california coast vs the oregon coast comparison 09

California’s Coast vs The Oregon Coast. Which is Prettier?

As someone who has driven through both the coasts of California and Oregon, I have to say, it’s very difficult to decide which is prettier. I mean, look at this and tell me it’s easy to pick one:

california coast vs the oregon coast comparison 09

Which would you say is prettier? Tell me below! Here’s another:

california coast vs oregon coast comparison

I’ll show you even more, but while you can compare these 2 spots and have your own preference, I think it’s pretty foolish to think one is that much more beautiful than the other.

Both coasts are spectacular, have so much to see and you should drive through it the coast in both states if you have the chance (and Washington’s Coast too). Oh and I did this comparison on a single Pacific Northwest road trip explained here.

Let me show you the areas of the California and the Oregon Coast that I’ve driven through:

places I have seen on the california and oregon coast

It wasn’t the entire western area FYI, as I was tight on time and many parts of my trip were also inland, but I marked the areas I crossed in both states (and I will list the most beautiful spots) and it was basically 100’s of miles that I explored:

I didn’t drive through the ENTIRE coast because of time constraints (the speed limit on the coastal highway is pretty slow) and also because both these states have so much amazing nature areas deeper within each state worth seeing.

There were some places I really wanted to see between LA and San Jose, but my trip plans forced me to readjust and to visit these missing areas the next chance I get.

Let me explain the similar things you will see if you cross both states near the water:

1) You will see plenty of gigantic boulders and even mountains in the Pacific Ocean. 

2) You will see a lot of diverse nature, corral reefs, different colors of the water, ect…

3) You will see a lot of natural bridges and even arches throughout these states. 

4) You will see breathtaking nature that you will want to stop to truly take in. I know I did.

5) You will see and get a lot of hiking opportunities. Both states have a lot of popular hikes in these regions.

6) You will see more than 1 waterfall literally near the ocean (Hug Point, McWay Falls, Secret Beach are great locations for this).

7) Oregon’s coast has many camping spots and so too does California, and I have a list of northern California camping locations you can check out but the point is that all throughout the Pacific coast highway, you can find plenty of spots to camp at near the beach.

Is the nature really different in California and Oregon’s Coasts?

Yes actually, and here’s one example of how different they can look:

california coast vs oregon coast 2

These are the most noticeable differences I saw with both the California and Oregon coasts:

For California: For me personally, I felt the nature I saw along the California coast to be more “tropical” and “warm” in the sense that the atmosphere felt more bright and this is especially true as you head further south into California. As you cross the northern coast of California, the nature does start to resemble Oregon’s more and more.

With Oregon, it felt different, yet still amazing in that it felt more “cold” and green at times, yet also a lot more “spikey” meaning that the natural bridges there were larger, the mountains and boulders were also a lot bigger in many areas than what I saw in California. 

What I am typically more drawn to is northern nature. Whenever I travel south to places like Florida and beaches for example, I expect the land to be more “flat” and tropical and while I enjoy that, whenever I travel North, I expect to see mountains, waterfalls, elevation changes and that sort of stuff attracts me more so because I prefer places where I can do more active things and I get that in northern areas.

Then there’s places in the east coast of the United States, like in Maine, and spots in Canada like Nova Scotia (Bay of Fundy and Cabot Trail) and New Brunswick that I explored in this eastern Canada road trip, and the coastline there also has it’s own mountainous areas on the coast, and while they are also beautiful, California’s and Oregon’s coast surpass it in my opinion like I have said in other articles.

The great thing about both these states however is that with California for example, you get a mix of both these things, whereas with Oregon, it’s more stereo typically “northern” and since I said I prefer northern nature, this is why I would say Oregon’s coast attracted me a LITTLE bit more to it.

But I will give you more photo comparisons in this article and:

I would love to know 2 things from you:

1) If you’ve never been to either state’s coastal areas, just based on the photos I gave, which do you think is prettier?

2) If you have been to these 2 states, which one do you prefer and are there any specific locations that I missed which you recommend I see the next time I go.

Here are the specific areas I visited in both states:

In California:

  • Big Sur (and places like Mcway Falls there).
  • Fort Bragg, specifically Glass Beach.
  • The Redwoods (these are literally on the coast too!).
  • San Francisco. I briefly visited this area and only saw the downtown area and the Golden Gate Bridge. 
  • Areas near San Jose (they had natural bridges, but honestly, it wasn’t that amazing).
  • Russian Gulch (that area looks closer to the Oregon coast stuff I saw and it’s beautiful).

