FLORENCE, Oregon- November 21, 2016- With abundant sunshine, blue skies, and puffy white clouds in the spring and summer and shrouded with intermittent misty days in the fall and winter, the Oregon Coast has a rugged beauty all its own.
As you traverse north along the seaside, you’ll discover the small town charms of Florence, Newport, and Lincoln City. Each offers travelers a taste of local color, flavors, and personality.
Located about an hour’s drive from the Eugene Airport, Florence is situated along iconic U.S. Highway 101 on the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. Far from being just a seaside town, the area is diverse with forests and lush foliage along the Siuslaw River then giving way to the famous Oregon Sand Dunes that lead right up to the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
Known as the City of Rhododendrons, Florence’s annual fall flower show is the second-oldest in the state. In addition, the Sea Lion Caves just north of the town are the largest of its type in the U.S. and are a protected sanctuary for the Steller sea lion.
Even though this is a small town (approx. 8,500 city residents), Florence has more than ample attractions for visitors. One of the most spectacular is the Oregon Sand Dunes Recreation Area. Extending along the west coast, these wind sculpted marvels of nature can reach a height of 500 feet. Not surprisingly, this is where outdoor enthusiasts come to camp, hike, and play on ATV’s and dune buggies up and down the shifting sands.
On busy summer days, the wait at the Sand Dunes Frontier can be a couple of hours for locals and tourists waiting to take a tour on a sand rail. Skilled drivers provide everything from a leisurely excursion to a hair-raising, heart-pounding thrill ride as they traverse up and down these massive mountains of sand.
Another popular activity on the dunes is sandboarding. Some might compare this experience to snowboarding but it is probably closer to surfing as the wooden boards seem to mimic the body movements for that water sport.
At Sand Master Park, you can take a lesson or rent an affordable boogie or skim board or just a sand sled for the kiddies.
Florence has its fair share of diverse independent eateries. At Rosa’s Mexican Restaurant, the fare is simple and unpretentious but amazingly authentic. This family-owned restaurant turns out fresh, made from scratch Mexican food in generous quantities from seafood to pork.
Try the pollo a la crema (a chicken breast covered in a creamy white sauce with sautéed onions and mushrooms and served with rice, beans, and homemade tortillas.)
Love Hawaiian food but can’t afford the airfare?
Pull right off Highway 101 into the Old School Furniture Store lot and look for the bright yellow food truck. Owners Christian and his wife Natasha of A Taste of Hawaii relocated from Maui and wanted to offer their gourmet fusion Hawaiian cuisine in Florence. Christian is classically trained and applies his mastery of sauces and food prep with his love for his hometown food.
Daily specials are offered and may include lomi-lomi salmon on taro chips, a Hawaiian plate lunch with pineapple teriyaki chicken or tiger prawns, and even Spam— a popular left over from WWII in the islands. Christian goes the extra mile to ensure that each dish is perfect.
Even their teriyaki burger is made with Oregon grass-fed beef and a large, freshly cut chunk of pineapple.
Bay Street is the city’s multi-block showcase right along the banks of the Siuslaw River. During summertime, tourists pack the streets where boutiques, art galleries, and specialty shops abound. Of course, they are also looking for good food and most wind up at Moe’s, the landmark seafood restaurant with several locations along the Oregon Coast.
The popular clam chowder is thick and creamy and packed with clams, potatoes, and a hint of bacon.
The British tradition of teatime is brought to life at Lovejoy’s. Owners Heather Burnem and her daughter Hannah took over from the previous owner and turned this into one of the most popular restaurants in Florence.
“We have people from all over the country come here,” says Heather. So what’s the secret? Apparently, made from scratch food, great presentation, and a passion for excellence are their recipe for success. “Here, you can relax, reconnect, and forget about the outside world for a while,” she says.
They serve six cream teas, and if you are visiting for the first time, try the Royal Tea that comes with a savory sausage roll, spring mix salad, a choice of two tea sandwiches (I recommend the chicken curry.), and a soft scone with preserves and homemade clotted cream.
Of course, you get a big pot of your choice of tea during your meal, and one of the local favorites is Berry Victorian, a delicious blend made with black tea, bergamot, lavender, rose petals, coastal berries, and vanilla.
The Waterfront Depot, located on Bay Street, was originally the old Mapleton Railroad Station. Scheduled for demolition, it was floated down the river and repurposed into one of the area’s best upscale restaurants. Using local ingredients, the menu features Pacific Northwestern cuisine with offerings from the sea and land. One of their specialties is the crab encrusted Alaskan halibut served with chili cream sauce ($17).
