Ultimate Coast Guide: Southern Oregon Coast

As promised, the complete guide to ultimate coastal destinations in Southern Oregon.

Go here if: you enjoy dune buggies and antiquing—and don’t mind a bit of a trek. Travel time: about six to seven hours from Seattle

Feed Seymour at Darlingtonia Botanical Wayside

A roadside preservation five miles north of Florence showcases one of southern Oregon’s rarest curiosities: the native carnivorous (it just likes insects—don’t worry) plant called Darlingtonia, or the pitcher plant. The state set aside an 18-mile loop off Highway 101 to highlight and educate the public about this strange, alien-esque plant. Feed me, Seymour!

Drive dune buggies at the Oregon Dunes

Towering, expansive and stretching nearly 50 miles from Florence to Coos Bay, the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area (855 Highway 101, Reedsport; 541.271.6000) is the result of millions of years of erosion from the coastal weather system. These are some of the largest oceanfront dunes in the world, and while they may resemble the Sahara, especially with the wind-rippled sand mountains sometimes reaching upward of 500 feet above sea level, there are no camels in sight.

Off-road vehicles reign supreme at the Dunes. There are 11 OHV staging areas; one of the more popular is the South Jetty Hill (park one mile south of Florence on South Jetty Road, off Highway 101), known as “Show Off Hill” to four-wheeling locals. Local company Dune Buggy Adventures (881 Highway 101, Winchester Bay; 541.271.6972; dunebuggyadventure.com) rents ATVs, quads and sandboards, while Sand Dunes Frontier Buggy (83960 Highway 101, Florence; 541.997.3544; sanddunesfrontier.com; from $12 for a half-hour) offers scenic tours via dune buggies.
Portions of the park, including Eel Creek (10101 Highway 101; 541.997.4479) are vehicle free. In fact, the park is quite recreationally diverse, sprinkled with campsites and hiking opportunities. Hiking the dunes is challenging but spectacular; the picturesque, tall “oblique” dunes are a must-see, and best viewed from the John Dellenback Trail (formerly known as the Umpqua Dune Trail) at Eel Creek. Throughout the recreational area are more than 30 lakes and ponds, so in the midst of the desert, even water sports fly here, including fishing, swimming and canoeing. (Laura Shinn)

See the Sea Lion Caves
Thanks to another feat of spectacular wind and sea erosion, Florence is home to the largest sea cave in the world: The Sea Lion Caves (91560 Highway 101 N, Florence; 541.547.3111; $6–$10). This natural grotto lies almost 300 feet beneath the earth (reached via an elevator) and is home to a number of wild sea lions. It’s a fantastic chance to see these great creatures hanging out in their natural habitat, but bring ear plugs—the sound bounces, and those suckers are loud (and be prepared for some aromas). The cave—operated by Sea Lion Caves, Inc., a private, for-profit organization—is open daily except on Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

Fish for history at Old Town Florence
Originally settled in the late 19th century, Old Town Florence is situated on the waterfront of the city where the Siuslaw River meets the Pacific. The rhododendron-heavy main drag, Bay Street, has managed to keep the look and feel of what Florence used to be: a fishing village. Nowadays, visitors can amble along Bay—and the new boardwalk overlooking the Old Town Marina—and leisurely pop into boutiques, gift shops and coffee joints. One favorite spot is the Grape Leaf Wine Shop and Bistro (1269 Bay St.; 541.99