Highway 101 Road Trip: The Oregon Coast

I never appreciated what existed north of my home state of California. A land of incredible vistas, black sand beaches, and abundant wildlife. The coastline connecting Washington to Oregon to California has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been — and I’m not one to make that statement lightly. Part of what has taken me so long to write about this Highway 101 road trip is not knowing how to describe a stretch of land that needs no explanation. Thankfully, my trusty camera is here to fill in the gaps where I’m left speechless.

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After the mattress catastrophe and spending a few nights in a town known for its tweakers, my dad and I hiked a few miles in Mt. Rainier National Park before looping down the Highway 101 along the coastline of Oregon.

Sometimes, the best road trips are ones with itineraries led by gut feelings over guidebooks. This was definitely one of those scenarios.

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“I thought you were the travel writer?” My dad asked whenever we were lost and lacked direction on things to see.

“Yeah. Well, this is how I travel.” I’d respond.

If only I’d read this guide to the Pacific Coast Highway in advance…

With no fixed plans, we drove straight down the Highway 101, stopping at whatever turn-off looked interesting and hiking wherever there was a trail.

These are just a few of the moments that stood out the most.

Arch Rock Viewpoint, Oregon

Arch Rock Viewpoint, Oregon

The Highway 101 Road Trip

The Highway 101 extends over 1,500 miles long, spanning from Southern California to the tip of Washington, merging with El Camino Real and the Highway 1. If you want to embark on a west coast road trip that covers all of the coastal towns, this would be the route to take.

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The Impromptu Pot Shop Stop

I come from a (mostly) conservative family. Think gun-toting Republicans wearing Make America Great Again hats on their way to church. Don’t know what to buy them as a gift? Anything with Ronald Reagan’s face stamped on it will do.

The few family members who’ve strayed from this conservative archetype completely swing the other way. Think hula dancing surfers living on a tropical island, who spend their days carving tikis, rescuing cats, and befriending strangers.

I love them all, and wrote my college application on how I’d make a level-headed politician or reporter someday because I come from such a crazy diverse family. We’re kind of all-or-nothing. Except for my little sister, who is the only vegan in the world with the word handgun scribbled on her Christmas wishlist.

You can imagine my surprise when the marijuana shops on the side of the road piqued my dad’s curiosity.

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Nye Beach, Oregon

“Should we go and look inside?” he asked.

Is this a trap? Is he trolling me? I’m 25 years old. Can he still ground me?

We walked into a small building that was probably a gluten free bakery or Tutti Frutti franchise in its former life. Now, it’s selling the state of Oregon’s latest legal hot commodity, marijuana. The inside was painted top-to-bottom with a mural of a pirate ship.

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Inside of the OCD Pot Shop in Nye Beach, Oregon

A girl jumped out from behind a wall and shrieked, “Like the paint job? He did it!”

She pointed to a white guy with dreadlocks.

“Can I see your I.D.?”

I left mine in the car and was plopped on a chair in the psychedelic waiting room. My dad reluctantly handed his over and they escorted him into a back room with jars of the devil’s lettuce inside. I peeked through the open door and saw a menu featuring doobies for $7 a pop. (I have no idea if that’s a good deal or not.) Other items listed included Borderliner Xtrm, Cheese Quake, Blue Shoe Sour Diesel (I’m more of an unleaded 91 girl myself…), Chemdawg, Rip N Wreck, and Medi-Haze. I’m not sure what those meant and suspected my dad didn’t either. Reviews on leafly.com say things like, “there was a comprehensive flower selection…” So there’s that.

OCD Dispensary in Nye Beach, Oregon

OCD Dispensary in Nye Beach, Oregon


The Magician’s Walk

At approximately stop #40 out of 97, we drove atop a hill overlooking the ocean. The blue sky warmed our skin and we could see whales surfacing down in the water.

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A couple in their late 60s pulled up next to us on a Harley Davidson. The wife clung to the back of her husband, her hands weaved into the stitching of his leather jacket. They smiled at us. Together, they had a full set of teeth.

“Is the weather always this good?” I asked.

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“Oh yeah, in Oregon, this time of the year, it’s great!” the wife replied.

My dad and I picked a path and trekked down, hoping to get to the beach for a better glimpse of the whales migrating past. Sure that we’d find somewhere to turn off and walk down, we kept going. After about thirty minutes, I regretted not changing out of my flip flops and into real shoes. Huge mushrooms grew from the trees surrounding us, and it felt like we’d never pass another soul — despite being just a few hundred meters west of the highway. It was a tiny glimpse of the Oregon Coast Trail and I’d love to see more someday.

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After an hour or so, it seemed obvious that we’d never reach the beach and would have to admire the sea from an elevated vantage point instead.