In Oregon:

  • I visited Samuel H. Boardermann Park (this in my opinion is the best spot in all of Oregon).
  • I checked out Hug Point. 
  • I also visited Whaleshead.
  • I crossed the dune areas.
  • I visited Brookings, Astoria and a few other towns in this region.
  • I’ve seen many sea cave locations in Oregon too.

In these areas I just listed, for Oregon, here are the 10 recommended coastal spots.

Out of all the Oregon Coastal spots I saw, this was my favorite (video):

What I recommend you see in both California and Oregon Coastlines:

Being that there’s over a 1,000 miles of coastal areas between these 2 states and the main road there has a small speed limit, if you’re tighter on time, and want to see the truly spectacular sites, there’s 4 places I recommend you visit:

In California, you definitely need to check out Big Sur and the Redwoods (several areas of the California Coast have them).

In Oregon, definitely see Samuel H. Boardman Park, specifically Natural Bridges and Secret Beach.

It’s these spots in both states that in my opinion offer the best scenery (from what I saw) and will help you decide which is prettier. Here’s a preview:

oregon california nature

It’s photos like these that make deciding which is prettier so hard and again, foolish to even ask because why not just visit both places? And if still think you can choose, let me make it harder to decide:

california coast vs oregon coast 3

Again, the ideal thing to do is visit both these states and enjoy all this scenery. But obviously, if the trip you’re planning only centers around a certain state, just visit the areas in that state only. But make sure to mark down the other state for a future visit because you will not regret it.

My first trip around the west coast and seeing these places is making me plan on a daily basis how and when to go back there and when I do, I’ll cover these spots again and try to see more of the coast from both spots. So again, I’ll ask, which state’s coast is prettier?

Update: I’ve revisited many of these coasts and share more comparison photos:

In 2020, I did a western US road trip where I covered even more areas of the coastlines of California and Oregon. Some of these photos were already updated above, but here are more:

california vs oregon coast 4

And here is another one showcasing the Redwoods in California (they are right on the coast) and Devil’s Punchbowl in Oregon:

california coast vs oregon coast 5

So yeah, good luck telling me which coast line is prettier (I’d love to hear your thoughts anyway!).

Update: Comparing Oregon’s Coast to Maine’s.

Very recently, I noticed people were making comparisons about Oregon’s coast and Maine’s and so I decided to also do an article comparing them. Check that out if you’re interested in seeing Maine state!

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  1. Ok, I’m a California native but lived in Southern Oregon for 15 years, 58 years in SoCal. I have driven from San Diego to the Washington coast along the 3 coastlines and I just love the Oregon Coast the most, but the California Coasts, especially from the Central Coast to the Oregon border is also spectacular. Both are so Beautiful and everyone should do both coasts. You will not regret it. Spectacular!

  2. As a Californian (San Diegan) I will say Oregon far surpasses anything in California in terms of raw beauty. I moved here a year ago because California got really crowded and it became unpleasant and yes, uglier as it got overdeveloped. The coast up here is gorgeous. Not at all swimmable though, for that you need to head to PDX and catch a morning flight to Maui (you’ll be swimming by 2 pm if you leave at 8 am).

    1. Hi June, I would agree with you in most cases, but there are several areas on the Oregon Coast where swimming is perfect (at the right season of course).

  3. (I’ve also lived overseas for many years, including in the UK, with coastal scenery that is spectacular. But the view from many Oregon headlands is without equal. Ecola, Neakhanie Mtn, etc, etc, I haven’t see anything in the world that comes close.)

  4. OK, so this is fascinating. I live in Oregon, born in Washington’s Puget Sound, and lived in California as the son of a career Navy man.

    But state borders are man-made, completely artificial. So the coastline for 50 miles north of the OR/CA border, and for 50 miles south, are pretty similar, and equally beautiful and awe-inspiring.

    But I think I prefer the more lush flora environment the further north one travels. While the Washington coast is more green, there isn’t a Coast Range in Washington similar to the Coast Range in Oregon that hits the ocean with such dramatic effect: Columbia River Basalts that traveled underground all the way to the coast and surfaced to create hundreds of basalt sea stacks, and the geological transitions that are so obvious on the exposed cliff faces. For a geologist, the Oregon Coast is a immense carnival!

  5. I live in California and have been driving the entire Pacific west coast highway and Oregon blows California out of the water in my mind. I actually feel like Oregon is a lot more rugged and less tranquil (aside from the lakes that sit on the opposite side of the road at times along the coast). Interested to see how Washington compares, but so far Oregon takes the cake.

