The Central Coast town of Florence (pop. 8,500), set on the Siuslaw River just off of Highway 101, has a charm all its own. With the Old Town neighborhood tucked under the shadow of the 1930s Siuslaw River Bridge and bookended by the national dunes and a lighthouse, Florence makes the perfect summer road trip.
Browsing and Bites: The Old Town area makes for a great afternoon of browsing. Find a favorite new cooking gadget at Kitchen Klutter or one-of-a-kind-gifts at Nana’s White Hare Cottage. Bookworms will delight in Old Town Books and Country Gifts. Your caffeine source is Siuslaw Coffee Roasters, where you can sit and enjoy views of fishing boats docked in the pretty harbor. For a romantic dinner, reserve a table at the Waterfront Depot, which has great views of the river and the bridge.
Trail Trotting: For a special equine experience, take a trot with the folks at C&M Stables. Their horseback rides wind through the woods of the Siuslaw National Forest and down to the sandy beach. Pick from various dune and beach rides as well as sunset rides, and, for advanced riders, a morning adventure ride. Trips range from one to two hours.
Winding Waters: For a front row seat on river beauty, check out the Siuslaw Water Trail. The entire system includes more than 30 miles of paddling along the North Fork and Siuslaw rivers. Explore estuaries and forests filled with wildlife, including river otters, blue heron, osprey and salmon.
Dune Downing: Sporty types will enjoy Sand Master Park, the nation’s first sand boarding park (think snowboarding, but with dunes). Strap a board on your feet and rip down the soft and steep sand. You’ve got to earn your turns here with the hike back up.
Coastal Classics: Don’t miss the Sea Lion Caves (take an elevator down to see the only Stellar Sea Lion rookery in the mainland U.S.), Heceta Head Lighthouse (the beautiful, recently restored 19th-century lighthouse and adjacent keeper’s home), Devil’s Elbow (a bowl carved out of the rock by crashing ocean waves) and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation area (47 miles of sand dunes just south of Florence that are the largest oceanfront dunes in the world).
Stay: Watch the sun set over the Pacific from oceanfront views at Driftwood Shores Resort & Conference Center. The resort has great options for young families — including a kids’ pool and rooms with kitchens.