Oregon's north coast has everything a family could want, from pristine beaches and rugged shorelines to saltwater taffy and bumper cars. But this is a vacation destination unlike any other—all of Oregon's beaches are open to the public. There are no "Keep Out" signs or gates separating you from any part of the heartachingly beautiful and windswept stretches of sand and water. Each town on the coast has a distinct feel: History buffs will love Astoria, rowdy sunseekers will be drawn to Seaside, quiet types will enjoy the serenity (and art galleries) of Cannon Beach. Lincoln City is famous for its kite flying, and Newport, with a world class aquarium and Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center, appeals to anyone interested in marine life.
The best time to visit Oregon's north coast is in July through September, when inland towns get toasty but coastal towns stay cool and waters warm up. Shops and attractions stay open later to accommodate the influx of visitors. Even in the summer, "crowded" is not a term often applied to most venues along the coast, particularly mid-week. Unless you want the place all to yourself, the time to avoid the Oregon coast is during the winter, when it's usually cold, dark, and rainy.
Oregon Coast weather is as surprising and unexpected as the coastline itself—you can have bright skies, fog, light drizzle, and gusting winds all in a hour's time (so wear layers). If it's hot inland, expect it to be cooler on the coast. Mornings are usually foggy, but the skies typically clear by the early afternoon. Although it can rain year round, the rain doesn't usually last long and it's unlikely you'll go for a whole day without seeing the sun, especially in the summer. The temperature range is between 55 and 75 year round. Check the town-by-town listing of each day's weather.
The best way to get to Oregon's north coast is to fly to Portland International Airport and rent a car. Astoria is a two-hour drive from Portland (via Washington State), and it takes three hours to drive between Astoria and Newport. Although Newport itself has a municipal airport, it is currently only serviced by private planes. From the south, another option is to fly to the Eugene Airport, which is serviced by several major carriers, and rent a car from there. From Eugene, Newport is just over a two-hour drive.
Amtrak also provides regular train service from Portland to Astoria, and bus service is available between Newport and Astoria via Greyhound.
Most of the towns on Oregon's north coast are pedestrian friendly—visitors park their cars upon arrival and go from place to place primarily on foot. The easiest way to travel between towns on the Oregon Coast is to rent a car. However, Portland's public transportation system, Trimet, offers bus service to Portland and Cannon Beach. Other towns, including Lincoln City, have some public and private shuttle bus services. Check the coast's full list of transportation options.
The Oregon Coast Visitors Association website has a great deal of information about the Oregon coast, with links to specific towns.
Compared to other family vacation destinations, the Oregon Coast is surprisingly affordable, particularly for mid-week travel. Oregon Coast 101 has printable coupons for discounts on lodging. Also look for discount coupons in the tourist information given out at the visitor's centers in every town.
There are dozens of gorgeous state parks along the Oregon Coast, many of which have great campsites (see the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department website). The campground at Fort Stevens (which is the largest state park campground in all of western America) has more than 500 tent, RV, and yurt sites, but other parks have just a few sites. Each park reserves some campsites for advanced reservations and allots the rest on a first-come,-first-serve basis. The summer months are the most popular time to camp; reserve in advance or arrive by late morning to stake out a site.