Oregon Coast Road Trip: Exploring Florence
With abundant sunshine, blue skies, puffy white clouds in the spring and summer, and shrouded with intermittent misty days in the fall and winter, the Oregon coast has a rugged beauty all of its own. As you traverse north along the seaside, you’ll discover the small-town charms of Florence, Newport, and Lincoln City, Oregon. Each offers travelers a taste of local color, flavors, and personality.
Located about an hour’s drive from the Eugene Airport, Florence is situated along iconic U.S. Highway 101 on the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. Far from being just a seaside town, the area is diverse with forests and lush foliage along the Siuslaw River then giving way to the famous Oregon Sand Dunes that lead right up to the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
Known as the City of Rhododendrons, Florence’s annual fall flower show is the second-oldest in the state. Additionally, the Sea Lion Caves just north of the town are the largest of its type in the U.S. and are a protected sanctuary for the Steller sea lion.
Even though this is a small town (approximately 8,500 residents), Florence has more than ample attractions for visitors. One of the most spectacular is the Oregon Sand Dunes Recreation Area. Extending along the West Coast, these wind-sculpted marvels of nature can reach a height of 500 feet. Not surprisingly, this is where outdoor enthusiasts come to camp, hike, and play on ATV’s and dune buggies up and down the shifting sands.
On busy summer days, the wait at the Sand Dunes Frontier can be a couple of hours for locals and tourists waiting to take a tour on a sand rail. Skilled drivers provide everything from a leisurely excursion to a hair-raising, heart-pounding thrill ride as they traverse up and down these massive mountains of sand.
Another popular activity on the dunes is sandboarding. Some might compare this experience to snowboarding, but it is probably closer to surfing as the wooden boards seem to mimic the body movements for that water sport. At Sand Master Park, you can take a lesson or rent an affordable boogie or skim board, or just a sand sled for the kiddies.
Florence has its fair share of diverse independent eateries. At Rosa’s Mexican Restaurant, the fare is simple and unpretentious but amazingly authentic. This family-owned restaurant turns out fresh, made-from-scratch Mexican food in generous quantities from seafood to pork. Try the pollo a la crema (chicken breast covered in a creamy white sauce with sautéed onions and mushrooms, and served with rice, beans, and homemade tortillas.)
Photo by Ron Stern
If you love Hawaiian food but can’t afford the airfare, pull right off Highway 101 into the Old School Furniture Store lot and look for the bright yellow food truck. Husband and wife owners Christian and Natasha of A Taste of Hawaii relocated from Maui and wanted to offer their gourmet fusion Hawaiian cuisine in Florence. Christian is classically trained and applies his mastery of sauces and food prep with his love for his hometown food. Daily specials are offered and may include lomi-lomi salmon on taro chips, a Hawaiian plate lunch with pineapple teriyaki chicken or tiger prawns, and even Spam — a popular leftover from WWII in the islands. Christian goes the extra mile to ensure that each dish is perfect. Even their teriyaki burger is made with Oregon grass-fed beef and a large, freshly cut chunk of pineapple.
Bay Street is the city’s multi-block showcase right along the banks of the Siuslaw River. During summertime, tourists pack the streets where boutiques, art galleries, and specialty shops abound. Of course, they are also looking for good food, and most wind up at Mo’s, the landmark seafood restaurant with several locations along the Oregon coast. The popular clam chowder is thick and creamy, and packed with clams, potatoes, and a hint of bacon.
The British tradition of teatime is brought to life at Lovejoy’s. Owners Heather Burnem and her daughter, Hannah, took over from the previous owner and turned this into one of the most popular restaurants in Florence.
“We have people from all over the country come here,” Heather says.
So what’s the secret? Made-from-scratch food, great presentation, and a passion for excellence are their recipe for success. “Here, you can relax, reconnect, and forget about the outside world for a while,” she says.
They serve six cream teas, and if you are visiting for the first time, try the Royal Tea that comes with a savory sausage roll, spring mix salad, a choice of two tea sandwiches (try the chicken curry), and a soft scone with preserves and homemade clotted cream. Of course, you get a big pot of your choice of tea during your meal, and one of the local favorites is Berry Victorian, a delicious blend made with black tea, bergamot, lavender, rose petals, coastal berries, and vanilla.
The Waterfront Depot, located on Bay Street, was originally the old Mapleton Railroad Station. Scheduled for demolition, it was floated down the river and repurposed into one of the area’s best upscale restaurants. Using local ingredients, the menu features Pacific Northwestern cuisine with offerings from the sea and land. One of their specialties is the crab-encrusted Alaskan halibut served with chile cream sauce ($17).
To read on about the road trip north to Newport, click here.
To jump ahead to Lincoln City, click here.
Where to Stay in Florence:
The Old Town Inn
Located close to the Old Town District and Historic Bay Street, this is an affordable place to stay that serves a simple continental breakfast in the morning.