Lighthouses of the Oregon Coast

There are twelve lighthouses that can be seen or visited along the Oregon Coast. We will start at Astoria and work our way down to Brookings. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Lightship Columbia WLV 604

 When the LV 50 Lightship was towed to the Columbia River Station in 1892, it became the first active lightship station on the west coast. Over the years, several more modern ships replaced LV 50, then, in 1979 the ship was replaced by a large navigational buoy. The last ship to serve (WLV 604) is now docked at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria and in 1993 the buoy joined it. Location: the museum is located in Astoria, 20 miles up the Columbia from the lightship’s original location.

Tillamook Rock

You’ll notice this lighthouse as a rock that rises about a mile out to sea. Buffeted by sea and wind it seems to cling to the rocky surface. A lighthouse engineer first boated out to the rock in 1879 to determine if a lighthouse could stand there. Seemingly against all odds, the first surveyors accessed the site by jumping from a rocking boat onto the rock but it was hard to find local skilled workers for the construction after a mason was swept into the sea early on. Fighting the elements and a sixteen day storm that nearly took their lives they prevailed and the lighthouse, nicknamed “Terrible Tilly,” was lit for the first time on January 21, 1881. The worst storm in history nearly destroyed the lighthouse in 1934 and smashed the lens which was never re-lit. It was replaced by a red whistle buoy, anchored one mile seaward of the rock. In 1957 the last log entry was made and the lighthouse closed. It was sold to private bidders over the years and even became a columbarium where people could pay to have their human ashes left.This ghostly structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Location: One mile west of Tillamook Head, can be seen from Ecola State Park

Cape Meares


This lighthouse sits 200 feet atop a cliff at the north end of the beautiful 20-mile Three Capes Scenic Loop along the Oregon coast.  The cape was originally called Cape Lookout by explorer Captain John Meares in 1788 but due to a nautical error the name was put on another cape 10 miles south so in 1857 it was renamed Cape Meares. The tower construction began in 1888. It is made of sheet iron lined with bricks and is the only one of its kind on the Oregon coast. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1963 when an automated beacon was installed on a concrete blockhouse a few feet from the tower. The new light can be seen 25 miles at sea. There was talk of removing the lighthouse but local citizens rallied and funds were allocated to restore the lighthouse which was opened to the public on Memorial Day, 1980. Location: in Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, about 10 miles west of Tillamook

Yaquina Head

Construction work began in the fall of 1871 but was often delayed due to the tempestuous Oregon winters. Finally, the light shone for the first time on August 20, 1873. Yaquina Head is the tallest tower on the Oregon coast, standing 93 feet tall. The light shines 162 feet above the ocean and can be seen nineteen miles out to sea. This lighthouse has always been popular with visitors and was considered one of the best maintained lighthouses on the West Coast. For many years it was closed to the public, then, in 1993 the Coast Guard turned it over to the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and visitors were once again allowed to climb the 114 stairs to the tower.  It was restored in 2006 and is only open to the public during daylight hours. Location: one mile west of Agate Beach

Yaquina Bay

Standing on a hill overlooking the northern side of the entrance to Yaquina Bay, the lighthouse was built in 1871 to guide traffic into the bay. A couple years later it was decided it would be better to put a coastal light at Yaquina Head, four miles north. The house was empty for many years and then used as crew quarters for U.S. service personnel. In 1948, the Lincoln County Historical Society was formed with the purpose of saving the lighthouse but it wasn’t until 1956 that the lighthouse was finally dedicated as a historical site. Today it is on the National Register of Historic Places and part of the Oregon State Parks Department. In 1996 the light was re-lit and the Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses now assists in managing it and offers tours of the house,  which is furnished with period pieces. Location: Yaquina Bay State Park in Newport

Cleft of the Rock (Cape Perpetua)

Cape Perpetua was first discovered and named by Captain James Cook in 1778. The privately owned lighthouse was built in 1976 by former lighthouse keeper Jim Gibbs. Made from historic lighthouse pieces, it is a working official navigational aid. Location: at milepost 166 just off Highway 101, 1.8 miles south of Yachats. Not open to the public, but can be viewed from a pullout on the highway.

