The northern-most section of US 101 in Oregon provides a good sample of Oregon’s coast driving, with its long beaches, rocky headlands and old lumber, farming and fishing centers. The drive reflects these characteristics in three separate sections.
The northernmost section is from Astoria to Seaside. The highway itself is a pretty boring stretch of four-lane road. Aside from some of the attractions in either town, the key to enjoying this part is to explore some short side trips along the way. These include Fort Stevens State Park, Sunset Beach recreation site (check out the wreck of the Peter Iredale), and some of the ocean-side avenues around Gearhart. You may also want to consider the Lewis and Clark Rd for a slower-paced alternative between Astoria and Seaside.
The southern section (Wheeler to Tillamook) is a good example of working coastal Oregon. You’ll see lots of fishing, shipping, lumber and agricultural activities here, and some of them are available to tourists as well. One of my childhood memories is of a tour of the Tillamook Cheese Factory (although for some reasons most of my memories are of the free samples offered on the tour!).
Finally, the central section (Seaside to Nehalem) has one of the highest concentrations of scenic sights along the Oregon coast. Highlights include Ecola State Park, Cannon Beach, and Arcadia Beach, Hug Point and Oswald West state parks. Make sure to spend some time here, and also ensure to stop at the pullouts along the road (north to south driving is best for this). If you have limited time to do the full drive, focus on this section.
The worst part of this drive? It can be very busy in good weather, and attracts lots of RVs — try to do it on weekdays if possible.