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Taking a family road trip through Oregon is something that everyone should do at least once. The coast of Oregon is wild and beautiful and packed full of wonderful places for kids to explore the beach and ocean. Highway 1 runs along the coast and gives visitors easy access to the beach and the hiking trails in the area so this easy accessibility, makes it perfect for kids of all ages. Our list of recommended stops runs geographically from the southern Oregon coast to the northern Oregon coast.
Stop at Natural Bridges, Oregon with kids
Natural Bridges is a beautiful natural wonder on the southern end of the Oregon Coast. Here you’ll see two natural bridges formed from crashing waves with the ocean flowing through the openings. It really is an amazing site, especially as waves crash against the rocks for pretty impressive splashes. There is a viewing area directly off of the parking lot that offers the best views of the bridges.
If you want to check out the Oregon Natural Bridges closer, there is a trail that continues from the left of the parking area and down the hill. Turn right at the first fork where you’ll begin a steep downward descent toward the bridges. We took this trail with all of our kids and everyone did great, however, this hike would be incredibly dangerous if the trail was wet or muddy, so only attempt it when dry.
This short Oregon Coast hiking trail with kids is only about 1 mile RT and will take you to the left side of the main bridge. If you’re feeling really brave (and not afraid of heights or exposure), you can walk across to the other side, like a few of our kids did with the help of Dad. The trail up the other side is much more exposed and steep, so we recommend going across and returning back on the trail that you came down on (which is already steep on its own). A good pair of hiking shoes with solid traction is a really good idea if you’re going to head out on the bridges. Sadly, the Natural Bridges views are pretty poor from the lower trail, but the rest of the coastline is impressive. If you just want the view, stick with the quick stop at the top.
Hobbit Trail Hike With Kids
This is a short and fun hiking trail, and it was one of our favorite kid-friendly hiking trails in Oregon. The trail starts off of highway 101 about 12 miles north of Florence and 15 miles south of Yachats. As with most of the coastline, the trail is lush and green adding to the beauty of the trail. Best of all, the trees are so thick that it makes the trail feel like a tunnel in several places, hence the name the Hobbit Trail.
As you hike down the trail, there are lots of little side tunnels into the trees for the kids to explore, but that are short enough to make adults want to stick to the main trail. Once you complete the 0.5 mile hike, you’ll end at Hobbit Beach. While in the past, we’ve heard that people have carved Hobbit faces into the dune cliffs, those are all gone now and have sadly been replaced with people carving their names into the cliffs. There are signs prohibiting this behavior so please don’t disturb the dunes.
This trail is a great way to break up a drive up the Oregon coast and give kids a chance to really stretch their legs.
Swimming at Jessie Honeyman State Park
Most of the swimming along the Oregon Coast is shockingly frigid, so we were thrilled when we discovered the warmer Oregon lakes at Jessie Honeyman State Park. Lake CLEOXEN was just inside the entrance to the park was a great place for the kids to explore and play. The water was warm enough to jump in and go for a swim, which was a pleasant surprise, and the kids spent the morning playing at the lake beach while swimming and catching Newts.
Normally, they rent kayaks for $10/hour, but this summer those rentals are still closed because of COVID. If you want to rent kayaks or canoes, head to the sandboard rental a mile north on the highway.
Sandboarding with Kids at Oregon Dunes
Our family loves to ski and snowboard, so when we learned that sandboarding on the Oregon Coast was an option, we instantly added it to our list of things we wanted to do. Dune City is the place to go to visit the Oregon National Dunes Recreation area, where you’ll find lots of places renting out ATVs to play on the dunes. This is NOT where you want to go sandboarding.
After talking to some locals, they told us that the dunes recreation area is a bad place for sandboarding or letting the kids play on the sand since ATVs often come across the dunes at top speeds, dangerous for kids to be around. Instead, they suggested that we go back to Jessie Honeyman State Park where ATVs are prohibited and there are a few large sand dunes perfect for sandboarding. Just north of the State Park one mile, there’s a shop along 101 that rents sandboards and sand sleds for only $10/day. We grabbed a few and let the kids go crazy on the dunes.
Tips for sandboarding with kids:
- Wax your sandboard or sled between each run. It makes a major difference in the sled’s ability to glide over the sand (the rental shop will give you wax if you ask).
- Put most of your weight on the back of the board.
- Instead of trying to go down sideways like on a snowboard, just point the board straight down and go – start with a gentle slope until you’re comfortable with the speeds.
