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When the stars align for a girls’ trip, it’s nothing short of magical. I love to combine my favorite people with an awe-inspiring setting, a dash of adventure and a sprinkle of beauty for a regular dose of rejuvenation. Luckily, Oregon has no shortage of inspired locations for girlfriends’ getaways.
This time it was a trip to what’s known as Oregon’s Adventure Coast — a trio of towns on Oregon’s South Coast, about four hours south of Portland and two hours southwest of Eugene. With its lumber-mill and fishing roots, the towns of Coos Bay, North Bend and Charleston are all about the water vibes, with fresh seafood, dreamy waterfront views, coastal forest hikes, peaceful paddling spots and lovely restaurants with no wait lists at every turn. Plus, it’s milder here all year round, and a little sunshine goes a long way.
As moms of teenagers, my two friends and I felt the stress melt away as we drove south on Interstate 5 on a wintry Friday afternoon to our coastal paradise, Madonna CD on repeat. Checklist: a few maps, our favorite bottles of Oregon wine in the trunk, and enough outdoor gear to span all four seasons in the form of Ten Essentials and then some. No family organizing, volunteering, scheduling or nagging to do this weekend — we were ready to shed our mental load and put our well-being front and center. Here’s how to take a stress-busting girls’ trip any time of year to Oregon’s Adventure Coast.
Day 1: Dining and Dancing by the Bay
Get the lay of the land in downtown Coos Bay, a city that’s seen a revival in recent years with colorful murals and a new boom of inviting restaurants and shops. Pick up a map at the Coos Bay Visitors Center and ask about the Southern Oregon Coast Charm Trail, which lets you collect silver charms for $2 each at various local attractions. Outside the visitor center, you’ll see the statue dedicated to Olympic track legend Steve “Pre” Prefontaine and, a few blocks away, the large Pre mural. Items from this native son’s life and Olympic achievements are housed at the Prefontaine Gallery, on the second floor of the historic Coos Art Museum, the oldest art museum on the Coast. (Take the Tour de Pre for the full experience, and run Pre’s old training course at the annual Prefontaine Memorial Run in September.)
Soak up more local history at the gorgeous waterfront Coos History Museum, which features a fascinating display of regional artifacts, including oversize pieces of the New Carissa ship that ran aground in Coos Bay in 1999. Just down the road, check in at The Mill Casino Hotel & RV Park, where a recent renovation delivers pillow-top beds and modern smoke-free rooms facing the bay for blissful sunrise views — you can literally wake up to the call of geese as they land on the bay. Linger over dinner at a buzzy new spot a mile away called Front Street Provisioners, part of the city’s waterfront revitalization. The rustic warehouse space is warm with its cheery lights, eclectic artwork, great cocktail and wine list, and a wood-fire pizza oven that turns out crispy Neapolitan-style pies (vegan and gluten-free options, too) charred to perfection.
Head back to the hotel for live music and entertainment at The Mill’s lounge, which hosts a variety of shows year-round. We rocked out to the classic-rock stylings of a popular Eugene-based cover band called Mister Wizard, which kept the dance floor packed until closing time at 1 a.m.
Day 2: Dune Buggies, Fish Tacos and a Pint
Power up for adventure with a seasonal frittata or almond-milk smoothie at locally owned Noster Kitchen in downtown Coos Bay open for takeout-only breakfast and lunch (call ahead to confirm). Feel the adrenaline kicking in as you head 20 minutes north of town to Spinreel Dune Buggy & ATV Rentals to experience the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area up close and personal via dune buggy.
Confession: I was highly skeptical of this experience, imagining our vehicle flipping over or, worse, getting stuck in the sand and being lost forever in what is one of the largest expanses of coastal sand dunes in the world. However, as we suited up Mad Max-style, our guide put our minds at ease by assuring us that we could dictate the pace — and besides, if his young daughter could shred the dunes, so could we. We hopped in a very sturdy quad and gripped the handlebars for a glorious tour of this special ecosystem — ridges, slopes, lakes, forest and so much to see that you can’t view from any other vantage point.
Smiles plastered ear to ear, unwind with an easy beachcombing stroll along Horsfall Beach, a picturesque campground dotted with dune grasses, driftwood and the impressive remains of a 324-foot wooden steamship that ran aground in 1929, most accessible at low tide. Hop in the car and cross the bay south again to explore the cute vintage and antique shops in downtown North Bend, and indulge in a bowl of steamer clams on the patio at Ciccarelli’s, which doubles as a coffee shop.
Treat yourself to more fun at the array of boutiques and gift shops in downtown Coos Bay, pausing to admire the bright murals and other public art that bring pops of color at every turn. Celebrate your day of adventure at downtown’s 7 Devils Brewing Co., a sustainably minded brewpub that serves pub fare beyond burgers, like fresh albacore, local Coos Bay oysters and seasonal vegetarian “bliss bowls.” Pair your dish with a juicy IPA or a Devil’s Own rum and coke, with craft spirits made at Stillwagon Distillery in Charleston. Enjoy live music on the 7 Devils garden patio in the warmer months, or see what indie films are playing at the grand historic Egyptian Theatre.
Day 3: Epic Views, Hikes and Whale Watching
Today’s your day to see the sights outside the city. Fuel up the car, stop at the Coos Head Food Co-Op to grab a quick breakfast and road snacks, and head west to explore the Cape Arago Beach Loop for a breathtaking tour of the coastline. Hop out to look for harbor seals and sea lions at Cape Arago Lighthouse viewpoint. Stroll along Bastendorff Beach and spy surfers looking to hang 10 at Sunset Bay State Park, a popular campground and beach.
A few miles south, wind your way up to Shore Acres State Park — high on a bluff with spectacular views — where you can walk the nature path and watch waves crash against the rocky shore. Spring through fall, the park’s botanical gardens produce a showy display of flowers: daffodils, tulips, azaleas, roses, dahlias, rhododendrons and more. During the holiday season, the garden hosts a giant display of sparkling lights, the largest on the Coast.
A trail from Shore Acres leads to Simpson Reef Overlook, part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, another prime whale-watching spot. Stop for lunch on the way back to Coos Bay at High Tide Cafe in Charleston, and pop into Chuck’s Seafood to pick up a can of smoked oysters or Oregon bay shrimp to take home. For a last dose of nature therapy before you return to the hustle and bustle, head 5 miles south of Charleston to the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve to walk the 2.2-mile loop trail and scheme about your next trip back.
If You Go:
If you can’t make the drive, fly through San Francisco or Denver into the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in North Bend, the only commercial airport on the Oregon Coast. Lodging options in the area are plentiful, ranging from eclectic to high end. Year-round, check out the Whiskey Run Mountain Bike Trail, just south of Coos Bay — an exciting destination for two-wheeled adventurers of all skill levels. It’s rideable throughout the year due to the loamy soil that allows it to absorb rainy weather and still offer a cushiony ride.