Heceta Head

Heceta Head

Named for a Spanish explorer who noted this area in 1775, Heceta Head Lighthouse stands high on a bluff, 150 feet above the sea, offering  spectacular views to all who visit, making it one of the most popular in the U. S. Construction of the lighthouse began in 1892. The 56 foot tower is the most powerful light along the Oregon coast and can be seen 21 miles out to sea – only stopped by the curvature of the earth.The state parks department maintains the lighthouse and today it is part of  Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, which includes the park and cove. Currently the lighthouse is undergoing restoration and will remain closed for up to two years. Location: off Highway 101, twelve miles north of Florence, look for the road to Devils Elbow State Park

Umpqua River

An 1849 search for potential lighthouse locations along the Oregon/Washington coast produced a vote for a beacon marking the head of the Umpqua River. Where the river and ocean collided a hazard was created for ships docking to collect the precious lumber. Construction began in 1856 and though hampered by local Indians, who protested the building, the lens was lit in 1857. After years of  storms and floods the tower fell in 1864 and a replacement was not completed until 1894. This time the 65 foot tower was built further inland on a headland above the mouth of the river. This site is the furthest from a river or ocean of all lighthouses along the Oregon coast. Today the Fresnel light is still shining and is managed by Douglas County along with the Umpqua River Lighthouse Museum. Guided tours are offered March through December. Location: on a slope overlooking the entrance to the Umpqua River and surrounded by Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, six miles south of Reedsport

Cape Arago

Once home to the Coos Indians, Cape Arago now houses the third lighthouse to be built at that location  – the first, built in 1866 and the final one in 1934. Originally accessible only by boat, a cable tram was built in 1891 after several wooden bridges washed out over the years. Recently the land and lighthouse was transferred to the Confederated tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians with the stipulation that the lighthouse be available to the public for educational, park, recreational, cultural, or historic preservation. At the present, it can only be viewed from a distance. Location: south of Coos Bay, seen from Sunset Bay State Park

Coquille River

The Coquille River empties into the Pacific Ocean in the town of Bandon. The bar  formed by the interaction of river and ocean created an obstacle for ships so a jetty was created followed by the Coquille River Lighthouse in 1896 at the river’s mouth. The  top of Rackleff Rock was leveled for the base and local stone was cut to form the foundation. The fire of

Coquille River Lighthouse

1936 consumed most of the towns 500 buildings but the lighthouse was spared. In 1939 an automated beacon was installed at the end of the south jetty and the lighthouse was abandoned for twenty-four years until Bullards Beach State Park was created and the park assumed responsibility for the lighthouse. After its restoration, the lighthouse was opened to the public with tours. Location: look for the entrance to Bullards Beach State Park just north of Bandon before you cross the Coquille River Bridge.

Cape Blanco

Spanish explorers named this landmark after the chalky “White Cape.” The land was cleared of trees and the lighthouse completed in 1869 – standing 200 feet atop a cliff that juts out along the coastline.  Later, a ranch was built which is now Cape Blanco State Park, and the home, a two-story Victorian built in 1898 (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) is open to the public for tours. The lighthouse was restored in 2003. Visitors are allowed to ascend the spiral staircase to the lantern room. Location: four miles north of Port Orford, six miles off Highway 101, look for the sign between milepost 296 and 297

Pelican Bay

This privately built and owned lighthouse was approved by the federal government and first lit in 1999. The newest lighthouse in the U.S., it is perched on the corner of a 100 foot cliff. Location: above the port of Brookings Harbor

For complete history, ghost stories and more check out the complete articles at:

Pelican Bay pic courtesy of Bruce & Suzanne Watkins

Cleft of Rock pic and other links courtesy of Lighthouse Friends


Bandon by the Sea

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My 81-year-old mother and I headed to Bandon on the southern Oregon coast for the weekend to help her brother celebrate his 80th Birthday.  Bandon’s a place I’d been to quite a bit over my life because of the relatives that lived there since I was a child. It’s only recently I discovered how wonderful Bandon truly is.  In fact, it’s so nice that in 2010 Budget Travel named it one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America.” That’s saying something considering the town was wiped off the map by a devastating fire in 1936 where people survived only by seeking refuge on the dock, beach and in the surf.

Today Bandon’s back and booming. And to prove it, here’s a sampling of what I like about it:

First off, it was settled by Irish man George Bennett (my last name’s O’Leary). The weather can be unpredictable and never boring (also like me). And for years they’ve made Bandon Cheese here.

Rock formations along the craggy coast create interesting view points and the scenic beauty will be sure to offer many photo ops. I love to drive the Beach Loop that winds along the cliff where many stops lead to paths or stairways dropping down to the pristine sandy beaches below.

