California's Pacific Coast Highway gets the bulk of road trippers’ attention, but the 363-mile journey south down Oregon's U.S. 101 rivals the Golden State's beauty. This five-night trip starts in Astoria, which is about a two-hour drive northwest from Portland (home to Portland International Airport, for those flying in for the journey). It ends at the southern end of Oregon's coast in Brookings, where you're about equidistant from Portland and San Francisco (six or seven hours). If you're on your way south, you can't go wrong with a visit to Redwood National and State Parks, just a short drive from Brookings over the California border.
Day 1: Astoria to Cannon Beach (25.5 miles)
Located at the mouth of the Columbia River, the snug port city of Astoria is often considered the Oregon Coast gateway. Start your day at the Astoria-Megler Bridge in Maritime Memorial Park and stroll along the paved Astoria Riverwalk a little more than a mile to the Columbia River Maritime Museum. There, exhibits and artifacts orient you to the region's nautical history. Come lunchtime, get your first taste of the coast's succulent seafood at South Bay Wild Fish House, which gets raves for sea-to-table fare. Order one of the hyperlocal Dungeness crab dishes.
Jump on 101 and drive south (a little less than an hour) to Cannon Beach, easily recognizable for its 235-foot sea stack — the smaller but more famous of the coast's two Haystack Rocks. Explore its pretty downtown area, with quaint shops housed in salt-weathered cottages bedecked with blooms, then make your way to the beach. At low tide, endless tide pools fill with chartreuse anemones, inky urchins and bright-orange sea stars. Also look for tufted puffins in spring and summer. At dinner, treat yourself to photo-worthy ocean views and pan-fried razor clams or Chinook salmon at the Wayfarer Restaurant and Lounge.
Where to stay: Five miles south of town, just steps from the beach, the Inn at Arch Cape has just six rooms that feel like private cottages, with fireplaces and small kitchens.
Day 2: Cannon Beach to Newport (108 miles)
The total drive today is around two and a half hours, but it's all about the journey. Ten miles from Cannon Beach is Oswald West State Park, named for the governor who preserved Oregon's coastline for public use. An easy trail right off the highway leads through a lush rain forest to Short Sands Beach, a gorgeous stretch for a morning walk.
Continue to Tillamook and its Latimer Quilt & Textile Center (open Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays), which showcases antique quilts, hand-woven fabrics and sewing notions. View works in progress in a room full of looms and spinning wheels. On the Tillamook County Quilt Trail, a self-guided walking tour, see more than 30 wooden quilt blocks displayed around town.
A short detour onto Oregon 131 leads to the Three Capes Scenic Route, which winds past three giant headlands: Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda. Drink in the scenery at multiple pull-offs, then stop at the Pelican Pub and Brewery in Pacific City, home to the coast's other Haystack Rock, for an ice-cold craft beer and lunch on the beach overlooking Cape Kiwanda. A menu favorite: flatbread topped with homemade beer sausage.