Southern (Oregon) Coast surprises

29 Mar
29 March 2019.
Where does one go for a break when one lives on the Oregon Coast? Another part of the coast, naturally.
When we lived in Portland, Cannon Beach was our coastal-town-of-choice. We usually enjoyed two, 3-or-4-night off-season stays each year, often with dog in tow. In fact, knowing we enjoyed Cannon Beach even in colder weather led us to decide to live on the coast.
However, in 30-odd years of living in Oregon, we had never ventured south of Florence! It was high time to go before the tourist season kicks in and Highway 101 becomes a convoy of gigantic RVs pulling tiny cars.
For one reason or another, we chose Bandon as our base and we were delighted with the decision.  It is less than four hours from home: far enough for a getaway but not so far as to require a driving marathon which neither of us enjoys.
Because the immediate post-Lewis and Clark history of the Oregon Coast is one of exploration and shipping, there are myriad lighthouses so in my mind I dubbed this The Lighthouse Tour, but there were other surprises awaiting us: among them, cranberries, sheep, and lakes.

Cranberries

I knew we grew cranberries in Oregon. I did not know they were grown so close to the ocean. Turns out Coos and Curry counties are the epicenter of the industry. The well-ordered, burgundy-hued fields would make Marie Kondo proud. There are many bogs and sloughs in the Bandon area but these fields, clearly visible from the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (aka, Highway 101), were dry. Seems they are only flooded to harvest the berries. Wouldn’t that be fun to see?

We did not get a good shot of the cranberry fields, but they are not “bogs” at least at this time of year. They are fields rimmed with berms to allow flooding for harvest. Photo by KnightedAirs

Sheep

Who knew the southern Oregon coast was prime territory for sheep? As green as the area is, we felt transported to Scotland where sheep grazing within view of the ocean is commonplace. While sheep farms are not as common here as in the Willamette Valley or Central Oregon we also were not traveling on an Interstate so we traveled closer to the pastoral views. Something about sheep always makes me happy.

Sheep and cows graze with a view of the ocean, Cape Blanco,

Lakes

Oregon is not lake country. Rivers we have. The Pacific Ocean, of course. As I hail from “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Oregon has always seemed a little light on freshwater bodies. Driving along 101 south of Florence, there are a lot of lakes, some due to dams created by the famous Oregon dunes. It really is a peaceful drive from Florence to points south, unlike 101 near us. While the photo below is of a tiny lake, some are huge. Look up Siltcoos Lake or Tahkenitch Lake.

Lake Marie in Umpqua State Park, a stone’s throw from an ocean beach but fun — and safe — for kids and dogs.

The Trip

We spent four days exploring, mostly under clear skies. Bandon makes a nice base with some good restaurant choices, plenty of lodging options, and a choice of river or ocean views. We chose the Bandon Inn, on a hill overlooking the old town where one can walk to many restaurants.

Sunrise view of the Coquille River, Bandon, from the Bandon Inn.

Our travel day south afforded an opportunity for a few scenic stops between Newport and Coos Bay. One of our favorite coffee stops is in Yachats at the Green Salmon, with the best pour-over coffee we’ve found. Amazing pastries, too, and you could have a different sandwich every day for a month. They will lace any drink with CBD if you like. We never get past the pastries and coffee. Haven’t tried the CBD.
Bypassing Cape Perpetua, having visited there several times, we proceeded to the dramatic Oregon Dunes and the Umpqua Lighthouse in the eponymous state park.

The Umpqua Lighthouse still operates, now as a Private Aid to Navigation (PATON) as the personnel assigned to the Coast Guard station were relocated in 2008. It shines with a distinctive red and white Fresnel lens.

This is what people like to do at the Oregon Dunes. Only a few hardy souls out in March, but ATVs are available to rent at many locations nearby.

Arriving in Bandon about 16:00, we had time for a loop through the old town, where we discovered that night’s dining destination, Bandon Brewing Co., where pizza reigns! (Watch for a review over at Our Weekly Pizza very soon.)
Heading south the next day our focus was on Cape Blanco and Port Orford. Further south there were road closures and delays due to landslides last month, so we limited our wandering a bit. Cape Blanco turned out to be a delightful stop with an easy walk to the closed-until-April light. We were the only visitors on this warm and surprisingly wind-free morning. Imagine the hardships in living in this remote location when the light was built in 1869?

The Cape Blanco Lighthouse can be toured during limited hours, April-October.

From this viewpoint on Cape Blanco, it is easy to see how important the lighthouses were to ships navigating the Oregon Coast.

