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Oregon’s South Coast

Discover big thrills along the Pacific’s rugged shore

The rugged coastline from Coos Bay south to the California state line is one of the most scenic stretches of Oregon.

Travelers come to Oregon’s southern recesses in search of peace and solitude amidst a wild and stirring landscape of misty mountainsides laced with hiking trails and sparkling rivers brimming with salmon and steelhead. Visitors to this region can also partake of the finer things in life with the region’s world-class golf courses, upscale boutiques and some of the state’s finest restaurants. And when it comes to scenic drives, it doesn’t get much better than the coastal ride from Port Orford to Brookings.

Starting from Winchester bay, here are some of the highlights of a trip through Oregon’s South Coast.

Winchester Bay

For many, the Winchester Bay area marks entrance into the fantastic Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Featuring more than 10,000 acres for ATV riding, the Oregon dunes are the ultimate destination for exhilarating off-road fun.

If you’re seeking maximum adrenaline, consider checking out DuneFest, an annual summer event that features freestyle shows, moto activities, night rides and concerts. Other popular activities in this spot include hiking, fishing, camping, bird-watching and relaxing on the sprawling beach.

The Umpqua River meets the Pacific here, and the area is celebrated for its excellent Dungeness crabbing and clamming. The Umpqua River Lighthouse, the first lighthouse built on the Oregon coast, is also located here, and you won’t want to miss a tour of this historic site. Learn how the lighthouse operated a century ago and climb the spiral staircase to the top of the 65-foot structure.

Visitors can spot gray whales from November through May. Pick a spot from the lighthouse or Wayfinder’s Point. Look closely for vapor sprays from the whales’ blowholes as they periodically surface during their journey.

Coos Bay/North Bend

The largest city on the southern Oregon coast, historic Coos Bay — which dates back to the 1850s — offers plenty for visitors and residents alike, including restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques and antique shops. It’s also known as the birthplace of Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine. Highlights include the Coos Art Museum, which features a wide range of exhibitions showcasing the works of artists from across the Pacific Northwest. Nearby North Bend has the only commercial airport on the Oregon coast and has plenty of great beaches, the most popular of which, Horsfall Beach, was used as a training ground for Prefontaine himself.

If you love the great outdoors, take a kayaking tour through the South Slough of the Coos River. Home to the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, this stunning area offers year-round paddling and great wildlife viewing. Be sure to keep your eyes open and camera ready for eagles, pelicans, herons, osprey, seals and more.

Try to time your Coos Bay visit with the annual Clamboree. Held the last Saturday in June, the Clamboree focuses on the history, culture and future of the clam in the Empire District. The day includes historical tours, cultural activities, live music and yummy clam dishes served in Clamboree-specific themes.

During September, the town holds its Music on the Bay concerts every Tuesday evening. Bring your picnic basket, unfurl a blanket and relax on the lawn as top acts play an eclectic choice of music. Rock out like a local.

Shore Acres State Park

Draped across sandstone cliffs that flank the ocean, Shore Acres State Park was the former estate of Louis Simpson, a successful timber baron. The estate’s setting is simply breathtaking, with a sculpted sandstone shoreline backed by cliffs, ruggedly surreal rock formations and offshore reefs where sea lions petulantly bark.

The estate’s mansion is enveloped by landscaped grounds that include a Japanese-style garden with a lily pond and two rose gardens (open to the public). From the gardens, it’s a steep half-mile walk down to a private cove at Simpson’s Beach. Located along the Cape Arago Highway, Shore Acres is at the epicenter of three state parks; a novice 2.4-mile hiking trail connects them. For a longer (and slightly more challenging) hike, take the 4.6-mile loop walking path (550 feet elevation gain) from the estate to Cape Arago. At the Simpson Reef Overlook, large colonies of sea lions provide captivating viewing and entertainment

Bandon

A mecca for outdoor activities, Bandon is a great place to explore sand dunes or go crabbing, kayaking, fishing and even horseback riding. Like many Oregon coastal towns, it’s got plenty of art galleries and seafood restaurants, mostly concentrated in its quaint 10-block Old Town. It’s also a bit of a golfing destination, with Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and Bandon Crossings Golf Course a short drive from the center of town. Bandon Crossings offers a unique golfing experience as the course guides you through open grasslands, scenic ravines and thick forests filled with majestic Douglas firs, while Bandon Dunes offers panoramic views of the ocean from nearly every hole.

Check out the beaches, which are guarded by monolithic sea stacks that pose for sunset photographs. The most famous is Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint; standing on the cliff overlooking the ocean, you can easily pick out what appears to be a face.

Along the wooden boardwalk, you can enjoy fresh seafood from the Bandon Fish Market and many local eateries, or you can catch your own from the crabbing pier. In recent years, the aforementioned Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, with five widely acclaimed courses, has made the tiny Pacific Coast town an international golf destination.

Nicknamed the “Cranberry Capital of the West Coast,” Bandon is also home to plenty of colorful cranberry bogs, which can be seen when driving along Highway 101. The Annual Cranberry Festival takes place during the second week of September and promises visitors a fun-filled weekend full of music, parades and food.

Cape Blanco

The chalky, 200-foot-tall white cliffs of Cape Blanco extend for one-and-a-half miles from Oregon’s Southern Coast into the Pacific Ocean. The westernmost point in the state of Oregon, Cape Blanco is the site of one of the region’s most picture-perfect lighthouses: a white-washed tower topped with a red dome, which rises 250 feet above the sea. From the lighthouse, more than eight miles of hiking trails meander through woodland and wetland settings down to the beach and afford jaw-dropping ocean views.

