The Coos Bay area is famous for wild dunes, miles of windswept beaches, and forests filled with hiking and biking trails. But did you know it’s also home to a year-round calendar of annual festivals, from a winter crab feed to midsummer celebrations of the arts? Here’s how to make one of these beloved community events a highlight of your next visit.
Charleston Crab Feed
Each February Coos Bay crab lovers gather for the annual Charleston Crab Feed, a celebration of one of the Oregon Coast’s most prized delicacies: Dungeness crab. The first Crab Feed was held in 1984 as a fundraiser for the Charleston Merchants Association. Today it’s a perfect opportunity to taste the sweet, meaty crustacean at the peak of its season in a community that still relies heavily on commercial crabbing.
Allison Richards, marketing project manager for the Coos Bay–North Bend–Charleston Visitor & Convention Bureau, estimates that nearly 1,000 pounds of local crab will be purchased from local crabbers, processed in Charleston and served by local high school students for the 2023 feed, happening on February 11. You’ll want to buy tickets online in advance, choosing from a half or whole crab accompanied by a range of side dishes.
February is also the peak season for another quintessential Oregon Coast activity: storm watching. Before dinner, work up an appetite with a side trip to Shore Acres just 4 miles south of Charleston to see awe-inspiring surf. Wherever you go to storm watch, make sure to stay on designated paths, be prepared for the weather and never turn your back to the ocean.
South Coast Clambake Music Festival
If you come to the South Coast Clambake Music Festival at The Mill Casino Hotel & RV Park in North Bend expecting to feast on softshells, razor clams or purple varnish clams, you may be surprised. “The name of the Clambake Music Festival has nothing to do with crabs or clams,” explains Need Warrick, festival volunteer. “It comes from an old New Orleans music term. ‘Clambake’ means to have a jam session.”
The first Clambake was held in 1988 as a jazz festival. Since then it’s evolved into a lively multiday celebration of American music, from Dixieland jazz and zydeco to swing, blues, and old-time rock and roll. The 2023 Clambake Music Festival takes place March 10-12, featuring acts like jazz clarinetist Dave Bennett and local five-piece folk, rock and bluegrass band The Throttles. Grab tickets for a single day or the entire festival online. And don’t forget your dancing shoes — Warrick notes that festival organizers will offer free community dance lessons in the months before the event to get people ready for their first in-person festival since the pandemic.
Oregon Coast Music Festival
In 2023 the Oregon Coast Music Festival celebrates 45 years with two weeks of events, including several free public outdoor concerts held at different venues across Coos Bay. Things kick off on July 15 with a free performance from the local Bay Area Concert Band on the Mingus Park stage in Coos Bay. Before the show, stroll through the park’s tranquil Choshi Gardens, a Japanese garden named for Coos Bay’s sister city, Choshi, Japan.
The second free outdoor concert happens July 22 at the gardens of Shore Acres State Park. Or join conductor, Adam Stern, for three free lunchtime programs, the week of January 24, discussing the major works to be played during the three Festival Orchestra concerts. You can also buy tickets to see the 80-member Festival Orchestra, which plays three evening concerts in the historic Marshfield High School Auditorium in late July. Check the festival’s website for details, tickets, and performance additions.
Before the show, Christine Moffitt, president of the Oregon Coast Music Association, suggests a stroll on the Coos Bay Boardwalk to learn more about how the lumber industry has influenced the town. If it’s a Wednesday between May and October, you can also shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, local meat and seafood, and arts and crafts at the Coos Bay Downtown Farmers Market, which takes place just a few blocks from the Boardwalk.
Blackberry Arts Festival
With the inspiring backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, it’s no surprise that so many artists and craftspeople call Coos Bay home. One of the best ways to experience their creativity is a trip to the annual Blackberry Arts Festival, a juried arts-and-crafts festival in downtown Coos Bay timed to coincide with blackberry season in August.
This year artisans from Oregon’s Adventure Coast and beyond will exhibit their best works the weekend of August 26-27. Stroll through the booths to shop for metalwork, jewelry, textiles, ceramics, wood carvings and more while chatting with the artisans. Many offer demonstrations of their skills, fun for kids and grown-ups alike. Once you’ve found a one-of-a-kind souvenir, swing by the food vendors to refuel with a scoop of blackberry ice cream or a slice of blackberry pie.
If you’re still hankering for berries, Coos Bay Downtown Association board member Stephanie Kilmer suggests picking a few wild blackberries of your own before you head home. You can find them “just about anywhere,” according to Kilmer, although she says a popular spot is above Mingus Park and Choshi Gardens along the roads and hiking trails.