Make family memories on a road trip filled with beach fun, whales and other adventures.

Take the whole family on a trip this spring break along the rugged shorelines of Oregon’s Southern Coast. Historic towns like Coos Bay, Gold Beach and Brookings are perfect base camps to settle in and explore. Take your time and discover why families love this corner of the state in the springtime. Here are some of our favorite uncrowded beaches, places to see migrating whales, and mile after mile of breathtaking dune and forest adventures.

2024TSOC Feb spring Dunes
Spinreel Dunes (Photo by Dylan Van Weelden)

Watch Whales and Discover Dunes Near Coos Bay

With nearby ocean access, an exciting bay walk, and plenty to see and do in town and nearby, Coos Bay makes a great spring break destination. Wander the nearby Coos Bay Boardwalk with bay views and an old-fashioned tugboat, then take the winding road to Shore Acres State Park — 12 miles west of town — to see some of the thousands of gray whales at the peak of their spring migration. Keep a lookout for seals and sea lions, too. Many hundreds of these marine mammals make their home in the waters and rocky islands nearby that make up the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Just 15 miles north of town lies the state’s 31,500 acres of vast sand dunes at the spectacular Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. (They even inspired the movie “Dune.”) Thrill-seekers can rent an ATV or hire an experienced driver to zip over the sand in dune buggies.

Book your stay near Coos Bay’s historic downtown: Edgewater Inn and Best Western Holiday Hotel both offer views out over the bay. Grab a bite at The Boat, a restaurant converted from a real houseboat. As you eat fish and chips on the deck, enjoy the bird’s-eye view of the vintage trains next door at the Oregon Coast Historical Railway. Grown-ups will enjoy sipping craft brews on the patio at 7 Devils Brewing Co., which also serves house-made ginger beer and lemonade for the kiddos, plus locally sourced pub food.

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Prehistoric Gardens

Beachcombing and Dinosaurs Near Gold Beach

An 1850s gold rush drew miners to the area now known as Gold Beach, where you could see bits of golden glitter in the black-sand beaches. Hunt for agates and jasper between Otter Point State Recreation Site 4 miles north of Gold Beach and the mouth of the Rogue River — some of Oregon’s best spots for beachcombing. In April you can even find hidden glass floats as part of the annual Beach Treasure Hunt. If you come from May to October, the kids will love Jerry’s Rogue Jets heading up the Rogue under a cool historic bridge, but in spring months, the art deco-inspired architectural marvel can still be appreciated from the riverside. 

After the kids have a chance to explore Collier H. Buffington Memorial Park’s Kid Castle play area in town, venture 16 miles north to enjoy the quirky delights of Prehistoric Gardens, a classic 1950s roadside attraction with 23 life-size statues of dinosaurs along a forested trail. 

Stop for a meal at The Landing North — a kid-friendly cafe with an extensive menu of homemade breakfast, lunch and dinner options — or Barnacle Bistro, known for its fresh seafood tacos. For easy beach access, stay at the Pacific Reef Resort, which offers ocean-view rooms, a beachfront cottage and family suites.

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Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor (Photo by Ken Hagen and Anton Hugo)

Beach Hikes and Wildlife Near Brookings

Brookings, the Oregon Coast’s southernmost city, also has some of its best weather. A unique meteorological pattern called the Chetco Effect gives the area temperatures up to 20 degrees warmer than other towns on the Oregon Coast. Azalea Park offers 33 acres of green space, where kids can scramble through the interconnected wooden bridges, forts and rope ladders in the park’s Kidtown play area.

More beauty awaits on the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, a 12-mile stretch that’s packed with scenic vistas. Stop at Whaleshead Beach, where you can explore a beachside cave at low tide or look for the whale-shaped rock offshore. When the water hits it just right, it looks like the whale is spouting. At Harris Beach State Park, look but don’t touch sea anemones and starfish in the tide pools. Bring binoculars to watch the 100,000 seabirds that nest on Bird Island, a wildlife sanctuary just offshore from Harris Beach, including rare breeds like tufted puffins.

For a convenient stay with the family, Portside Suites offers accommodations with in-room kitchens, and Beachfront Inn faces directly out to the ocean for more sandy fun. Get breakfast or lunch at Mattie’s Pancake House, serving diner-style favorites like pancakes and pigs in a blanket. For dinner try Wild River Pizza — with your pizza add a microbrew or ice cream float made with their house-brewed root beer.

Header photo: Gold Beach by Erik Urdahl