Cruise the loop between Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda.
Nestled between Tillamook and Pacific City is one of the prettiest drives on the Oregon Coast. A perfect road trip itinerary to explore the state’s swoon-worthy vistas and fresh local eats. This is the Three Capes scenic route and might just prove that the west coast is the best coast. Sandy beaches to surf, tide pools to peruse and old-growth forests to hike. Taste Dungeness crab from dock to pot to your plate. Or briny oysters plucked and shucked on the spot. Local cows in these parts make the best Oregon cheeses and the creamiest ice cream. Buckle up, we’re going for a ride. Oregon Coast style. Come to Oregon, she said.
Begin in Tillamook or Pacific City
As this drive is mostly a loop, you can begin at any point on the route. We made this drive on a unseasonably warm Saturday in early October and had no issues with traffic. But summer months bring more crowds, so be patient and plan extra time. Since we started in Pacific City, I will share the drive in that direction. Map below to download or follow as you go. From Portland, Oregon – it’s about an hour and 15 minute drive to Tillamook and the same from Salem to Pacific City. Let’s go!
Pacific Beach and Chief Kiwanda Rock
Pacific City is a lovely little beach enclave and home to the other “Haystack Rock.” The giant monolith here is oft mistaken for the famous sea stack off Cannon Beach further up the north Oregon Coast. But this one is Chief Kiwanda Rock, so-called to honor the 1800s chief of the original indigenous Nestugga (or Nestucca) – now part of the greater Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. Visible before you even reach the beach at Pacific City, Chief Kiwanda Rock marks the beginning (or end depending on which way you start) of the Three Capes Scenic Loop.
Pacific City Beach is popular with families flying kites, building sand castles and even braving the waves. Best to don a wetsuit of some sort if extended bouts of boogie boarding or surfing are in your plan. This is the Pacific Ocean and come mid-August, temperatures can reach 55 to 63°F (13 to 17°). So – perfect for dipping if you’re a Scandinavian. Just take care of rip tides and sneaker waves, no lifeguards out here.
WHERE TO EAT:
Pelican Brewing | 33180 Cape Kiwanda Dr, Pacific City, OR 97135
A popular Oregon Coast brewpub, Pacific City is their original location. Want to grab a coveted patio table with views of this rock and this shore? Put your name in quickly before putting your toes in the sand. It’s first come, first served and for reference, we were given a 90-minute wait for lunch. Perfect if you want to eat after you play or take in the scenery.
Sandstone cliffs of Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area
You can see Cape Kiwanda’s famous sandstone cliffs from Pacific City Beach, but if you want more views from the Cape head to the State Natural Area – a great place for hikes. Stay on the designated paths to keep your party safe, the ever-beating ocean continually changes this landscape and can be unstable in parts. A steep climb up the sand dune affords views up and down the coast – when the coast is clear.
Serious views from Cape Lookout State Park
Cape number two (in either direction you start your tour) will be Cape Lookout, appropriately named for a reason. This spot affords some of those straight-up-the-coast views. Hikers who have more time will want to take the 5-mile roundtrip evergreened path out to the tip of the Cape. A quick stop at the many turnouts on the route afford views over Netarts Bay below and three arch rocks off Cape Meares in the distance.
Get Salty at Jacobsen Salt Company
It’s not just beaches and vistas on this coast road trip. I’ve got spots for foodies too. Want to see how some of the best artisan salt in the world is made? Beeline for this adorable little blue cabin off Netarts Bay – the home of Jacobsen Salt Company. Founder Ben Jacobsen learned about finishing sea salts while living in Denmark and moving back to the Pacific Northwest recognized a void even as farmer’s markets and home cooking with local ingredients were on the rise.
He landed on Netarts Bay as the site for his salt -making site as it has a large natural oyster population that filters the sea water – helping produce the purist product. The water is pumped into tanks right from the bay and goes through a meticulous hand sorted process ensuring quality. Pick up some of the classic finishing salts or many seasonings in their cute little gift shop.
