The Perfect Oregon Coast Road Trip

Last year, I was in Portland over Thanksgiving visiting family. Everyone left on Sunday but I had two more days before my flight back to LA, so I decided to rent a car and make a couple of day trips!

Monday morning, I picked up my car at Dollar at PDX. I had reserved the Managers Special and was quite pleased when the agent handed me the keys to a 2018 Subaru Impreza. I would have preferred the hatchback model, but I was happy to have a Subaru. It’s pretty much the perfect car for an Oregon road trip. The car was $43.32 total for the two-day rental. I paid with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card and declined the collision waiver as the Reserve provides primary insurance in the US.

My Impreza rental from Dollar at PDX

My Impreza rental from Dollar at PDX

Heres my rough itinerary for the day:

- Taking HWY 6 over to Tillamook to check out the Tillamook Visitor Center

- Head north to explore Hug Point,

- Visit Cannon Beach and pay homage to Haystack rock

- Grab a beer from a local brewery.

I did this route going clockwise.

I did this route going clockwise.

HWY 6 is a beautiful, windy drive through the lush Tillamook State Forest. I live in Los Angeles, where everything is brown and dry, so the green lushness of the forest made me giddy with happiness. I was born in Surrey, BC but out of all the places I’ve lived, the PNW always feels the most like home to me. Since it was after Thanksgiving, I could officially listen to Christmas music which paired perfectly with the drizzly, overcast day.

I wanted to leave the day as open and unplanned as possible, giving myself plenty of time to pull over and take photos if I saw an interesting site. My first stop was at a turn out for a viewpoint that wasn't very viewable due to the low clouds. But there was a map of the local trails in the area with several waterfalls just off the road. Intrigued, I decided to take a detour and try the Subaru on some back roads.

Misty road in Tillamook State Forest

Misty road in Tillamook State Forest

I didn’t have any service at this point. I also had made the mistake of not downloading an offline google map earlier. But the route to the waterfalls looked simple enough: right, left, right, left, generally moving northwest. Well, there were a lot more back roads than the map showed and I found myself driving south, confident only that I was going the wrong way. I turned the car around and by using the Subaru's compass made some educated guessed about where the roads might go. Luckily, I stumbled upon a trailhead that had another posted map of the area. So I took a picture of that and felt a bit more confident of making it to the waterfall.

Somehow I made it to the University Falls trailhead. I started down the trail at a good pace, hoping to make it to falls and fly my drone as the drizzle had briefly let up. The trail was quite muddy, but only about a mile long and I reached the falls in no time at all. I launched my Mavic Air and nervously threaded it between the skeletal branches of the trees, trying to get an “elevator” shot of the falls. It felt like I had the whole place to myself until two mountain bikers showed up. I took a couple of self-portraits with my XT1 before heading back to the car. I wanted to get to Tillamook for lunch, and my many detours and backtracking on these gravel roads had cut into my time.

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I’m not sure how I even made it out of the forest. The roads I saw didn’t seem to correspond with the posted maps. But with a couple of lucky guesses, I found myself back at the main road. I felt relieved to be back on the beaten path, and quite pleased at my navigation ability.

I was starving at this point, so I made a beeline for the Tillamook Creamery. I’ve been coming to the Tillamook Creamery visitor center since I was a kid and its a very nostalgic place for me. Tillamook just opened their new visitor center and its gorgeous. Thankfully, they still have the all-important cheese tasting as part of the self-guided tour. You can also even see the cheese making magic.

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For lunch, I got the Tillamook cheddar grilled cheese and a cup of tomato soup with cheese curds. Talk about perfect rainy day food.

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The eating area is made up of these massive communal tables and benches. I sat down at an open spot and was shortly joined by a lovely group of retirees, also out on a day trip. One of the gentlemen told me about Tillamook Meats, just up the road where I could get two-foot pepperoni sticks for $1.50. That sounded like a perfect road trip snack. So after getting a milkshake for the road, I continued my drive up north.

Highly reccommend stopping at the Tillamook Country Smoker for some pepperoni sticks or beef jerky

Highly reccommend stopping at the Tillamook Country Smoker for some pepperoni sticks or beef jerky

Americano at one of the many drive thru espresso bars that are scattered across Oregon.