Equestrians can explore seven miles of horse trails and utilize the horse camp’s facilities. For a dose of history, there’s a pioneer cemetery and visits to the Hughes House, the former abode of pioneer dairy farmer Patrick Hughes, which was built in 1898. The elaborate, authentically restored Victorian home is a paradigm of late 19th-century architecture and provides a glimpse into life at the turn of the 20th century.

Port Orford

A must-see along the southern Oregon coast, the charming town of Port Orford is popular with artists due to its abundance of natural beauty. The town has eight art galleries featuring the works of local artists, along with restaurants serving fresh seafood, quaint boutiques and plenty of old Victorian houses. Other features include Cape Blanco Lighthouse, Oregon’s oldest operating lighthouse, as well as the Victorian Hughes House, a magnificently preserved Victorian mansion that’s open for tours from April through October. Also on the coast, just north of town, is Needle Rock, a spire of stone that stands majestically on the shore.

As the oldest town along the Oregon coast, Port Orford is a place brimming with history. Make a stop at Battle Rock Park to see where Capt. William Tichenor’s men battled the Qua-to-mah Native Americans in 1851. Or, visit Port Orford Lifeboat Station to find a restored Coast Guard station, shipwreck artifacts and much more.

When it comes to beachcombing, Port Orford Bay treats visitors to otherworldly views. Take off your shoes and walk the hard-packed sand as amazing sea stacks loom before you. These spectacular rock spires, formed by millennia of erosion from waves, make the perfect background for a selfie. Explorers can gather mussels and clams in season. Starfish, limpets, dogwinkles, Oregon tritons, hermit crabs and sea urchins also thrive in this environment.

Truly adventurous types can go body surfing and wind boarding in the water. Twice per year, gray whales, some as long as 45 feet, make their annual migrations up and down the coast. Majestic pods of Orcas also have been spotted swimming in these waters.

Gold Beach

Located at the confluence of the Rogue River and the Pacific, Gold Beach is characterized by rock formations and tide pools and is a great place to experience the wild and rustic beauty of the southern Oregon coast. Jet boat tours are a popular attraction here, and every August, Gold Beach hosts the Curry County Fair, complete with a Ferris wheel with views of the ocean.

See Mother Nature at her finest by hiking Gold Beach’s picturesque trails. Journey through lush virgin forest and uncover some of the largest hardwoods in the Northwest along the one-mile Frances Schrader Old Growth Trail. Or, explore the Cape Sebastian Trail for stunning views of the beach and excellent gray whale watching opportunities during migration season. Featuring gradual inclines, most Gold Beach trails don’t require difficult climbs to reach breathtaking sights and are short enough so that you can do other activities later in the day.

Your adventures in the wilderness are sure to leave you parched. Quench your thirst at Arch Rock Brewing Company, an award-winning microbrewery that’s won five gold medals at beer competitions around the world. Stop by their tasting room and sip their famous pale ale, lager and porter.

In Gold Beach, Chinook salmon, halibut and Dungeness crab are famous. For a meal prepared just for you, visit Anna’s by the Sea, where the nouvelle Canadian prairie cuisine changes daily, and local salmon and halibut are prepared in delightful ways. Ramp it up at Spinner’s Seafood, Steak & Chop House, with a filet mignon made of locally fresh wild salmon wrapped in leeks.

Brookings

One of the warmer spots along the Oregon coast, Brookings is a hub for lily cultivation. Flower lovers won’t want to miss a visit to Azalea Park, a 33-acre park full of azaleas (spring is the best time to visit). Other attractions include the Chetco Valley Historical Society Museum, full of 19th-century artifacts that give visitors insight into pioneer life. There’s also plenty to see for outdoorsy folk, including the picturesque Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, with numerous viewpoints and lovely beaches — don’t miss the gorgeous sheltered beach at Thunder Rock Cove. The town itself is also a great place to explore, with lots of excellent restaurants and pretty galleries. And if you have a boat, this is one of the best spots on the coast to launch into the Pacific.

You’ll also discover some of the best fishing in the country here. Take a boat out into the Pacific Ocean or nearby rivers, and reel in an abundance of salmon, snapper, lingcod, halibut and albacore tuna almost year-round. If you’re in town over Labor Day weekend, consider participating in the three-day Slam’n Salmon Ocean Derby, the largest fishing derby on the West Coast.

Discover Brookings’ crafty spirit at Brandy Peak Distillery, the oldest distillery in southern Oregon, where the varietal characteristics of the fruits used in their recipe are retained in these rich and smooth brandies. Don’t forget the Blackberry Liqueur Truffles, custom-made chocolates kissed with a dash of blackberry liqueur.

Looking for panoramic, unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean? You can’t do much better than Chetco Point Park. The park sits on a hundred-foot-high plateau that’s surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean. This is a great place to whale watch or simply take in awesome views of the ocean horizon.

Drive up the Chetco River to see another photogenic area. Alfred A. Loeb State Park sits on the banks of the waterway before it empties into the Pacific Ocean. Nestled in a Myrtlewood forest, the park offers great vistas.

For More Information

Oregon Coast Visitors Association

888-628-2101

www.visittheoregoncoast.com

Oregon Tourism Commission

800-547-7842

www.traveloregon.com