US-101 veers inland for 50 miles between Tillamook and Lincoln City, the next sizable town south. If time and weather are on your side, head west along the coast via the well-signed, 40-mile-long Three Capes Scenic Route. Running northwest from Tillamook, the loop reaches the mouth of Tillamook Bay at Cape Meares, which has a restored 1890 lighthouse and an oddly contorted Sitka spruce known as the Octopus Tree.
Heading south through the coastal villages of Oceanside and Netarts, the loop proceeds through dairy country until it climbs onto the shoulder of Cape Lookout, where a small sign proclaiming “Wildlife Viewing Area” marks the beginning of a 2.5-mile trail that leads through an ancient forest to the tip of the cape, 100-plus feet above the water. Besides the coastal panorama, in winter and spring this is a prime place to view passing gray whales. From the trailhead, the middle path leads to the cape, while others to the left and right lead down to the water. Cape Lookout State Park (503/842-4981) has the area’s most popular campground, where tent sites, yurts, and cabins come with hot showers and other creature comforts.
The Oregon coast’s most famous promontory, Cape Kiwanda, sees some of the state’s wildest surf battering the sandstone headland. Across from the cape is yet another Haystack Rock, this one being a 327-foot-tall sea stack, a half mile offshore. Along the beach south of the cape, surfers ride waves while fisherfolk skid their small dories along the sands most afternoons—a sight worth hanging around to see.
The southernmost settlement on this scenic alternative to US-101 is neighboring Pacific City.