We took a vacation to the iconic Oregon Coast over spring break for some outdoor playtime – even though we knew it would be chilly! It’s a great option for being outdoors in the spring and as we head into the summer months because regardless of the weather, the ocean doesn’t disappoint.
Our trip itinerary was simple – outdoor time. I didn’t do any research before we went, knowing that nearby outdoor adventures would be bountiful – and I was right. Over the course of our trip, we visited a handful of beaches and hikes and trails within 15 to 30 minutes of where we stayed near the coast.
Our Oregon Coast vacation all started when I found a rental house that fit our budget. I’d assumed that we wouldn’t be able to find anything near the beach that wasn’t astronomically priced during spring break season, but I was wrong.
In the quiet town of Netarts Bay, about 50 miles south of Cannon Beach, we stayed in a small house just a block off the beach. It had a small view of the ocean, a rocky trail with stairs down to the water, and just enough room for our family of four (two adults and two four-year-olds).
It certainly was cozy – the dining room table didn’t fit us all so we ate around the coffee table, using our cooler as seating – but worked well for our little family.
It wasn’t the longest car ride our kids had ever experienced, but it was a solid five hours. On the way down, we stopped at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge in Olympia for a bathroom and snack break; we listened to countless folktales on a podcast; and I had a handful of new snacks for us to try along the way. These all seemed to help our kids have a successful drive to the coast. (On the way home, we listened to a lot more stories, visited Grandpa in southern Washington, and stopped at a few rest areas for running and snack breaks).
Oregon Coast vacation: Favorite places
I think the kids would have been just as happy going to the same beach every day – after all, there is virtually no limit to the creativity of kids with sand, rocks, and water – but I liked checking out different areas along the coast. Each place was a little different, and it was nice to break the day up into a morning and afternoon adventure, with some inside time to warm up and have a bit of quiet time.
The home of Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness, the small town of Oceanside has more than one beach to explore.
Park at Oceanside Beach State Recreational Site to access Oceanside Beach. From there, you can walk through a man-made tunnel to access Tunnel Beach. This tunnel, carved into the base of a rock formation, is partly paved and partly rocky. It’s a dark and wet journey through the tunnel – you feel like quite the explorer as you venture along the path. Prepare to go slowly, watch your step, and carefully guide your kids through the tunnel.
Three Arch Rocks hosts numerous colonies of sea birds, like the Tufted Puffin, Common Murre, and Brown Pelican. It is also a breeding spot for Steller Sea Lions. From Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint (just a few miles up the road from Oceanside), learn all about the animals in Three Arch Rocks from a variety of informative signs.
This was my favorite place we visited. It has epic, sweeping views of the ocean, with a dramatic peninsula jutting into the water. You can camp or rent cabins here, and there are a few hiking trails that run throughout the park. I’d love to come back, stay overnight, and try the trails again with our kids – the day we tried a trail, the kids were not up for it, and preferred to be down by the beach. (Also, one spot on our hike had a steep drop with no rails. There was some vegetation between the path and a drop-down to the ocean, but I felt a bit nervous with our little ones. Stay close to them when you’re on these cliff-edge trails).
*Note that the trailhead for the hikes is different from the parking lot next to the beach – make sure to follow signs so you end up in the right spot.
Just over a ½ hour’s drive from our place on the coast, Munson Creek Falls offers a great hike for families. The trail is relatively flat, and only ¼ mile long, which makes it a great trip for hikers of all ages and abilities. It was quite wet the day we hiked, so we suited up the kids in their rain suits. We didn’t find a great spot to sit and enjoy the falls, but we enjoyed sitting by the river at the trailhead/parking lot, after the hike, for a quick picnic lunch.
Oregon Coast vacation: tips for a successful trip
Biking on the beach is a favorite activity for our family. The kids have nearly no limits as they cruise around the hard-packed sand on their strider bikes. They explore putting their bikes in little rivulets and pushing them over small rocks. When they’re riding, it’s as if they’re nearly sailing across the sand.
Always bring extra clothes, socks, and shoes! The kids didn’t seem to mind when their feet got wet – their sense of adventure was stronger than the discomfort of soggy socks – but I wish that I’d always had extra supplies in the car.
We not only brought classic sand toys, but we also brought some plastic construction vehicles. My son loved pushing the trucks through the sand, using them to dig and scoop. He played with these more than the buckets and shovels.
The weather changed rapidly throughout the day – it could go from hail to sun, to rain, all within a short period of time. Bring lots of layers, and expect that the weather will be constantly shifting.
Read hiking descriptions carefully. One time, I glanced over a hike description that sounded good, so we headed out. I put the trail name in my GPS, and it took us to the middle of a country road, with no trailhead. We ended up finding another trail and had a great walk, but this reminded me to do a bit more research about how to get to trailheads before heading out.
The beach had such great climbing – fallen logs and driftwood all jumbled up. This was my daughter’s favorite activity, which really tested my risk threshold at times. My husband and I took turns spotting them and letting them explore.
The Tillamook Creamery was an interesting stop, but, in my opinion, not as much of a highlight as our beach and hiking time. We did the free, self-guided tour, checked out some of the interactive exhibits for the kids (they got to see how fast they could get milking equipment hooked up to a cow!), and enjoyed some ice cream.
After four nights, we loaded up our car (and had time to vacuum out the back of the car as we packed, which saved us some cleaning back at home!), and began the long drive back. We’d had a cold (but sunny!) time at one of the most amazing destinations in the Pacific Northwest – a trip well worth taking!