Where the ocean meets the rainforest
Oregon's bay area is a peninsula on the south-central Oregon coast about 100 miles north of the California border. It consists of the towns of Coos Bay, North Bend, and Charleston and is bordered on the East by the Oregon coast range and on the west by the mighty pacific ocean. To the north is the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area running over 50 miles to Florence. It additionally holds the distinction of being my home for the last 17 years, and I'm going to tell you why it's a place worth visiting.
First of all, this is not an incredibly developed tourist area. It doesn't have a ton of nice hotels, there are good restaurants but nothing really upscale if that's your thing. The parking downtown in both Coos Bay and North Bend is far from adequate, and many of the old buildings although picturesque, are in different states of disrepair. This being said, here are a few things this area does offer;
Incredible fishing and crabbing
You can charter a boat to catch Chinook and Coho salmon in the fall, Steelhead in the winter, Tuna and Halibut in the summer; and Rockfish, Perch, and Lingcod all year long. You can actually fish for Chinook right off highway 101 in downtown Coos Bay. It's not uncommon to see someone walking down the main drag with a 20 plus lb salmon in September or October. In addition, these are prime Dungeness crab waters. One taste of this yummy crustacean and you'll never feel the same about King crab again. There are plenty of crab shacks and small seafood restaurants that specialize in local fare, a couple even have their own fishing boats! Doesn't get any fresher than that.
This is perhaps one of the most unique ecosystems anywhere in the U.S. To some it may seem strange to see a vast area of sand dunes in the middle of a temperate rain forest. Further research however shows how these dunes formed due to erosion by the sea, rain, and wind that the area is known for. The dunes contain areas of forests that sit like islands in the sand. Fresh water lakes containing multiple fish species dot the landscape, and the area's predisposition for wind constantly reshapes the dunes making this a swiftly changing place and lending even more to the sense that it is a living breathing thing. If you are into ATVs, this is one of the premier riding areas in the nation. Luckily, there are vast areas of the dunes where the 2 and 4 wheel set are not allowed. It is in these quieter areas that the dunes really reveal their magnifigance. If you do decide to come visit my little area of the world, this is definitely on the must see list.
Charleston and the Cape Arago corridor
This is a place to truly experience the Oregon coast and all of its splendor. Charleston is a working commercial fishing port. It's combination of crazy characters, hodge podge shops and eateries, a marine biology institute, and the gateway into the South Slough Estuary make it place that shouldn't be passed up during a visit. Speaking of the estuary, The South Slough is one of the only non-commercialized estuaries remaining in the U.S. It's a few miles south of Charleston on 7 devils road. There is a visitors center and many hiking trails which take you down to the water. The most amazing way to experience the estuary is to rent kayaks or a canoe(available in Charleston) and paddle the waterway. The wildlife viewing possiblities are nearly endless, and the countless different shades of green only seem to manifest themselves exponentially as the sun travels it's course across the sky.
As you continue to travel south on Cape Arago highway, you will begin to encounter the many state parks and viewpoints along the coast. The first one is Bastendorff beach and camping park. Bastendorff is a mile long stretch of sand that runs from the south Coos Bay jetty to the cliffs north of Lighthouse beach. This is the closest thing we have to a southern california beach in our area, although one toe dip in the water will quickly convince you that this is not San Diego. It is along with lighthouse, our most popular surfing beach in the county. Its also great for storm watching in the winter at the jetty, and long slow strolls with that special someone(bundled up appropriately of course).
Next on the list is Sunset Bay, an appropriately named cove about a mile or so south of Bastendorff. There is a state campground here and day use area. I would say it's one of the more picturesque spots in the county and the best place to tide pool at low tides. Sea anenomes, starfish, crabs, small fish and more can be found here. If one is brave enough, the waters here are relatively calm compared to most other points on the coast but still bone chilling usually even in the summer. To give you an idea of how much I enjoy this place, my wife and I picked it as the site of our wedding in 2005 and we return often and are never disappointed with the shear beauty of our coast here.
About another mile further will bring you to Shore Acres State Park. This former home of shipping magnate Louis Simpson is now home to one the largest and most spectacular formal gardens on the west coast. There are literally hundreds of different types of plants, and flowers from all over the world, along with a world class rose garden, small pond, and gazebo. Couple this organized beauty with the chaotic beauty of the coast and surrounding forest and you get one of the more unique settings anywhere to be found. From Thanksgiving until New Year's every year, local surrounding volunteers and businesses get together and decorate the gardens with at last count over 300,000 LED lights creating an even more stunning scene for visitors to enjoy. One last bonus of the park is that if you visit in the winter time and are lucky enough to catch one of our epic storms, the coast at Shore Acres is the prime spot to experience the power of the Pacific ocean and the beating it puts on our shoreline every year.
Heading still further south, you will pass more ethereal forests and jaw dropping vistas over the next mile or so and then you will come to a lookout on the right which gives you views of Simpson reef and its colonies of seals and sea lions. It's quite fun to spend a bit of time watching these puppy-dog faced aquatic mammals play king of the hill on the rocks jutting out from the reef.
A short drive later will bring you to the end of the road at Cape Arago. This is one of the most western points of land in the continental U.S. It is also completely unprotected from the southernly wind storms that pound the coast in the winter. I have been at Cape Arago when wind gusts were clocked at 104 mph! There are bathroom facilities here along with a gazebo and trails down to the rugged beaches.
These are a few of the stunning attractions that people can experience if the visit Oregon's bay area. It may not have the creature comforts and man-made attractions of other tourist areas, but it's natural splendor and post card vistas more than make up for it. In fact, some people may find that they actually like it better this way.