Depending on when you visit, Oregon is dotted with snow-covered mountains, azaleas and rhododendrons, and lush green vineyards. During a recent trip, we experienced all that beauty on a road trip from Florence (on the Central Coast) to Coos Bay (a part of the Southern or “Adventure” Coast, as it’s often called). Along the dramatic coastline, find miles of dunes, historic lighthouses, state parks, interesting towns, and lots to do. From the coast, we drove inland to the scenic Applegate Valley AVA on the way to Interstate 5 and back to California.
Florence sits at the mouth of the Siuslaw River and was originally inhabited by the Siuslaw Indians, who lived along its banks. In the mid-1800s, the town relied on logging and fishing to fuel the economy. Incorporated in 1893, settlers used the river as their way of passage. Today, it’s more about tourism.
European fur traders reached Coos Bay in the 1820s, situated where the Coos River empties into Coos Bay at the Pacific Ocean. Earlier, a number of Indian tribes (including the Coos and Coquille tribes) called it home. Lumber became the predominant industry until the 1980s, when fishing, farming, and tourism began to contribute to the area’s economic engine. Today, Coos Bay is the largest city on the coast and an active port with numerous estuaries and verdant wetlands.
In Florence, the River House Inn is conveniently located in Old Town by the Siuslaw River. Our room offered a patio with unobstructed views of the river and the Art Deco-inspired Siuslaw Bridge (first constructed in 1836). A seagull perched on the railing in the morning. The Inn is comfortable and well-situated to walk around Old Town and the port. Enjoy continental breakfast next to a beautifully planted garden (888-824-2454, riverhouseflorence.com).
PLAY & SHOP
Florence is surrounded by more than 25 lakes, part of a network of federal, state, and county parks. Water sports, fishing, bird watching, and camping are high on everyone’s list of things to do, along with hiking, mushroom foraging, playing golf, or enjoying close to 20 miles of beaches.
Shoppers are drawn to the Antiques District on Highway 101 just before Old Town. And in the charming town center along Bay Street, some of Florence’s original buildings (classified on the National Register of Historic Places) are now home to restaurants, shops, coffee houses, art galleries, and more.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area begins outside Florence in the Siuslaw National Forest. With 40 miles of dunes to explore (some of them 500 feet tall), there is all kinds of fun in the sand (think sand boards and ATVs) (www.fs.usda.gov/siuslaw). The area encompasses the largest coastal sand dunes in North America.
We chose a sand rail tour with Sandland Adventures. The 30-minute buggy ride carried us over the dunes like a roller coaster. It’s exhilarating from start to finish (541-997-8087, sandland.com).
The Port of Siuslaw operates from Florence. It’s a hub for economic development in the area as well as offering commercial and mooring facilities. There’s good people-watching to be had while strolling along the Boardwalk at the river’s edge and shopping at the farmer’s market as you spy otters and seagulls at play (portofsiuslaw.com).
For a hearty breakfast, head to the Little Brown Hen Café. This family-run casual eatery offers an array of omelets, pancakes, and French toast (made from their own Stollen bread) with lots of hash browns, bacon, or sausage on the side. If you’re inclined, get the homemade biscuits smothered in sausage gravy (541-902-2449, facebook.com/LBHC435).
In Old Town we ate lunch at Le Bouchon Wine Bar & Kitchen. This French-inspired restaurant has a great selection of tartines, salads, soup, wine, and beer. Sitting at a window table, we watched the people on Bay Street and shared Coastal Clam Chowder, the Cozy on Bay Street tartine (avocado, tomato, and feta), and the Cherry bourbon pork BBQ po’ boy heaped with slaw. A Yeti stout and a glass of Guild Red Lot #11 (2014 blend) completed the meal (541-902-1391, lebouchonprovisions.com).
