Florence, a Retrospective

For those of you taking notes, we actually left Oregon a few months ago. Since then we’ve done a lot of traveling, family seeing, and campground hopping, so we haven’t had a chance to wrap up our beaver state time. Although we did not always love the coastal weather, we did truly enjoy our time in Oregon.

Oregon is full of hidden gems and local wonders. It is a state best experienced on foot, which is to say up close and slowly. We found so much beauty in the microcosm of Florence, a blink town that most tourists drive through without stopping to fill up the gas. We could have expanded this list to include the Oregon scenic byway, which is a gem; Portland, so weird; and Bend, perhaps the worlds most perfect outdoor mini-metro. But—we only spent a day at most in any of these Oregon hot spots. If our time in Florence is any indication, a day is not enough time to know the very best of what those versions of Oregon have to offer. Your time is best spent in Oregon going deep, rather than seeing widely.

Here’s our best of for the central Oregon coast.

Walk on the beach: Oregon’s entire coastline is public land, almost entirely untouched. This means that Oregon’s coast is just mile after mile of beautiful cliffs and sandy beaches with none of the boardwalk strip malls that seem to plague beaches back east. I remember looking at Internet travelogues from Oregon and wondering how I could find out where that pristine sandy beach cum dramatic rock formation was in Oregon. It had to be an insider secret. It’s not a secret; it’s just ALL of the beaches in Oregon.

Another bonus: the weather is very temperate, between the wind and the fog, it’s never HOT on the beach, so there aren’t a lot of sun bathers or swimmers with picnics and boom boxes. Most of our beach walks were also solitary ventures, with maybe a few other strollers to be seen in the far off distance

Whale and wave watching: In addition to just beach walking, there’s some fun to be had in nature watching.

a. Depoe Bay: Although we were not there during whale migratory season, we were told that there was a pod of resident whales hanging out at Depoe Bay. I imagined that I’d be straining into binoculars to maybe spot a whale spout in the distance: not so. There were two or three whales hanging out within fifty yards of the road! They bobbed up for air every few minutes and flipped a tail as they dove down for food. Depoe Bay is the smallest natural navigable harbor in the world, and there are some whale counts and other informational signs to enhance your gazing.

b. Rocky creek state scenic view point: This viewpoint a few miles south of Depot Bay had less info, but was equally fun for whale watching. The park has a few benches and tables, so we packed a lunch and picnicked post-hike. There were probably 4 whales hanging out very close to shore here, and this pull-off was less crowded than Depot Bay. I’m not sure if whales are ALWAYS at this point, but I’d choose it over Depot Bay if you’re patient and looking for a travel respite.

c. Check the surf reports and try to catch some big crashing waves. Water is terrifying and precious. Check out the pics that Paul's Florence co-worker caught of some of these waves. 

Hiking: One of the ways we decide on new nursing gig is whether or not there’s good hiking to be had nearby. From our home base in Florence, we explored a new trail almost every day off and never had to drive more than an hour. What’s more, the local chamber of commerce had a guide to 30+ trails, with directions to the trailhead and brief descriptions of the scenery. Then, at the trailhead, you could find a sign and often a map! This was SO SO different from our experience in Idaho where trail information is maintained by an elder townsman who hangs out at the county store and whose memory is held suspect anyway. Oregon trails are plentiful and well publicized.

a.  North Fork Smith River: This trail starts with a view of Kentucky Falls and continues through old-growth forest so lush, it’s hard to find a place to pull of the trail to relieve oneself. The trail follows the river, and a few of the bridges are washed out, but navigating across the stream and finding the brief meadows of sunshine in the rainforest make for the beauty of this trail.

b. Cummins Peak/Ridge trail: This hike is right above the Cape Perpetua visitor center and a friendly interpretive ranger. The ridge is a demanding climb, but the sunny view points looking both back into the mountains and out over the Pacific, are equally as rewarding.

c. Enchanted Valley: As much as we love Oregon publicizing it’s trails, we also loved finding this local secret. The trail was an easy stroll along an abandoned dairy farm with the perfect lunch spot next to a rocky creek. The trail offered endless exploring with secret orchards and old stone walls for the hardy hiker willing to suffer a few scrapes to make the discovery.

Florence dining. If you are just driving down the coast, we get it. You can’t spend your vacation getting scraped up bushwhacking through abandoned ranches. But you should definitely stop in Florence for the food. For those looking to move beyond the fish and chips scene, we have two strong recommendations: Restobar is billed as an Italian place, but it also had delicious seafood and a lovely back patio.  Homegrown is the Oregon farm-to-table restaurant of your dreams. They keep the taps local and the décor Seadrift chic. Driving through for breakfast? Siuslaw River Coffee Roasters has the best view of the river and you might be able to nibble your croissant while eavesdropping on the locals discuss conspiracy theory’s involving Al Gore and the cheese industry, if you’re lucky. And I’ve always felt I was so.

 Heceta head Lighthouse: This place is noteworthy because it shines 21 nautical miles out into the Pacific, the strongest light along the Oregon coast. It’s picturesque and may be haunted, and the docents will tell you anything, anything about the lighthouse and their lives as park volunteers if you’re willing to ask.

Friday night winery: Florence is neighbors with wine country. One of our local friends suggested that we spend a Friday night at a winery. We chose Domaine Meriwether for its proximity to our campground. At Domaine Meriwether, Friday night means generous pours and local musicians. People bring picnics, but there was also a food truck (BBQ) that also offered delicious and richly colored fresh, organic salads (how Oregonian of them). Live music and wine sounds like it’d be a date night magnet, and yet--maybe my favorite part of these evenings--it seemed to gather a good-neighbor and cross-generational family outing crowd rather than hum-drum couples like us. People watching and wine and music—an excellent evening indeed!

Viking Hour: Obviously the best thing about Florence is Viking Hour. Don’t be too sad though, we’ve found the local radio station in our new California home, too.