Jacobsen Salt Company Gift Shop | 9820 Whiskey Creek Rd, Tillamook, OR 97141
Open Weds – Sat | 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sun | 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Slurp some Netarts Bay Oysters
Those oysters that help purify Jacobsens salt – you can taste them just down the road. Unfortunately the little Nevør Shellfish market we stopped at is now closed and up for sale. But you can still get your hands on some local bivalves at The Schooner restaurant in Netarts. Situated right at the boat launch for Netarts Bay, their angled roofs look ready to sail as they serve up fresh as it gets seafood and produce. All locally sourced and in season.
The Schooner Restaurant and Lounge | 2065 NW Boat Basin Rd, Netarts, OR 97143
Beach time in secluded little Oceanside
With less than 500 residents, little Oceanside just north of Netarts is little coastal village with a popular beach. Paragliders cruise the cliffs while surfers set to the waves. Great tide pools here to carefully look for squishy green fingered anemones, little crabs, mussels and limpets. Hungry? Grab a bite at Roseanna’s with views of the water – open Wednesday to Sunday from 3:00 – 8:00 p.m. – known for their clam chowder.
Oceanside Beach State Recreation Site | 1825 Rosenberg Loop, Tillamook, OR 97141
Walk the small trail to Cape Meares Lighthouse
Follow the signs from Oceanside towards Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint. Park your car and take the 0.2 mile loop to one of the cutest lighthouses on the Oregon Coast. A protected natural area, the islands and inlets visible below are home to lots of local wildlife.
Puffins, guillemots, murres and cormorants make nests on these peaks. Listen and look for sea lions and seals in the waves and the rocks and migrating whales in the distance. Bring binoculars or quarters for the viewfinders to spot the marine critters out to Three Arches National Wildlife Refuge to the south.
The diminutive lighthouse was first lit in 1890 and was one of the most powerful at the time. Ships could spot the unique red and white light shining over 20 miles away. Tours are available during parks opening hours, timing and space limited – check when you’re on site.
Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint | 3500 Cape Meares Loop, Tillamook, OR 97141
Don’t miss the Oregon Heritage Octopus Tree at Cape Meares
Above the Cape Meares Scenic Lookout parking lot is a short path to one of the most unique trees around. The famous Octopus Tree, a heritage Sitka Spruce, has been gracing this spot for almost 300 years. No one knows exactly how it grew this way, but not up for debate – how impressive it stands.
Get cheesy in Tillamook, Oregon
It’s not only marine life and seafood out here, the mild temps and grasslands a bit inland are perfect for raising dairy cows. Tillamook Creamery, in the coastal town of Tillamook takes advantage. Famous in this state (and points further) for consistently delicious giant blocks of Oregon cheddar cheese, other flavors too. You can visit the “house that cheddar built” and people truly flock to the creamery for factory tours.
Here visitors learn about all the whey about curds. No whey. Whey. But come during the week to see workers in action on your self-guided visit. Hungry? Grab a gooey grilled cheese or some of the creamiest ice cream at the restaurant on site. Tillamook now produce all kinds of cheeses and delicious ice creams.
Tillamook Creamery | 4165 N Hwy 101, Tillamook, OR 97141
Open 7 days a week | 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Free of charge to visit, sometimes a line to get in
Prefer your dairy to be a little more European? Head to Blue Heron French Cheese Company for their popular bries and delicatessen. Pick up fixings for your own charcuterie board, or take some samples to enjoy at tables in their outside garden. An impressive selection of Oregon wines and craft beers available to enjoy on site.
Blue Heron French Cheese Company | 2001 Blue Heron Rd A, Tillamook, OR 97141
So there you have it. The Three Capes Scenic Route along the north Oregon Coast. With so many vistas and beaches and good food to taste, you could do it as a day trip, but even better for a weekend away. Bring your hiking shoes and layers for for potential wind and rain. Did I miss a favorite stop of yours on this route – please share in the comments below. Come to Oregon, she said. Cheers from here.