If you're heading to Bandon, to North Bend, to Gold Beach, to Coos Bay, pack a fleece, not jewels.
Prepare for close encounters. With trees and clouds. With rocks and moss. With sun and wind and rain.
Mushrooms hide in darkened nooks. Sand goes on for miles. Birds cut a rug from wing to wing across a sprawling sky.
Leave your snobbery at home. These towns are small, and if you seek what's hot, what's new, what's chic and twinkly, you might not find it here.
You will, however, find this.
Plus pinwheels. Used books. Hiking trails. Fried fish. Berries. Beer.
Here are some highlights from my first day as a guest of Travel Oregon along the southern part of Oregon's Pacific coast.
Bandon Fish Market. Down crisp hunks of batter-fried ling cod, true cod, and rockfish served in newsprint-lined baskets with fries, tartar sauce, and cocktail sauce (zingy!). Coleslaw is fresh, light, and flecked with cranberries, thanks to scarlet bogs throughout the region. With a small-town feel, friendly vibe, and a cheerful, older clientele, tiny Bandon Fish Market is the farthest thing from fancy, but who are you anyway, Cleopatra? 249 First Street, Bandon, Oregon.
If the line's too long, food writer Allison Boomer sent me an article she wrote for the Boston Globe about Tony's Crab Shack, which is about four steps away. In short: she liked it. 155 First Street, Bandon, Oregon.
Port Orford Heads State Park. After lunch, head here (about 40 minutes from Bandon) to get your hike on. Today the air is cool, the sky gray, the wind present but not angry. We follow a scenic, one-mile loop along the headlands trail, guided by local expert Cathy Boden. Windswept sitka spruce create natural arbors and tunnels, and around each bend jagged cliffs thrust toward the ocean. Maritime buffs: This area once housed a 37-foot Coast Guard observation tower and lifeboat station for rescuing seamen caught in shipwrecks and raging storms. Non-Maritime buffs: Look, trees and pretty water!
On the drive back, we stop briefly at the dolly dock port, where I snap the lead photo above. Port Orford is one of the few places in the U.S. where brightly-colored, industrial cranes raise and lower fishing boats to the water.
Thirsty? Head to Arch Rock Brewing Company, a microbrewery in a small, nondescript warehouse in Gold Beach. Owners Larry and Marjie Brennan are retired police officers. After dealing with homicides, sex crimes, and missing persons earlier in their career, they opened Arch Rock in 2013. Brewmaster James Smith is a personable guy happy to talk about cracking and crushing malted barley, fermentation tanks, and all kinds of things I don't understand. What I do understand is it's fun to taste his award-winning Gold Beach Lager, coffee-colored State of Jefferson porter, and Pistol River IPA. I also like the equipment panel's emergency shut-off button, which you can see is labeled with undeniable clarity. 28779 Hunter Creek Loop, Gold Beach, Oregon.
We dine at the adjacent Hunter Creek Tavern. It's a three-second walk, if you're slow. You have to like burgers and artery-clogging bar food if you dine here, or... maybe just drink the beer from Arch Rock, which they serve on tap. (To be fair, the tacos al pastor are actually pretty good.) Out back, watch the bar's dog Tickle fetch sticks in the water. Come here not for the food but to see the beating heart of small-town Oregon, with its lack of pretension and its hard-working people listening to music, shooting pool, and just living their lives. (And, if you want to see some of the colorful posters in the ladies' room, you're in luck. I snapped some photos just for you.) 28773 Hunter Creek Loop, Gold Beach, Oregon.
We sleep this night at the Pacific Reef Resort. The word resort is used loosely. Despite hard beds and tired carpeting, this clean hotel with spacious two-floor condos offers friendly service, great views, and phenomenal access to Gold Beach just a quick stroll away. You're paying for proximity.
And at night, you see this.
When the sun sets, grab some blankets, beach chairs, and a flashlight. (It gets dark.) Follow the footpath to the beach. Comb the sand for driftwood, set stones in a make-shift ring, and build a fire next to the surf. When you get sleepy, stroll back to your room.
In the morning, wake to the thrum of waves.