As soon as we turned back towards our car, the weather changed. Mist rolled through the trees, completely blocking our view of the sea and anything more than a few hundred feed in front of us. The forest was wrapped in a magician’s cloak.

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Now you see it, now you don’t.

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By the time we were back at the truck, the ocean vanished. We drove through thick fog for the next two hours — appreciating any peeks at a sunny sky just a little bit more.

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Elk Intimidation

We stopped at the side of the road where a herd of elk stood in front of a home. I have an inkling that the elk were raised for slaughter but for the sake of the story, let’s pretend this herd was in the wild.

The elk ignored the sound of cars flying by as they grazed. Wanting just one shot of the gargantuan creatures looking at the camera, I let out a yelp to grab their attention. The females looked up at me, then went back to mowing the grass with their teeth.

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I let out another yelp.

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Suddenly, the buck looked straight at me and started huff. He took a few steps towards me. I didn’t point the camera at him in fear that he’d see it as a threat.

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I took a few steps back.

I was already a safe distance away, still on the side of the road, but the buck never broke eye contact.

Okay. Thanks dude. I got my picture so you can go back to trying to woo the ladies and whatnot. 

I thought of all the idiots that die every year doing stupid things, landing themselves chapters in the Darwin Awards — a book series I know very well. I used to be addicted to reading about all the dumb ways that people die as a sensitive young child, an obsession that no doubt explains why I’m so disturbed. Getting skewered by an elk (are they even aggressive?) would certainly warrant my own page. I could see the headline, “Moronic Tourist Impaled by Elk While Taking Sub-Par Photograph.”

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I ran back to the truck.


Sea Lions at Play

It looked like a melee down there — a kerfuffle of splashing, barking, and spraying.

A large sea lion swam up and caught the rest of the pack by surprise. They barked and scattered for a few seconds before regrouping.

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A pair of two adults and their pup broke free and made their way towards the waves, the pup swimming faster than its parents to catch the wave’s momentum.

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Human or animal, the love of surfing is universal.

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Arch Rock Viewpoint in Oregon

Arch Rock Viewpoint, Oregon

Trail at Arch Rock Viewpoint, Oregon

Trail at Arch Rock Viewpoint, Oregon

Leaves in Arch Rock Viewpoint

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Of course, in between these stories of our Highway 101 road trip were hours spent together clocking miles onto our rental’s odometer, talking about nothing while talking about everything. Those moments are truly the ones that can’t be depicted, forever locked inside my memory.

Highway 101 Road Trip: Some highlights from the Oregon Coast

If you like this type of post, you’ll also enjoy The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk: The Things I Couldn’t Put in a Guidebook.

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49 Responses

  1. Blair Villanueva says:

    Your place is beautiful! I also had that feeling whenever I visit my Momma’s place. We always tend to appreciate other’s beauty, and not giving too much priority of our own coz we think “it’s always there.”
    Your post makes me happy today 😀

  2. Christina says:

    Oregon is amazing. I have only started learning about the beauty of this state recently. I feel like it is definitely under appreciated. I can’t wait to do this drive with my family and see the stunning landscape for myself.
    Christina recently posted…Comment on Swimming with Turtles in the Tobago Cays by Tara @ ShataraTravelMy Profile

  3. Veronica says:

    Tae, to be honest, I am also speechless!
    That first photo with fog or vapor from the Ocean is so unusual and beautiful! I am amazed!
    The nature is so beautiful, the color of the water is mesmerizing! Such a beautiful place!

  4. Janine Good says:

    These photos are amazing! I have never been to Oregon, but have now been inspired to take this trip along 101. The forests, pristine beaches, everything is just pure joy to look at and read.
    Janine Good recently posted…Why You Must Go to Salem Massachusetts for HalloweenMy Profile

  5. Brent says:

    Great article Chantae. Was an amazing trip with an amazing person. The pictures don’t capture all the beauty we saw and the great conversations we had. I still have a bit work to do though to get you to see the world through the right political view. Lol. Love Dad

  6. Carmy says:

    How fun! I had considered driving through from Oregon to BC and these views really solidified it for me!
    Carmy recently posted…Healthy No-Cook BreakfastsMy Profile

  7. Paola says:

    What a wonderful trip!!! I agree with you that awesome places and adventures are the ones that our gud feeling is indicating. Stunning picturs!!!

  8. Joanna says:

    I guess curiosity can make even a Republican like your dad go inside a pot shop. 🙂 And that’s a great thing, it means that traveling and spending time with you opened his mind towards new horizons and it’s always great to step out of our comfort zone and try out new things. Even if that means checking out a pot shop. Your photos are all beautiful and the mist adds atmosphere to them. By the way, I love the way those bucks look at you.
    Joanna recently posted…A little French fishing village: BarfleurMy Profile

  9. Tom says:

    A coastal drive in so many places would be brialliant, but this area is great. I’ve been driving around central Cali, but I never made it that far north, and I’d love to. The “Well, this is how I travel,” line was my favourite, a hard truth about what we do.

