written by Sheila G. Miller
Growing up in the Portland area, the Northern Oregon Coast was easier to access than other coastal areas. That was where I learned that sweatshirts were beach gear and “laying out” was something for other coastal states.
But in all my years as an Oregonian, I had hardly set foot on the Southern Oregon Coast except to drive through on my way elsewhere. That changed this fall, when I spent a few days in Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston.
This area of the coast, like other parts of Oregon, was greatly impacted by the timber industry. In 1947, just three years after Coos Bay gave up Marshfield as its name, The Oregonian called the city the “Lumber Capital of the World.” As Oregonians know, that came to an abrupt end in the 1980s, and the area has been searching for its next big thing ever since.
Based on my experience this fall, that next thing could very well be tourism. The area has an abundance of outdoors opportunities and vistas that simply can’t be seen in other parts of the state.
Newcomers to the Southern Oregon Coast must visit the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. It’s one of the largest areas of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world, and the sheer breadth of it must be seen to be believed. According to the Oregon Historical Society, studies have determined the youngest dunes, formed in the past 7,000 years, are those nearest the ocean. The higher dunes formed more than 20,000 years ago.
I’ve never driven an ATV or dune buggy and didn’t have much faith in my skills. I also didn’t think I’d do a very good job of navigating the dunes. So I enlisted the help of Spinreel Dune Buggy & ATV Rentals and took a tour as a passenger. There’s really no other way to put it—it was so fun. We zoomed up and down dunes and along tiny trails through beach grass. As we bombed along, we paused to look at animal tracks, including deer, cougar and raccoon.
The European beach grass in the dunes is a non-native plant that is damaging the dunes, so volunteer groups regularly gather to yank it out.
Once I finished my dune buggy tour, I figured I better check out the dunes on foot. At John Dellenback Dunes Trail, I felt a bit like I was in a moonscape. You can also try the Bluebill Trail at Horsfall Beach for a different view.
Exhausted, it was time for a rest. I checked in at Bay Point Landing, a new luxury property of RV sites and tiny cabins in Coos Bay. My cabin had wifi and cable television and a view of the water. It was a quiet, comfortable respite from my many outdoor adventures, and the cabin felt much bigger than it appeared at first blush.
For dinner, I went to 7 Devils Brewing Company. This hotspot is a bright star in a still redeveloping downtown—it was packed and live music was playing. With local art hanging on the walls, a large window to view the beermaking process, and a cozy taproom, this Bendite felt right at home.
While the public house has a small menu, it’s a good one—I had a tuna melt, and the fish was clearly fresh and local, likely right out of the bay. I grabbed a sampler tray of beers and particularly enjoyed the Chinook Redd. The pub offers to-go beer, and throughout my weekend I found 7 Devils on tap nearly everywhere I went.
My second day on the Southern Coast was filled with even more outdoor adventure. I started the morning with a coffee and pastry from Bayside Coffee in Charleston. This tiny spot is on the way to all the places I would be going that day, and it locally sources most of its products and only buys fair trade coffee beans. Each day, the coffee shop puts up a sign noting from where the coffee has been sourced. My belly full, I took a quick walk along Bastendorff Beach. I was too late to see any morning surfers, but I did have the beach nearly to myself and a great view up and down the coast.
A bit farther down the coastline at Sunset Bay, I met up with Dave Lacey, the owner of South Coast Tours. Lacey’s tour company leads kayak, fishing, standup paddleboarding and other tours (including some that are van-based, if you’d prefer a little less of the outdoors). On this windy Saturday morning, it would have been a bit much to go too far in the bay on our kayaks, but we did the best we could. Other days, Lacey said, the water is glassy and it’s easy to take a kayak right up to the rocky outcroppings. Today was not that day.
Nevertheless, the short kayak got me excited for the rest of my day visiting state parks. Just up the road is Shore Acres State Park, which is perched on a huge cliff overlooking the ocean. The property was once owned by a timber baron, and extensive gardens still sit on the land here. During the holidays the gardens are lit up with hundreds of thousands of lights. But the park doesn’t need those lights to shine.
If you’ve planned ahead with binoculars, make sure to stop at Simpson Reef Overlook. From the overlook you can spy seals and sea lions lounging about on the rocks of Shell Island just offshore.
Then it was off to Cape Arago State Park, which is literally the end of the road. It has some lovely trails, including one that connects you to a beach filled with driftwood and tidepools.
After hiking, I’d worked up an appetite, so it was back to Charleston for lunch before my next hike. I went to High Tide for clam chowder, though the restaurant had a wide variety of seafood options, as well as more standard fare, and it also had a nice view of the bay.
Ready to face the rest of the day, I headed farther afield for more adventure. The Golden & Silver Falls State Park is 26 winding and, toward the end, unpaved miles from Coos Bay. It takes nearly an hour to get there, but the serenity is well worth the drive. Tucked away up different short trails are two waterfalls (you guessed it, Golden Falls and Silver Falls). The day I visited, the trees towering over the paths were shedding leaves and only a few other visitors were around. The crashing waves I’d watched earlier that day felt a world away.
On a local’s advice, I tried sushi at Tokyo Bistro for dinner. The fish was fresh and the rolls were prepared quickly. I sat at the sushi bar and watched the sushi chefs prepare my dinner. It was just the thing after a long day outdoors. Finally, I finished my evening with a trip to The Mill Casino in North Bend. The casino, run by the Coquille Indian Tribe, is very clearly the place to be on a weekend night.
The casino was packed, as was the sports bar inside. It feels more high end than the average Oregon casino, with thoughtful finishes.
The Southern Oregon Coast is made for outdoors time. But if the weather is too rainy and blustery, or you’re just craving some culture, the Coos History Museum punches above its weight class. Through the summer, the museum is featuring an exhibit called VET INK: Tattoos Inspired by Military Service. That’s in addition to a pretty extensive collection of historic items and photographs of the region.
Coos Bay’s downtown is beginning to perk up, and I found several antique and décor shops worth stopping by. Then it was time for a quick fish taco before I hit the road. I found them at Sharkbites, right along the main drag. While polishing them off, I made a mental list of all the places, sights and adventures I still had yet to tick off on Oregon’s Adventure Coast, and made plans for my next trip here.
SOUTHERN OREGON COAST
7 Devils Brewery
The Mill Casino Hotel & RV Park
Bay Point Landing
Itty Bitty Inn
Best Western Holiday Hotel
Coos Bay Manor
Spinreel Dune Buggy & ATV Rentals
Golden & Silver Falls State Park Shore Acres State Park
Cape Arago State Park
South Coast Tours