Oregon is, in my opinion, one of the prettiest states in the US. You’ve got the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge in the north, the incredible Crater Lake in the south, the colorful Painted Hills in the east, the award-winning vineyards in the Willamette Valley in the center, and of course the iconic Oregon Coast to the west.
And while summer is the most popular time to travel the Oregon Coast (check out my full Oregon road trip itinerary), I’m here to advocate for considering a trip in the winter, too.
What is the Oregon Coast?
The Oregon Coast stretches for 362 miles (583 kilometers) from the Columbia River in the north to the California state border in the south. The coast is known for everything from charming coastal towns to dramatic headlands to wide Pacific beaches. It’s undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parts of the United States.
The Oregon Coast is divided into three general regions:
- North Coast – From the Columbia River to Cascade Head, the North Coast is most known for its beaches, and cities like Seaside and Cannon Beach.
- Central Coast – From Cascade Head to Reedsport, the Central Coast is most known for sea cliffs and bays, and cities like Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, and Yachats.
- South Coast – From Reedsport to the California border, the South Coast is most known for more rugged sea cliffs and sand dunes, and cities like Reedsport, Coos Bay (the largest city on the coast), and Brookings.
And while you CAN technically drive the entire coast (mostly along Highway 101) in just one day, I recommend allowing at least 3 days (at minimum!) to fully explore the Oregon Coast.
Fun fact: Thanks to the Oregon Beach Bill of 1967, access to all of Oregon’s coast and beaches is free to all, all day every day!
Winter on the Oregon Coast
Why visit the Oregon Coast in winter? Well, I can think of several reasons!
- It’s off-season, and I love off-season travel! Yes, some things close down on the coast in the winter, but you can still visit all the main highlights – and likely have some of them all to yourself!
- It doesn’t get THAT cold. Winters on the Oregon Coast are mild, with high temps usually in the 40s-50s (F). Yes, you’ll want to pack cozy layers, but you won’t be battling snowstorms.
- The DRAMA. Oregon’s dramatic coastline is shaped by the strong storms and tides that come during the winter months.
- It’s whale season! Grey whales migrate along the Oregon Coast from December-March, and there’s a good chance you could see some.
Plus, I’m overall just a big fan of visiting places at times or in ways that the average person maybe doesn’t consider.
I took my own trip to the Oregon Coast over New Year’s, and while the weather was grey and chilly, the lack of crowds and wealth of unique winter experiences more than made up for it.
Things to do on the Oregon Coast in winter
The Oregon Coast is littered with seaside towns, state parks, and beaches to visit. But I want to focus on some unique things you can do (and in some cases *only* do) during the winter months.
1. Watch storms roll in from a cozy spot
The winter storms that batter and shape the Oregon Coast are legendary – people literally travel here just to watch them. The stormiest months are usually November-February, and they can sometimes also coincide with King Tides, which are exceptionally high tides that make the waves even more dramatic.
And while you *can* watch storms safely from beaches and several state parks (Shore Acres State Park near Coos Bay is especially popular), I would also suggest booking a hotel or vacation rental with an ocean view (and maybe a fireplace!) so you can cozy up and watch Mother Nature’s show from indoors.
Some hotels with ocean-view rooms you can stay for good storm-watching include:
- North Coast oceanfront hotels – Lanai at the Cove in Seaside, The Seashore Inn in Seaside, The Ocean Lodge in Cannon Beach, Schooner’s Cove Inn in Cannon Beach, the Hallmark Resort & Spa in Cannon Beach, Ocean Inn in Manzanita
- Central Coast oceanfront hotels – Shearwater Inn in Lincoln City, The Coho Oceanfront Lodge in Lincoln City, Pelican Shores Inn in Lincoln City, Whale Cove Inn in Depoe Bay, Surfrider Resort in Depoe Bay, Inn at Arch Rock in Depoe Bay, Inn at Nye Beach in Newport, Elizabeth Oceanfront Suites in Newport, Overleaf Lodge & Spa in Yachats, Fireside Motel in Yachats
- South Coast oceanfront hotels – Windermere on the Beach in Bandon, Beachfront Inn in Brookings
We stayed in a vacation rental at The Waves Cannon Beach, which was super cozy with a fireplace and ocean views. If I were to do another winter trip, I would do a couple nights in Cannon Beach, and a couple nights further down the coast (perhaps in Newport or Yachats).
2. Check out movie history in Astoria
Not far from the Washington state border, the town of Astoria is situated at the mouth of the Columbia River. Astoria is the oldest town in Oregon – and also the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains!
Fishing and logging used to be the backbone of Astoria, but these days tourism plays a bigger role. People come to see the Victorian-era homes, visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum, and trace some famous movie history.
Just a couple of the notable movies that have been filmed in and around Astoria include “The Goonies,” “Kindergarten Cop,” and “Free Willy.” (June 7th is actually an official holiday in Astoria called Goonies Day!) Definitely make a visit to the Oregon Film Museum (located in the historic Clatsop County Jail, which has itself been a filming location) to see props and learn a bit about how movie magic is made.
It’s not a large museum, but it’s worth an hour of your time.
