The dunes, Old Town, and rhododendrons are what folks know about Florence. Since I’ve lived in the area almost 30 years. Here’s my take on what to see and do in the Florence area.
Although Florence is on the coast, it’s not on the ocean. It’s not a beach town. It’s a river town on the Siuslaw River. If you’re coming over from Eugene, this is where you end up––dead center on the coast.
No matter where you’re coming from, dress in layers. Plan to take off or put on. If the fog lifts, it can warm up. If the wind comes up or fog comes in, it cools down real fast. Expect rain every month except July and August, and it’s happened then too. In the summer, the wind can get fierce on sunny afternoons; if there are clouds, the wind is usually non-existent. Just the opposite happens in winter. Some of our nicest days are on a sunny winter day because of no wind, but the winter also brings fierce storms with almost hurricane force winds.
In the spring, wild rhododendrons bloom and some of the best places to see them are along Rhody Drive, sections of Highway 101 north and south of town, and within Honeyman State Park.
South of Florence, the dunes stretch to Coos Bay and are definitely worth checking out. If you stop at either of the dune recreation centers––SandDunes Frontier or Sandland Adventures––south of town, you can go for rides. Unless you like speeding along at breakneck speed, I’d recommend the big buggy or giant dune buggy tours. I’ve been on both and enjoyed the slower speed of the big buggy but I liked the just-the-four-of-us-ness on the sand rail. But I only enjoyed the sand rail ride when the driver slowed down. When he was going fast, I was totally terrified. Sandland recommends reserving in advance if you’re on a time schedule.
Whenever I have company, I browse Old Town. There are great shops and galleries. I particularly like The River, Blue Heron, and Backstreet galleries. All three show mostly local artists. I always shop at Incredible & Edible Oregon for great gifts.
B.J’s Ice Cream, Florence’s own ice cream company, is fabulous and has two locations: one in Old Town and a second one on Hwy 101 closer to the northern end of town. I love their hot fudge Sundays.
My favorite restaurants include the Bridgewater, Waterfront Depoe, Restobar 1285, and Spice in Old Town. If you want to sit out on a deck overlooking the river while eating, go to Traveler’s Cove where the food is also good.
For coffee, there’s two great coffee houses on either end of Bay Street. Old Town Coffee Roasters has good coffee and goodies plus some great art work on display and Siuslaw River Coffee Roasters also has good coffee and goodies and comfy places to sit around a woodstove. You can also sit outside at tables to the side or on the deck in back. The Siuslaw River coffee house is practically under the Siuslaw River Bridge. Not hard to guess where I usually go! If you absolutely have to have Starbucks, there’s one located inside Safeway in the middle of town.
For lunch, Nature’s Corner on Hwy 101 near Old Town and Mon Ami deli, near the first signal heading north, are hard to beat and for breakfast I’ve gone to Morgan’s south of town for years.
Old Town has Books and Bears, a unique bookstore with one of the best views of the Siuslaw River Bridge, and across the street is Periwinkle Station, another bookstore where I find the best cards for any occasion. On either end of Bay Street are terrific kitchen shops—Balcony Gourmet and Kitchen Klutter––where it’s easy to find hard-to-get stuff.
While in Old Town turn on Maple Street and walk a couple of blocks to the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum. It’s in the historic old school and houses much history and memorabilia of the Florence area.
Leave Old Town to find Silver Lining Boutique, one of my favorite places to shop, and it also has an art gallery upstairs. It’s at Hwy 101 and 22nd Street and occupies a geodesic dome. It’s full of exotic clothes and accessories that you won’t find anywhere else because it specializes in one-of-a-kind!
Continue north to the very edge of town and you’ll come to Sand Master Park, the world’s first sand-boarding park. Experts as well as beginners are welcome. Here there is dune access, lessons, rental boards, the works. You can also just stop by to watch and see what it’s all about.
If you came to the coast to see the ocean and walk the beach, continue north and turn west at Heceta Beach junction. At Heceta Beach, you can walk the beach for miles heading north, fly kites, and build sandcastles—all the usual beach things, but bring your own kite. The Surfside Restaurant at Driftwood Shores Resort is quite good and it’s the only ocean view restaurant in the area.
Florence is also surrounded by beautiful lakes, of which many have boat ramps and day-use areas with picnic tables. Some have campgrounds. Woahink is the most well known, but smaller ones like Carter Lake will not be so crowded in the middle of summer. Cleawox Lake on the west side of Honeyman State Park has picnic tables, paddle boats, and a big dune that ends up in the lake. Kids like to run or slide down the dune and land in the water, and I’ve enjoyed the paddleboats. There are swimming areas at Cleawox and Woahink lakes both within Honeyman State Park.
Kayaking is very popular on the lakes and the river among locals and so is hiking. There are many trails in the area. To name a few I’ve enjoyed, south of town are Wax Myrtle and Lagoon trails, east of town is Sweet Creek, and north of town are trails within the Sutton Creek Recreation Area and from Heceta Head to the Hobbit Trail.
This is a beautiful area and Apex helicopter tours are available as well as Aero Legends open cockpit biplane rides. I took a small plane tour of the area once and it was spectacular. I’d recommend it, but only on a sunny day.
There you have it. Some of the places and activities I enjoy and share with out-of-town guests.
Note: When I finished writing this, I went into town to run errands and take some photos. On the way home on this Friday afternoon in mid-August with heavy duty traffic on Highway 101, a large bear simply loped across four lanes of traffic without touching a single car. Incredible! It continued along the edge of a motel parking lot, where I’m sure the guests didn’t have a clue. Some years ago I saw a Fish & Wildlife report that stated that Florence had an in-town population of a couple hundred bears! They usually stay out of sight, but right now the blackberries are ripening!
TO BUY JUDY’S FIRST BOOK
Crossings: McCullough’s Coastal Bridges can be yours for $24.95 plus $4.99 shipping. Order from Pacific Publishing at http://www.connectflorence.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. It is also available on the coast in bookstores, museums, and gift shops; in Eugene at the airport, the historical museum, and several bookstores; in Portland at Powell’s and the Oregon Historical Society; in Made in Oregon stores throughout the state; and more and more bookstores, libraries, and museums in western Oregon.
The half-hour interview with Dr. Veronica Esagui for the “Author’s Forum” program on public access TV in the Portland Metro area ended it’s two-week run June 1-14, 2012, but can be seen on YouTube in two parts: Google Judy Fleagle YouTube.
September 17, 7 p.m., Bandon––I’ll be giving my PowerPoint presentation at the Bandon Public Library (1204 11th Street, 541-347-3221)
September 29, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Florence––2nd Annual Florence Festival of Books–an authors and publishers fair held at the Florence Events Center (715 Quince Street, 1 block east of Highway 101). I’ll be there with two books! (If all goes according to plan.)
October 13, 11 a.m. Oregon City––The historic Arch Bridge designed by McCullough reopens in Oregon City on the weekend of October 1314. I have been asked to be part of the festivities and will be giving my PowerPoint presentation at the Museum of the Oregon Territory on Saturday. The actual bridge reopening celebration will be on Sunday.