I am talking about Florence, Oregon. Florence is a beautiful little city on the central coast of Oregon. Ed and I traveled here from the northern city of Portland via Highway 5 south then we came west on Highway 126 out of Eugene. This road ended at the junction of Highway 101 – the north/south route of the Oregon Coast. You can’t go further west than 101 unless your RV floats. Once again we ran out of road.
We arrived here on August 20th and it’s likely that we’ll be here until November 20th. As wanderers, fulltime RVers, travelers – whatever you want to call Ed and me, parking our Prevost in one place for this long is an endorsement of the quality of the location. I’ve heard the lament from locals, “Lots of people come here and never leave. They arrive as tourists and stay here as retirees.” Sometimes I get the feeling that folks we meet in town are taking an assessment of whether we will become one of those folks who just never leave. I’ve told Ed that I could stay here “forever” and in our thousands of miles of travel, Florence has stolen my heart. It’s #1 over Beaux Bridge, Louisiana and even outranks the Gaspé Peninsula.
Florence has a population of just under 9,000 people. Of the people we have met, there’s one word that describes them all – Friendly. Clerks greet you with a smile at the Safeway supermarket. Merchants at the Sportsman’s store will gab about fishing, clamming and the tides. And, the folks at BJ’s Ice Cream are patient as you sample the homemade flavors on tiny spoons before making a decision from the case full of ice cream choices. People don’t seem stressed out here. Maybe it’s the subliminal rhythm of the surf that keeps them happy, friendly, and nice to be around. I doubt they have soother noise machines in their homes playing ocean waves. It’s an inner soothing projected here, relaxed, and simply nice.
“I’ve always heard the Oregon Coast is one of the nicest places in the US,” I had a well-traveled friend say when I called her on a Saturday afternoon. All I said was, “It’s true.”
Not everyone will have the opportunity to visit Florence, Oregon for as many days as Ed and me. So, I’d like to suggest to you several things that you can do in a five day visit. You just might fall in love with Florence too.
Day 1: Explore the Oregon Coast
Explore the Oregon Coast by traveling north on Highway 101. See the expanse of beaches and the rocky coast. You will be amazed. Scenery will take your breath away. No matter how many other beaches you’ve seen, no matter how many other beautiful sceneries have graced your eyes, you will, in fact, find the Oregon Coast to be magnificent. There are plenty of pull-offs for scenic overlooks. Make sure you buy an Oregon Pacific Coast Passport, because that will give you access to every little nook and cranny, every little park and I don’t think you should miss one. This is a multi-agency day-use pass that covers entry, vehicle parking, and day-use fees at all State and Federal sites along the Oregon Coast. Here are my picks to fill your first day:
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area: (mile marker 166.9 on Hwy. 101, Yachats, OR) This is part of the Siuslaw National Forest, a 2,700 acre wonderland of old growth forest and trails with ocean views. The Visitors Center Theater is where you can learn about the gray whale population of the Pacific Ocean and other stories about nature through a series of films running throughout the day.
Heceta Head Lighthouse: (mile marker 178.3 on Hwy. 101, 13 miles north of Florence) At Heceta Head Lighthouse, you’ll learn a little history, come to appreciate the life of a lighthouse keeper and all the different things that use to go on to keep boats and harbors safe. Volunteers conduct tours of this coastal lighthouse and the keeper’s house from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The beach here offers views of the rugged rocky coast line. Picnic tables invite you to sit awhile for a bring-your-own-lunch. At mile marker 179.0, you can capture your digital shot of the Heceta Head Lighthouse, noted as one of the most photographed lighthouse on the Oregon Coast.
Day 2: Take a Boat Ride & Shop in Old Town
Fish Tales II: (Fish Tales Guide & Charter Service, LLC - Greg Helmer, Captain. Call 541-741-2136) Once you have seen the ocean vistas, you might want to get out on the water. Let Captain Helmer take you along the Siuslaw River, past sand dunes, coastal mansions, and across the sand bar to earn your rite of passage on the Pacific Ocean. You can do this and still be back on shore in time to visit Old Town Florence.
