1 of 5
Lynn Arave, Deseret News
Crescent and Cannon beaches, as viewed from Ecola State Park.

There's only one Oregon Coast, and if you've been there, you know that. Follow Highway 101 — and with numerous rocky headlands, rugged geography, countless nooks and crannies and oodles of public access, you'll find that this is a sightseer's delight.

There's so much to see and absorb here, you won't have the time or energy to enjoy it all, but that's the beauty of this place — it will beckon you back for future visits.

This is a place where you can wear a car's brakes out, with numerous stops along a coastline that boasts more public access than you can imagine.

Indeed, Diane Reading, spokeswoman for the Oregon Coast Visitors Association in Newport, said, "'The People's Coast' is how the Oregon Coast is going to be promoted in the future. Only Hawaii has as much public access along its coastlines.

"The Oregon Coast is one of those magical places where you can stay for days and spend little money," she said. "There're so many different things to do, tons of stuff."

Reading laughed when I first asked her about the Oregon Coast. She didn't know where to start, she said, there's so much to highlight. So, I said, the "northern half," and that's what this story will focus on — the 170 miles from Florence north along Highway 101 — though rest assured the southern half has just as much to see and do.

The months of September and October might be the best time to visit the Oregon Coast. That's what Reading recommends, because it is still warm, drier on average than just about any other month, and all the crowds are gone.

But she stresses, "in the height of the summer season, you can still find a place along the beach not crowded with people."

With so much public access, people can just spread out.

Notwithstanding, Reading said it is commonly accepted as a rule of thumb that you can drive the entire Oregon Coast — nonstop — in 12 hours. She said that doesn't apply during the months of July and August when many vehicles crowd Highway 101 — the lifeline highway.

To have a truly worthwhile visit, she suggests getting a hold of a free copy of the "Mile-By-Mile Guide to Highway 101 Oregon Coast." Just as the title states, this tells exactly what there is to see or stop at each mile of the entire 363-mile coastal drive.

Reading recommended the Sea Lion Caves, 11 miles north of Florence, as a "must stop" along the north part of the coastal drive. This is the world's largest sea cave. There is an admission fee for the elevator ride down and inside.

Lush, evergreen forests along the coast also may remind Utahns they are somewhere totally different from home.

Cape Perpetua, just south of Yachats, is the highest point for Highway 101 along the coast, and another great place. There's also Devil's Churn and Cook's Chasm, places to see the power of the restless Pacific Ocean up close and personal.

The Devil's Churn has a popular hiking trail that descends to ocean level. Here, visitors can see the Pacific transformed into a kind of chocolate syrup state as it crashes into numerous rocks and is sandwiched in a narrow corridor. Exploring tide pools here on low tide is great, too; though children need careful supervision here.

The Aquarium in Newport is also a gem of the coast. Reading notes that this is a world-class facility and once home for the late "Free Willy" killer whale.

Whale watching is a popular sport at Depot Bay, and both kite flying and outlet stores are highlights in Lincoln City.

Tillamook has one of the west's best cheese factories, and it offers tours and a gift shop. Reading said the "Three Capes" drive also should not be overlooked, though you have to leave Highway 101 inland just past Neskowin to access it from the south.

Hug Point is another great coastal stop. At low tide, visitors can explore tidal caves and a waterfall — all along the remains of an old pioneer roadbed.

Next up, Cannon Beach is an upscale by-the-sea community that has many art galleries and its coast line is dominated by Haystack Rock, a 235-tall monolith — the third tallest such natural structure in the world.

"It's a little Carmel (California)," Reading said of Cannon Beach.

A few miles north of Cannon Beach is the access to Ecola State Park. A $3 day-use fee is required per vehicle, but that's a bargain.

"I've seen it thousands of times, and it still makes me smile," Reading said. Ecola has a great view looking down on Crescent Beach and Cannon Beach, plus rocky headlands to the west and north. If you only saw one lookout on the Oregon Coast, this is perhaps the best.

Seaside is a "super family friendly place," according to Reading. It has a huge sandy beach and a long "Broadway" street that is lined with arcades and touristy shops and other attractions. The west end of the street is a "turnaround" with a Lewis and Clark monument.

Astoria on the extreme north end of the coast is famous for Fort Stevens and lots of shipwrecks, which can sometimes be spotted in the sea.

There's also the 125-foot-high Astoria Column, a man-made tower built in 1926, that details the area's history and provides a commanding view of the northern Oregon Coast.

Reading said the Oregon Coast also has an impressive number of historic metal bridges lining it and also a lot of historic lighthouses. Essentially, every lookout is worth a stop, though you probably won't have time to see them all.

"You could take one week going 10 miles here," she said.

Gasoline prices are a little higher than inland, but no more outrageous than elsewhere, Reading said.

Florence, Newport, Lincoln City, Seaside and Astoria are among the busiest cities along the northern coast, but the smaller communities also have their own down-home flavors.

Beachcombing is another great activity along this stretch of Oregon's Coast.

• For more information on the Oregon Coast, go to www.visittheoregoncoast.com. Here you can order a free copy of the "Mile-by-Mile" guide and other materials. Or you can call 888-628-2101.

There's also www.oregoncoast101.com.

There are numerous hotels, motels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts along the coast.

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com