Exploring the Oregon Coast in a Camper Van (Tips for First-Timers)

Author: Andy Spriggins

Describing anything in one word is difficult, especially a state. But if I had to, I’d call Oregon fresh.

From the seafood to the crystalline creek water to the mountain air that I literally wanted to bottle up and pitch to Febreeze — our time on the Beaver State’s coastline felt like slipping into a new pair of socks (or more likely Tevas, for you Oregonians out there).

Four days is hardly enough time to experience Oregon’s 300+ miles of jaw-dropping coastline. Boasting nearly every type of terrain you can think of — forests, mountains, beaches, rivers — you could spend months exploring this oasis of textures and barely scratch the surface.

But with the help of the Manzanita — GoCamp’s Mercedes Sprinter van — our trip felt like more of a full-blown vacation than a quick weekend getaway. If you’re considering a trek along Oregon’s coastline in a camper van, be sure to jot down some of our stops (and tips) for your trip!

First Stop: Cape Blanco

When visiting the coast from a major city, you can either explore on the way to your main destination or explore on the way back from it. We opted for the latter, making the 5-hour drive from Portland to Cape Blanco State Park in one fell swoop.

Because of some mid-morning blunders, we didn’t get on the road until 2 pm and arrived at Cape Blanco post-sunset. Let my mistake be your lesson — prepare the night before your van trip so that you don’t set yourself back the next morning. Your future self will thank you.

Our first morning waking up inside of the Manzanita was downright dreamy. Peering out at the sea of green through the windows made for a beautiful morning. That fresh air that I talked about earlier? You’ll find it here beneath the spruce trees.

We cooked, freshened up, and dressed (all inside the van!) and set off to catch a proper coastal sunrise.

Cape Blanco was the first place I experienced the whole beach-right-next-to-a-forest thing that Pacific Northwesterners are just “used to.” Teetering on the edge of a cliff and absorbing the jaw-dropping views, I felt ready to spin in circles and burst into song — à la Julie Andrews.

But in reality, the fierce coastal winds kept me from doing much more than clenching my teeth and fists and squinting at the sun through my foggy glasses. The sunrise was stunning of course, but my favorite things at that moment were definitely my windbreaker and beanie.

Cape Blanco doesn’t seem to be on many people’s radar. It’s not on any of the big listicle-type articles about the coast, but that’s part of what made it so charming.

The campsites are legitimately some of the cleanest and most private that I’ve ever experienced. The park hosts on duty were incredibly helpful as well. And as a bonus, there are flush toilets and hot water showers onsite. Talk about luxury!

There are eight miles of hiking trails, countless ocean viewpoints, and a lighthouse within walking distance of the campsite. The lighthouse was closed when we visited in March, but it opens for tours starting in the spring. Visit in April and live your best nautical fantasy.

Next Stop: Bandon and Face Rock

40 minutes up the road from Cape Blanco is the tiny, storybook-like town of Bandon. This was a super easy drive in the Manzanita, especially since the Mercedes Sprinter vans are made to zip around any sort of terrain — mountainous or in the city.

We stumbled upon Fish & Chips Chowder House while strolling the dock. I ordered fried halibut, french fries, clam chowder, and a cranberry cider and wolfed it down in less than 20 minutes. This is not a food blog, so I’ll spare you the greasy details, but those new socks we slipped into earlier? That chowder will knock ‘em right off.

Hoping to burn off a few of our newly-digested calories, we walked Bandon’s 2 main streets and popped into nearly every shop that was open.

While they were all charming, my favorite was WinterRiver Books. I was honestly surprised that a bookstore in such a small town had such a variety to choose from.

I stocked up on books and postcards, many of which were Bigfoot-themed. Apparently, people believe that he lives nearby, which I didn’t know prior to visiting Bandon. There have been 7 official reported sightings of Bigfoot in Bandon’s Coos County since 1984, so if you get lucky — or unlucky, depending on your perspective — maybe you’ll run into him.

You’d think that I would’ve been done eating at this point, but alas, I am powerless to the smell of great chocolate. So when we passed Coastal Mist Chocolate Boutique, I had no choice but to at least look inside. We left with cappuccinos, truffles, a bottle of maple syrup, and a credit card dangerously close to its limit.

On the way back to Cape Blanco, we opted for any scenic byways that we came across, (the coast has a ton of them) and somehow came face-to-face with Face Rock — no pun intended.

