Getaway to the Oregon Coast
I was born and raised in the quaint and historical state of Massachusetts, where I spent many a happy childhood summer on Cape Cod and other Atlantic coast areas. My afternoons were spent making drip sand castles and gorging myself on mass amounts of saltwater taffy. My conception of the beach involved grassy sand dunes, crabs, flip-flops, horseshoes, sun tan lotion (or more typically sunscreen) and the occasional cheesy romance novel. These notions of what the beach had to offer were only reaffirmed when I visited the Pacific Coast for the first time in southern California.
Besides the bathing suits being a little skimpier and the notion of beach bums as a year-round characteristic, the beach had the similar feeling of long, lazy sand castle-building and sun-roasting days. Like so many of their generation, my grandparents reside in the great Sunshine State, and the regular visits my family made to Florida maintained the coastal conception I had come to know and love. Until I ventured into the great Northwest, I believed that America’s entire coastline on both sides had the same endearing features. Then I got here.
Sometimes proving yourself wrong, or at least finding yourself utterly surprised, can be the most refreshing experience, and for me the Oregon coast was just that. I had never seen anything like it. It was like the edge of America just abruptly ended, like a giant had taken a bite out of a cookie, and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean came thundering into the gaps. To say that I was utterly mystified by the unique beauty of the area would be an understatement.
It is surprising that when Lewis and Clark went hacking through the great northwestern unknown they didn’t charge through the last wall of towering evergreens and go tumbling off the edge of the earth, leaving Sacagawea laughing on the shore as they floated back around to Virginia. However, they did not, and having heard of the expansive wilderness teeming with opportunity, settlers from the east began their trek on the Oregon Trail, found the lengthy stretch of coastal paradise, plunked down and stayed.
The Oregon coast is dotted by a series of small towns, most originally established as fishing villages. An hour out from Eugene on Rt. 126, Florence is the coastal outlet for Lane County, a former mill town and trade port for the San Francisco Bay area that is now home to about 7,000 residents and acts as the county’s most visited destination.
Right in the center of Oregon’s scenic coastal Highway 101, Florence offers a host of activities to travelers whether they are staying for a while or just passing through. A visitor can spend the day fishing or golfing, check out the shops in Old Town Florence, enjoy a hike on one of the area’s many scenic trails or take a dune buggy ride on a designated section of the more than 40 miles of dunes in the area.
Old Town is a section of Florence that was settled in the 1870s. Every year loads of tourists come to walk along the streets of the historical area, window shop in the quaint stores and buy fresh fish from area fishermen. Old Town, which is bustling with tourists during the summer months, has a relaxing atmosphere in the off-season and makes for an exceptional holiday getaway.
While visiting Florence a popular stop is at the Sea Lion Caves, a little more than 10 miles north of town on Highway 101. The cave is taller than a 12-story building, longer than a football field and is home to a slew of honky-voiced, slippery-furred sea lions. Made of basalt rock, the cave is the oldest in the world, made obvious by the smell, which isn’t overwhelming but definitely present. An average of about 1000 sea lions live in the Oregon waters, and up to 200 reside in and around the cave at a time. The winter months are an especially opportune time to visit, as it is liable that more sea lions will be inside.
If underground adventure does not excite you, there is more than enough to do aboveground. Highway 101 north and south of Florence has numerous trailheads leading to fantastic hikes with breathtaking views.
The Hobbit Trail is a popular location for a leisurely hike. The trail leads out to a pristine and relatively private beach where a whole day can slip by in the enjoyment of digging for clams and gathering mussels or just soaking in some salty surf spray. The hobbit trailhead is about six miles north of Florence on the left side of 101 just south of the sign for Carl G. Washburne State Park, which also has trails and campsites.
Sutton trails is another good hiking location in the area and offers a series of loops for a range of hiking abilities. You can take it easy with a 2-mile walk or take a more rigorous 7-mile option. Either way, it is a spectacular way to spend the afternoon. The trailhead can be found in the Sutton campground, which has an entrance on the west side of the highway about five miles north of Florence.
Of course, what most visitors want to do is get their feet on the beach â€“ and with good reason. The beach area both north and south of Florence is full of interesting features. The forested earth rises up from the shore, forming a series of caves that are characteristic to most of the coast. These inlets are fun to explore, but beware. Make sure that you get back to high land before the tide rolls in, or you are gonna be wet and stuck in a cave for a long time, a good way to see how a barnacle feels but not the best place to spend the night.
When the tide is out, rocky pools are left with an array of amazing creatures to discover. Besides clams and barnacles, the tide pools on the Oregon coast are home to brilliantly colored urchins. Found in bright pink, purple and aqua blue, these creatures are a magnificent spectacle. A favorite game for many children is to poke these sea creatures with a piece of drift wood and see them close up. Although the reaction is interesting, the urchins are delicate and probably don’t enjoy it too much, so careful not to poke a finger in there.
The Oregon coast is also speckled by lighthouses, no longer in use, that give a remarkable look into the history of shipping on the Pacific. The Heceta Head Lighthouse is closest to Florence and offers a guided tour that allows you to climb to the top of the lighthouse tower and provides a good place for a picnic. Another good nearby spot to stop and take a rest is Cape Perpetua, the highest point on the Oregon coast and a definite contender in the category for most spectacular view.
There is a great deal more to do in this Pacific paradise and a whole life’s worth of adventure along the coast. The northwest shore is like no other in the world. The climate and characteristics are unique from all other beach areas in America and certainly something to behold. You might want to trade in your sunscreen for a raincoat as far as weather protection goes, and leave your skimpy suit and flip-flops at home. You certainly can get in the water (many daring souls like myself do) but you won’t be in for long. The freezing cold Pacific provides a good home for marine life but not much else.
Florence Chamber of Commerce
- Address: PO Box 26000 Florence, OR 97439
- Phone: 541-997-3128 or 800-524-4864
- Email: Florence@harborside.com
- Website: www.florencechamber.com
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.