Mo’s Restaurant: (1436 Bay St., Florence) Warm up with a bowl of Mo’s nationally famous clam chowder. It will fuel you for another favorite vacation activity – shopping. www.moschowder.com
Historic Old Town Florence: Art galleries, antiques, clothing and shoe shops, and specialty stores line both sides of Bay Street in Florence. So if you need a new pair of hiking boots like I did, head for On Your Feet to get a new pair of Merrell boots. Or, if you need a bedtime story, Books ‘N’ Bears has new and discounted used books to suit you. Go to BJ’s Ice Cream for some homemade ice cream and taffy. Then, stroll along the harbor. You might get lucky and see a tuna boat come in. Some folks buy whole tunas direct from the fishermen. But if you just want a taste of the best canned tuna, there’s a garage like shop on the dock that sells each can for $5. Take some home; you will be glad you did.
Day 3: History & Attractions
Siuslaw Pioneer Museum: (273 Maple Street, Florence 541-997-7884) This museum features pictures and artifacts that tell the story of Florence and the Lower Siuslaw Region. Even if you are not a history buff, the Museum is worth a visit.
Sea Lions Cave: (mile marker 179.3 on Hwy. 101) An elevator drops you to a short trail leading to the world’s largest sea cave and its resident inhabitants. Enjoy watching the sea lions frolic in the water, catch some little critters, nibble, play and flop around on each other. www.sealionscave.com
Day 4: Ride the Dunes & Play the Slots
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area extends from Florence to Coos Bay with many access points off Highway 101. You can watch others’ thrilling rides on the dunes or join the fun.
Sand Dunes Frontier: (83960 Hwy.101 four miles south of Florence) Rent a Polaris Quad, Honda Odyssey, or Mini Rail for a scenic ride on the Oregon Dunes. You can climb the dunes that measure up to 500 feet in height. Then, you can follow the sand roads to the beach where an area more than two-miles long is designated for off-road vehicles.
Three Rivers Casino & Hotel: (off Highway 126 east of Florence, 541-997-7529) Your adrenaline will already be pumping after running on the dunes, so keep the spirit going with a visit to the casino. Choose from 650 slots, black jack, roulette, craps, poker and keno all there for your amusement. Bingo games run on weekends. There’s a chance you could win a Dodge Viper by playing some of the select 2¢ slots. If gambling is not your thing, just grab a bit to eat at the steakhouse, deli, buffet, café, or sports bar & lounge.
Lakeshore Myrtlewood: (83530 Hwy. 101 south of Florence) Here is where you will find a large selection of Oregon Coast Myrtlewood products – bowls, cutting boards, ornaments, carvings – for your own home or gift giving. The lighted lighthouses are an exclusive item made in the adjoining woodworking shop. You can even ask for a tour of the shop to watch a skilled craftsman. www.lakeshoremyrtlewood.com
Siltcoos Recreation Area: You have several options to explore the Siltcoos River, a lazy river – Class I paddle - that flows into the Pacific Ocean. If you prefer a water route, rent a kayak or canoe from the Siltcoos Lake Resort (541-997-3741) in Westlake. Then, paddle from Siltcoos Lake some 3 – 4 miles along the gentle river through forest, dunes, and salt marsh to the estuary and the Pacific Ocean. If you prefer a land route along the river, enter the Siltcoos Recreation Area via the Siltcoos Beach Road (mile marker 198.0 on Hwy. 101 south of Florence) and hike the Waxmyrtle Trail. It’s a 2.5 mile, moderately difficult trail. The trail takes you along the river’s edge then through some forest hills and finally to the mouth of the river where it spills to the Pacific Ocean. And a final option, if you just want to drive, is to follow the Siltcoos Beach Road east to the beach parking lot. There are several scenic views of the river along the way but the most spectacular view awaits you. Park your car at the Siltcoos Beach lot and climb the dune. You will be rewarded by a panoramic view – Pacific Ocean, Oregon Dunes, and lush green forests.
Once you begin to savor the experiences in and around Florence, Oregon, there’s a chance five days won’t be enough for you either. You just might find that Florence stole your heart too!
November 3, 2008