3. See the views at Ecola State Park
Speaking of “The Goonies” and cool filming locations, Ecola State Park just north of Cannon Beach is another spot worth visiting. Not only were parts of The Goonies filmed here, but the park offers up some of the best coastal views in this part of Oregon.
Stop at the Ecola Point Viewpoint to see sweeping views towards Cannon Beach, and either walk or drive to Indian Beach for a PNW beach experience. You can walk down to the driftwood-strewn beach here – though watch for sneaker waves and never turn your back on the ocean.
4. Go tide-pooling around Haystack Rock
Cannon Beach during the summer months is a bustling little beach community filled with taffy shops and ice cream parlors. But in the winter, it transforms into a quiet town perfect for a coastal getaway. It’s also home to some of the best tidepooling on the Oregon Coast!
Tide pools form on beaches and around rock formations at low tide, when the retreating ocean leaves behind shallow pools in which things like sea stars, anemones, mussels, and other sea creatures can be spotted.
The area around the famous Haystack Rock is an excellent spot to go tidepooling. And, since you’ll definitely want to see this iconic rock formation during your time along the Oregon Coast, you may as well kill two birds with one stone!
For the best tidepooling experience, be sure to double check the tide times (you can only do this around low tide!), put on waterproof boots (and perhaps a raincoat, too), and get out and explore. Just be sure to be careful where you step, and don’t remove any sea life*.
*The exception is if you’re interested in harvesting things like mussels or clams to eat. That IS allowed, so long as you have the proper shellfish license (more info here).
5. Take a tour at Tillamook Creamery
Run into truly bad weather on the coast and want to seek shelter inside for a while? A fun thing to do slightly inland is to take a (FREE!) tour at the Tillamook Creamery.
The self-guided tour will give you insight into how Tillamook makes its delicious cheese, and you can try all sorts of dairy delights in the attached Dining Hall. (The triple cheese mac is SO good, as is their ice cream.)
6. Hunt for agates at Tunnel Beach
Oregon’s beaches are known as being excellent places for amateur geologists to hunt for agate rocks. Agate is a common semiprecious silica mineral or gemstone that comes in a variety of patterns and colors. And in Oregon, there are several beaches where you are allowed to hunt for agates and take them home!
One such spot is a unique and semi-hidden beach called Tunnel Beach. To reach this beach, you need to walk to the northern end of Oceanside Beach in the town of Oceanside. There, you’ll find a small man-made tunnel through the rock that was originally blasted through in 1926.
If you follow this tunnel*, you’ll find yourself at the aptly named Tunnel Beach. This beach is good for both agate hunting and tidepooling, and offers excellent views of some offshore rock formations.
Bring a bucket or bag, and happy rock hunting! (Just know that, legally, you’re only allowed to remove 25 pounds of rocks per day from any Oregon natural areas.)
*Just beware that you traverse this tunnel at your own risk. Low tide is the best time to go, but even then you’ll want waterproof shoes and some source of light for the darkest part of the tunnel.
7. Go whale watching in Depoe Bay
Even though there are actually some whales that call the waters along the Central Coast home throughout the summer and fall, it’s winter that is the highlight for whale watching. Each year, the the Oregon Coast is along the migratory path of tens of thousands of grey whales who migrate from Alaska to Mexico and back.
There are two official “Whale Watch Weeks” (one in late December, when the whales are migrating south to Mexico, and another in late March when they’re migrating back north to Alaska) where volunteers are stationed at 20+ great whale watching sites along the coast to help people spot these marine giants. (You can find more info about these weeks here.)
Depoe Bay is generally one of the best spots for grey whale-spotting, and is home to the Whale Watching Center, which is run by Oregon State Parks.
And while you don’t HAVE to get out on the water in order to spot whales here, you can also book various whale watching tours with companies like Dockside Charters, Tradewinds Charters, and Whale’s Tail Charters.
8. Visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium
This aquarium on Yaquina Bay in Newport is perhaps most famous for at one time being home to Keiko, the orca who starred in the movie “Free Willy.” Today, the Oregon Coast Aquarium is regarded as one of the best in the United States (and no longer keeps large marine mammals like whales in captivity).
You can visit to see creatures ranging from sea otters and harbor seals to puffins to sharks. Exhibits focus mostly on sealife you can find off the Oregon Coast, including underwater tunnels in the Passages of the Deep exhibit (my favorite!).
9. Stop at Cape Perpetua
There are 20+ state parks along the Oregon Coast, and additional designated scenic areas. One that’s especially worth visiting is Cape Perpetua, just south of Yachats. Cape Perpetua has the highest viewpoint (800 feet above the sea!) accessible by car along the Oregon Coast, which can be reached via a short walking trail – called Amanda’s Loop!
There are also several other natural attractions worth visiting nearby. Some cool rock formations that waves force themselves into and through in cool ways include Devil’s Churn, Spouting Horn, and Thor’s Well.
10. Go clamming (or just eat clam chowder)
As I mentioned above when talking about tidepooling at Cannon Beach, anyone is allowed to “hunt” for mussels, clams, crabs, and other edible sealife with a shellfish license. The winter months are a quieter time for clamming, but generally the entire coast is fair game for digging up razor clams and harvesting different types of crabs.
