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.
Heceta Head and the Sea Lion Caves
Halfway between Cape Perpetua and Florence, a small bridge just south of Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park marks the turnoff to Heceta Head Lighthouse, perhaps the most photographed beacon in the United States. Built in 1894, it was named for the Spanish mariner who is credited with being the first European to set foot in the region. You’ll have to be content with gazing at it across the cove from a small but rarely crowded beach, unless you stay at the quaint old lighthouse keeper’s quarters, restored as an unforgettable B&B (725 Summer Street, 541/547-3696, $234 and up).
A half mile south of Heceta Head Lighthouse, 11 miles north of Florence, traffic along US-101 slows to a stop at the gift shop that serves as the entrance to Sea Lion Caves (91560 US-101, daily, $15 adults). You can ride an elevator down to the world’s largest sea cave, the only mainland rookery for the Steller sea lion. Fall and winter offer the best times to see (and smell!) these animals, which throng together here during mating season. When the weather is nice, you can often watch them swimming in the ocean (for free, without the seal smells . . .) from a viewpoint 100 yards up US-101.