If I mentioned the Bay area, you might think of San Francisco, but in this case I’m talking about the tri-city area of Charleston, North Bend and Coos Bay situated between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal forested mountains in Southern Oregon – somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 miles south of Portland and 500 miles north of San Francisco. As you might imagine, the vistas are breath-taking.
All three towns are located near the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (US 101) which runs between Astoria in northern Oregon and Brookings in southern Oregon providing outstanding seascapes, lighthouses, and parks for outdoor activities including camping.
North Bend, the most northern of the three towns, is home to the historic landmark 5,305-foot steel cantilever truss Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge that spans Coos Bay. The Southwest Oregon Regional airport is located here with flights to Portland and San Francisco.
Charleston is located at the mouth of the bay, across the bar from the Pacific Ocean. It is a working, rustic fishing village and marina that caters primarily to large fishing boats plus recreational boaters, and the occasional sailboat heading south to California and beyond. The 1936 Cape Arrago Lighthouse, one of the eleven lighthouses still standing on the Oregon coast, is located nearby. The lighthouse is no longer operational or accessible, but you can see it and photograph it from the trails of Sunset Bay State Park.
The town of Coos Bay is located more inland on the Coos River. Here, you can learn about the area’s wood timber harvesting and shipbuilding history through displays on the long boardwalk that skirts the bay. The self-guided walking tour is a pleasant way to learn about and admire the various architectural styles of twenty-six historic buildings built between 1893 and 1928.
The most amazing natural landmark in the area is the spectacular Oregon Dunes National Recreation area that runs 40 miles between the cities of Florence and Coos Bay. Imagine sand dunes reaching up to 500 feet high. In addition to trekking and photographing the dunes, each year thousands of tourists bring their off-highway vehicles for a thrilling ride. Of course, the recreation area offers a host of water-based opportunities too like boating, fishing, swimming and scuba diving. In addition to sand trekking, you can hike the beautiful coastal forest that edges the dunes.
Each year thousands of gray and humpback whales can be seen off the Pacific coast as they make their migration between the Arctic Sea and Baja California, Mexico where their calves are born. Late December is when the whales are making their southbound passage off the Oregon coast. Their northbound passage is best viewed off the Oregon coast in March. Several parks along the coast offer whale watching stations including the Shore Acres State Park, near Charleston, which has an enclosed observation building.
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