Towns, Ocean Beaches, Parks and Campsites from Tillamook to Nehalem
Just south of the north Oregon coast’s most crowded and glittery tourist towns lies a stretch of coastline dotted with quiet beaches and picturesque fishing towns.
Visitors heading for a beach holiday from Portland, Oregon, often head to the well-publicized towns of Seaside and Cannon Beach. But look just a few miles south of these popular spots and you’ll find quiet retreats along still bays, un-crowded ocean beaches, quaint fishing villages and state parks offering camping and hiking opportunities.
From Portland, a good way to explore this section of the coast is by driving State Highway 6 (Wilson River Highway) to Tillamook, then heading north on Highway 101 (Pacific Coast Highway). Highway 26, just north of Cannon Beach, takes you back to Portland.
Along the way, the following stops are worth exploring.
The town of Tillamook was built on Tillamook Bay and has long been known for its dairy farms and cheese factories. The Tillamook Cheese Factory, on Highway 101 on the north side of Tillamook, is a popular tourist stop. You can watch the cheese being made, then visit the deli and gift shop. The Blue Heron Cheese Company, just south of the Tillamook factory, also welcomes visitors. The following two state parks can be reached from Tillamook.
Cape Meares State Park
Beginning at Tillamook, Three Capes Scenic Route winds along the bay and the ocean to three scenic capes, including Cape Mears State Park. Situated on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the park offers great views, along with picnicking, beach access and hiking through coastal forest. A lighthouse built in 1890 is open to visitors daily May through September.
Cape Lookout State Park
Also accessed from the Three Capes Scenic Route just south of Tillamook, this park is spread over a headland and a spit enclosing Netarts Bay. There’s camping, beachcombing, old-growth forest hikes, nature trails and picnicking. At low tide, the beach reveals tide pools. The large campground is popular, so reservations through Oregon State Parks should be made early. The Cape Lookout phone number is 503-842-4981.
Garibaldi lies on the north edge of Tillamook Bay. It’s a port and fishing town with a picturesque boat dock, yummy seafood, charter fishing, and quaint shops. The popular Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad takes tourists between Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach on a historic excursion train that runs along the bay and ocean. The round trip takes an hour and a half at a cost of $13 for an adult coach. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 503-842-7972.
The town of Rockaway Beach, with its wide beach and touristy shops, is popular with visitors. Boats can be launched into Lake Lytle on the north end of town.
This picturesque village on Nehalem Bay was born in the early 1900s when a railroad carried lumber and seafood from Wheeler to Portland. Today the charm of those years remains in the well-tended vintage buildings that hug the scenic bay. A marina rents kayaks to explore the waters and several hotels offer to lodge to tourists looking for a tranquil coastal retreat. Among the hotels is the restored historic Old Wheeler Hotel (contact them at 1-877-653-4683) overlooking the bay.
As you head north on Highway 101, the town of Nehalem lies on the highway, along the Nehalem River. A quiet, scenic town, it’s a good place to stop for a bite to eat at one of several restaurants along the main street.
Nehalem Bay State Park
This is a popular campground on a spit with Nehalem Bay on one side and the ocean on the other. Dunes piled up behind the ocean help protect the campsites from strong winds. Don’t be surprised to see deer among the trees. Besides beach play, there are bike paths, horse rentals, fishing, kayaking, and a boat ramp on the bay. A day-use area is open to non-campers. Like Cape Lookout, early reservations are recommended. Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-452-5687 or through the Oregon State Parks link above.
To explore this south to north route via the loop of highways described, take Highway 26 from Portland for about 20 miles to the Highway 6 interchange at Banks. From there, it’s about 70 miles to Tillamook. Highway 101 (Pacific Coast Highway) intersects with Highway 6 in Tillamook. All the towns listed here are on Highway 101, and the turnoff to Nehalem Bay State Park is clearly marked from the highway. From Nehalem Bay State Park, continue north past the Cannon Beach exits to the interchange with Highway 26. Follow Highway 26 all the way back to Portland.