Port Orford is a dot on the map but Port Orford Heads State Park and a surprising ocean-front restaurant make it a perfect combination for outdoor fun and refreshment. Port Orford Heads offers a network of paths with remarkable views far out-to-sea made even more interesting by the unique rock formations. Here we saw one formation that looked like a whale and another resembling a henge sunk into the Pacific. We spotted our first whales of the season, beginning their northward migration to the feeding grounds in Alaska. It was shirtsleeve weather by late morning, convincing us that spring was at hand.

Lovely view of the entrance to Nellie’s Bay at Port Orford. From this bay, the Coast Guard used to launch their lifeboat. There is a museum dedicated to these brave “surfmen” as they were known.

Offshore islands at Port Orford Heads. This is a terrific whale watching viewpoint. See the “henge” far out to sea?

We could have spent the day on a handy bench overlooking the whales’ path, but growling stomachs called us to lunch at The Redfish. The cafe’s ocean view was surpassed only by the cuisine. Their fish tacos were the best I have eaten. Ever. Well-seasoned, grilled rockfish, encased in grilled tortillas (firmer for the grilling so they don’t fall apart) with a tasty, non-drippy slaw, and an underpinning of queso fresco plus salsa fresca. We passed on the fries and were rewarded with a large side salad dressed with a compelling citrus vinaigrette. I wish we lived closer. Or that they would move.

The Redfish Cafe at Battle Rock Wayside Park. best fish tacos ever.

Another day we passed in-and-near Coos Bay. First stop: Shore Acres State Park. Our promised sunny day started out with patchy fog and cleared to cold and windy near the ocean, far from the shirtsleeve weather of Port Orford. We were almost alone for an hour-long exploration that included the amazing formal gardens at Shore Acres, on the former estate of timber baron Louis Simpson.
From the website:
The initial holding was purchased from Louis J. and his wife, Lela G. Simpson, in 1942, and included the Simpsons’ oceanfront estate with its formal garden. Later additions were acquired from other owners between 1956 and 1980. The garden fell into disarray in the period 1942-1970 but it has been restored to perhaps an even grander scale than that achieved by Louis Simpson. “Shore Acres” was the name given by the Simpsons to their large estate on the spectacular Cape Arago sea coast. The house sat on a precipitous bluff overlooking the rocky ocean shore. The Simpson family was important in the development of the Coos Bay area, beginning with Captain Asa M. Simpson, who founded the town of North Bend after his arrival on Coos Bay in 1855. Simpson and his sons were leaders in shipping and the lumber industry. They owned land from Cape Arago to North Bend.

Almost alone at Shore Acres on a day of pounding surf and cold winds.

Dramatic surf at Shore Acres.

The former Louis Simpson Estate is now a state park, Shore Acres. I am told the current garden is more beautiful than the Simpson’s was. They have the best gift shop we’ve been in. Ever.

Found this tiny bunny having a snack at Shore Acres. We never see them in Lincoln City. He was so small, maybe 2 pounds.

Not far away, the lighthouse at Cape Arago once kept ships from harm. When you see the rocks all along this part of the coast, even far offshore, it is no wonder shipwrecks were common and lighthouses necessary.
Moving on, the aquarium at Charleston was closed (one of the perils of off-season travel is fewer days open and shorter hours) so we headed to Coos Bay. The heyday of lumber that built this port has passed but there is a tidy downtown core with a pleasant boardwalk and, surprisingly, a railroad museum whose open day our visit coincided with. Fish tacos from Sharkbites didn’t quite compare to the Redfish but they were of excellent quality.

Oregon Railway Museum. This outdoor museum is best savored on a dry day. You can walk through many cars, including some ancient cabooses. Limited hours.

There is a nice boardwalk along the waterfront of this calm natural harbor.

One can spend a nice morning just taking in the views from Bandon itself. When the sun is at your back, the Pacific shows itself best. Once again, we found ourselves virtually alone while we tromped around Coquille Point in Kronenberg County Park on a mild March morning. A lovely loop with vast views takes one along the cliffside to see the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge bursting with bird life. Table Rock, Cat & Kittens Rocks, and Face Rock are among the formations that capture the imagination.

Cosmo the puffin watches over the Coquille Point Nature Preserve. He is made of plastic pollution found in the ocean, part of a project called “Washed Ashore.”

Face Rock, one of the fanciful formations off the coast at Bandon.