The rocks have names like Face Rock, Garden of the Gods, Table Rock, Cat and Kittens Rock and Elephant Rock.  Local legend says Face Rock’s of an Indian maiden that was frozen into stone by an evil spirit. The Cat and Kittens Rock are her animals that were thrown into the sea and turned to stone by the same nemesis.

Another favorite locale is the Coquille River (named after the local native Indians). The river runs along the South side of Bandon where it empties into the Pacific along a rock jetty. The area is buffeted by crashing waves and has a history of ship wrecks the locals love to retell. Nearby, the Coquille River Lighthouse stands proudly and offers tours.

Old Town offers quaint shops, great restaurants, and a boardwalk with interesting wood animal sculptures and other art. There’s a pier, port, dock, boat ramp and marina – great for fishing and sight seeing.

Cranberries are a popular product of Bandon and there’s a a Cranberry Festival in September to celebrate the harvest.  My uncle’s family has grown cranberries here for years and they owns bogs on a farm just out of town.

Other highlights include: four world premier golf courses including Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, you can explore nearby Bullards Beach State Park, Bandon Marsh and Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuges, Bandon Historical Society Museum, West Coast Game Park Safari, plus the Oregon dunes are just a hop skip and jump away.

Of course there’s all the other charms and activities of a beach town like surfing, crabbing, etc, but one thing’s for sure – if you visitBandon you’ll want to return again and again.

Astoria to Ecola State Park ~ Oregon Coast

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My 28-year-old son had lived in Oregon for three years and never ventured to the Oregon Coast. Well, not since he was a year old. I’m a born and raised Oregonian but when I graduated from high school I left to travel and didn’t return until many years later when my son was a year old. We lived in Portland for four years and then I left for Los Angeles to finish college and didn’t return for more than 20 years. The Oregon I came home to had changed – I loved it even more.

Some of my friends that have stayed here all that time are a little more skeptical about Oregon’s changes, if they’re for the good. But I’m seeing it all with new eyes. Plus, I’ve been a lot of places. Seen a lot of things – good and bad.

I soon discovered my new found love of Oregon was so powerful I had to express it, share it, promote it – thus this blog and a Facebook travel page called Go Oregon Now and a Twitter account where I follow and tweet only about Oregon. I like to say, “I have my fingers on the pulse of Oregon.”

A few weekends ago I convinced my son and my mom to visit the Oregon Coast. We headed to Astoria because there were a couple of waterfalls along the way and my son loves waterfalls. That was the motivation, the carrot I dangled, to get him to go. I don’t think he knew he would love it so much, but he did.

I hope you enjoy the slide show of our journey.  We went from sun in Astoria to fog in Seaside.  But I think you’ll agree each carries it’s own special charm. There’s so much to see and experience along the coast when you travel in Oregon.

Manzanita – Northern Oregon Coast

The quaint village of Manzanita “little apple” is located in Tillamook County just two hours from Portland along the North Coast and offers visitors seven miles of pristine beach. An undisturbed beach community, unique gift shops and a thriving art venue help make Manzanita appealing to those who want a delightful getaway. You’ll find outstanding restaurants, vacation rentals and nice hotels to make your stay comfortable.

High above, on Oregon Coast cliffs, highway 101 turns out at the Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain Wayside. The broad sand of Manzanita Beach reaches into the sea. The Nehalem Bay Jetty lies south, enshrouded in morning fog. 

Popular locations abound for exploring, hiking, camping,  beach combing, fishing, crabbing, horseback riding, bicycling, boating, river kayaking, surfing, seal watching, kite flying, and wind surfing.

Build a sandcastle or study a tide pool but be sure to stay for a colorful sunset.

Visit nearby Oswald West State Park for beach exploration or Nehalem Bay State Park known for its forest hiking and exquisite vistas. Also close are Arcadia Beach and Hug Point.


If you’re staying for a few days and feel like venturing out, the little towns of Nehalem (on the Nahalem River) and Wheeler (overlooking Nehalem Bay) are inland on 101 not far away to the south.

Wheeler looking back at Manzanita

Along the Oregon Coast

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Today I’m thinking about the Oregon Coast. And I’m thinking about blue skies and sun. Perhaps a few colorful kites floating lazily in the sky, their long tails whipping in the breeze. Some kids playing in the sand, a few beachcombers, surfers, a sandboarder, the ever-present lovers and people under umbrellas smearing on lotion.

The fickle Oregon weather can just as easily change to storm clouds though, with gale force winds and pounding surf, but that won’t prevent an Oregonian from exploring all the wonders that abound.