Florence to Newport
Driving north from Florence along Highway 101 to Newport takes a little over an hour with grand views of the Pacific and forests along the way. But that is if you don’t tarry. There are also state parks, campgrounds, and beach access points that you may wish to explore.
The must-see Sea Lion Caves are located about 11 miles north of Florence with an elevator that takes visitors down to sea level for the best views. These are the largest sea lion caves in the States and home to thousands of Steller sea lions.
In the distance, you will be able to see the Heceta Head Lighthouse jutting off the coast. There are several roadside stops along the way for photo ops of the most photographed lighthouse in America, but for the best view, park at the state scenic viewpoint. Bring some comfortable shoes for a ½ mile uphill walk to the base of the lighthouse, the brightest spot on the Oregon Coast.
Its beam of light can be seen 21 miles out to sea and has been guiding sailors to safety since 1894.
If you’ve ever dreamed about staying in a lighthouse, here is your chance. The Heceta Head Lightkeepers House is also a bed and breakfast that will accommodate up to 15 guests. What could be better than spending the night with the sounds of the roaring sea below and spectacular views of the ocean and sky?
Breakfast is a 7-course meal to start your day off right.
Further up the coast is the charming town of Yachats. Each fall, they host a Celtic festival that brings in musicians and pipers from all across the globe. If you’re hungry, stop in at the Drift Inn, built in 1929 from timber and driftwood and expanded from its early days as a bar.
In fact, it is the longest continuously operating tavern in Lincoln County. Colorful umbrellas from Italy adorn the ceiling, and the menu includes hearty meals of seafood and burgers. The teriyaki tuna sandwich is popular.
Newport is a scenic ride of about 49 miles from Florence. The Yaquina Bay Bridge was constructed in 1936 and is a gorgeous backdrop to the city. Just past the far side, take a right and follow the signs to the Historical Bayfront, one of the most popular tourist spots in town. Located right on the waterfront, you’ll find some of the best seafood restaurants in the area, trendy boutiques, candy shops, art galleries, and even some eclectic museums.
This happens to be one of the spots where sea lions tend to congregate on the rocks below and adjacent to the local fish markets. (Just look for the crowds of tourists looking down from the boardwalk).
Being right on the Pacific makes Newport a perfect destination for fish lovers, and the Discovery Channel film Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove was filmed in these waters. Diners have their choice of eateries like Ocean Bleu Seafoods at Gino’s, which offers crab, local fish and, of course, clam chowder. It is also common for commercial fishing vessels docked in the harbor to offer daily catches directly to the public.
You can’t get much fresher than that.
After lunch, enjoy some fine coffee and confections at many of the shops. If you like ice cream, be sure to stop by Bayscapes Gallery and Coffee House, which serves a perfectly chilled vanilla version hand-dipped in Euphoria Chocolate from Eugene and topped with nuts–delightful and satisfying.
After you have explored the Bayfront, migrate over to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. This former Coast Guard lifeboat station has been restored and offers interpretive tours and exhibits. Overlooking the bay and bridge, this is an ideal place for relaxing, having a picnic, and taking photos.
Newport was one of the most visited areas along the Oregon Coast at the turn of the century, particularly the Nye Beach neighborhood, named after landholder John Nye. Tourists visited the recreation center built in a log cabin and housing a dance hall, bowling alley, and a horseshoe pit.
Today, Nye Beach is just as popular as ever with beach accommodations, restaurants and cafés, art galleries, old world book stores, and gift shops.
One of the most iconic lodging options is the Sylvia Beach Hotel, formerly known as the Cliff House. Named in honor of Sylvia Beach, the American expatriate who started Shakespeare and Company in Paris, each of the rooms is decorated in a literary theme and named after a famous author like Dr. Seuss, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and of course, Shakespeare.
In addition to the included breakfast, you can make a reservation to have dinner in their aptly named, Table of Contents Restaurant. The multi-course meal is served family-style and includes soup; salad; an entrée such as duck breast, salmon cakes, or cabbage rolls; and dessert ($28 per person, not including gratuity).
Some of TripAdvisor’s best restaurants are in Nye Beach and include Nana’s Irish Pub where you can enjoy corned beef and cabbage, a steak, Guinness pie, or Nana’s meatloaf and a pint of brew. Ah, what could be better?
While you are browsing the shops, pop in to BJ’s Ice Cream. Serving 31 flavors of handmade goodness, BJ’s is a local favorite with their taste-tantalizing flavors and high butterfat content.
