When you think of the Oregon Coast, visions may come to mind of long stretches of sandy beach, dramatic viewpoints overlooking rocky shoreline, quaint small towns, fresh seafood and historic lighthouses. That would pretty much make Bandon the quintessential Oregon Coast destination, with enough of all of these things to keep you busy for a week just to hit the highlights. If you have less time than that, let this be your guide to making the most of your time in this South Coast town.
If You Only Have a Day
Bandon has many charms, but the beach is undoubtedly one of the Oregon Coast’s top scenic attractions. Otherworldly rock formations tower over your head and are seen scattered just offshore. There are caves to discover, crashing waves on the rocks to leave you in awe and depending on the tides and season, there are tidepools to explore, seals resting on reefs and an astounding variety of seabirds to be seen. Take the time to identify rock formations like Face Rock, Howling Dog and Elephant Rock.
There are several places to find beach access, but two beach overlooks offer not only stunning views of this stretch of beach, but also have stairways leading to the sandy shore: Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint and Coquille Point. Don’t miss either. Taking in a sunset or a sunrise from the beach or either of these two promontories can be a transformative experience and is a must for photographers. Both viewpoints offer amazing views and access to even those with mobility challenges. Coquille Point in particular offers level paved pathways to various vantage points. There are miles of beaches to explore, but with only one day, there are other attractions for you to reserve time for.
Bandon’s Old Town and riverfront boardwalk are classic Oregon Coast experiences. The Old Town area is one of the coast’s best small towns for strolling with independently owned shops and restaurants ranging from fine dining to casual seafood joints and pubs. To the north, Old Town is bordered by the Coquille River and the tiny Port of Bandon with views of boats, a boardwalk that is also a unique sculpture garden, a public crabbing dock and businesses to rent crabbing gear and cook up your fresh catch just steps from the water.
If you take the time to explore Bandon’s Beach and Old Town, you’re unlikely to have time for much else, but if you have time, you can visit the Coquille River Lighthouse, a 15-minute drive on the north side of the river in Bullards Beach State Park.
Two Days Offers More Bandon and Beyond
For those who want to use Bandon as a base to explore more of Oregon’s South Coast, a second day offers several great options, though my first choice would be a day trip north. The Charleston to Bandon Tour Route leads you to a string of three remarkable Oregon State Parks ending at Cape Arago. The centerpiece of this destination is Shore Acres State Park, offering some of the most scenic viewpoints and one of the best places on the Oregon Coast to watch large crashing waves. At Shore Acres, sheer cliffs, near-shore reefs and sculpted sandstone rock formations are fascinating and offer a mesmerizing scene of wave action. A seemingly out-of-place formal garden can also be visited here. The extensive and meticulously maintained gardens are what remain of a historic private estate once located in this stunning place.
Just a two-minute’s drive from the park is the Simpson Reef viewpoint, probably the best place on the Oregon Coast to see (and hear!) sea lions in their natural habitat. The nearby parks on Cape Arago and at Sunset Bay each offer worthwhile viewpoints. Hikers can traverse all three parks and discover about 2.5 miles of remarkable scenic views including views of the Cape Arago Lighthouse on an isolated point. The nearby town of Charleston is a classic Oregon fishing town home to the worthwhile Charleston Marine Life Center.
Bandon to Shore Acres State Park is less than a 40-minute drive each way, so it’s easy to make this a day trip and still enjoy another sunset or dinner in Bandon.
Three Days for More of the South Coast
With a third day, you can enjoy a breakfast in Bandon and perhaps visit Old Town shops you haven’t had time for yet, then set off on a day trip to the south. Top attractions include the Cape Blanco Lighthouse and Port Orford Heads State Parks. Cape Blanco Lighthouse is about a 40-minute drive south of Bandon, and it’s one of Oregon’s prettiest maritime icons overlooking a spectacular setting. You can tour the lighthouse, just admire the views or set off on hiking trails that are part of Cape Blanco State Park.
Port Orford is just a few minutes drive south, a small town with a surprising art scene. The easiest place to visit for scenic views and beach access is the highway-side Battle Rock Park. Hikers will want to make time for Port Orford Heads State Park, the site of a former Coast Guard lifeboat station. The original crew quarters and office building is now a museum telling the story of the lifeboat station that dates from 1934. Short trails lead to the expansive overlook where the station’s lookout tower once stood, the cove where the boathouse and launch was located and along the scenic headland to the west for expansive ocean views.
Before leaving Port Orford, boat lovers should visit the small port for which the city was named. Unlike most ports, the port of Port Orford is located right on the ocean and the small fleet of fishing boats rest on dollies with a crane lifting each boat in and out of the water as they set off and then return with their catch of the day.