The charming town of Florence, Oregon, makes a great home base for any Oregon coast adventure. At the mouth of the Siuslaw River, this small city is a short drive from Cape Perpetua, the Oregon Dunes, and the Heceta Head Lighthouse. The local scenery provides a majestic scape for photography buffs, so be sure to bring your camera. And recreationists will find plenty to do in the form of hiking, kayaking, or beach-going.
The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, part of Oregon's Siuslaw National Forest, offers picturesque coastal and forest scenery. Miles of trails wind through old growth forests to historic sites and magnificent overlooks, and then finally down to a rocky beach. Along the shore, check out the tide pools and blow holes, or just sit and watch the wild ocean waves. The interpretive exhibits at the visitor's center will help you identify marine life sightings from sea urchins to anemones to tide-pool sculpin. Camping and guided naturalist tours are available on site.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area occupies just over 40 miles of the Oregon coastline, with Florence lying at its north end. These sand dunes and their surrounding landscape are constantly being reshaped by both wind and water, making the park a great recreational playscape. Hiking trails take you through forests, around wetlands, along the beach, or among the dunes themselves. OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) enthusiasts love to drive their dirt bikes, ATVs, and dune buggies through the sand, You can also hire a local outfitter to take you on a dune buggy and sand-rail tour. Tours can be as fast and wild or as slow and scenic as you'd like.
From the Heceta Head Lighthouse parking lot, enjoy fabulous views of the famous lighthouse, the historic Cape Creek Bridge, and numerous seabird nesting sites. A short and scenic trail takes you up the hill to the lighthouse itself. Along the way, you'll pass the gift shop and the historic lighthouse keeper's home. You can stay in this cottage (circa 1896), as it's now a bed and breakfast that offers some of the best views on the coast (at 205 feet above the ocean) and a seven-course breakfast the morning after your stay.
The small nature preserve, Darlingtonia State Natural Site, is located off of Highway 101 and takes only a few minutes to visit. But, it is well worth the effort! A short stroll on a boardwalk trail takes you by a wetland patch of Darlingtonia californica, a carnivorous plant commonly known as the cobra lily. Part of the pitcher-plant family, cobra lilies have droopy, bulbous heads with mustache-like appendages. This rare plant contains a hidden opening in the stalk which harbors sweet nectar that attracts insects. Once the insect goes inside, it becomes confused and drops down the lower part of the hollow stalk to be consumed by bacteria and water and converted into nitrogen.
A visit to the sea lion caves offers a chance to view the largest seas cave in the U.S., sitting at four stories high. Take an elevator down to the inner cave where you'll be able to peer through a large opening into the mammoth structure. Depending on the time of day, you'll find sea lions by the hundreds lounging around the cave's rocky floor and outcroppings. An additional opening looks to the north, framing a lovely view of the Heceta Head Lighthouse as well as more sea lions and shorebirds on the rocks cliffs. Outside the cave, a viewing platform provides yet another chance to watch sea lions and enjoy panoramic views.
Step inside the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum and explore two floors of rooms filled with artifacts related to the founding of the city of Florence by early settlers. Here you'll find everyday items—like antique tools and machines—used by the region's first loggers and fishermen. The museum also displays historic photographs and has an extensive collection of documents available for research. Don't miss a stop at this 19th-century school-building-turned-museum.
The diverse and scenic landscape that surrounds Florence provides many opportunities for a picturesque hike. With easy nature trails to challenging climbs that pass through forests, wetlands, and sand dunes, you'll find something to suit all ability levels. Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park has some of the most accessible trails in the area, including a jaunt that circles scenic Cleawox Lake. Siuslaw National Forest has an extensive trail network that brings you through the estuary. And Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park provides on-site camping so you can hike the Hobbit Trail or the China Creek loop trail as soon as you emerge from your morning slumber.
Even though the gaming floor at Three Rivers Casino Resort is small in size, it still packs in the full range of Vegas-style fun. You'll find all the latest slot machines, in addition to Keno, blackjack, craps, and roulette. Live comedy and music debut on a regular basis at The Blue Bills Sports Bar & Tap Room. Special events and concerts are held periodically at the event center. And have your pick of fine, casual, and buffet dining while you're there.
Located in the neighboring town of Westlake, Siltcoos Lake Resort provides both yurt and kayak rentals and makes a great central location for exploring the Oregon Dunes. Their upscale riverside yurt accommodations include a queen bed, kitchen linens, and two kayaks and peddle boats to round out your stay. Enjoy the chirp of songbirds in the morning and hook into the site's WiFi or watch TV at night. It's a three-mile paddle to the beach on any of the provided floating vessels. Just pack a picnic lunch and binoculars to take in sights of the estuary.
Florence's historic Old Town resides on the banks of the Siuslaw River. Along with a park and marina, you'll find quaint shops, galleries, and a museum. Most shops sell your typical tourist and nautical-themed items. But the galleries (in particular, the River Gallery) features the work of local artists and includes items for purchase such as blown glass, paintings, and pottery. Visit Mo's Restaurant, an Oregon Coast favorite for lovers of clam chowder. And watch the passing boats go by at the Siuslaw River Bridge Interpretive Center.