The Ultimate Bucket List of Essential Oregon Coast Experiences

If you don't do this, you're doing it wrong.

It all starts with the water.

If you grew up vacationing someplace where the water is warm—someplace like Florida or San Diego—you probably ended up on a trip that involved mouse ears and absurdly overpriced soft drinks.

If you grew up vacationing on the Oregon coast, on the other hand, you know about driftwood forts and tide pools.

Our Pacific is too cold for humans to swim—which means it's great for tuna and halibut. So, despite half-hearted attempts to be touristy, the Oregon Coast remains, largely, a place where working men and women make their living off the land, and where most of the best things for visitors to do involve learning, relaxing and eating. Here are our very favorite Oregon Coast expierences.

Hang out in a driftwood fort…

As long as I can remember, there were the forts. Every Oregon beach seems to have at least one ramshackle shanty or haphazard lean-to somewhere near the beach access, built with whatever scraps of driftwood were nearby. It's possible the forts serve an actual function: The Oregon beach is windy as hell and not always warm. But from age 8, I never had a good reason for building them other than animal pride and the brute quantity of gnarled wood piled up at the high-water mark. You build forts on the Oregon beach for the same reason you dam up a country creek or throw rocks at yellowjacket nests. Because that's what you always do. The Irish and hippies build rock cairns, and we build forts. Note that if you go south along the coast to less-visited beaches, the forts get more elaborate, built on by multiple people. Yachats and Manhattan Beach people don't seem to tear them down like the assholes in Seaside. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

(Martin Cizmar) (Martin Cizmar)

Snap a selfie in front of the Goonies House…

368 38th St., Astoria. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365.25 days a year.

The people who bought Mikey's house are sick of visitors. After hordes descended on the Goonies House for the film's 30th anniversary, owner Sandi Preston tells anyone who'll listen she'd prefer that fans stop parking in her neighborhood and traipsing over to her driveway to take a selfie in front of her Victorian, which looks pretty much exactly as it did in the film. She even got Yelp to say it's "closed." Eh, fuck it. Would Data and Chunk heed a polite request not to exercise their legal right to stand in the middle of a public street and gawk? MARTIN CIZMAR.

Related: A Goonies Tour of Astoria

Oregon Coast Aquarium, Oregon Coast, Going Coastal (Victor Phan)

Walk underneath a swimming shark at the Oregon Coast Aquarium…

2820 SE Ferry Slip Road, Newport, 541-867-3474, 10 am-5 pm daily through May 27, 10 am-6 pm daily May 28-Sept. 5. $22.95 adults, $19.95 seniors and teens, $14.95 children 3-12.

For two years in the mid-'90s, Keiko, the killer whale that starred in Free Willy, lived at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Like the summer of '69 for one young Canadian boy with a six-string he bought at the five-and-dime, these were the best days of his life. Sadly, some well-meaning idiots figured it would be a good idea to try reintegrating a whale that had never caught a live fish into the wild—like the movie. After bouncing around pods of wild whales and acting like a standoffish weirdo because he didn't understand their ways, Keiko showed up in Norway, offering random kids rides on his back. He stayed as close to humans as he could, in a cold, shallow bay where he died of pneumonia at a young age. Keiko's old aquarium is now a giant walk-through tank filled with sharks, rays and rockfish—creatures much dumber than whales, which seem happy enough swimming around the walk-through tunnel where kids gaze up in amazement. The 20-plus-acre aquarium also has otters and seals, which do tricks and gorge themselves on sushi-grade fish, and a touchable tide pool stocked with slimy, pokey critters without full brains, who could take or leave us humans. MARTIN CIZMAR.

(Lizzy Acker) (Lizzy Acker)

Pet an octopus at the Hatfield Marine Science Center…

2030 SE Marine Science Drive, Newport, 541-867-0100, 10 am to 4 pm Thursday through Monday until Memorial Day weekend, 10 am-5 pm daily from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Free.

Back when I was your age, Newport didn't have a fancy aquarium with walk-through shark tanks, sea otters and a village of souvenir shops. No, we went to a "Marine Science Center" and were happy just to touch an octopus and play some educational games. Now, even though there's a huge aquarium in the same neighborhood, Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center is still a nice, free educational experience. Sure, you only get to touch the octopus if the octopus is feeling friendly, but if he or she is having a shy moment, there's still plenty of other stuff to do, including hands-on exhibits that teach you about tide pools, tsunamis and the horrors of beach erosion. Sure, otters are fine—but we won't have any more otters unless we get beach erosion under control. LIZZY ACKER.

See Little Shop of Horrors at an old roller rink…

Coaster Theatre Playhouse, 108 N Hemlock St., Cannon Beach, 503-436-1242.

