Portland might not be right on the coast, but that doesn’t mean it’s not blessed with a bevy of beach options. The Willamette River runs straight through PDX, bisecting its east and west sides, and the wide and wonderful Columbia River defines the northern edges of the city, separating Oregon from Washington State. Both rivers offer sandy beaches perfect for cooling off in hot summer months and for strolling, fishing, and kayaking year-round. Plus, the majestic coastline of the Pacific is an easy day trip and a gorgeous drive. From stretches of sand smack dab in the middle of the city to quiet, secluded coves, and Oregon’s most famous coastal destination, here are the best beaches in and around Portland.
You probably know Haystack Rock — the iconic sea stack towering 235 feet into the air in Cannon Beach — from sunset photos, postcards, or from the final scenes of the ‘80s cult-fave flick "The Goonies." And indeed, it’s one of the most popular spots on the coast for Oregonians and visitors alike. It’s well worth the 90-minute drive from Portland to explore the charming town of Cannon Beach, walk the wide stretch of sand on its coast, and gaze up at the sea gills, tufted puffins, and cormorants circling the behemoth rock. From Portland, drive scenic Route 26 straight out to the coast, then jog south a few miles on the 101. Cannon Beach is a doable day trip, but there are also loads of hotel and rental options in the area if you want to extend your stay.
In summertime, head to Poet’s Beach in South Waterfront Park to take a quick dip in the Willamette River. Portland’s first and only designated swimming area in the river is a sweet, petite stretch of sand tucked underneath the Marquam Bridge. On your way down the path to the beach, you’ll see poems by children from local elementary schools etched into the stones. They’re interspersed with words and translations from Chinook Wawa, a mixture of Native American and English languages once used between Oregon’s first inhabitants and early settlers.
George Rogers Park
This hidden gem in the pretty, upscale Lake Oswego neighborhood features 26 acres of trails, picnic areas with barbeques, athletic fields, and a pretty stretch of sand beach along a bend in the Willamette. Visit George Rogers Park to cool off with a swim on a hot summer day, to grill up an alfresco feast, and to check out the “Iron Furnace,” a reminder of the area’s industrial past that’s listed on the National Historic register.
Short Sand Beach at Oswald West State Park
While you’re at the coast, drive just 7 miles south of Cannon Beach along a gorgeous stretch of the 101 to Arch Cape. Find a spot in one of two parking lots and head down the trail to the picturesque Short Sand Beach at Oswald West State Park, also known as Shorty’s or Smuggler’s Cove. Wind your way along the stream through a half-mile of beautiful forest, cross the bridge, and take in the jaw-dropping beauty of this secluded, sandy beach. It’s one of the best spots at the coast for catching waves, so there are always wetsuit-clad surfers to watch. There’s a lot more to explore too, including hiking trails, vistas with breathtaking views of the Pacific, and tide pools at the south end of the cove where you can usually find anemones and starfish hanging out.
Want to hit a beach without driving 70-some miles to the coast? Walton Beach on picturesque Sauvie Island may be your best way to get your beach fix without trekking out to the Pacific. If you haven’t ever been to Sauvie Island, you’re in for a treat: the agricultural island is just 10 miles north of downtown Portland, but feels like a world away. Go to pick berries or cut flowers at one of Sauvie’s many u-pick farms, check out the colorful house boats, shop for just-picked produce at an array of stands, tour a lavender farm, or look for bald eagles, blue herons, and sandhill cranes in the wildlife refuge.
There are several beaches on the island, but family- and dog-friendly Walton Beach is the most popular. Access the beach at the north end of Reeder Road, but be forewarned that parking can be difficult on hot summer afternoons. Another word to the wise: If you’re headed to any of Sauvie’s beaches, parks, or wildlife refuges, be sure to pick up a parking permit for $10 at the general store located at the base of the bridge as you cross the river channel to avoid a fine.
Just up the shore from Walton Beach on Sauvie Island is the sandy, secluded Collins Beach, which sits amid a 12,000-acre fish and game reserve. It looks a lot like Walton, with one important exception: the clothing-optional beach has been a haven for state-sanctioned skinny-dippers since the 70s. If you find yourself staring at all the locals liberated of their bathing suits, move your gaze to the wildlife, boats large and small traveling along the river, and majestic Mt. St. Helens off in the distance.
Kelley Point Park
Situated at the pretty spot where the mighty Willamette and Columbia Rivers meet is Kelley Point Park, the northernmost park in Portland. Sadly, swimming is prohibited because of potentially dangerous currents, but the beach is still a great place to stroll, go fishing, walk a dog, or launch a canoe or kayak (just don’t be surprised if the tranquility is interrupted by the ear-splitting horn of a passing cargo ship. Portland is still a port city, after all.). The park also offers 104 acres of greenspace to hike around and explore.
Sellwood Riverfront Park
Located on the east side of the Willamette River just south of downtown Portland, Sellwood Riverfront Park is a neighborhood-y greenspace locals frequent year-round to walk their dogs in open fields and run along nature trails. In summer months, it’s also a good spot for swimming, floating, and putting in canoes and kayaks. The water is refreshing, but the beach is gravely as opposed to sandy, so it’s a good idea to bring swim shoes if you’ve got ‘em.