While visiting the Central Oregon Coast, I never plan activities ahead of time—I figure we’ll stay on the beach nearly every waking moment, since the coast is my (and my family’s) happy place. But on our most recent trip to Newport, OR, I found myself looking for a family friendly outing that didn’t involve throwing sand or chasing toddlers who were splashing in the freezing Pacific. My dad and I ended up going to Yaquina Head Lighthouse with the kids—an incredibly scenic stop just a few minutes north of Newport, OR.
Visiting the Central Oregon Coast: Oregon lighthouses
I grew up in Eugene and so went to the coast multiple times a year, but I had never actually been to any of Oregon’s many lighthouses. Yaquina Head Lighthouse is the state’s tallest at 93 feet and is within the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. (Yes, we made many bad jokes about the park being outstanding. How could we resist that softball?)
Visiting Yaquina Head Lighthouse with kids was easy peasy. The paths are paved and mostly gradually sloping, allowing for easy walking for little legs. And the barriers between the paths and the park’s vegetation were plentiful so I didn’t worry as much about kids slipping through poorly maintained fences.
Visiting the Yaquina Head Lighthouse with kids
The Yaquina Head Lighthouse is iconic—you’ve likely seen it on postcards or book covers before. (And if you haven’t, you may have seen it in the horror movie The Ring!) Plenty of people come with their DSLRs and tripods to capture their own shots of the lighthouse.
Peeper was very disappointed we didn’t get to go inside the lighthouse—we hadn’t realized the lighthouse itself was off-limits to visitors except via tours, though it makes sense since it is still in operation. Luckily, we could distract her by the bajillions of birds resting on the rocks around the point.
Tens of thousands of seabirds nest in the rocks, and you can hear them before you spy them. It’s a good idea to bring your own binoculars, as there was only one working spotter when we visited, and it costs 50 cents to view.
We also kept an eye out for harbor seals, which swim and fish in the waters there year-round. We looked for whales, too (there are a handful of gray whales that live in the area year-round instead of migrating), but didn’t spot any.
Yaquina Head Interpretive Center
“I want to come here every day!” Peeper said when we went inside the Yaquina Head Interpretive Center. The girls had a blast checking out the historical replicas, showing me the animal statues they discovered and pushing buttons to make animal noises. The center does a great job of making education kid-friendly, as little ones have plenty to touch.
In the main lobby, the girls played with period toys such as a ball-in-cup game. They also played dress-up in old clothes, and they colored—you just have to ask the front desk for coloring pages and crayons.
Once we were done inside, we stepped out the back door and walked a very short ways to a viewing area. We watched people below surf and stand-up paddle board in the waves. The kids thought walking below cars in the tunnel was super cool.
There are also picnic tables outside the interpretive center, which are sheltered from the wind by a tall cliff. Just be careful to not let the park’s many birds steal your sandwich!
Kids and tide pools at Yaquina Head
If you visit the Yaquina Head Lighthouse with kids, time your trip around low tide—you’ll be able to check out crabs, sea anemones and other tidal creatures!
Look for the signs pointing you to the tidal pools. Know that you’ll have to walk down some (semi-steep) stairs to get to the beach from the top of Yaquina Head. You’ll also want to make sure the entire family is wearing sturdy shoes; flip flops will slide off your feet and don’t make for easy exploration on the tide pools.
As you walk down to the beach, remind your kids to look at, not touch, the tidal animals. Another safety note: Don’t turn your back on the ocean. Even at low tide, it’s possible for an unexpectedly large wave to come in, which can be unsafe—or just very wet.
If you’re looking for other tide pools outside Newport, OR and elsewhere on the Oregon Coast, visit this page, which has a map of Oregon’s tide pools!
Yaquina Head Lighthouse with kids: Details
Directions: The Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is about 5 minutes north of Newport on Highway 101. Don’t confuse it with the much less impressive Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, which is at the opposite end of Newport (near the bridge and the aquarium).
Features: Hiking, bird watching, tide pools, interpretive center
Good for: Families, toddlers, strollers; dogs on leash are allowed in some areas
Must-know: Yaquina Head was originally called Cape Foulweather, so let that be a signal to bring layers: The wind can get cold, and you don’t want to freeze while you whale watch or investigate tide pools. Ranger-led tours don’t run consistently (they’re scheduled to resume in July 2017), so check the web site before you go to find out if the (free) tours are running while you visit. Kids must be 5 years or older to go on a tour.
Getting in: Entry for passenger cars is $7, and you can use the pass for three days. You can park in multiple places, including by the interpretive center, alongside the lighthouse and at various viewpoints, which is great for families with children who are furious you won’t let them run off the cliff.
What’s your favorite family friendly activity in Newport, OR or on the Central Oregon Coast?