- Go Barefoot. We tried it both with shoes and barefoot, and all of us felt much more comfortable on the sandboard without shoes.
Go Crabbing on the Oregon Coast With Kids
The Oregon coast is famous for its dungeness crabs so take advantage of that and take your kid’s crabbing while you visit the Oregon coast. There are plenty of excursions that will take you out for a few hours of crabbing and fishing on a boat, though most of them are over $100 per person.
To simplify things, we did some research and decided to try crabbing on our own. We all loved it so much that we decided to go back the next day to do it again.
Crabbing Supplies (all purchased at Walmart on the north side of Newport)
Crabbing Basket/Net with rope $40
Measuring calipers (to check the crab’s size) $2.50
Zip Ties $1.50
Chicken Legs $3
Bucket to put crabs in $2
We decided to go crabbing in Newport since there is a giant crabbing pier which is perfect for crabbing from shore, as well as a restaurant just down the street where they would cook the crabs for us for cheap.
Instructions for Crabbing With Kids
- Lay your crabbing basket out on the deck and zip tie a few pieces of chicken to the bottom.
- Tie the very end of the rope to the dock railing as a safety catch
- While holding onto the excess rope, “cast” your basket into the water by tossing it out as far as you can. Once the rope stops being pulled out, you’ve reached the bottom, so you can tie off here to the rail again (giving you 2 different points the rope is tied on for safety).
- If you have a rope basket, leave it down for 10-15 minutes before quickly pulling it up to check for crabs. If you have a metal cage or pot, leave it down for 30-60 minutes before checking.
- Measure your crabs and check the bottom for gender. Throw back the crabs that are too small and keep the bigger crabs in a bucket to eat.
If you decide to go crabbing in Newport, there is a restaurant south of the pier that will cook your crabs for you at a great deal, called South Beach Fish Market. They will cook 10 crabs for $5 and charge $0.50 each to clean them for you. Crabs can get really smelly when you cook them, so take advantage of this crab cooking deal.
Go Out To Eat Seafood
While you’re traveling along the Oregon Coast, make sure that you go out for seafood at least once on your trip. We stopped at South Beach Fish Market because it got great reviews for both the quality of the food as well as the price. This is also where you want to go to get your crabs cooked.
We can’t say enough good things about the seafood at this restaurant for families. It’s a fun relaxed atmosphere with food being served outside on picnic tables. Their main specialties are crab and clam chowder, though they have tons of other seafood that they deep fry as well. While it may not be the healthiest option, we’ve learned that fried seafood, accompanied with a generous side of fries, is a great choice for introducing kids to new kinds of fish. If you want a fun seafood meal for the family on the Oregon Coast, South Beach Fish Market in Newport is a delicious and affordable option.
Stop for Candy in Lincoln City
I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a good old-fashioned candy shop, so Reeds candy in Lincoln City instantly won my heart. The Salt Water Taffy here is incredible and comes in just about any flavor you can imagine. You’ll also find handmade candy sticks, lollipops, and a huge assortment of chocolates, all made here on the Oregon coast. If you need a ‘sweet’ stop along your drive, Reeds candy shop is the place to go.
Whale Watching at Depoe Bay
There are a few places along the Oregon Coast that are great for whale watching and Depoe Bay is one of the best places to see whales in Oregon. From Depoe Bay there are several places where you can pull off the highway and look for whales from the cliffs above the ocean for great whale viewing. We had planned to spend an hour having a picnic and looking for whales along the coast, but the weather was foggy and drizzling, so visibility was really low and we didn’t get to see anything. The town of Depoe Bay is also adorable and would be a really fun place to walk around and window shop with kids.
Check Out Thors Well Sinkhole
Thors well is just alongside the road and is a natural wonder that’s sure to impress your kids. It’s actually a SINKHOLE IN THE OCEAN that you can see and get quite close to. From up on the road, there’s a viewing area where you can see if from above, but there are also trails that lead right up to the coast that are worth a visit as well.
We walked the short loop along the edge of the rock and got an up close view of the waves crashing along the rocks which is really impressive here. At high tide this can be a very dangerous area, and also not as impressive at low tide. We visited about 6 hours before high tide and were incredibly impressed!
Explore Cape Perpetua
Just past Thors Well, you’ll find Cape Perpetua. Cape Perpetua has a great visitors center to teach all about the area, along with several hiking and mountain biking trails that take you both down to the coast and up the mountain for some amazing Oregon Coast views. Although they were not happening when we visited, look into their ranger led programs during the summer months, since we’ve heard it’s a great educational experience for kids along the Oregon Coast.
Stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory
Do you have any cheese and ice cream lovers in your family? Then you’re going to love visiting the Tillamook factory. While the entire visit is incredibly commercialized (complete with Tillamook shirts and toys for sale, my kids actually learned a lot and loved getting to look in on the cheese factory floor to learn how cheese is made.
Currently, there are no samples being offered (COVID), but normally, you can sample different cheese on your tour. Of course, at the end, you’ll need to stop for a treat. There is an outside ice cream counter that always has a huge line where expensive ice cream is sold. Inside the factory store, the same ice cream is sold in cartons, or for a special treat, grab their ice cream sandwiches. They’re small, but they quickly became one of our favorite treats of the trip (and at only $1.50 a piece, they’re a bargain compared to the high-priced cones outside).
Play At Short Sands Beach
This beach was high on our list of things to do, but we simply couldn’t fit a visit in, but we think it’s worth a stop. This short hike is only about 0.3 miles to take you down to the beach where the family will love to explore. Plan on visiting close to low tide so you can explore the tide pools as well as the beaches here, since many people told us this is one of the best beaches to visit with kids. The water here is generally calm, but cold, so make sure you have wetsuits for the kids so they don’t freeze.
Visit Ecola State Park
Right next to the popular resort town of Cannon Beach, you’ll find Ecola State Park. This is the perfect place to go to enjoy some un crowded hiking, beach time, or even some surfing (with a thick wetsuit on). We were there on a Thursday afternoon and were surprised at how busy it was, so it’s probably best to avoid on the weekends.
While the beaches attract most of the crowds at Ecola State Park, the trails are almost completely empty, so make sure to plan a hike into your time. If you’re up for adventure, head up to the lighthouse (about 1.4 miles one way) and then search for a secret rope to help you down the hillside to the beach. If you’re comfortable climbing down the hill, you’ll be greeted onto your own private beach complete with amazing views and lot of tidepools to explore.
Visit The Oregon Aquarium
There are 2 main aquariums along the Oregon Coast – one is the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and the other is in Seaside. Timing-wise, we went to the aquarium in Seaside, and it was really just okay. The kids really wanted to go because they have seals there that you can feed, which was an absolute blast. Other than the seals, the rest of the aquarium was small, outdated and dark. Thankfully, we only spent $30 to get the entire family in, compared to the $130 it would have cost us to visit the aquarium in Newport. Next time, we’ll be visiting the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport instead. The kids did love the touch tanks though, so that helped to redeem the aquarium as well.
Collect Sand Dollars On The Oregon Coast
The beaches around Seaside are packed full of sand dollars, and the kids loved getting some there. To find sand dollars, walk along the beach, just below the high tide mark. Sometimes you’ll find sand dollars that are sticking up, while others will be covered in sand. Look for areas with a circlular impression in the sand and do a quick dig there to see if it’s a sand dollar. While we only got 8 sand dollars at the beach (plenty for us), we saw others with bags full of at least 50 sand dollars.
Visit A Shipwreck
Have you ever wanted to explore and check out an old shipwreck? At Fort Stevens, you can get that chance. The Peter Iredale ship crashed onto the beach about 100 years ago and has slowly been disintegrating since then. While there isn’t a whole lot left of the ship, there is still a skeleon of the ship left standing, which the kids will have an awesome time climbing on and playing inside.
Have A Beach Bonfire
This was high on our list, and we saved it for our last night on the Oregon coast. Sadly, that also happened to be during a downpour, so we didn’t get to have our beach bonfire. There are lots of places in Oregon where you can have a fire on the beach, so just check the local regulations before you burn.
Explore Lewis And Clark National Park
At the northern end of the Oregon coast near Astoria, you’ll find Lewis and Clark National Historic Park at Fort Clatsop. Here you’ll see where Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery wintered over in 1806 after successfully finding an overland route to the Pacific Ocean. While the fort is quite small, it gave our kids a really good understanding about how they would have lived over 200 years ago. While you’re there, the visitor center museum is a must see and is incredibly educational for all ages. If you want to learn more about the history of the area, we recommend listening to the audiobook Astoria, which our older kids were fascinated by.
In conclusion, the best thing about taking a road trip along the Oregon coast with kids is that there are so many kid-friendly stops! Ecola State Park, crabbing in Newport, visiting a shipwreck, checking out Thor’s Well, and Jesse Honeyman State Park are all great places to stop along the way–they’re all unique and easy for kids to enjoy.