For The People: The Story of Oregon's Public Beaches
By Gary Hayes
Published: 06/12/2013  Updated: 08/08/2019
The beach and offshore rocks at Chapman Point in Cannon Beach, Oregon.
The beach and offshore rocks at Chapman Point in Cannon Beach, Oregon.  Photo by Gary Hayes

Public access to Oregon's beaches is a 100-year-old tradition offering 363 beautiful miles for all to enjoy.

There's no other place like it in the world. Around every turn there are spectacular landscapes, dramatic viewpoints, natural wonders and unspoiled open stretches of beach. One of the things that makes Oregon's coastline most unique is the amazing public access from one end of the 363-mile shoreline to the other. Not only do Oregon State Parks offer access to some of the most remarkable portions of the coast, but all along the shoreline you will find public beach access. There are no fences and there are no private beaches. These natural areas are set aside for all to enjoy.

Oregon's public beaches are the result of a 100-year effort to make sure that this coastline will forever be for the people and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the initial efforts to preserve Oregon beaches for public use. In the 1870s, the Oregon State Land Board had begun selling tidelands to private upland owners, but in 1913, Governor Oswald West drafted a bill declaring all of the tidelands in the State a public highway. Prior to the construction of the Coast Highway in the 1930s, the beaches were a critical thoroughfare for tourism, recreation and industry.

To address a growing need for public access to beaches amid increased development in the 1960s, the State began a program to create public access points about every three miles of the coast. But the 1960s also saw a challenge to Oregon's public beach laws. In 1966, some coastal property owners and developers questioned the long-standing bill. While at least one motel owner barricaded a portion of the beach adjacent to his property, concerned citizens began pressing for State action to preserve Oregon's public beaches. The next chapter in Oregon's public beaches was written by the people and championed by Oregon's Republican Governor Tom McCall.

In February of 1967, The Beach Bill as it came to be known was introduced, but failed to move forward in the State Legislature. There was a public outcry from citizens of the State, the greatest public response to any issue in Oregon's legislative history, and finally, in July of 1967, a compromise bill was passed. Under the landmark legislation, the public was granted the free and uninterrupted use of the beaches we all enjoy today.

For The People: The Story of Oregon's Public Beaches