Family Fun on the Oregon Coast

Genie Davis September 10, 2010 2 Comments

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Beaches strewn with climbable driftwood… square topped rocks called sea stacks morphing out of the morning waves… caves and coves for your little pirates to explore… and lighthouses! That’s the southern Oregon coast near Yachats. The quickest route in is to fly into Portland and drive to the sea in under five hours; our recent trip traversed the entire coast of Oregon and Washington from LA to Seattle via Highway 101 all the way.   

Sunset at Heceta Head Oregon

Sunset at Heceta Head

I’ll share more great spots on this epic drive in the days ahead, but today I’m focusing on  the wonderful Heceta Head Light Station, just south of Yachats, the single most photographed historic light house on the coast. The beautiful light station grounds include the keeper’s house, half a mile below the actual lighthouse, both with commanding views of rocks, sea lions, brilliant azure sea or dark and stormy waves depending upon the season.    

Regardless of the time of year, the six rooms of the keeper’s house are now a bed and breakfast. Kids will love running around in the fenced, flat, groomed fields and gardens surrounding the house,  watching a sunset from the broad porch, or waiting ‘til the stars come out. And there are lots of stars with absolutely zero light pollution – shooting stars, quazars, pick your planet, you’ll spot it in the stellar sky. Bring your binoculars   

The house is stocked with board games, a piano, and a spotless community kitchen ready for use with pots, pans, plates and condiments. Stop in Florence or Yachats for provisions and you can have a family meal in an amazing setting. There are two comfortable parlors with fireplaces and Duraflame logs for your use. The house is a national historic site and has been preserved as it looked when the light keeper’s house was in daily use, but this is no hands-off antique filled setting. You and your children will find the home welcoming and comfortable, with space for just your family or interaction with other guests. You’ll find an easy paved walk to the actual light house and plenty of  benches, trails, rocky promontories as well as that porch and two comfortable parlors with fireplaces and Duraflame logs for your use.   

Southern Oregon Coast

Southern Oregon Coast

Some rooms are adjoining, with shared bath, making an ideal family suite. With the sound of the ocean waves hitting the cove below and the lighthouse beam grazing your four poster bed, or your child’s trundle, you’ll find an early night just the thing. And you want a good night’s sleep so you don’t miss the amazing breakfasts served up – seven courses with food delights like mango mousse, praline bread, and frittata made with fresh vegetables from the light keeper’s garden. Adults will revel in the nouvelle cuisine, and even if your kids don’t like one course, they will surely like the next. Delightful food for all appetites.    

Sated, your family will enjoy a short drive down to the beach below Heceta Head. There you’ll find plenty of drift wood for fort building, climbing, and picture taking and soft white sand for castle making. Then move on down the road for the touristy attraction of squalling sea lions in the Sea Lion’s Cave – an elevator and stairs lead you down to a viewing spot of hundreds of creatures noisily hanging out on the rocks. Be prepared if you have a child of stroller age – you’ll have to put the stroller aside at the top of the stairs and do some hand carrying to get to the viewing spot. You can also view the sea lions farther down the road at a turn out, although not in close range.   

More peaceful pursuits can be found at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Center.  The overlook trail just south of Florence, in the Jessie M. Honeyman State Park, is a great place to start, with a beautiful forested trail and towering dunes. This is part of one of the largest dune eco-systems in the world, formed between 12 and 16 million years ago. These vast dunes are like experiencing the Sahara – only in North America.   

The overlook area features several viewing platforms and child friendly, easy trails which will lead you onto the dunes in under a half mile. Another mile takes you from dunes to open ocean with the dunes behind you. These dunes are thrilling, wide, white, and filled with private nooks and crannies. You and your family will feel like you have the whole sea coast to yourself. Shops in the towns of Florence and Yachats sell plastic toboggans. The soft sand makes an easier ride than snow, and no frost bitten fingers to worry about.   

We brought groceries in from Florence for a picnic, supplemented with fresh cheese from the nearby Tillamook cheese factory. The factory also has tastings that my kids couldn’t get enough of, debating which cheddar was tastiest was a fine way to spend a half hour. Firehouse Subs in downtown Florence – begun by firemen – offer hearty sandwiches of all kinds at reasonable prices.   

After lunch, head south for an hour to the historic old seaport town of Bandon, the cranberry capital of Oregon and an artist’s colony. Bandon is home to marshy, scenic cranberry bogs and The Cranberry Store – from chocolate covered berries to jell candies and pretzels, this well known confectioner offers more samples and great deserts for the drive.   

While you nibble, stroll the quaint sea port shops of “old town” Bandon, with buildings dating from the 1930′s. Then, across the river from town, visit the Coquille River Lighthouse. It’s one of the only lighthouses ever to be hit by a ship – an errant schooner in 1903.   

Between Bandon and Brookings you’ll see Southern Oregon’s unique sea stack rock formations just off shore. These thick rock “islands” are exciting to see whether you’re viewing them from the car, an overlook, or by taking a short trail to the beach. There’s often a good wind in this area, and our family enjoyed some kite flying along with our seaside stroll. At low tide beach combing is an Oregon past time. Kids of all ages enjoy the enormous sea anemomes, purple star fish, and other flora and fauna of the deep. Small, shallow sea caves line the coast and are fun to explore.   

In the Port Orford Area there are wonderful, windswept, overlooks to view the sea stacks and take some memorable sunset photos. Pistol River State Park near Gold Beach has more overlooks and short child-friendly trails, and is an excellent clamming beach as well. Maybe you’ll opt to pick up your own dinner, fresh from the sea, and bring it back to Heceta Head for another home cooked meal. If you opt to dine out, try the Bridgewater – family friendly seafood from fish and chips to steamed crab in a historic but comfortable setting.   

Your little ones will sleep soundly from all the beach exploring, allowing you some parlor fire place time to unwind. Just don’t stay up too late – in the morning, another bountiful breakfast will be waiting for you!

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avatarAbout the Author:

Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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2 Comments to “Family Fun on the Oregon Coast”
  1. avatar More Family Fun in Southern Oregon « Tots and Travel – Family Vacations and Reviews says:

    [...] I began describing a coastal adventure based at Heceta Head Light Station near Florence, Oregon. A second day’s coastal adventures can spin you north from Yachats. [...]

  2. avatar From the Sea to the River – More, Marvelous Oregon « Tots and Travel – Family Vacations and Reviews says:

    [...] [...]