    1. Hi Alex, I’m really glad you shared your point of view about how each state’s coastlines compare, especially since you reside in California. What you said about Oregon being more rugged and less tranquil is 100% true in my experience driving through there too.

      As for your Washington state question, having driven through its entirety (the west side), I still think Oregon is way better, but that’s really because the roads there are such that you can’t really see much of the coast as it is, unless you stop at one of the major popular beaches there, which are great to check out by the way.

      But having driven through that state’s coastline, I didn’t see as much as I wanted, but the GPS and Instagram research I did on it didn’t show me as many destinations to check out as I saw in Oregon but I’m certain there are some amazing gems that might rival Oregon. Next time I go, I’ll do a better job of exploring that and if you find some good spots there, please share them too.

    2. I totally agree. I just drove it for the first time this month, after a lifetime of living along the California coast. In fact, I’m so blown away that I am moving to Port Oxford, maybe the last, affordable town along the coast. Washington doesn’t even compare!

      1. If I were to rate the best coasts Elizabeth, it would be in this order:

        1) Oregon.
        2) Washington.
        3) California.
        4) Maine.
        5) Whatever other coastlines.

        I also have to have that the Washington Coast is also beautiful and I’ve been doing top 10 places in these areas to see. Cape Flattery and Deadman’s Cove are my top choices so far.

        1. I just spent the last 4 years living along the Washington coastline in Port Angeles. The thing about the beaches here is that (while beautiful) the most rugged and wild are part of the Olympic National Park system and they are very crowded in the summertime.

          People come here from all over the world, and between Memorial and Labor Day, and it’s really hard to find much solitude. Also, you can’t really see much from your car, so you can’t really cruise along and see whales or ocean waves. Maybe I shouldn’t say too much more, because I would hate for the Oregon coastline to turn into one big traffic jam.

          It’s already gotten that way for the beaches closest to Portland. I’m just grateful I’ve discovered my little spot before the world does. I guess it’s just a matter of time. Sigh.

          1. Hi Liz, in my experience, during the on seasons, you will always have the major parts of the Pacific West Cast flooded with tourists, including in Oregon. This is one of the reasons I travel to these spots during the off seasons, to avoid the crowds. And I also understand your point about finding solitude and getting away from tourists, as I have had similar experiences in the Catskills, as many spots I used to see less people at, became more crowded as these spots became more accessible and publicized.

            At the same time, when the land is public, the people who want to travel there and find the spots, should have that right. I’ve discovered quite a few spots that I want to revisit on my next trip to the Washington Coast, including hidden beaches and decided that if I do find these spots, that I will publicize in what area they are located at, but in terms of specific directions, won’t give those out, and will let the people who truly are dedicated to this to find it themselves.

            I used to criticize people who kept these places a secret, but after experiencing these trips myself, I understand why it’s important to honor the effort put into finding these spots and having others do the same if they wish to get here.

          2. I live in Portland, and when the temperature was forecast to hit 115 in Portland, Hwy 26 was jam packed to the coast. But that was kind of abnormal!

  6. As someone who does not live in the USA, the California coast is far more popularized and well known as a result of Hollywood however looking at the photos in the article, I think this is a serious injustice for the Oregon Coast as this is just as if not more beautiful that California.

    As you mentioned, there are over 1000 miles of road and one cannot expect to visit is all at once. In your experience, how much time should one reasonable allocate to these areas to see them when traveling to the USA?


    1. It depends on your pace and how many places you wish to visit. In my case, I only had a few days to cover as much as I could so I was more in a rush, but revisiting it a second and third time, I was able to fill in more spots. I’d say a week is usually a good amount of time to put into exploring both these coastlines.

  7. What a great question, and judging from your pictures, I think that Oregon is prettier. I have never been to Oregon but I have visited California 2 times.

    When I visited California, my trip was so short that I didn’t even get to see the nature there at all. But, I visited the Golden Gate bridge. 

    I am actually planning a vacation in California. I have to visit some of my family and visiting your recommendations will be a nice add on in my trip. 

    I’m not sure if I will have enough time to visit Oregon though, but I think it is prettier. I will probably visit Oregon for my next trip. Thank you for the suggestion.

    1. I don’t know where exactly your family lives, but if it is in the San Francisco area, then there’s plenty of coastal areas a few hours north and south worth exploring. However, if you head east, towards Modesto, you’ll also find beautiful parks and even Yosemite if you keep heading east.

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