The Oregon coast has its own kind of magic. I don’t recall ever coming across a coastal region that is as versatile, rugged, and serene. There are many hideaways waiting to be discovered in this underrated part of the world. Just last week I went to Pacific City to enjoy the silhouetted rocks, the dunes, and the craft beer that is uniquely Oregon. But that story is for another day.
I went to Florence – Oregon, not Italy – over the summer when I was visiting my parents who live in Veneta. Veneta is a perfectly situated little town just outside of the bustling counter-culture of Eugene but only an hour away from the most beautiful parts of the coast.
I took a day trip while I was down there to see Florence, a city I had not laid eyes on in 8 years and one in which I hardly remembered through the memories of my 17 year-old mind. When I rocked up to the coast after a winding forested drive, my eyes were drawn to the Siuslaw River, Art Deco Bridge, and of course, the expansive ocean laid out before me. I don’t get see the ocean nearly as much as I would like to now that I live in Portland.
When I stepped out of the car, I took in a big whiff of the salty air and a sharp nostalgia took ahold of me. If I’m near the ocean, I’m home.
Even though Florence is a relatively tiny town, I was surprised at just how much there was to see and do. The natural landscape was beautiful, as well as the wildlife and the busy little downtown.
I first wanted to get a feel for the local community and atmosphere, and it was hard to resist poking my head into the small boutique shops that lined the main streets of downtown. Seaside towns can be a treasure trove of unique finds and Florence had plenty of antique shops and colorful ocean-themed storefronts to explore.
But before I headed straight into town, I sat down at one of the many public benches facing the Siuslaw River Bridge to take in the sea air and stretch my legs from the drive. The bridge was built in 1936, hence the Art Deco style, and was built over the Siuslaw River where once the Siuslaw people lived 8,000 years ago. There is a lot of history to discover in Florence from a variety of different eras, my history buff self was loving the signage and plaques demarcating the memorable parts of town.
Once I moseyed through the city center, I walked along the water and the dock on the other side of town where there was fresh fish being sold straight from the boat. Everyone seemed to know each other and was friendly and talkative with passers-by. There was a market set up on the other side of the street with fresh produce and local handmade goods, jewelry, and professional photographs for sale.
On my way back to the main stretch of town I had to stop in at an old-fashioned ice cream shop, called BJ’s Ice Cream Parlor. Apparently it’s a classic in Florence and very much a local favorite, I could imagine a lot of people working here when they were in high school. Even though it’s a chain, it came off as a family-orientated business and they had some outrageously fun flavors. I went with a type of pistachio ice cream that the guy behind the counter recommended, it was delicious!
I also had a chance to try one of the restaurants by the time lunch rolled around. Florence has some great seafood options being so close to the water, so I went for a mouthwatering crab melt for lunch and read more about what there was to do in town. My agenda quickly settled on two points of interest: sea lions and sand dunes.
The Sea Lion Caves are quite the roadside attraction on the Oregon Coast. Just a 15 minute drive north of Florence, this stop is America’s largest cave. Although its a year round home for the Stellar Sea Lion, The sea lions aren’t always home so make sure to ask before you buy a ticket to go down and see them in the cave.
If you love marine life and rugged coastal views, this is a great place to stop at just down the road from Florence. The cliffs on this part of Hwy 101 are breathtaking, so if you like feeling as if you’re at the edge of the world the Sea Lion Caves may just be the perfect stop for you.
The Oregon sand dunes can be found in different places along the coast, but the dunes just south of Florence are the largest and most well known. I didn’t go on one of the dune buggy tours this time around but I did go hiking on the trail that led through the dunes and down to the beach. I hadn’t seen the beach in a good few months so I just sat there for awhile to enjoy the view and the breeze.
The 40 miles of dunescape can be accessed at multiple points along Hwy 101. The dunes stand as a testament to millions of years of wind and rain erosion on the coast. It’s a unique and memorable spot on the Oregon coast and one that is well worth the 10 minute drive from Florence.
Overall, Florence was the best seaside escape for a day trip. There is so much to do in and around the city and it feels like the real Oregon in its small town nature and raw beauty. Next time I would love to have more of a chance to explore the dunes and the city, who knows, maybe I can even have a day out on a dune buggy next time. In any case, I wanted to share this special spot with you guys, it is a fond memory of my time in Oregon this past summer.
Anyone else looking forward to nice weather and more road trips soon!? Yay spring!
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