The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
There’s no sharper contrast on the Oregon coast than the difference between industrial Coos Bay and earthy Bandon (pop. 3,066), 24 miles to the south. Here, in the Old Town section along the banks of the Coquille River, are several blocks of galleries, crafts shops, and fine restaurants, marked by a gateway arch off US-101. Start a tour of Old Town at the corner of 1st and Baltimore, where Big Wheel General Store houses the Bandon Driftwood Museum (130 Baltimore Ave. SE, daily, free), which gives a good sense of Bandon’s back-to-the-land, hippie ethos. A more academic introduction to the town and region can be had at the Bandon Historical Society Museum (270 Fillmore Ave., 541/347-2164, Mon.-Sat., daily in summer, $2 adults), in the old City Hall along US-101. Its exhibits on area history, cranberries, and local color are artfully done, and the building is easy to find, so be sure to stop. South of town, Beach Loop Drive runs along a ridge overlooking a fantastic assemblage of coastal monoliths.
For fish-and-chips along the waterfront, the Bandon Fish Market (249 1st St. SE, 541/347-4282) is cheap, cheerful, and very very good; a block to the east, looking more like a tackle shop than a restaurant, Tony’s Crab Shack (155 1st St. SE, 541/347-2875) is another local landmark, famous for fish tacos, chowders, and silky crab sandwiches.
Outside of town, the exclusive and expensive (but open to the public) Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (57744 Round Lake Dr., 541/347-4380 or 888/345-6008, $75-250 per golf round for resort guests) has been drawing raves from golfers, well-heeled vacationers, and landscape architects alike. Designed to preserve and enhance the “natural” scenery in the style of Scottish “links” courses rather than the anodyne green swaths that characterize most suburban country club courses, Bandon Dunes offers golf, deluxe accommodations, and a nice restaurant.
South of Bandon, 9.5 miles north of Port Orford, Cape Blanco is considered—by Oregonians, at least—the westernmost point of land in the contiguous United States. Named by early Spanish explorers for the white shells encrusting the 245-foot cliff face, the cape is also the site of Oregon’s oldest (circa 1870) and highest lighthouse. Set back from the cliffs in forested woodlands, Cape Blanco State Park (541/332-2973) has hot showers and a few cabins ($42), along with a spacious campground ($22). The headland offers great views of the rugged coastline plus a good chance of seeing gray whales spouting and leaping offshore.