When to find the drama of sunsets, storms and serenity on the Oregon coast
The Oregon coast is a fickle lover. Inland, beyond the Coast Range, it can be sunny and balmy, a nice 80 degree F day in Eugene, Ashland or Portland ... a day that visitors can get sand between their toes. Quick, pack a picnic, head west, cross the Coast Range – and hit the fog and even drizzle.
But on some days, visitors may just want to curl up with a book in a cozy spot somewhere and watch a storm lash the coast, and other days, they might want to visit the beach and throw a Frisbee. Here are some tips for catching the perfect experience on the majestic Oregon coast.
Coastal weather basics
No one (except hard-core surfers) goes to the coast to swim or work on a tan. The Oregon coast is for admiring rock formations and craggy cliffs, for birding, watching migrating whales and just generally ogling nature.
Fact: The coast is the coldest spot in the entire state in the summer, with average highs in the 60s to 70s. Winter, too, can pack a punch on the coast, blasting cold rain and wind. But wait! Winter and early spring can also surprise with a sunny, balmy day – in fact, this is far more likely to occur than in summer. It is also a fact that winter on the coast is less severe than the rest of Oregon, with many days in the mid 50s.
The problem is that you can't predict it. In the case of coastal weather, the weather report is your friend. Check it always, if your destination is the coast.
Oregon's famously beautiful coastal sunsets are elusive. The weather in summer tends to be either foggy and occasionally clear – neither conducive to a dramatic sunset. For that, you need cloud action, which is far more likely in the spring or fall.
Try May in particular, before that marine fog layer has settled in for the summer and after the winter and early-spring storms and winds. The southern Oregon coast is likely to be warmer as well, especially Brookings, which is close to the border of California.
During the winter, especially mid-December through January, the gray whales migrate from Alaska down to Baja, California, and in March to June, they migrate back north to Alaska. The official Whale Watching Weeks are usually designated on the last week of December and the last week of March.
Generally, the grays travel about five miles off the coast – about 18,000 whales on each trip. That means about 30 whales per hour at peak. State parks up and down the coast staff volunteers to help identify them, with Depoe Bay considered the prime viewing spot. Local wisdom says to come in the morning when the sun is at your back for the best opportunity to view these impressive creatures.
Where are the crowds?
Summer on the northern Oregon coast can get crowded, from Astoria on the Columbia River down to around Newport. In particular, the big three warm-weather holidays – Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day – attract hordes of tourists.
But generally, “crowded” in Oregon has a different meaning from some locales. The Oregon coast mostly feels like a vast expanse of waves, sand, seabirds and waving grasses. Visitors could get lost on the Oregon coast... and they wouldn't mind a bit.