Those looking for a hot date in 1950s Cannon Beach could roller skate and watch a silent film at this wood-shingled skate rink. Converted into a theater when a Portland patron of the arts bought the historic building in 1972, it's still a top date spot on the art-centric main street. It's also one of the only live theater venues on the entire coast. Catch wholesome entertainment like It's a Wonderful Life or Joni Mitchell's Blue performed by a singer-songwriter. ENID SPITZ.

Get some fudge at Tom 'n' Larry

133 Broadway St, Seaside, Oregon, 503-738-6110. 10am-6pm daily.

This Seaside staple has been pumping out ethereal fudge ($3.50 per quarter pound) for 85 years. The marble tables are darkened with age after generations of on-premises production. As kids, my brother and I would gape through the plate glass window at the candy-making magic. The chocolate fudge is the main draw. Without any exaggeration, this may be the creamiest, most perfect fudge anywhere. For starters, they use good quality Guittard chocolate, but clearly they've mastered the science to avoid the unpalatable crystallization and excessive density that plagues most fudge. Not a chocolate lover? One of their other specialties is penoche fudge, which substitutes brown for granulated sugar and adds pecans. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN

Related: Where to Eat on the Oregon Coast

(Lizzy Acker) (Lizzy Acker)

Ride a horse on the beach at C&M Stables…

90241 U.S. Highway 101, Florence, 541-997-7540, Call for ride times. $60-$195.

The concept of riding a living, breathing animal can be weird if you aren't used to it, and most modern Americans aren't. But there's something a little magical about being on the back of a horse, trying to communicate with it via the reins in your hands while it walks you through a field and a forest and up and over a large sand dune and onto an open, empty beach. C&M Stables has been around since 1981—the first time I rode there I was a little kid, so I can attest that even the scaredest, most unsure first-timer will feel safe in the hands of the experienced staff. The horses are beautiful and calm, and the most dangerous part of the whole thing probably is crossing the street to get to the trail. Definitely opt for the beach ride—Baker Beach is beautiful and has use restrictions because it's a western snowy plover nesting area, which means a chance to see rare birds on a sparsely populated beach. LIZZY ACKER.

Learn about the treacherous seas and poor decision-making at the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse…

750 NW Lighthouse Drive, Newport, Noon-4 pm daily, 11 am-4 pm daily from Memorial Day through September, closed some holidays. Donations encouraged.

The main thing I've learned from visiting lighthouses on the Oregon Coast? Back in the days of lighthouses, folks were dumb. How else can you explain this place? Built on a towering hill overlooking the bay in Newport, this is the only lighthouse in the state where the keeper of the light lived in the same building. And yet, it was far too short and inland to be useful, so after just three years the state decommissioned it and built a new one, Oregon's tallest, on the next big bluff up. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Fight sexual violence by buying a blouse at Deja Vu Thrift Store…

1361 Duane St., Astoria, 503-325-8624, 10 am-5 pm Tuesday-Saturday.

Deja Vu is a colorful explosion of 1970s blouses, groovy furniture, overalls and sequined party dresses. Only a window display of "my body, my choice" signs and anti-rape slogans indicates this isn't just a typical second-hand store. Run by Clatsop County's domestic violence help center, Deja Vu is a font of social activism and a sweet place to buy leopard-print clam diggers. ENID SPITZ.

(Lizzy Acker) (Lizzy Acker)

Get free money at Chinook Winds Casino…

1777 NW 44th St., Lincoln City, 888-244-6665, Always open.

When it's dreary outside, Chinook Winds Casino has everything you need for a perfect indoor day at the coast. There are slot machines, from old timey to a Game of Thrones machine that vibrates and plays music in your ears when you win. There's also a huge bingo room, a cheap buffet and the novelty of indoor smoking. If you feel bad about the fact that you're spending your coast vacation inside, look out the window—there's the ocean, right there. The casino also gets entertainers such as Styx and Tanya Tucker. Pro tip: Sign up for the winners circle. It's free and you get $5 on the slots plus a card and a weird cord and discounts on stuff. Pro tip 2: Spend only that $5 and quit while you're ahead. LIZZY ACKER.

Spot at a starfish in the tide pools at Seal Rock…

10032 NW Pacific Coast Highway, Seal Rock, 541-867-7451,

The central Oregon Coast has a different wayside, beach or state park every 5 miles or so. The question is, where should you stop? Well, for starters, Seal Rock State Recreation Site, a dramatic overlook with a trail that leads down to a wide sandy beach with tide pools. The beach is guarded by a phalanx of massive rocks called "Castle," "Tourist" and "Elephant." The exposed tide pools are a perfect spot to discover sea anemones and shore birds. As the tide comes in and covers up the pools, powerful waves crash against the rocks. LIZZY ACKER.

