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  • Writer's pictureMark Robinson

Journey to the Lighthouses of Oregon

For over a year Andy and I have planned a long trip to the lighthouses of Oregon. We wanted to take a trip that would be where we would see all of the lighthouses in the entire state of Oregon.

Day 1: Portland

After picking up my son early for Spring Break, we drove to SFO to begin our Oregon lighthouse journey. We arrived at the airport and took off in the early afternoon, landing in Portland about an hour later. We decided to rent a Hyundai Santa Fe, a car we decided was neither glamourous nor technologically advanced, yet reliable and comfortable all the same. We then checked into our hotel, the Embassy Suites in downtown. While not perfect, we found that this hotel had a fantastic location and was full of charm. That night we ate at an amazing Thai Restaurant (see the full review), and went to bed.

Day 2: Portland

Andy in front of Powell's Books

The next morning, we woke up early and decided to walk around downtown Portland and explore. Walking around the empty streets was definitely both eerie and serine. We then walked over to Powell’s City of Books, widely regarded as one of the best bookstores in the world. You can find almost anything in this store! We bought a bunch of books and then had them shipped home (this is useful if you don’t want to lug a bunch of books around for the rest of your travels).

Portland's Busy Waterfront

Afterwards we headed back towards the waterfront to explore the Oregon Maritime Museum, housed on a historic steam-tug boat sitting in the Willamette River. We enjoyed a guided tour of the ship and learned the how Portland grew from a tiny wilderness outpost into a prosperous city.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

From there, we walked to the Lan Su Chinese Garden. This was an amazing experience for both Andy and I who enjoyed the contrast between the gritty surrounding city and manicured serenity of the garden.

We then decided to go to the Japanese Gardens using the city’s amazing light rail system, which we discovered takes you all over the city. We discovered that the gardens were actually closed for renovations and would not be open for a few months. Because of this, we decided to head to the Oregon Zoo instead, located nearby. The zoo had just undergone renovations, and as such had some truly incredible exhibits. Highlights included one of the largest elephant exhibits in the country, a forest with rare California Condors, and of course, the ubiquitous zoo train! We had a great time. Eventually we headed back to our hotel, ordered room service, and then went to bed.

Day 3: Astoria

We woke up very early, excited to see our first lighthouse, Warrior Rock. After having breakfast, we loaded up the car and drove out of downtown Portland, past the industrial outskirts of the city, and into the wilderness. We crossed the bridge onto Sauvie Island, and purchased a parking pass from Cracker Barrel Market.

We then drove deep into the swamplands of the island to the trailhead, noticing that many parts of the island we flooded. We then got out of our car and begin hiking. Only around a mile in did we observe, to our horror, that huge parts of the trail were flooded. We tried hiking in, trying not to slip as we heard the squelch of our shoes sinking into the mud. We kept going, looking around the next bend, seeing if we could make it until we realized that the hike was impossible. We slowly, one careful step at a time, made our way all the way back to our car, where we spent around 30 minutes wiping off the mud caking our shoes. We then slowly drove back down the island to the bridge, realizing the torrential winter and spring rains had flooded most of the island. We decided to try to see the lighthouse some other trip.

We drove 2 hours to Astoria, following the path of the flooding Columbia River. We visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum, home to the Columbia Lightship. This fantastic museum shows the history of the Columbia River Bar, one of the most dangerous sections of water in the country.

Sea Lions sleeping below us as we had our lunch

After this, we decided to get lunch at the Buoy Beer Company, a highly rated restaurant. We discovered that despite the long wait, the food and the view made the experience worthwhile. One of the most amazing features of the restaurant is that you can look through a glass floor directly at Sea Lions who sleep below.

Ships line up for their cargo

We also enjoyed looking at the rows of ships parked right outside of the restaurant.

