Take a Central Coast Road Trip to Florence

Sand dunes, beaches and hiking await just an hour’s drive from Eugene.
February 12, 2024

Barely an hour’s drive west of Eugene, you’ll reach a less-crowded part of the Oregon Coast packed with trails to wander, beaches to comb and great meals to savor. That makes Eugene the perfect entry point to the Central Oregon Coast, whether you bring your own car or arrive by train or air and rent a vehicle. Here’s a two-night itinerary for the ultimate Florence road trip.

Sweet Creek Falls (Photo by Gwyneth Manser / Eugene, Cascades & Coast)

Day 1: Take a Waterfall Hike and Savor Clam Chowder

From Eugene point your wheel west and hit Highway 126. But before you reach the beach, stop for a family-friendly hike at Sweet Creek Falls in Mapleton, about 15 miles east of Florence. The trail is 2.2 miles, passing by four cascading waterfalls. Hop across mossy boulders and look for slugs underneath the misty ferns along the way. 

Once in Florence, visit the Exploding Whale Memorial Park, which commemorates a beached whale that was blown up with dynamite on live television in 1970. A natural area with picnic shelters extends along the shoreline of the Siuslaw River, with views of the bridge and sand dunes on the south side. 

Stay overnight in Florence at the River House Inn to be walking distance from Florence’s Historic Old Town. Most rooms have a river view and a private balcony where you can watch boats drift by among the seals, sea lions and birds. Or reserve a spot at the pet-friendly Driftwood Shores, where every guest room faces the ocean — and so does the dining area, where you can enjoy their on-site Market’s award-winning clam chowder and pick up a bottle of Oregon wine.

Tidepool (Photo by David Putzier / Eugene, Cascades & Coast)

Day 2: Tide Pools and Lighthouses

From Florence head north on Highway 101 to wander along the 26 miles of interconnected hiking trails in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, meandering through old-growth forests that open up to views of the ocean. The Giant Spruce Trail leads to a 600-year-old, 185-foot-tall Sitka spruce known as the Silent Sentinel of the Siuslaw. Heceta Head Beach, with views of Heceta Head Lighthouse, is a family-friendly and pet-friendly cove with bathrooms, picnic areas and a wide, flat, sandy beach with rivulets of water trickling down from the bluffs. 

On the way back, stop for a bit of beachcombing, tides permitting, at Strawberry Hill Wayside. Part of the Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint, this beach  offers tide pools, sunset views, fruitful agate-hunting grounds and the occasional harbor seal sunning themselves on the rocks. Or visit tiny Bob Creek Wayside just a couple of miles south to look for jasper, driftwood, shells, sea glass or other ocean treasures in the pools and gravel beds. 

Refuel with scones and Scotch eggs at Lovejoy’s Restaurant & Tea Room in Florence before heading south to the Oregon Dunes Day-Use Area, where you can walk through wind-sculpted sandy mounds and ridges in an area closed to off-road vehicles. The 1.6-mile Hall Lake Loop Trail takes you through the dunes, with ocean views from the highest points. Take a side trail up a short hill to Schuttpelz Lake for more views. 

Want to see the dunes from a different perspective? Try sliding down the slopes on a sandboard or sandsled at Sand Master Park in Florence. Or hop in a professionally driven dune buggy at Sandland Adventures to zoom across miles of dunes to the beach. Then grab a burger and a local brew at Homegrown Public House & Brewery.

Novelli’s Crab & Seafood (Photo by Melanie Griffin / Eugene, Cascades & Coast)

Day 3: Historic Old Town and a Forested Hike

Start your day strolling the walkable Historic Old Town district of Florence, which is part of the Central Coast Food Trail. The district brims with historic storefronts packed with boutiques, galleries, restaurants and candy shops. Be sure to stop by the docks to take in views of the harbor and watch fishers unloading their catch. You may even be able to buy fresh crab right off the boat. Look for the red and yellow flags of Novelli’s Crab & Seafood,  which is a metal building floating in dock slip A13, or “Live Crab” signs that indicate commercial fishing boats with seafood for sale.

Next make your way a few miles south to hike the 3.4-mile Siltcoos Lake Trail through a landscape of cedar and spruce, ending up at lakefront campsites. (You’ll need a $5 Recreation Pass to park at the trailhead.) Finish the hike refreshed and ready to hop back in the car and cruise the scenic drive back to Eugene. 

About The

Vanessa Salvia
Vanessa Salvia is a writer and editor based in Western Oregon. She lives on a farm with sheep, goats, and orchards, where she enjoys life with her family, two cats, two puggles, and an abundance of wildlife. She grew up in Florida, graduated from high school in Pennsylvania, and has lived in Oregon ever since. There's nowhere else she would rather be.

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