We parked the Manzanita in a 15-minute limit zone and sprinted to a viewpoint to admire this prehistoric-looking structure in the middle of the ocean.

Sometimes you encounter something that reminds you just how long Earth has been around. For me, this was one of those moments. There’s a beach very close to Face Rock that’d likely be a dream in the summer.

We didn’t have time to check out the creamery that shares its namesake, but folks raved about it.

Bonus tip: Make a pit stop at Misty Meadows on your way out of Bandon. Incredible locally produced jams and wines made from berries I’ve never even heard of (looking at you, siskiyou berry).

Last Stop: Agate Beach, Bob Creek, Newport

On our last day with the Manzanita, the rains were not very kind to us. Early on in the day, we spent some time at Agate Beach, another happy accident and maybe my favorite part of the trip.

You know how people believe that some stones have healing powers? Imagine being surrounded by tiny versions of those stones on all sides with the ocean lapping at your feet. That’s Agate Beach.

As its name would suggest, people primarily come here to search for agates, but I had a blast just running my hands over the stones over and over again. From afar, the beach looks like normal sand, but scoop up a handful and you’ll discover a whole world of color in your palms.

If you make one stop on this list, I recommend that it be this.

Back on the road, crying about how sad I was to be on our way back to the city, we happened upon Bob Creek. While it might sound like the name of your middle school soccer coach, I promise it’s probably a lot cooler than he was.

Near the town of Yachats, there’s a tiny tucked-away creek and beach that’s insanely scenic but so out of the way that I can’t imagine that it gets many visitors. That was great news for us (and now, you).

The freshwater creek runs directly into the sea at this meeting point and its magical. The water is so beautifully clear that you almost want to drink it… so I did. It was amazing! I’m no scientist, so drink at your own risk, but I feel like I finally know what water is supposed totaste like. Dasani who?

Wrapping up our trip, we stopped in Newport. While we weren’t expecting much, it ended up being an awesome ending to our little journey.

We saw sea lions in the harbor, just doing their sea lion-y thing. We won a $100 gift card to Mo’s, which came in first place for best oysters I’ve ever had, and a close second for best clam chowder.

We didn’t get to spend a ton of time here since we were on our way back to Portlandia, but it definitely deserves a real stopover on any Oregon coast road trip.

Tips for Living the Van Life Along the Oregon Coast

We didn’t have an itinerary going into our trip (whoops!). I can be a little scatterbrained, but there’s also not a ton of information online for Oregon’s smaller coastal towns.

It ended up being somewhat of a happy accident for us and we were lucky to stumble across some truly incredible places. But I do suggest having at least a loose itinerary planned out so you’ll have some peace of mind. Here are some other things to keep in mind for your first camper van Oregon coast road trip:

It’s colder than you think. Temperatures vary based on the season, but the wind chill here makes it feel much colder than comparable temps in the city.

Book your campground in advance! The internet is obsessed with the concept of boondocking, but in real life that will leave you with a Walmart parking lot as your only option. National and State Park campgrounds are not expensive but they do fill up quickly. Try to book at least 6 months in advance, especially for the popular spots.

Arrive at your campsite before sundown if you can. It can be scary navigating and parking your van on a campsite with minimal lighting, so do yourself a favor and get there early(ish).

Bring less than you think you need. Less is truly more most of the time. Unless you’re on a strict budget or camping somewhere very remote, you will likely be able to find anything that you forgot. For example, we ate maybe 20% of the food that we packed because there were so many local restaurants that we wanted to try.

The van is probably smarter than you. Don’t be afraid to push some buttons. If you’re anything like me, you’re a bit terrified of flipping the wrong switch in a vehicle and setting off a bomb or something.

Luckily for you, most modern camper vans — like GoCamp’s Manzanita — come with several fail-safes in place, so it’s really hard to cause any damage. Always exercise precautions and drive safely, but take comfort in knowing that the self-destruct button literally doesn’t exist.

Make a playlist. You’re going to be on the road for a long time and tunes definitely help the hours tick by faster. Don’t have time to make your own? Listen to mine!

About the Author

Andy Spriggins is the brains behind GTFO, a new trip planning service for people who love trips but hate planning. Just tell GTFO where you want to go, and they’ll take care of the rest. Don’t know where you want to go? GTFO can still plan a dream vacation for you! Just answer a few short questions. It’ll be the easiest trip you’ve ever (not) planned.