Flavel House

After lunch, we decided to go to the Flavel House, an ornate Victorian mansion now open for public tours. The elegant décor and the intricate exterior design were enough to justify visiting the museum. We then checked into our hotel, the Hampton Inn and Suites Astoria, and relaxed for a little while before having dinner in town and then going to bed. We really liked the hotel and its view of the river, but found that the sound of sea lions outside made it hard to sleep. Definitely an exciting day.

Day 4: Northern Oregon Coast

The next day we decided to see two lighthouses in Washington, Cape Disappointment and North Head, before heading south down the Oregon Coast. We crossed the Columbia River and drove about 40 minutes to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which we discovered was not yet open. Because of this, we decided to go to Cape Disappointment lighthouse.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

We parked at the bottom of the hill and hiked a very short but steep trail up to the lighthouse. From it we had a magnificent view of the Columbia River.

View from the trail to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

We hiked back down and then made our way over to North Head Lighthouse. After parking, we walked past the elaborate keeper’s houses (available for rental) to the lighthouse. Unfortunately, the lighthouse was undergoing renovations when we were there, and we were unable to go right up to the tower and go inside. Despite this, we found the scenery to be very beautiful.

North Head Lighthouse

Afterwards, we decided to return to the interpretive center to see if it was open and sadly, it wasn’t. We were about to leave when we saw a woman go into the building. Turns out she ran the gift shop! She let us in and not only were we able to get our lighthouse passport stamped; we were also able to buy items. We then encountered the people who ran the interpretive center, and they let us in to the rest of the building! We saw the lens for Cape

Disappointment and North Head, as well as some exhibits on the history of the area.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse Lens

Additionally, the view was fantastic! We thanked everyone for letting us in and then drove towards Astoria, down the Oregon Coast, until we arrived at Ecola State Park, where we hiked up to Tillamook Rock lighthouse. After hiking up a steep mountain path, we arrived at the viewpoint for the lighthouse.

The view from Ecola State Park

Though beautiful, it is clear that the lighthouse has seen better days.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

We then trekked back down to our car and drove to a late lunch at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. The food was amazing, but we waited 2 hours for our food. Clearly, they could not handle the crowds. We then drove to Cape Meares lighthouse, a lighthouse we feared was closed. Fortunately, when the website said closed, they apparently just meant “the lighthouse is closed” not “the lighthouse and grounds are closed”. Be specific! We then walked down a tree lined path down to the lighthouse, where we took in the breathtaking views.

Cape Meares Lighthouse

Finally, we drove around an hour and 30 minutes south to our hotel for the next two nights, the Salishan. We had an incredible dinner at the hotel’s restaurant (The Sun Room) and settled in to our room overlooking a golf course. This is definitely the nicest hotel on the central/northern Oregon Coast!

Day 5: Newport

We woke up the next morning and ate a fantastic meal at the hotel (crab omelet!), and we headed off an hour down the coast to our first “lighthouse”, Cape Perpetua (Cleft of the Rock). Although not built by the government as a navigational aid, this lighthouse is still considered an official Oregon lighthouse.

Cape Perpetua (Cleft of the Rock)

To get a picture, we quickly pulled over on Hwy 101 to snap some photos through the trees, before heading back north to Newport. Though we had two more lighthouses to see that day, we realized that neither we open, and as such we decided to visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

Oregon Coast Aquarium

Truly amazing, this aquarium’s highlights included Seals, Sea Lions, Sea Otters, and an underwater tunnel with fish swimming all around you.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

We then left and headed over to Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. We then toured the lighthouse, learning what the lives of keepers and their families would have been like a century ago.

Yaquina Head lighthouse

Next, we drove to Yaquina Head lighthouse, the successor to Yaquina Bay. After arriving, we discovered that the lighthouse was actually very crowded, and it was very difficult to find parking. After we did, we walked up to the lighthouse and took some pictures. Definitely one of the most memorable lighthouses of the trip. Later, we walked back down to the visitor center to get the stamp, see the exhibits, and see if we could get a tour of the lighthouse. Sadly, the times we would have wanted were all booked up. Because of this, we decided to leave and go get some lunch at Nye Beach (in Newport).