While there are many dining options in Bandon — we tried several — the Bandon Brewing Co., Bandon Coffee Co., and Edgewaters were our favorites. Edgewaters was so impressive we dined there twice. Seafood Romesco (like a cioppino), a creative arugula salad, and a unique preparation of calamari caught our attention, as well as a decent local wine list. For the population, Bandon’s restaurant options far surpass those in Lincoln City.
I thought of this as The Lighthouse Tour as they are abundant on the coast. Between Lincoln City and Port Orford, we passed lights at Yaquina Head, Heceta Head, Umpqua, Coquille, Cape Blanco, and Cape Arago. But we found much more than lighthouses in our south coast break. Next stop: France in late April!
If you would like to know more about walks and hikes, head on over to Project Easy Hiker for a companion piece.

19 Responses to “Southern (Oregon) Coast surprises”

  1. Jean Claude April 5, 2019 at 10:47 #

    Make me/us exploring a temporary or permanent move…down there!!!

    Like

    • Laurel April 11, 2019 at 16:36 #

      You could do worse than split your time between your house in Provence and a condo at the Oregon Coast!

      Like

  2. Chloe March 29, 2019 at 18:22 #

    Used to visit the area where you traveled when at the U of O. I love the area around Eureka, particularly the little village of Trinidad north of Arcata and Ferndale, which is close to Eureka. If you ever get into that area, be sure to have breakfast at the Samoa Cook House. There is also a beautiful walk at a place called Fern Canyon. Have a nice trip to France and England, where you can either join the yellow vests or march with whichever group that you like in regard to Brexit.

    Like

    • Laurel March 29, 2019 at 18:42 #

      Great tips, Chloe! I said to Ric we should go to No Cal next spring but I have to talk him into the long auto trip.

      We shall refrain from marching but I hope against hope the UK stays in the EU.

      Like

  3. Maarja March 29, 2019 at 17:42 #

    This sounds lovely! Especially the fish tacos.I will tuck that idea into my journal for when we return from France next time! This trip has been buried under the need to sort, sift and reduce. Not great fun but necessary. Maybe we will catch you in France…we leave May 13! Bises🐞

    Like

    • Laurel March 29, 2019 at 18:40 #

      We will miss you in France! We head to the UK on May 11! I will follow your blog, of course, and we MUST get together when you return in the autumn! One year we must join you in Provence…

      Like

  4. Kim Freed March 29, 2019 at 16:25 #

    Just loved reading about your trip. Makes me homesick for the Coast. BTW, I am no longer on Facebook. Look forward to reading about your upcoming trip.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

    • Laurel March 29, 2019 at 16:41 #

      I struggle with staying on FB. But I do see and hear from people I would otherwise lose track of. But I know how to find you!

      Like

  5. Gayle Seely March 29, 2019 at 16:13 #

    I am eager to use your route as a guide and also travel out off the usual coastal path.
    Thank you!

    Like

    • Laurel March 29, 2019 at 16:41 #

      Please do! But not during high tourist time!

      Like

  6. Marcia Kakiuchi March 29, 2019 at 11:07 #

    That Redfish restaurant sounds just delightful. And the Puffin made out of garbage-plastic is incredible. Looks like you had just gorgeous weather. Coffee infused with CBD? Doesn’t that making driving a bit hazardous? I wouldn’t try it either. Great pics and narrative. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

    • Laurel March 29, 2019 at 11:56 #

      Hahaha! CBD is the part without the hallucinogens. We have not tried it (nor are we likely to).

      Like

  7. terah March 29, 2019 at 10:59 #

    I want to go NOW! Love to both of you. Keep these blogs coming!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laurel March 29, 2019 at 11:55 #

      Hi Terah! Thanks for reading! My blogging will pick up when we go to France and the UK in a few weeks.

      Like

  8. Deb Fischer March 29, 2019 at 10:45 #

    What a great trip! Oregon coast really is quite spectacular. . thanks for sharing.

    Like

  9. nigewelly March 29, 2019 at 10:38 #

    “lace any drink with CBD” CBD?

    Like

    • Laurel March 29, 2019 at 10:44 #

      Ah, Nige, CBD is Cannabidiol, a chemical compound in marijuana without the THC which is the stuff that gets you high. It is all the rage to tout the medical benefits fo CBD. I have not bought in…

      Liked by 1 person

      • jono51 March 29, 2019 at 11:06 #

        Here in the land of ten thousand lakes the only one that is mostly open is Superior. It’ll be another month before open water on the inland lakes up here. Nice to see the sea and warm, sunny days. Oregon has such a beautiful coast!

        Liked by 1 person

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