  10. Ami says:

    BEAUTIFUL Beautiful pictures. The place looks just heavenly. And those sea lions look so cute. I can spend hours just watching their antics. It’s no wonder that you are locking them into your memory
    Ami recently posted…3 road trips to experience Rajasthan TourismMy Profile

  11. Stunningly beautiful pictures Chantae. Your road trip through Oregon coast was more like a drive through the wonderland. Every stop you make is fascinating with either the magical beach vistas, forests or those herd of elks or those adorable bunch of sea lions. Just amazing!
    Rashmi and Chalukya recently posted…Exploring the Old Maltese Capital Mdina and the Village of ZurrieqMy Profile

  12. Indrani says:

    Wow! A good memorable journey with your father.
    So that is how one draws attention of the Elks. 🙂 All are attentive to you and have very willingly posed. 🙂
    Indrani recently posted…Faces of India – 287 Rajasthani MusicianMy Profile

  13. It seems you had a lot of fun on your trip. the pictures make it so evident. I got really excited to even think that you guys saw the sea lions and elks up close. I wish I can see them some day too. The photographs are beautiful and have completely won my heart. Road trips are the best and I love them personally.
    Subhadrika Sen recently posted…Bury: Art, Memories and Black PuddingMy Profile

  14. verushka says:

    Roadtrips are a fantastic way to travel locally.I love that you shared this experience with your DAD priceless moments. Great photography. The Pot Shop would defo check it out of curiousity.
    verushka recently posted…The Low Down about Relocating to LondonMy Profile

  15. Mika says:

    Oh, this reminds me of the road trips my dad and I took through Alabama the summer before I moved to Korea. What interesting, yet great time we had…but they were no where near as scenic as your trip up 101. Dying @ your dad checking out the pot selections!

  16. Alberto C. says:

    What an incredible road trip! It actually reminds me of the coast here in Ireland, it looks like the perfect place to enjoy nature and beautiful landscapes! I hope I can visit Oregon one day 🙂
    Alberto C. recently posted…Moscow: 4 day itineraryMy Profile

  17. Shane says:

    Wow I had no idea the Oregon coast was so incredibly scenic! More people need to check this place out, count me in!

  18. Jenni says:

    wow no wonder you were speechless the views of the sea are amazing. I cant believe you went to a POT shop with your dad though lol

  19. Ana says:

    Highway 101 is one of the American classic rides which is on my bucket list! Looks like you had such an amazing time with your dad on this road trip and your pictures are splendid!
    Ana recently posted…Best 7 Must-See Washington DC MuseumsMy Profile

  20. Tamshuk says:

    Oh I enjoy following these trips with your dad!!
    That coastline is nothing short of stunning to say the least. Must have been an amazing drive all the way.
    I’m looking forward to one of my such drives someday 🙂
    Tamshuk recently posted…Child Sex Trade in Cambodia : An Ugly TruthMy Profile

  21. Wow amazing pictures! I have never been to America but I am sure I will make my way there sometime soon. I am glad you enjoyed your trip with your dad 😀

  22. Anju says:

    Oh Wow this is absolutely gorgeous! your pictures are amazing. I’ve done a road trip along this route twice (once to Oregon and once in San Francisco), although TBH your pictures are waaay better than mine 😀 Do check out my posts on them if you’re interested 🙂
    Anju recently posted…5 Books that will inspire you to travelMy Profile

  23. Emily says:

    How cool !!! Highway 101 is definitely the most beautiful route i’ve ever known !
    And your road trip makes me feel so excited for my next holiday since i’m gonna have a road trip with my family as yours too 🙂
    Glad to hear you sharing your trip, Tae !
    Emily recently posted…Best Recumbent Bikes for Sales: A Quick Guide for BuyersMy Profile

  24. Heather says:

    These are some breathtaking views you captured. And the dispensary’s product style and interior design is charming to say the least! Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us.

  25. Shannon J. says:

    It looks like you enjoyed a quintessential Oregon Road Trip! I live on the Central Coast and your pictures capture the imperfect perfection that is the unpredictable weather, wildlife and spirit that keeps locals loving our special part of the world. The weather changes on a dime, adventures await on every turn and one might think they have stumbled on a place never touched by another human. Those Elk were most definitely wild. The males are called Bulls, while the females are called Cows and babies are Calves. We have a lot of deer as well but it is quite magical to come across an Elk herd. I am originally from California and while I love my home state, Oregon has stolen a large part of my heart!

  26. Paula says:

    I happened on your site through a search in Pinterest for Highway 101 Oregon. Your photos are AMAZING! I mean stunningly beautiful!!! Wow! No … DOUBLE WOW!!

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