Just across the street by the river is the Waterfront Depot. This local favorite used to function as a Southern Pacific train depot (transported from another location). It’s always busy, so snag a seat at the bar and take in the scene. We savored crab cakes (Oregon Dungeness and rock crab), steamers, and linguine and clams — both in clam and garlic-based broth. An Oregon-centric wine list offers lots of choices, as does their selection of craft beers and cocktails. Desserts are heavenly, such as the blueberry, raspberry, and boysenberry cake with buttercream frosting (541-902-9100, thewaterfrontdepot.com).
The Edgewater Inn sits right by one of the many estuaries in Coos Bay. Though the property is across from a commercial area, you can request a room by the water. Our view room was quiet, had access to the outside, and provided enough space for a relaxing visit. Some rooms have full kitchens or spas. In the morning, a continental breakfast is available in the lobby, right next to the pool and exercise room (800-233-0423, edgewaterinns.com/edgewater-inn-coos-bay).
PLAY & SHOP
In town, find antique stores, galleries, boutiques, and restaurants (many are housed in buildings from the turn of the century). Coos Bay also has a Boardwalk by the water as well as art, railway, and maritime museums. Pick up a map of the estuary water trails and discover nearly 20 square miles to explore via kayak or canoe.
Coos Bay is also the gateway to these three state parks: Sunset Bay, Shore Acres, and Cape Arago. They are connected via the Oregon Coast Trail. Here you’ll find miles of beautiful coastline, campgrounds, and hiking trails and great spots to watch for whales, seals, and sea lions. Cape Arago Lighthouse is one of the nine Oregon Coast lighthouse stations and part of the National Register of Historic Places. Don’t miss the wonderful gardens on the original private estate that now makes up Shore Acres (oregonstateparks.org).
Like Florence, there are multiple opportunities for fishing, water sports, beachcombing, biking, and golf.
Charleston is a picturesque fishing village halfway between Coos Bay and the State Parks. We stopped at the popular Miller’s at the Cove for a dozen local oysters, a Dungeness crab taco, and creamy clam chowder. Paired with amber ale from 7 Devils Brewery, it was sublime (541-808-2404, millersatthecove.rocks).
Across an estuary from the hotel, the Coach House specializes in seafood and BBQ. We tried mussels in Tequila lime sauce and a half rack of ribs smoked and seasoned with a secret rub and smothered in their own sauce. We paired these with the 2104 Hinman Pinot Noir and the Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Deschutes Brewery (541-267-5116, thecoachhousecoosbayor.com).
The Applegate Valley Wine Trail is stunning as it meanders from one of the 18 wineries to another. We visited these three:
Troon Vineyard: Nestled among the mountains, it grows more than 20 varietals and features a modern tasting room and patio with magnificent views. Discover delicious wines, including these 2014 Black Labels: M*T (Malbec/Tannat) and Siskiyou Label Old Vine Meritage (541-846-9900, troonvineyard.com).
Plaisance Ranch: Winery sits on what’s been a working ranch since 1858. We met the third-generation grape grower/rancher whose family began in France. Located in a rustic setting, the original tasting room expanded to a back patio for crowds gathering for wine, food, and live music. In addition to trying their organic grass-fed beef jerky, we had these 2014s: Tempranillo, Malbec, and Cabernet France (541-846-7175; plaisanceranch.com).
Cowhorn Vineyard: Focuses on biodynamic farming in its contemporary uber-green environment (built to the international Living Building Challenge standards). With a great view of the vineyards from patio or tasting room, try the 2013 Syrah 21 and the 2014 Sentience (Syrah blend). In addition to the lush vineyard, the garden overflows with lavender and asparagus (541-899-6876, cowhornwine.com/).
Florence Tourism Office: eugenecascadescoast.org/florence
Coos Bay Visitors Information Center: coosbay.org
Applegate Valley Wine Trail: applegatewinetrail.com
Oregon Coast Visitors Center: visittheoregoncoast.com/cities
Visit Oregon: traveloregon.com