The Eight Best Places for Wave Watching on the Oregon Coast
By Allen Cox
Published: 09/18/2013  Updated: 08/15/2019
Photos By Gary Hayes

Sea meets the shore with unfathomable force along the 363-mile Oregon Coast. Travelers can catch the excitement at dozens of prime viewpoints, from the Columbia River's South Jetty in the north to Coquille Point in the south.

The Oregon Coast is famous for dramatic displays of nature. Thundering waves crash with explosive power against sheer cliffs, shoot upward like geysers from holes in volcanic rock and churn violently in stone caldrons eroded by the force of the sea. From border to border, Oregon's coast runs 363 miles, and key points along U.S. 101 offer safe viewpoints for some of the most spectacular surf watching on the planet. From Fort Stevens State Park's South Jetty on the North Coast to Coquille Point on the South Coast, dozens of stops highlight the power of the Pacific Ocean. Whether you are a photographer, a nature lover, a painter of seascapes or someone just taking in the sights, these roadside stops offer a front row seat to the best show on the coast.

Fort Stevens State Park

An observation platform overlooks the South Jetty at Fort Stevens State Park near Astoria. At this point, the immense Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean, with the South Jetty working ceaselessly to channel the force of the river. Whether or not you visit during a storm, the sight of the surf crashing onto and over the 6.5-mile-long jetty as you gaze out to the area of sea known as "The Graveyard of the Pacific" is unforgettable.

Ecola State Park

Ecola State Park hugs the coastline and bluffs of Tillamook Head from Seaside to Cannon Beach. Enter the park at Cannon Beach, drive to the Ecola Point parking area and savor the long view of Crescent Beach down to Haystack Rock. Watch for elk herds that frequent the hillside above you. For an even better experience, the paved pathways from the parking lot lead to viewpoints of Ecola Point for the postcard-perfect view of sea stacks and the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse (a.k.a. Terrible Tilly) perched on a lonely rock off coast.

Cape Kiwanda

The north end of Cape Kiwanda's beach is defined by a six-story-high sand dune and the cape headland reaching into the sea. Pounding waves have carved the cape's raw and wild cliffs, creating a dramatic collection of caves, arches and waterspouts. Climb the dune to reach the top of the cape for views of waves crashing on sandstone cliff sides.

Depoe Bay

Serious coastal geyser watchers should head to Depoe Bay's seawall, especially during a storm when the "spouting horns" are particularly active. The seawall was built on porous volcanic rock formations that funnel the surf as high as 60 feet into the air, often giving unsuspecting visitors an unexpected shower. Stand back and enjoy the show.

Devils Punchbowl

A short detour off 101 to the tiny town of Otter Rock ends at Devil's Punchbowl State Natural Area, a shoreline featuring a cauldron that churns with surf when stormy seas and high tide assault the coast. Seawater enters from an undersea portal and fills the stone punchbowl, thought to be the remnants of a cave whose roof collapsed. At low tide, this beach is worth a stop to explore its tide pools teeming with life.

Cape Perpetua

The diverse natural features at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, part of the Siuslaw National Forest a few miles south of Yachats, make it one of the most spectacular areas on the coast. If you visit no other place on the Oregon Coast, Cape Perpetua serves up all the fierce wave action you could dream of within a short few miles of coastline. Coming from the north, you'll first encounter Devil's Churn, a narrow ribbon of an inlet, easily reached from the parking lot via short trail. The water here churns with the turbulence of the tide rushing in and out, forced into a narrow dead-end chasm. A short drive to the south, Thor's Well is a natural cauldron on a rocky shoreline shelf. It's powered by seawater rushing through an undersea cave, the water rapidly rising and lowering in the bowl driven by the sheer power of the ocean. Nearby, viewpoints at the north and south end of Cook's Chasm Bridge on U.S. 101 offer views into a deep, narrow canyon where seawater rushes in with the tide when the surf's up. From either viewpoint, you can also see Spouting Horn, a hole in the rock shelf connected to an undersea cave, resulting in a geyser-like fountain. Stop at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center for more in-depth information and to learn about trails exploring this remarkable slice of coast.

Shore Acres State Park

At Coos Bay, detour off of Hwy 101 onto Hwy 540 (Cape Arago Highway) and head to Shore Acres State Park, the former estate of a timber giant. The estate, known for it's extensive floral gardens, is located atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. Mammoth crashing waves climb cliff faces in firework-like displays, and rocks are home to seals and their pups. Take the path to the observation shelter at the top of the cliff, an ideal place to survey all that nature has to offer in this spectacular place.

Bandon Beach Viewpoints

Farther south along the coast, the town of Bandon is home to two places offering views of south coast wave action, some very interesting geological features and 10 species of breeding birds. This area is part of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Coquille Point, near the north end of Beach Loop Drive offers viewpoints looking down at other worldly sea stacks that rise out of the sand and ocean for miles. The place to be here is on the beach at low tide for a proper perspective of this maze of rocks. A short drive south, at Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, look out at Face Rock to see the profile of a woman's face tilted upward to the north as if it's rising out of the sea. According to local lore, if you listen you can hear her voice calling in the wind.
The Eight Best Places for Wave Watching on the Oregon Coast