand and amazing views of Neah-kah-nie Mountain, where legend has it that treasure from a Spanish shipwreck is buried in the sand at its base. The beach is very convenient to downtown, where you can easily pick up a picnic lunch at a deli and walk down to the beach. Manzanita Beach is known as one of the best kite-flying spots on the west coast, and those winds also make it a popular spot with windsurfers. One of the noteworthy features is its piles of driftwood. While they are picturesque and fun to climb on, it is imperative to be aware of the high tide line and stay well above it. Sitting or standing on a log or driftwood pile when a "sneaker wave" rolls in is extremely dangerous and can be deadly. Enjoy the beach and all it has to offer, but be safe!