Renown for its beautiful evergreen forests, high tech industry, and liberal politics, Oregon also boasts some 363 miles of pristine publicly owned coastline that draws visitors from around the world.
Summer Sun…. and Crowds
The most popular time to visit the Oregon Coast is during the summer months. During summer, droves of tourists flock to the coast for vacations and day trips hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive Oregon coastal sunshine. “No Vacancy” signs are a common sight at hotels as well as heavy traffic clogging Highway 101 through the popular destination cities. Crowded beaches with tourists tempting the frigid 55-degree Pacific Ocean water always adds to the entertainment.
Although nice during summer, many have discovered that the summer months may not be the best time to visit the Oregon Coast. Even during the warmest summer months, the weather is often cool and windy with the occasional rain shower and days of heavy fog. In fact, many prefer the off-season (October – May) for the lack of crowds and strong storms that pound the coast with heavy surf and strong winds, which can make summer seem rather boring.
The off-season at the Oregon Coast offers some amazing storms with 30+ foot waves and 70+ mile per hour winds a common occurrence. Accommodations are heavily discounted making an ocean view room affordable for those who prefer to sit behind protective glass and watch the beach get hammered by powerful breaking waves and those who dared venture onto the beach run for their lives. Gone are the heavily congested streets and long lines at attractions and restaurants. If one is looking for peace and solitude or to marvel at the raw power of the Pacific Ocean, the off-season is the time to visit.
Where to Go
Astoria is the northern most city along the Oregon Coast. Although not technically on the ocean, it is set inland a few miles along the mouth of the Columbia River. Close by is the ever popular Fort Stevens State Park. The fort served as a defensive post from the early Civil War to World War II. The gun batteries and other fortifications are open for visitors to explore. The 3700 acre park offers a large campground, day use area, museums, bike paths, nature trails, as well as beach access with the wreck of the Peter Iredale. Also nearby is the replica of Lewis and Clark’s winter encampment, Fort Clatsop. Astoria is home to the impressive Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria Column, and the “Goonie House”, made famous from the 1985 hit movie “Goonies.” Astoria is a great place to visit any time of the year.
Seaside is the Oregon Coast’s number one tourist destination. As the closest coastal city to the Portland Metropolitan area, Seaside draws large crowds during Spring Break and the summer months. With seasonal amusement rides and pedal powered vehicle rentals, Seaside mainly caters to the summer crowd, but still offers plenty of available accommodations, shopping, and restaurants during the off-season.
Cannon Beach is a few miles to the south of Seaside and is overflowing with tourists during the summer months. Parking is often a challenge during the summer and the trendy art galleries, gift shops, and restaurants are crammed with people. During the off-season, parking is easy, hotels are available, and the shops are all yours.
Lincoln City is a long narrow city that hugs the coastline on the Central Oregon Coast. Lincoln City has a lot to offer the visitor. With long sandy beaches, a casino, and a popular outlet mall, there is something for everyone. Passing through Lincoln City during the summer can be a test in patience. Long lines of vehicles snake through town making driving anywhere difficult. During the off-season, travel through Lincoln City is easy and parking plentiful at the outlet mall and other shopping areas.
Newport sits on Yaquina Bay and is home to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the ever-popular Rogue Brewery. Newport’s Historic Bayfront is a popular destination offering tourist attractions, shopping, dining, and you can watch the commercial fishing boats offload their catch. Having the largest commercial fishing fleet in Oregon, Newport’s fresh seafood is easy to find at the local restaurants and fish markets year round. For those with steady sea legs, whale watching and sport fishing excursions are always a unique way to experience the Oregon Coast.
Florence is the gateway to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The dunes, some 300 feet tall, stretch 40 miles south of Florence and offer amazing recreation opportunities. For those seeking adventure, off-road vehicle rentals are an exciting way to explore the dunes. Just 11 miles north of Florence is the famous Sea Lion Caves where you can view sea lions and sea birds in the world’s largest sea cave. Florence’s small town feel can be the perfect getaway during the off-season for those seeking adventure, or solitude.
The Southern Oregon Coast offers breathtaking scenery and a road less traveled. Not nearly as touristy as the Northern and Central Oregon Coast, the off-season is sure to guarantee vacancies and a chance to explore the natural beauty at your own pace.
Where to Stay in the Off-Season
Hotels and motels are plentiful and offer large price breaks during the off-season.
Vacation Rentals are perfect for large groups or extended stays. Many vacation houses overlook the beach offering easy beach access, room to spread out, as well as front row seats for storm watching.
Yurts and rustic cabins offer the more adventurous a comfortable accommodation in one of the many State of Oregon campgrounds. Yurts and cabins are equipped with a bunk bed, futon couch, table with chairs, electricity, electric light, and heat. Visitors must bring their own bedding, food, and dishes. Outside you can find a picnic table and fire pit. Yurts and cabins are very popular and one should book reservations months in advance. TIP: For added comfort when staying in the off-season, consider bringing an electric space heater and extra sources of light.
Camping in the off-season is usually done in an RV or camper van. But a few brave souls still dare to tent camp. During stormy weather, sideways blowing rain is common and forces many tent campers into the safety of their tents. The happy tent camper comes prepared with a high quality tent and plenty of tarps and rope that can be used to block the wind and rain.
What to Do in the Off-Season
Storm watching is always a popular event at the Oregon Coast. With strong winds and massive waves pounding the shore, this is a chance to witness the Pacific Ocean at its finest. Often too dangerous to be on the beach during a storm, the safest place to watch is behind the protective glass of a beachfront lodging or restaurant. If you do want to experience the wind and spray first hand, a great place to visit is Depoe Bay. Depoe Bay is a small town located between Lincoln City and Newport on the Central Oregon Coast. As the waves crash against the rocky shoreline in Depoe Bay, water is splashed up and onto highway 101 soaking everyone in the vicinity. Be sure to come prepared with a rain poncho.
Hiking trails are to be found all along the Oregon Coast. If the weather is cooperating, a day hike is a great way to explore the coast.
Lighthouses are usually open to visitors for a small fee. These historic structures offer an amazing look into the life of the early lighthouse keepers and the importance of the lighthouses to keep mariners safe. Oregon’s lighthouses are very picturesque and make for a great photo opportunity.
Whale watching excursions by boat are usually available when the ocean conditions are not too rough. December brings the annual whale migration of gray, sperm, and humpback whales as they travel from Alaska to Baja Mexico. If you would like to see the whales without venturing out in a boat, look for the “Whale Watching Spoken Here” signs along the Oregon Coast. These are placed in areas where a knowledgeable volunteer is stationed that can help you spot whales.