Americano at one of the many drive thru espresso bars that are scattered across Oregon.

When I got to Hug Point, the weather was taking a turn for the worse. It was getting very windy by the water, and the rain was coming down in sheets. But I layered up in my rain gear to brave the elements. Despite having come to Cannon beach for family holidays all my life, I had never explored Hug Point. I was looking forward to seeing the waterfall and caves I had found from my research.

Hug Point is so called because it used to be part of the beach road to Arch Cape. It was only passable at low tide, and one would have to “hug the point” to make it around. Unfortunately, I mistimed the tide which was almost at its highest. I did explore a small indentation carved into the south face of the point that afforded me coverage from the rain. It seemed like a safe place until an unusually large wave made its way in and drenched my feet.

Sheltered from the rain, but then a wave got my feet!

Sheltered from the rain, but then a wave got my feet!

From the parking lot, some rough trails lead up to the top of the point and afford a beautiful view of the waterfall and caves. It reminded me of Ecola State Park, small windswept trees, low shrubs, and dramatic cliffs. This part of Oregon also reminds me of Western Ireland, one of my favorite places on earth. I love cold, salty air, the drizzle, the green, mossy lushness, the feeling of being lost in a vast, rugged landscape. It warmed my heart to bursting in spite of the incessant rain seeping into my jacket's shoulders.

Looking down towards the waterfall from the top of Hug Point

Looking down towards the waterfall from the top of Hug Point

I saw that the trail that leads to the top of the point seemed to continue into the undergrowth and I decided to follow it. It was evident that this was not an official trail, but one made by adventurous hikers. At one point I was crawling through a tunnel formed by the shrubs. Apparently, others had the same desire as me, to get to the waterfall despite the high tide.

Eventually, I made it to the stream that feeds the waterfall, and I faced one final challenge. I needed to cross the stream somehow if I wanted to view the waterfall. I finally found a rock sticking out of the flow that was within jumping distance, but that would require stepping off into the stream to get to. I went for it and didn’t get as wet as I thought.

It seemed more intimidating in person!

It seemed more intimidating in person!

All this was well worth it. It felt incredible to be standing at the top of the little waterfall watching the fresh water cascading into the sea and the salty waves breaking right at the bottom of the falls. I could see the “caves,” but they didn’t look like they were very deep. I soaked in the sights and sounds as long as I could before I started getting chilly. It was also getting late, and with sunset around 4:30pm, I wanted to make to make it to Haystack Rock before dark.

The waterfall and cave close up.

The waterfall and cave close up.

The drive from Hug Point to Cannon Beach is short, and I was on the beach in no time. However, the weather conditions were less than ideal. The wind was blowing so hard that sand from the high tide line was getting picked up and blown despite the rain. It was otherworldly, I’ve never seen anything like that before at Cannon Beach. I staggered along the deserted beach, trying to get closer to Haystack rock. I had the beach entirely to myself, I guess everyone else had the good sense to stay in on a stormy day like today. It was too rainy to take many pictures, and the light wasn’t good anyways. I spent a few minutes leaning into the wind as I admired Haystack. Once I started getting cold, I decided it was time for a much-needed beer.

Not the best conditions for photos.

Not the best conditions for photos.

According to their website, Pelican Brewery started in 1996 in Pacific City, Oregon. Their Cannon Beach brewpub opened in 2016, and this was my first time checking it out. I ordered the sampler which is delivered on an impressive serving tray complete with a Pelican and list of what you're drinking. The Kiawanda Cream Ale was my absolute favorite. It was crisp, slightly floral with an amazing biscuity finish. A beer you could drink all day. Their Umbrella New World IPA was a close second. It had the most fantastic nose with tropical notes of passionfruit. I highly recommend stopping in at Pelican Brewery if you’re ever in Cannon Beach. Or check out their other locations in Tillamook and Pacific City.

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After my sampler, I took a walk along the dark, empty streets on Cannon beach to the Mariner Market. It was the only place that was still open, and I need to buy some snacks and a coffee for the drive home. My heart was full of sea, and my mind felt at ease and cleansed by the rain. Even though the conditions hadn’t been good for photography, the trip felt like a success. It was the perfect Oregon coast road trip.