We ate lunch at a great little café and then got some ice cream before taking a stroll along the beach. Afterwards, we drove back to the Salishan and hung out at the hotel.

Day 6: Heceta Head B&B!!!

After we woke up and had breakfast, we left the Salishan and drove south, passing Newport (again) until we reached Heceta Head Lighthouse. We parked at the base of the hill, then walked up to the lighthouse, past the keeper’s house, and looked around before taking a tour. What a stunning location!

Heceta Head Lighthouse

The way the cliffs drop into the ocean is nothing less than stunning. After exploring the lighthouse and grounds, we checked into the B&B at the keeper’s house and were given a lovely tour of the common rooms of the house.

Heceta Head Keeper's House

We then drove south to the town of Florence for lunch before deciding that we should drive to the next lighthouse a day early, Umpqua River. We were not actually sure that the lighthouse was going to be open at all, but despite this, we decided to drive the 35 minutes south to the lighthouse.

Umpqua River Lighthouse

When we arrived, we decided to take some pictures of the lighthouse before wandering over to the museum and gift shop (housed in an old coast guard life-saving station). It was open! We then were given a tour of the lighthouse and its lens (very dizzying) and then headed back to the gift shop to enjoy its extensive collection of lighthouse models.

Umpqua River Lens

After that we headed back to Heceta Head, where we sat down in the rocking chairs on the porch and chatted with some of the guests. A little while later we headed back to Florence for dinner, where we had an amazing, very heavy meal at a local pizza place. After heading back to the lighthouse for the final time, we decided to walk up to the lighthouse in the dark. I can’t think of anything more magical.

Day 7: Southern Oregon Coast

After getting a mediocre amount of sleep (the sound of the ocean was very loud), we got up and headed down to the famous seven course breakfast. The meal included fresh cheeses, seafood, and an egg soufflé (all made with local ingredients). It was incredible (and incredibly heavy)! The breakfast also provided a great opportunity to chat with the other guests and learn more about their travels. Unfortunately, we needed to head out, so we left at around the fifth course (we lost count!). 1 hour and 40 minutes later, we arrived at our next lighthouse, Cape Arago near Coos Bay.

Cape Arago Lighthouse

We parked around ¾ of a mile away and then took some photos down by the beach of the lighthouse; not the most exciting lighthouse, but definitely in a great location. We then tried to find the visitor center (easy to miss at the back of the park), but we eventually found it and got the stamp. After that, we drove a little over an hour down the coast, past the town of Bandon, to the Cape Blanco lighthouse.

Cape Blanco lighthouse

When we got to the lighthouse, we parked and walked over to the gift shop, where we joined a tour of the lighthouse. After climbing to the top of the tower and taking in the expansive views of the coastline, we went back to the store to get our passport stamped and get some souvenirs (including a lighthouse blanket!). Following the lighthouse, we drove back up to Bandon to see the Coquille River lighthouse. One of the smallest on the coast, it certainly seemed sad and lonely among the sand dunes it sat next to.

Coquille River Lighthouse

We took some photos and then headed back to the ranger’s office where we got the stamp for the lighthouse. We decided to drive down to our hotel, the Best Western Inn at Face Rock to relax and check in. A few hours later, we left for dinner and headed to downtown Bandon to eat at Edgewaters Restaurant. The restaurant didn’t open until 5 pm, so we took some time to wander around the small but quaint streets and waterfront. We then ate a fantastic meal at Edgewaters (I got a cobb salad, my son got a fish stew) and then drove back to the hotel. What an amazing day!

Day 8: Home

After waking up and having a relaxed breakfast, we drove about 45 min north back up to Coos Bay, where we stopped at a Safeway to get some snacks for the day. We then drove to Southwest Oregon Regional Airport to fly home in the early afternoon. What an amazing trip!

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