(The larger bays like Tillamook, Yaquina, and Coos are generally best for year-round crabbing, while the Clatsop beaches are ideal for razor clamming.)
OR, if digging up and cooking your own crustaceans doesn’t sound fun to you, winter is an excellent time to enjoy a bowl of hot clam chowder indoors. Some great spots for chowder along the Oregon Coast include Gracie’s Sea Hag in Depoe Bay, Chowder Bowl in Newport, Mo’s Seafood & Chowder (locations in both Newport and Otter Rock), and Bridgewater Fish House in Florence.
11. Check out the Florence sea lion caves
There are so many opportunities to see unique wildlife along the Oregon Coast. But if sea lions are on your marine mammal bucket list, you’re almost guaranteed to see them during the winter months at the Sea Lion Caves just north of Florence.
This system of sea caves and caverns is actually operated as a private wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary, and lays claim to the largest naturally formed basalt rock sea cave in the United States. Roughly 200 Stellar sea lions call the caves home year-round.
This attraction is well worth a stop, and is open daily in the winter months.
12. Visit Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area extends for 40 miles along the Oregon Coast from Florence to Coos Bay. The area is filled with sand dunes, beaches, forest, hiking/biking trails, campsites, and more, and is officially part of the Siuslaw National Forest. The area is run jointly by the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State Parks.
And yes, you can absolutely visit in the winter!
If you just want a view of the dunes and a short walk, head to the Oregon Dunes Day Use Area south of Dunes City. There’s a viewing platform here with good views of the dunes, plus a short trail that leads to the beach.
Or head further south to the Umpqua Dunes area just south of Winchester Bay, where you’ll find some of the tallest dunes along the coast. This is also one of three areas where off-road vehicles like ATVs and dune buggies are permitted, and winter rentals and dune tours are offered through Spinreel in North Bend.
If you’re traveling on a weekend, Sand Master Park in Florence is also worth a stop. It’s the world’s first dedicated sandboarding park – which is basically snowboarding except on sand dunes! They are open Friday-Sunday during the winter.
13. Drive the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor
If you make it all the way down to the southern end of the Oregon Coast, you’re in for a treat! The Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is a 12-mile stretch of formations along the coast just north of the town of Brookings, not far from the California state border.
This stretch of coast is filled with rock arches, natural bridges, tiny tree-covered islands, and breathtaking coves. Many say it’s the prettiest stretch of the Oregon Coast.
Some spots not far off the highway that are worth stopping to see include Secret Beach (hiking required), and Natural Bridges (famous view right off the road). There are also viewpoints like Whaleshead, Cape Ferrelo, and House Rock a little further down the coast.
Tips for the Oregon Coast in winter
The Oregon Coast can often be a bit wild and unpredictable, especially during the winter months when rain and storms are quite common. But I still think it’s a great time to visit!
Here are some things to keep in mind while planning your trip:
- Know that it’s quiet season – Winter is off-season on the Oregon Coast, and so it’s not uncommon to find restaurants, tour companies, and even some smaller accommodation closed up for the season (especially in January and February). The good news is that all the parks and beaches are open year-round. You just might want to book things like your hotels in advance.
- Keep in mind daylight hours – Oregon is a fairly northern state, and this means fewer daylight hours during the winter months. On the shortest day of the year in northern Oregon, the sun rises around 7:45 a.m. and sets at 4:30 p.m. By late February, the sun is rising just before 7 a.m. and setting just before 6 p.m.
- Allow enough time – With daylight constraints, you don’t want to try to pack too much into each day of your trip. It’s very easy to spend a couple of hours on an activity like tidepooling or agate hunting, or simply exploring some of the parks, beaches, and coastal viewpoints. Don’t rush too much! You could easily spend an entire week along the Oregon Coast.
- Dress in layers – Layers, layers, and more layers are key! The Oregon Coast remains pretty mild in the winter, but the wind and rain can make it feel quite cold. Start with a base layer of a breathable fabric (merino wool is my go-to), and then add a fleece and perhaps a lighter down coat on top. I also love these fleece-lined leggings for winter trips.
- Bring waterproof everything – A good raincoat and waterproof boots (these are the ones I wore) are a must, and I also packed lightweight rain pants for some of my planned outdoor activities. That way, I was ready no matter what the weather threw my way!
- Don’t expect snow (maybe) – Snow is not common at all along the Oregon Coast. BUT, if you’re planning to travel from the coast to other parts of Oregon, you may indeed run into snow. In the state of Oregon, it’s required to travel with snow chains in your car in the winter if you don’t have snow tires in certain “snow zones.”
Need to rent a car for your time in Oregon? In the US, I use DiscoverCars to search for and compare rental car options.
Who’s convinced to plan a trip to the Oregon Coast in winter?
Amanda Williams is the award-winning blogger behind A Dangerous Business Travel Blog. She has traveled to more than 60 countries on 6 continents from her home base in Ohio, specializing in experiential and thoughtful travel through the US, Europe, and rest of the world. Amanda only shares tips based on her personal experiences and places she’s actually traveled!