written by Lee Lewis Husk | photos by Claire Thorington
In the southwest corner of Oregon, six miles from the California border, is unpretentious Brookings. This coastal mill and fishing town at the mouth of the Chetco River remains true to its roots, too far from population centers to attract the crowds of Seaside or Lincoln City. It was inaccessible until 1936 when the Roosevelt Highway, now Highway 101, connected it to the rest of the Oregon Coast. Its remoteness and mild climate (note the palm trees) make it a charming place to spend a couple of days. Let your attention wander among the thrilling rugged bluffs, fin-shaped rock stacks, turbulent surf, laid-back marina, redwood forests, coffee shops and brewpubs. Retirees flock here for a slower lifestyle, ample recreation, friendly village vibe and daytime temperatures float in the mid-fifties, even in winter months.
Arrive from the north and you’ll pass 365 feet above Thomas Creek Canyon on Oregon’s highest highway bridge, about halfway into the eighteen-mile Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. The highway’s name is apt—every mile between here and Brookings is eye candy. If you want to hike, observe migrating birds and whales or find a secluded beach, this would be a good place to start. Pull off at Arch Rock, Natural Bridges and Whaleshead for views; go deeper into the terrain at Indian Sands or Cape Ferrelo.
Once into Brookings proper, take a few minutes to get oriented. The downtown is easy— you’ll pass through it on the highway. Cross the river and you’ll be in the town of Harbor, the port for both cities. Take the first right to reach the port and the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce for maps and brochures. If you travel by RV, reserve a spot at Beachfront RV Park for its million-dollar view of Sporthaven Beach just beyond your windshield. Note that the park is currently under renovation but still open. Alternatively, the Best Western Beachfront Inn is nearby.
Travel a few more miles south and you’ll pass farms that grow nearly all of the country’s Easter lilies for potted plants. At the border is the Crissey Field State Park and Oregon Welcome Center. The 4,500-square-foot building overlooks a sandy beach, wetlands and the start of the 382-mile, north-bound Oregon Coast Trail.
When hunger strikes, make your way to the Sporthaven Marina Bar & Grill, where you can sit on the outdoor patio, watch harbor boats come and go and slurp up the award-winning clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl. Other local favorites include grilled fish and chips and the Cajun fish tacos.
Azalea Park on the Brookings side of the river is an easy afterlunch amble. This six-acre city park has azalea “bushes” from the Jurassic era, wandering paths and Capella by the Sea, an architectural standout built by Elmo Williams in memory of his wife, Lorraine. A longtime Brookings resident before his death in 2015, Williams was a Hollywood film editor and producer who won an Academy Award for his editing of the classic 1952 Western, High Noon, starring Cary Grant. Azalea Park’s open-air amphitheater hosts many summer concerts.
Ready for a brew and dinner? Grab a seat at Chetco Brewing Company’s recently opened Tap Room downtown behind Khun Thai. The brewery grows hops, fruit, and herbs and serves twelve beers in the Tap Room. Try the Block and Tackle Stout, 2014 winner of the World Beer Cup Silver Medal in the American Imperial Stout category. There’s no food service, so bring your own or walk over to Oxenfrē Public House, a contemporary take on a Britishstyle pub with live music and excellent, made-from-scratch food and cocktails. Be sure to check out the light fixtures here, too. Ask for the off-menu dinner salad and order the shrimp and swine gumbo or flatiron steak.
If coffee and food get you moving, the Downtown Coffee Lounge is a good place for tasty pastries, fruit smoothies and egg dishes. Conversely, search for the hard-to-find, local hangout, Superfly Distilling Co. Martini Bar and Grill near Bi-Mart. The neon lights, playful décor and the vocals of Aretha back up excellent granola, Greek yogurt and fresh fruit or the monster breakfast burrito.
With fuel in your belly, head to Harris Beach State Park on Brookings’ north end. Hike, beachcomb and see Oregon’s largest off-coast island, alternately called Bird or Goat Island, a national wildlife sanctuary and breeding site for the tufted puffin and rare birds. This popular park has yearround camping, including RV hookups and six yurts.
For golf, book a tee time at Salmon Run Golf Course, an eighteen-hole course open to the public. Golfers consider it a challenging gem with tight fairways, lush valleys and a signature fourth hole which has an island putting green. If surfing is your gig, catch the swell at either Mill Beach in the center of Brookings or at Sporthaven Beach, both good for all skill levels.
Brandy Peak Distillery, four miles up steep and windy Carpenterville Road, is one of Brookings residents Tim and Cindy Young’s favorite places to take visitors. “It’s a unique business where the family cuts wood (for the still) and bottles by hand,” said Cindy. Founded in 1993, it is the oldest craft distillery in Southern Oregon. Two wood-fired pot stills, the only legal ones in the country, render award-winning natural and aged pear brandies and other fruit-based brandies. The distillery also makes a blackberry liqueur from local berries— a favorite of the Youngs. Call ahead for a tour and finish up in the tasting room.
Cap off the busy day with dinner at either Fat Irish Pub in the port or the Black Trumpet Bistro downtown. Sit at the bar and watch closely as the bartender fills glasses from a bottom- up beer dispenser—a technology that reduces foam and wastage. The Black Trumpet is an intimate, French-style bistro featuring local brews, wines from around the world, and fish caught by chef and co-owner Rob Krebs. Popular menu items include chicken marsala with foraged mushrooms and lemon meringue crème brûlée.
Don’t miss: The Oldest Craft Distillery in Southern Oregon
Brandy Peak Distillery uses wood-fired pot stills, the only legal ones in the country, to render award-winning natural and aged pear brandies and other fruit-based brandies. Be sure to try the blackberry liqueur, made from local berries.