Play Fascination at Funland…

201 Broadway St., Seaside, 503-738-7361, 9 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 9 am-midnight Friday-Saturday, 9 am-midnight daily during the summer.

Arcades are known for screeching children, surly teenagers, greasy snacks and lame prizes. Funland is no exception. However, there's beer and something called Fascination. You can find the beer at the built-in Fultano's Pizza, and while it can't leave the food court and the selection is nothing to write home about, it is available by the pitcher. Fascination, on the other hand, makes the visit worth it. It's best described as a combination of bingo and skee ball: For a quarter, you sit at a personal table and roll a rubber ball up a ramp into holes that are arranged five-by-five on the board. A corresponding backboard lights up to show which holes you've filled. Same rules as bingo, with up to 40 competitors at a time. It's frustrating, with no apparent strategy, and you could sit and play all day. MADELINE LUCE.

(Rachael Renee' Levasseur) (Rachael Renee’ Levasseur)

Get past the first level of Ghosts 'n Goblins at Game Over…

2821 NW U.S. Highway 101, Lincoln City, 541-614-1150,

1 pm-midnight Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 1 pm-2 am Friday, 11 am-2 am Saturday, 11 pm-midnight Sunday. Under 21 welcome until 9 pm.

If the games at Chinook Winds Casino are a bit too high-stakes for you, Lincoln City offers an alternative. Game Over arcade crams more than 100 video games into a modest space and has an entire wall of pinball machines along with barroom regulars like foosball, air hockey and Pop-A-Shot. Expect a steady supply of relative newcomers (Star Wars: Battle Pod!), but the classics are what'll keep you plugging in quarters. Especially if you get close to clearing the first level of the notoriously difficult Ghosts 'n Goblins. A full bar and grill await in the back once you've run out of change. If you're still looking for a bit of that casino experience without breaking the bank, order a 100-ounce beer tower to go with those flashing lights and loud chimes. ANDI PREWITT.

(Enid Spitz) (Enid Spitz)

Open your eyes at Archimedes Gallery…

139 W 2nd St., Suite 5, Cannon Beach, 503-436-0499,

11 am-5 pm daily.

Cannon Beach galleries are stuck in the '80s, rife with bronze bear sculptures and rainbow sunsets. For anyone ready to vomit on that next watercolor of Haystack Rock, Archimedes isn't so much a breath of fresh air as a hallelujah chorus. Limited-edition prints show Darth Vader blowing an epic bubblegum bubble or Dan May's depressed storybook creatures, which will look familiar to anyone who's attended a Portland street fair. The only beach scenes here are pop art prints from former REI designer and California surfer dude Erik Abel. ENID SPITZ.

Put together your metal-dude starter kit…

1126 Marine Drive, Astoria, 503-468-0865, Noon-7 pm Wednesday-Sunday.

You can take the hesher out the basement, but if he's like Metal Head owner John Gentner, he'll just go and make the basement his business. Metal Head occupies a sliver of real estate in Astoria's commercial district and resembles a headbanger's subterranean man-cave, with tapestries of naked warrior women affixed to slatted wood walls, a Megadeth cassette blaring from a chunky '80s boom box and a humble marijuana plant sprouting out of a pot on the floor. Functioning as a metal-lifestyle emporium, this is where aspiring dirtbags can pick up a sleeveless denim vest, a new piece and a copy of Iron Maiden: From There to Eternity on VHS, then plop down in an old leather chair and flip through a back issue of Playboy. The vinyl selection is small, but serious aficionados of the heavy arts will surely be pleased by the discerning supply of unreadable fonts found among its racks. (There's also a section devoted to a hodgepodge of not-quite-metal items, like Rush's Caress of Steel and Onyx's "Slam" cassingle.) It all raises an obvious question: How the hell is there not a place like this in Portland—that's open to the public, at least? MATTHEW SINGER.

(Matt Singer) (Matt Singer)

Go record shopping in Astoria…

For a town of fewer than 10,000 people, Astoria has a crazy amount of record stores. Well, it has four, but still, that's a lot given the population. Other than Metal Head, there's Commercial Astoria (1269 Commercial St., 503-701-4261), a gift shop with a small but snobbishly cool vinyl section—go here if you're looking for Nick Cave, Radiohead or Big Star. Christie's Mallternative (1167 Marine Drive, 503-325-0268) is a pawn shop hiding stacks of folk, soul and punk in its cluttered back room. And then there's Bach 'n Rock (1606 Marine Drive, 503-338-6376), a fully nonprofit operation that's funded the Spay and Neuter Association of Clatsop County for four decades. With a makeshift botanical nursery in one corner, a pungent cologne of soil and incense clogs the air, contributing to the feeling that you've stumbled into an old hippie's garage. It's a big room, with an almost overwhelming inventory of classical, classic rock and soundtrack music. It's the sort of place that feels like it has gems hidden everywhere—provided you can stop petting Bonnie, the Australian shepherd that wanders the aisles, long enough to search for them.

