A Day of Vanliving on the Central Oregon Coast
The central Oregon Coast is one of the most unique and surprising places that we’ve visited. We spent an entire day near Waldport, Oregon. We explored the solitude of sandy beaches and investigated colorful tide pools and polished black rock at Seal Rock State Park. We discovered some awesome cheap eats on Walport’s Main Street. At sunset, we experienced the power of the ocean at Thor’s Well in the Cape Perpetua Marine Garden.
Seal Rock State Park
Seal Rock State Park has many off-shore rocks where you might see harbor seals or sea lions resting near the sandy beach. The rocks are part of a 14-million-year-old lava flow that once covered Seal Rock State Park, Yaquina Head, and Cape Perpetua, as well as the rest of the area. The most distinctive rock is a large formation of basalt pillars that extend from the shore called Elephant Rock. The elephant is lying down, facing out to the ocean, with its butt by the shore. Apparently you can see an ear and the trunk…Honestly, it’s a cool rock, but we thought it was a bit of stretch to see the elephant.
Further down the shore, the wave action has weathered the rock more. Scramble over polished basalt slabs and stacks. The cracks in the smooth black rocks are filled with tiny white barnacles. Explore the countless tidal pools around the bases of the volcanic rock. They are filled with colorful sea life like sea stars, anemones, and urchins. We also saw a great blue heron fishing on the shore.
Beyond the area of rocks there is a long stretch of flat sandy uninterrupted beach. Ian and I spent over an hour just walking down the beach searching for unbroken shells and sea glass.
After working up a hunger beach combing at Seal Rock State Park, we headed to the tiny town of Waldport for a late lunch. Ian and I love trying out hole-in-the-wall restaurants, so we headed to the creatively named China Restaurant. It might come as a surprise, but they serve Chinese fare. Our favorite descriptors on Google maps are “cozy” and “down-to-earth,” and China Restaurant’s building definitely fits the description. But don’t let the appearance fool you, this place serves some seriously tasty food. And with the huge portions you’ll have enough for a second meal.
After eating, we strolled down Waldport’s main street to let our food settle. It’s a cute and strange little town. There are a weird number of thrift store, pawn shops, and flea markets for a town of this size, along with the usual gift shops that you find in seaside towns on Highway 101.
Thor’s Well and Cape Perpetua
One of the best parts of the Oregon Coast and a Highway 101 road trip is that since it runs along the west coast you can enjoy a vibrant sunset over a different beautiful spot on the Pacific every night. We ended our day by watching the sunset at one of the coolest places on the Oregon Coast—Cape Perpetua.
Cape Perpetua Marine Garden is a photographer’s dream. A Highway 101 bridge crosses over the top of Cook’s Chasm, and a paved walkway allows you to access the basalt plateau below. The rough volcanic stone has been carved by the violent swells, and there are numerous saltwater churns and fountains. The Spouting Horn sprays water at high tide like an ocean geyser. It’s not just a beautiful sight; the sounds of the waves are incredible. As the water pounds the rock, it makes a thunderous booming. If you want a peaceful spot, this isn’t it. It’s like watching a sunset in a thunderstorm.
One of the most interesting salt water fountains is Thor’s Well. As the surf swells, the ocean seems to be draining into a giant hole in the rock. In reality, Thor’s Well is a sea cave that was carved out by waves until its roof collapsed. The water swells from the bottom of the well, runs over the top of the cave, and then drains out the bottom through the caves opening. Thor’s Well is best viewed at about an hour before or an hour after high tide when the water totally fills the cave. (Use this tide chart to find out the time of high tide during your visit.)
Since Thor’s Well has gained some Instagram fame, there were already about 10 photographers lined up right in front of the well waiting for sunset. But there’s much more to enjoy at the Cape Perpetua Marine Garden than just Thor’s Well and the Spouting Horn. We made our way over to a large crack in the rock that was filling and emptying of water in a frothy maelstrom. We were careful to watch behind us to be sure that our path out to the chasm did not become covered with water as the tide rose.
Free Camping Nearby:
We spent the night at the parking are for Thor’s Well, because the highest tide when we were in the area was early in the morning. I woke up early and unlike the night before it was just me, the sunrise, and the thundering surf. Oh and a guy doing yo-yo tricks…I guess he was enjoying the sunrise too?
If you don’t want to stay along Highway 101, the Siuslaw National Forest is just inland from Cape Perpetua. There are countless dirt Forest Service roads and dispersed camping is allowed at pullouts and existing sites. There is a site marked on FreeCampsites.net that is only 20 minutes from Waldport.