Family Beach Road Trip on the Southern Oregon Coast

Author: Ebony Ross 

Could it be that I am incredibly sensitive to nature and its wonders? Or is the southern stretch of the Oregon Coast wonderfully made to excite all of our senses? Whatever the case, our recent family beach road trip was magnificent for this sensitive soul.

After surviving our first long, dark Portland winter, we were primed for our pilgrimage south in search of surf and sunshine. Lucky for us, we got to be transported by our camper van, Spaceball One, on this euphoric mission. And my family of four was ready for takeoff.

The day after our oldest son, Nile, graduated from Pre-K, we hit the road after a quick and informative pick-up from the owner of our camper van. We are no experts, but we have experience packing up and hitting the coast in our beloved and not-so-luxe Volkswagon van. No offense to our baby Rojo, but it was quite a delight to switch it up.

I overpacked because I thought surely the supply list GoCamp provided was too good to be true. But I was proved embarrassingly wrong. We had everything. Like all GoCamp vans, Spaceball One is quite literally a fully stocked Airbnb on wheels. Kid’s dinnerware, hammocks, and a box of games were some of my favorite surprises. The shower, toilet, built-in ceiling fan and heater were the prize. We only needed our gear, for example we brought our surfboards, and groceries. And we were ready to embark on our beach road trip!

mother and child sitting on river bank

Day One: En Route to Whalen Island 

In the nick of time (read: our 15 month old Aiko’s nap time), we hit the highway for our first stretch. Aiko’s nap didn’t last as long as planned, so we stopped for a breather at the Wilson River. My husband, Blake, is a passionate fly fisherman who considers this river to be premiere for Oregon coastal fishing. To me, it was a sweet relief to a restless baby and his crew.

The roaring turquoise water quieted us all as we sat skipping rocks. We marveled at the waterfall and climbed trees. In the back of my mind I wondered where everyone was and how we got this magical place to ourselves?

Before long, we caught our breath and headed back down the road to our campsite on Whalen Island. When we arrived, the clear skies were open and the sun was shining. It made the perfect backdrop for our setup. I took the boys out for a bike and scooter ride and Blake prepared dinner.

On the menu: First, we ate chips, guacamole and salsa for appetizers. The main course was grilled rainbow salmon skewers and zucchini with a lemon basil pasta salad. Nile had ole’ faithful Annie’s mac and cheese and roasted hot dogs. And Aiko got a sampling of everything.

Sunset cocktails: Jalapeno Limeade Margaritas (shoutout to Trader Joe’s).

Sleep came surprisingly easy that night. The rain held out until the midnight hour. When it arrived, it offered us an even sounder sleep. Spaceball One has a queen sized bed with the option for an additional full sized pull down. Nonetheless, the four of us slept comfortably in the spacious queen sized bed.

Day Two: OTW Sunset Bay State Park

On day two of our family beach trip, we slept in and enjoyed a slow morning. While the kids lounged, Blake and I fueled up with pour over coffee. Nile met some friends who impatiently waited for him to finish his bowl of cereal. Excitedly, he proceeded to romp around the bay with them looking for crabs and clams. All the while, we chased Aiko around the open wet field as he tried to keep up with the big kids. It all made for a muddy mess, but everyone had fun. Later, we cleaned up and made a late lox and smear breakfast bagel. Then, we hit the road. All of the running around wore Aiko out and he fell asleep as soon as the camper van began to move.

We pulled into Pacific City’s Haystack Rock for a quick stop to breathe some ocean air. Careful to not wake a sleeping baby with multiple stops, we took a straight shot down Highway 101.

Our family has a growing history along this road. Blake and I began dating when he lived in Bonny Doon, and we got married in Big Sur. Years later I gave birth to Aiko in Santa Cruz before our family established roots in Portland. Therefore, continuing to explore the coast in this way feels special. 

The highway was lined with old growth forest. In our three-hour stretch to Sunset Bay State Park, we made our way through miles and miles of lush farmland, sand dunes, rivers, lakes, hillsides and coastal mountain ranges. You can’t drive too far without entering a charming town set for a Hallmark movie. It truly was a joy ride. 

We stopped at Sunset Beach, a sheltered cove with calm enough water to kayak and warm enough water to go for a swim. It reminded me of a hidden cove pirates may have stopped in to bury treasures.

Once we got our wigglies out, we headed two minutes down the road to our campsite at Sunset Bay State Park, where we spent the next three nights. I was taken aback by how the sun was shining through the never ending glossy green trees. Being the modern day Flintstones that we are, we were eager to run barefoot along our private trail access. The combination of the moist ground, sun, and forest felt like the rainy season in the tropics. 

We pitched a tent for the boys to play in (tents are often available as an add-on with GoCamp), hung our hammock, and started a fire to cook our dinner. I also brought sparklers for Nile to add to the magic. 

On the menu: For starters, a charcuterie board, followed by marinated flank steak, buttery baked potatoes, grilled zucchini and an arugula and parmesan salad for dinner. The boys ate homemade chili we prepared beforehand. 

Sunset cocktail: Mexican Mules

Family sets up camp next to their camper van at a site on the Oregon Coast.

Day Three: Takin’ It Easy 

Rested and ready for our day, we began cooking our favorite camping breakfast: chocolate chip pancakes, cheesy eggs, bacon, and a berry salad. Still in pajamas, the boys took a hike while I stayed back to do yoga. There was something incredibly grounding and exhilarating standing alone in the forest barefoot in tree pose next to sky high trees.

