The beautiful Oregon coast; a mix of rugged and sandy beaches
The Oregon Coast is beautiful and rugged, but even in the height of the summer there are few days where you would describe it as a “beach” holiday in the true sense. The Pacific Ocean crashes hard into the Oregon coast, especially in the winter when the waters are stirred up but frequent storms. It has more than it’s fair share of rain and wind.
That said the coastline is beautiful, there are some wonderful beaches which are rarely crowded and make for fabulous walks, even in the winter. We love going there just to see the Ocean and blow away the cobwebs of daily life.
For this trip we decided to stop in two cities along the central Oregon coast; Yachats (pronounced Yar-harts) and Florence.
Our first stop was in Yachats, where we had booked into a small cottage via airbnb. The town is small with a handful of small boutique shops, bars and restaurants. There is a very small bay that provides a beach at low tide, but apart from that there is not beach to speak of. What there is are some lovely walks along the coast where there are rock pools and small patches of sand where you can find tortured pieces of driftwood.
March needless to say can be quite chilly on the Pacific coast in the North West and it was indeed a grey, chilly day when we headed north from Yachats to Seal Rock. It is about a 14 mile journey along Highway 101. The weather was bracing when we arrived so not surprisingly the beach was empty. Braving the elements we walked the path down to the beach and took a walk along the shore. Appropriately, there were a number of seals basking on the rocks just off the main Seal Rock edifice.
Day three we departed Yachats to head to Florence.
It is a only a 25 mile drive south from Yachats to Florence, but there are several interesting places to stop off en route.
Located just south of Yachats is the Devil’s Churn, a wave carved inlet. Here you can watch the crashing waves and the dramatic churning action of the ocean. You can stand high above on the cliffs and look down on the frothing waters below or, if you are more adventurous, you can take the path and stairs down the very edge (which is quite scary, so if you have kids you need to keep a close eye on them). The walk down is easy but coming back up of course is a bit more challenging – but you don’t have to be too fit.
This deep chasm exposes the shoreline’s volcanic history and shows the relentless, violent power of the ocean. The chasm likely started as a narrow fracture or collapsed lava tube in the volcanic bedrock. Over many thousands of years under the constant pounding force of the ocean waves it’s now more than 80 feet wide where it opens at the ocean.
Just 12 miles north of Florence is Haceta Head. Here you’ll find a very nice little beach and nestled above this a light house. The light keepers house is actually a bed and breakfast if you want to stay there. There are trails up to the light house itself and beyond that the trail system heads off north along the coast.
We took the trail up to the light house. It is a little steep but not very challenging. The light house itself is very cute and gives great view down on the beach and along the coast. There is a trail which climbs up above the lighthouse and eventually connects with the Hobbit Trail. We decided to go a little away along this. The trail is clearly marked but rustic and being spring there was a lot of muddy spots to negotiate. The route takes you through some ancient forest and we were lucky enough to be there when there was some dappled sunlight which made the whole experience magical. The only thing that would have made it bet would have been to see a Hobbit!
Highway 101 climbs steeply from the beach at Haceta Head and at the top there is a pull-in which provides an excellent view back toward the lighthouse. Also below there is a beach where you will often see (and almost certainly hear) Californian sea lions frolicking on beach and in the crashing waves. When were here in March was also saw a bald eagle roosting on the rocks and grey whales. In the spring time you will see the whales on their migration from Baja, Mexico where they breed on their way to the feeding grounds off of Alaska. We were extremely lucky to see several whales and one in particular who was very frisky and breached (where the whale leaps clear out of the water) many times as it traveled northwards.
Just a little bit further on from this pull-in there is a small visitors centre for the sea lions caves. Here you can pay to take some steps down into a cave which sea lions frequent. We have been here in the past and in our opinion it is not worth the cost or effort – especially as you can see them for free from the cliffs. There are often not that many sea lions in the caves and the smell is, well, ghastly!
As you enter Florence from the North you will see signs for Darlingtonia State Natural Site. If you are interested in unusual fauna then it is well worth a little detour. Darlingtonia are found in boggy areas in Northern California and Southwestern Oregon. Their leaves look very similar to cobra heads and they are carnivorous, luring flies with their nectar and trapping them inside where they come their end in a pool of digestive juices. Urgh! It only takes a little while to walk around the site. We were here in March which is not the best season to see these plants in their full glory – for that you need to be here in late Spring / early Summer.
Now to Florence.
Were had decided to spend a couple of days here and had booked ourselves in what turned out to be a delightful airbnb cottage, only steps from the beach.
The beach at Florence is phenomenal. It is vast and is lined by some very impressive sand dunes. It was a beautiful sunny day and we decided soon after arriving at the cottage to head out for a nice walk along the beach. As we worked our way to the beach it felt very pleasant to be outside in the warm spring sun. Sadly, our moment of pleasure was to be short-lived because as soon as we peaked the sand dunes we were greeted by a robust and cold wind. We remained sanguine in the prospect of our walk, and we headed out regardless. One of the characteristics of beaches in the North West United States is a healthy collection of driftwood and some clever folks had taken these and turned them into quite elaborate structures. On a warmer day we may have spent time admiring them, but today they simply offered a welcome shelter from the blustery onshore breeze.
After braving the bracing beach weather conditions we decided to retreat to the more comfortable surrounds of the old town of Florence. We had not been here before and had only passed by on our travels up and down the coast – and we were pleasantly surprised. The town is set a little back from coast along a river estuary so it was sheltered from the wind so it was very pleasant to be walking around even at the end of March. There is a very quaint marina and a couple of streets of admittedly touristy shops – but it was a pleasure to walk around and peruse the shops. There are also a number of good looking restaurant (we didn’t have time to try any) and several coffee shops (which we did try a couple of … which were excellent). The most iconic landmark in the town is the bridge over the river which leads south to the large and impressive Oregon Sand Dunes State Park. If you like riding off-road vehicles over large and steep sand dunes without heading to the Sahara desert.