Newport to Lincoln City
This is a short (24 miles) but beautiful section of Highway 101 with foliage lining both sides of the road as you leave Newport then giving way to scenic coves and coastline views. At the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, you should deviate to see the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.
The 93-foot structure was constructed in Paris, and its first light shined out on the water in 1873. Its early name was perhaps more dramatic–Cape Foulweather Lighthouse.
As you enter Depoe Bay, you will start noticing some signs that distinguish this small town among others. First, it is the whale watching capital of Oregon with gray whales seen off its shores many times during the year.
Located in Lincoln County, It is also said to have the world’s smallest harbor and the world’s shortest river, the D River (technically in Lincoln City) at 120 feet in length.
Lincoln City welcomes you with the sign: A great place to try new things. This might include visiting a blown glass studio, exploring the beach for floats, browsing for rare books, and checking out tide pools at low tide.
You might think that the town is named after Abraham Lincoln, but only the county has that distinction. Lincoln City was a conglomeration of communities formed in 1965 that include Taft, Nelscott, Cutler City, Delake, Oceanlade, and Wecoma Beach.
The actual name was chosen by school children after running a contest to pick a name that didn’t use any of the previous six.
Lincoln City is graced with seven miles of beach, most of which is flat sand, which runs contrary to many who seem to think that the Oregon Coast is all volcanic and rocky. This makes it an ideal spot during the summer for flying kites. (A kite festival is held every year in June.)
Also, although there aren’t any paved bike paths in town, you can rent a fat-tire bike and ride one right on the beach.
Perhaps the most unusual activity here is known as Finders Keepers. Local artisans create colorful glass floats in the shapes of sand dollars, sea stars, and circular orbs. Float Fairies, as these volunteers are known, place these all along the seven mile beach from Roads End to Siletz Bay. From mid-October to Memorial Day, you can conduct your own treasure hunt, looking for the floats on the sand, near rocks, under pieces of driftwood, or hiding in plain sight among the sea grass.
If you find one, you can call 1-800-452-2151 to register the object and obtain a certificate of authenticity and information about the artist who created it.
Lincoln City has its own outlet mall with around 40 retail shops. These include Harry and David, Vitamin World, Maidenform, Pendleton, The North Face, and Bath and Body Works.
Somehow, small towns seem to attract book lovers, and there are a couple of shops that you may wish to check out. Pacific Coast Books has the feeling of an old-time independent book store with stacks everywhere and a room housing some rare editions signed by Hemingway and Steinbeck.
If you visit on a Monday, don’t be surprised if you come across Alan Bauch, a local stonemason, book aficionado, and self-taught guitarist playing classical music to the delight of patrons.
If being so close to the ocean makes you hungry for seafood, then you must stop by Barnacle Bill’s right along the highway in a colorful red and white storefront that has been there since 1949. You can try what has been dubbed Oregon’s Best Smoked Salmon right on the spot or take some with you back to the hotel.
Another popular restaurant is the Wildflower Grill. This family-run eatery is rated high on TripAdvisor and offers some of the best breakfasts in town in a peaceful patio setting overlooking wetlands and forest.
The Blackfish Café is the perfect restaurant for your final road trip meal along the Oregon Coast. Serving some of the area’s finest seafood, the owner, Rob Pounding, has had a long and distinguished culinary career and sources his ingredients from his relationships with local suppliers.
When available, the Chinook salmon with fennel lime butter, steamed greens, and blue cheese potato gratin is a local favorite ($25.95). For dessert, you must try their version of a favorite snack called The Blackfish Ding Dong.
Made with buttermilk chocolate cake, whipped cream, and a dark chocolate ganache and topped with Oregon berry sauce, this will leave you feeling happy and contented.
Planning a road trip to the Oregon Coast is as easy as booking a flight to Eugene and renting a car for the duration. Depending upon the season, you will discover the many facets of the coast, from dramatic coastlines to lazy sunny days along the beaches. The people are friendly and the area’s many treasures are just waiting to be explored.
Where to Stay:
Florence- The Old Town Inn
Located close to the Old Town District and Historic Bay Street, this is an affordable place to stay that serves a simple continental breakfast in the morning.
Newport- Sylvia Beach Hotel
Themed rooms based on literary characters with a comfy, cozy feel. They even have their own lap kitty that hangs out in the lobby for a purr-fect accommodation experience.
Lincoln City- Pelican Shores Inn
With clean, modern rooms overlooking the ocean and a flip the switch fireplace, you may never want to leave your room. They serve a continental breakfast for guests.