Once the boys returned, we freshened up and set out in search of our next beach. We parked along the highway on Bastendorff Beach. Hunger set in, and the boys snacked while I heated up picadillo for burritos. An hour or so passed until Aiko gave in for a nap.

We took this time to head to Charleston on the Coos Bay to go clamming – something Blake and Nile looked forward to since the idea of this trip. Spaceball One came with everything that we needed for clamming: a shovel and bucket. They geared up in waders and went foraging for what was supposed to be dinner.

Unfortunately, we didn’t time the tide that great, so we weren’t able to fill our bucket for the delicious clam linguine we had on the menu. But we opted for fish, chips and clam chowder at a nearby restaurant and honestly it was a fair trade.

A couple of hours remained before sundown. So we made our way to the Simpson Reef overlook to peek at seals and sea lions. Aiko mimicked their barks and it was hilarious. 

The day was coming to an end and we headed back to Sunset Beach to catch sunset. The tide was pushed way back giving us ample tide pools and sea creatures to explore. The visible tree roots hanging from the cliffs and rock formations made me wish I paid more attention in geology class.

We made our way through seaweed paved rocks and back to the warm sand. There we laid our blankets out for sunset. As the sun hid behind clouds, Nile reported there was a deer behind us. Being the jokester that he is, we laughed it off. He turned serious and pointed his finger directing us to look. Sure enough, about 100 feet away stood a deer taking in the sunset with us. It was the perfect ending for our day and we took it as a cue to pack up and  prepare for another good night’s rest.

Day 4: More Beach Bummin’

We woke up on a mission to soak up as much sun and surf as we could stand. We returned to Sunset Beach to set up camp. In this case, setting up camp means scoring an amazing beach-facing parking spot, hanging a hammock and unfolding lawn chairs. We piddled around, got the boys fed and had coffee.

A friendly man pulled up next to us in his town car. He walked out with the help of his cane and signaled us over to chat. He let us know he and a group of local artists meet there monthly to paint together. Nile eagerly shared that he was also an artist, and they invited him to join and fill the grandchildren void. I left Nile (his request) and kept an eye on him while I picked flowers with Aiko. A bee came to pollinate the bouquet in my hand. I took my camera out to document this with a video, because life was feeling incredibly cute at this moment.

When Nile returned, Blake took the boys down for a beach bike ride and I made another late breakfast. This time we ate eggs in a basket (my mother’s favorite) topped with arugula, tomatoes, avocado with a lemon drizzle and maple sausage on the side. I took our plates to the beach running the risk of getting the food sandy. We ate every last bite and laid around as the sun lifted higher gifting us the day we imagined.

Nile and Blake put on their wetsuits as I took Aiko on a stroller ride along the shore to put him to sleep. It worked like a charm and Aiko slept for three long hours. When I walked back down the coast I found a dad swelling with pride. Nile caught his first, second and third wave. It prompted me to grab my wetsuit. This was the warmest water I felt since being in the PNW and I wasn’t going to miss out on an ocean cleanse.

I paddled out on the surfboard alone drifting into my own world when I noticed a seal peeking his head at me. Going from excited to a little frightened, it set in that I did not know enough about seals to be this close. I paddled back to shore amazed thinking this has to be the feeling of  “stoke” Blake thrives on. We ate some fruit and before we knew it, Nile joined his brother for a beach nap. Blake and I enjoyed some time reflecting on our trip realizing we accomplished everything we set out to do on our mission with Spaceball One.

shadow of mother and child standing on the beach with waves rolling in

5 tips that help us on beach road trips

Meal plans are a must. Be elaborate or keep it simple. We do a mixture. The last thing you want to worry about on a camping trip is the dreaded “what’s for dinner?” question. Pro tip: crack eggs in sealable jar or bottle – works wonders on the road.

Take plenty of grab and go snacks. Some of our must-haves include fresh fruit, trail mix, bars, beef sticks, pouches, pickles, seaweed, chips and some sweet treats.

Don’t skip the beach toys and blankets. Also bring wetsuits (you can rent them locally) if you are not used to the colder water. Bikes and scooters are great if you can swing it.

Drive while the kids are asleep. Download kid-friendly podcasts, playlists and audiobooks. We also use this as time to chat it up with our oldest son and then allow tablet time when mom and dad need silence.

Don’t over plan and be okay if things don’t go as planned. Think rhythmic routine over rigid schedules. We plan for one major outing (hike, surf, clamming, kayaking) and leave room for spontaneity. Do your research on your destination and jot down ideas for the queue.

Ready to plan a family beach trip?

GoCamp camper vans make it easy to pack up the family. All you have to do is hop in and go. Need some inspiration? Here’s a list of 25 things you could do on your next family road trip. And at the tip top of the list? Family fun. Enjoy!

About the Author

Ebony Ross is a Black Indigenous woman who believes in being nurtured by nature. As diverse as the natural landscapes in the Pacific Northwest are, she notices the faces of those exploring the outdoors here severely lack that same quality.

Ebony understands the power of representation and is dedicated to taking up space in the outdoors to show BIPOC people that they not only belong, but also deserve to be nurtured by nature. Ebony traveled extensively before starting her family, and now continues to adventure with her family of four. They have lived in New Mexico, Costa Rica, Northern California and now reside in Portland, Oregon.