It’s true the Oregon Coast has it all. I recently drove along Highway 101 and marveled at the diverse landscape – massive evergreens (even a few redwoods left), high cliffs, rocky shores, public parks, private homes, sand dunes, pristine sandy beaches, bays, harbors, bridges, marshes, estuaries, meadows, farmlands, sparkling surf, scrubby brush, grasses, wildflowers, wildlife and exquisite sunsets – each along its own stretch. Amazingly the entire 362 miles is public shoreline, thanks to a bill passed in 1967.

Along the way, from Brookings to Astoria, I found small town charm, abundant seafood eateries, museums, galleries, historic sites, an aquarium, distinctive shopping, a few festivals and other interesting places to visit and lodge for the night.

I made it a point to pull over at every breathtaking vista and follow the roads to distant beaches and a long list of lighthouse viewings. I was never disappointed. Every national forest and state park (more than 80) along the way were filled with abundant recreational activities and a plethora of campgrounds, hiking trails and fishing locales.

I’m one of those people that always gets a thrill from the first sighting of the beach every time I go. I’ve somehow managed to keep that wonder I had as a child on my first visit to the beach. I have a photo of my son, at about two, holding a pail and shovel, looking out at the distant horizon with that same awe on his face.

The ocean calls to us from an ancient place. And its a reminder we’re like a speck of sand. But everything that’s big is also small ~ somewhere ~ it’s all relative.

Oregon On The Run

Wayside Park along Umpqua River on Hyw 38

Sometimes its good to plan a vacation in advance and have all the details laid out, maybe its less stress free. But other times a little more adventure and spontaneity is called for and you can just get in the car and drive somewhere on the spur of the moment or maybe even take a different road that all of a sudden presents itself.

And so, a few days ago, when I was driving up the Oregon Coast headed back home to Portland, that’s what happened to me. I had planned to go to Florence and take the highway over to Eugene. But then, while in Reedsport, I saw a sign that said, “Drain, Eugene” and before I knew what I was doing I had turned off Highway 101 and was driving east on Highway 38.

That’s when I slowed down to think this out. This wasn’t part of my plan. What was I doing? Then I made the decision to go for it and see where it took me. After all I had my trusty GPS so I couldn’t get lost.

Almost immediately I knew I had made the right decision (or whatever made the decision for me) because I found myself in one of Oregon’s wonderlands. The Umpqua River on one side and deep woods on the other. Plus it was someplace I had never been. That always spells excitement and adventure for me.

On the way to Eugene I explored the roadside parks along the river, perused the small towns – got gas, an ice cream cone, checked out the historic markers and buildings and even caught a yard sale where I bought a lantern plant for my garden. It was a beautiful day and the people I met were friendly.

When you stop to think about it, we never truly know where life will lead us, even with a map or GPS. Surprises, good or bad, can await us around any corner or just over the next hill. I think we all have an inner guide and when I listen to mine I’ve noticed good things are bound to happen.

Highway 101

Cape Blanco State Park scenic view

A year ago I decided to make it a goal to drive the entire length of the Oregon coast and stop at all the viewpoints and State Parks because, though I had been born in Oregon and visited the coast many times, I had never seen most of the beauty that awaits a traveler willing to venture off Highway 101. So on my way home from Sequoia, California I cut over to the San Francisco coast and drove from the California border up on Highway 101.

As of today, I arrived at Bandon where I have relatives that have lived here since I was a child. My family visited them many times in my youth but today I realized we had never seen that section of beach. My parents had driven straight to their house and, since they lived somewhat inland, I only remember the narrow road to their home, the trees and sandy soil.

From there my childhood vacation continued on down the 101 to Los Angeles where I had more relatives. Today, driving in the opposite direction as an adult, I had to smile multiple times as I passed tacky, but popular, landmarks that looked exactly the same as when I was five years old. I wasn’t prepared for this blast from the past – I thought I would be seeing this stretch of coastline for the first time. But there, along the California Coast in Leggett was the giant redwood tree I could drive my car through, the same one I had delighted in riding through as a child.

Paul Bunyan and Babe at Trees of Mystery in Klamath, CA

My adult eyes see a different world around me – wildflowers bursting from the landscape, rocky exquisite coastal terrain, cloud formations and the shadowy depths of the forest – different than through the eyes of that child who remembered Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox, the Prehistoric Gardens, or carved redwood and myrtle wood life-sized statues of wild animals.

And now I see how the past is brought up to the present, actually part of the present. There is no time, for it’s woven in wonderful ways and I can be two places at once – at least in my mind.

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