A road trip along the Oregon Coast would not be complete without a stop at Depoe Bay. It is famous for two prime reasons: It has the world's smallest harbor, and it is considered to be the whale-watching capital of the Oregon coast.
This quaint village is tiny but full of activity. It offers a variety of outdoor adventures, spectacular natural scenery, and restaurants and shops to enjoy along the seawall that runs the downtown's entire length. You can shop till you drop while being steps away from the ocean.
There are many interesting stops along Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast. Depoe Bay is located between Lincoln City and Newport. When we took a road trip down the coast, I found Depoe Bay to be my favorite stop. It was a charming little town right along the sea. There seemed to be something for everyone to enjoy, from the fine food and checking out the sites to whale watching and shopping.
Read on to learn what makes Depoe Bay unique and why you will want to add this historical sea town to your travel bucket list.
World’s Smallest Navigable Harbor
Depoe Bay is dubbed the World’s Smallest Navigable Harbor. The picturesque harbor was originally 20 feet smaller. The current harbor is approximately six acres in size and connects to the Pacific Ocean by a 50-foot channel that was expanded over 50 years ago. Historically, local Native American tribes utilized the harbor for seal hunting and fishing. Fish were plentiful due to the multitude of streams in the area providing the port with fish.
When we visited, boats were coming in and out of the harbor while some were docked. As you watch, you wonder how they manage to squeeze through the channel, but with skillful captains, they managed.
When scenes from the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest were filmed in Depoe Bay, it received some extra attention and was added to the Oregon Film Trail. US Harbors named Depoe Bay the Best Harbor in the U.S. in 2020.
Whale Watching Capital
Have you ever viewed the silhouette of a gray whale lifting its tail flukes high above the surf? Blink, and you will miss the action, but if you catch it, these magnificent creatures are signaling they are hungry, and it is time to dive to the bottom of the ocean to feast. Depoe Bay is a fantastic place to watch whale activity.
A resident pod of gray whales (approximately 200) calls the shores of Depoe Bay home from March to December each year. You can stand along the seawall and often see the whales just offshore feeding along the coast. The same whales return year after year.
But the huge whale watching events happen in spring and winter, when the whale pods migrate in masses up and down the rugged coast en route between Alaska and Mexico. The gray whales move between highly productive food areas in the summer, and in winter, they head for warmer waters where they breed and calve. They are fast travelers and cover about 100 miles a day. They coast along at around 5 miles per hour.
The Whale Watching Center gives you a front-row seat as these beautiful creatures swim by, and there are many shore observation areas where you can watch these whales as they dive, breach, and blow. Or you can enjoy an up-close view on a whale watching guided charter tour led by expert marine naturalists and marine biologists who know the best off-shore locations for whale sightings.
The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay is staffed by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department park rangers who help you find whales to watch and will answer your questions. They also sponsor a Whale Watch Week twice each year when large numbers of whales are most likely to be swimming by.
Thousands of these majestical mammals pass by the Oregon Coast as they travel 12,000 miles between Mexico and the Bering Sea area near Alaska. The whales weigh up to 40 tons and are 40 to 50 feet long. In the spring, you can often see 15-foot baby whales swimming north with their mothers.
Yes, the whales often blow water, but there is another spouting horn in the area. Depoe Bay’s Spouting Horn is an underwater cave that funnels incoming waves, throwing a saltwater display similar to a geyser straight up in the air right along the main street, often soaking pedestrians. This usually happens after a storm. It is fun to watch, but not so fun if you are the unsuspecting person who gets soaked.
Depoe Bay Bridge
A historical landmark, the Depoe Bay Bridge is an iconic marker and a favorite stop for road trippers. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge is the gateway to the world’s smallest navigable harbor.
If the bridge looks familiar as your drive down Highway 101, it could be because its designer, Conde B. McCullough, a famous Oregon master bridge builder, designed all the Oregon bridges along the highway.
If fishing is your pleasure, Depoe Bay offers Oregon's premier fishing excursions. Depending on the season, you can fish for salmon, halibut, tuna, and more. Dockside Charters provides daily fishing adventures.
Considered one of the most popular crabs to catch, Dungeness crabs are also delicious to eat! Unfortunately, my husband is allergic to them and gets a bad case of hives when he eats them. But Depoe Bay is home to the Siletz River, where you can take a Siletz Catamaran made for Dungeness crabbing and enjoy one of the simple pleasures of a day on the Oregon Coast catching some of the finest crabs.
Shopping By The Sea
Remember that vast sea wall I mentioned earlier that runs the length of the downtown? It enables visitors to shop and dine while enjoying coastal views. I enjoyed just walking along the wall and watching the waves. It is the only town along the Oregon coast with such a spectacular view as you stroll the streets.
There are various galleries and shops with the latest sea clothing, T-shirts, sunglasses, saltwater taffy, ice cream, and more. I enjoyed the old-fashioned candy store.
A host of incredible places to eat are located in Depoe Bay. The mix of fresh-caught seafood, fantastic ocean scenery, and superb culinary talent provides the perfect setting for a wonderful meal during your day on the coast.
We dined at Gracie's Sea Hag Restaurant, and it was a lively, fun place to eat, and the food was delicious!
Drift Creek Falls
If you stay in the area for more than a day, take a hike out to Drift Creek Falls. It is a three-mile out-and-back hiking trail of moderate difficulty with beautiful views. Highlights include a suspension bridge, a cascading waterfall, and the Coast Range Forest.
Take a leisurely paddleboard trip around Siletz Bay or down Schooner Creek. If you want to be adventurous, you can enjoy the challenge of the rougher waters of the Pacific. Rentals are available in nearby Lincoln City, or bring your own (see our recommendations for the best paddle boards for any budget in 2021 here).
Whale Cove Inn
Built-in the 1930s, the historic Whale Cove Inn provides breathtaking views of Oregon's coastline and the Pacific Ocean. Can you guess how it got the name? An 80-foot whale was washed up on the beach in 1903 and discovered by the locals. Since then, it has been a popular spot for its many whale sightings.
Whale Cove Inn gives you a prime viewing spot from the comfort of your room. Whether you see a whale or not, you will enjoy spectacular views.
Whether visiting to see the world's smallest harbor, take in some whale watching, enjoy fresh seafood for lunch, or enjoy other activities, Depoe Bay is the perfect stop along the Oregon Coast to add to your travel bucket list.
Plan a spring visit to enjoy whale watching (including the baby whales). While visiting, be sure to grab a meal at Gracie's Sea Hag restaurant and get a photo with the statue outside the restaurant.