(Emily Joan Greene) (Emily Joan Greene)

Quaff a Voodoo-Rita…

1114 Marine Drive, Astoria, 503-325-2233, 5 pm-close daily.

There's a new head at the Voodoo Room. He's got a bushy black beard, flat nose and sleepy eyes, and sits between a bucktoothed grotesquerie and a disembodied alien demon. A regular patron recently purchased the severed movie prop at a store in Ilwaco, Wash., and donated it to the downtown Astoria club and lounge. Now it sits among the explosion of other folksy bric-a-brac lining the bar's walls: Ouija boards and taxidermied antelope heads, kabuki masks and accordions, beaded necklaces and decorative skulls and road signs. Opened in 1980 by a chef who still spends most of his time in New Orleans, in a complex that also includes a punky cafe and movie theater, the Voodoo Room is probably the most distinctive bar on the Oregon Coast. Draped with blue curtains and lit by a faint neon glow, it has the atmosphere of a David Lynch set piece—and pretty good margaritas. On weekend nights, bands perform on the small stage in the corner. Many of them are from Portland, but if you walked in to find Dr. John and Tom Waits duetting on the True Detective theme song, it wouldn't be surprising. MATTHEW SINGER.

(Thomas Teal) (Thomas Teal)

See a whale (or just some crabs) aboard the Discovery…

Marine Discovery Tours, 345 SW Bay Blvd., Newport, 541-265-6200, $38, $20 children 4-12, children 3 and under free.

If the seas are choppy, the retired Coast Guard man who captains the 65-foot Discovery is not going to push past the jetty and into the ocean. In that event, you will not see any whales—or, on our cruise, even any bald eagles, pelicans or harbor porpoises. Your cruise will still last two hours and you will still pay the same fee. The good news? Well, there's free coffee, and it's kinda fun to go up the estuary, learning about crabbing and plankton. Crew members drop crab pots, so you'll get to touch several varieties of crab. They have beer for purchase. Sigh. The whales were probably stupid and ugly anyway. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Walk in the footsteps of hobbits…

Mile Marker 177, between Yachats and Florence on U.S. Highway 101. If driving

south, look for a small parking lot about a mile past Carl G. Washburne State Park, on the eastern side of the road.

The Hobbit Trail is so difficult to find that some people think it's a myth we tell Californians. But if you follow our specific directions above, you'll park right by the trailhead. There you will find the beginning of a magical path through the gnarled trees, rhododendrons and shrubs that leads down to a beautiful, sheltered beach. The Hobbit Trail is a perfect Oregon Coast mini-hike. Much of the path feels like a descending tunnel, with little flower-carpeted rooms on the sides where children or goblins can hide. LIZZY ACKER

Related: Best Hikes of the Northern Oregon Coast

Get a cone at Tillamook Cheese Factory…

4175 U.S. Highway 101 North, Tillamook, 503-815-1300, 8 am-6 pm daily, 8 am-8 pm mid-June through Labor Day.

To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Well, Tillamook is cow country. The forward-thinking dairy farmers who banded together to form a collective so they could process and market their cheese (they hired their first ad agency in 1917) know how to run cows, and if you show up at this factory, you're one of a summer herd that's a million strong. Well, it's tradition to stop here. Get in line behind the family in matching Seaside sweatshirts and get your cone. If you're making good use of the rest of this guide, the whole experience should feel a little bizarre. MARTIN CIZMAR.


Editor's Note: The New Coast

Essential Oregon Coast Experiences

What I Learned When I Left Portland and Moved to Astoria

Top 10 Coastal Clam Chowders

The Best Hikes on Oregon's North Coast

Stand-Up Paddleboarding

Astoria's Finest Restaurant

Where to Eat on the Coast

The World's Quirkiest Brewery

Favorite Beer and Bud Spots

The Rusty Magic of Sou'Wester Lodge

Best Places to Stay

Portland Outdoor Stores

Scandinavian Astoria

Secret Beaches, Hidden Features and Easter Eggs of the Coast

This Abandoned Railroad Could Become an Epic Trail From Portland to the Sea

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