The Oregon Coast needs no introduction for people familiar with the scenic wonders of the Pacific Northwest. With its jagged shoreline, beaches, forests and natural beauty, the coast has long been a favorite for Northwest getaway travelers.
The central Oregon Coast is no different – except that you start to encounter some things you don't see a lot of along the northern part of the coast. Sand dunes, for example, stretch for 40 miles south of Florence, Oregon, providing a recreation paradise for the ATV crowd as well as nature-lovers. Throw in a quaint historic downtown and 17 lakes and you can see why Florence, Oregon is a popular destination.
We stayed at the Driftwood Shores on our most recent trip to the area, enjoying a room that almost seemed like a room on an ocean liner because of the expansive ocean view. But in between the hotel and the ocean are seemingly endless beaches where it's easy to wander off and just become totally lost in the moment as you listen to the crashing surf and explore the beach for sea creatures and oddities that may have been brought in by the tides.
The Driftwood Shores offers condo-style rooms with kitchen facilities - although the resort has an excellent restaurant with gorgeous beach views if you don't want to cook. The complex is designed so that most if not all the rooms have excellent coastal views.
Our trip was in early spring when temperatures were still winter-like and the stubborn coastal clouds would only occasionally give way to sunshine. As often happens along the coast, the clouds opened up and gave us some fairly significant rainfall off and on over our two-day stay. But no matter - you don't visit the Oregon Coast in winter for the sunshine - you come here to get in touch with Nature and to feel a little more alive as you experience the storms and winter weather that Nature may have in store.
While it's easy to just hang around the Driftwood Shores, walking the beach or reading a good book as you enjoy the view out your window, there is plenty to explore just a short distance away. There are parks all along this section of the coastline – places you can drive to, park, and then get out and explore the local beach and terrain.If you head a little bit south, you encounter the Oregon Dunes Recreation Area, which runs 42 miles between Florence and North Bend. Some of these dunes are more than 300 feet high and visitors enjoy taking dune buggy tours or renting ATVs. It's also possible to see the dunes on horseback.
Come back into Florence and just on the northern side of the Siuslaw River you'll enjoy spending a few hours at Historic Old Town Florence,
a charming part of the city where you can explore art galleries or visit antique stores or savor a tasty lunch or dinner at one of the local restaurants specializing in regional foods and wines. It's fun to walk along the Siuslaw River with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate in hand, marveling at all the old buildings and the fascinating shops many of them house today.
North of Florence, a must-see is the famous Sea Lion Caves attraction, a place that allows you to descend from the high bluffs down a set of stairs to caves where you will see sea lions in just about the most natural habitat you can imagine. Supposedly, this is the only remaining home of the wild stellar sea lions on the North American mainland.
Another attraction in this area is the Heceta Head Light and Keeper's House, high above the churning and turbulent waters of Devil's Elbow tide pools and Cape Creek. You can walk up to the lighthouse and keeper's house and take a tour (offered only on weekends in winter).
A little further north is the highest point on the Oregon Coast – Cape Perpetua, where you can learn more about the area in the visitor's center and, during winter, watch the whales as they migrate off the coastline.
WHERE: Florence, Oregon is along the central part of the Oregon Coast, due west from Eugene on Highway 126.
WHAT: The Florence area offers many of Oregon's most spectacular natural resources and is a popular place for visitors who enjoy the scenic beauty of the Oregon Coast.
WHEN: Anytime of the year. Temperatures will be quite a bit cooler in winter and you can expect occasional winter storms. Roads and accommodations will be more crowded in summer.
WHY: This area offers a different set of attractions than you find along the popular northern part of the Oregon Coast and, in some respects, may be a little quieter during peak travel times. Easy access from Eugene makes this an attractive loop route traveling south on I-5 to Eugene, 126 over to Florence and then north on the coast until you take one of several highways east to I-5
HOW: For more information on Florence, Oregon, go to www.florenceoregon.net. For information on the Driftwood Shores, call 1-800-422-5091 or visit www.driftwoodshores.com.
Photos, from top: Driftwood Shores is on prime beachfront property; beach-goers enjoy visit to Central Coast beaches; Historic Florence offers old-time buildings and fascinating shops; Sea Lion Caves offers dramatic views of the ocean
Photos by Cary and Sandi Ordway
OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Northwest zoos, Northwest water vacations, Port Townsend and Seattle attractions.