By Anthony St. Clair | Published April 2018

A beautiful coastline and dunes on Oregon’s public beaches; delicious food and craft beverages; art, fresh air, and fine places to stay—Florence, at the convergence of the Siuslaw River and the Pacific Ocean, is an ideal spot for a two-day getaway. And it’s only an hour’s drive from Eugene.

Day 1: Old Town Florence

Morning

Start with the most important meal of the day at Fresh Harvest Cafe. Their crepes, which come with almost every topping from sweet to savory, will set you up right for your day exploring Florence. Sip on their signature drink, the Oregon Harvest, which includes a taste of blackberry, hazelnut, and chocolate, with espresso and steamed milk.

Once you’ve had your fill, make your way to historic Old Town. There, you’ll find two galleries, the Blue Heron Gallery and the Backstreet Gallery, which stand within a block of each other. At the Backstreet Gallery, a co-op where the artists are also part of the business, you can sign up for a class to learn some of the techniques displayed on the walls. The Blue Heron Gallery is ocean-themed, with art that reflects the feel of the water mere blocks away.

Lunch

Walking around Old Town visiting the galleries and eclectic shops is bound to make you hungry for lunch. Stop by the Maple Street Grille, owned by Mari, the chef, and her husband, Lane. Their food is partly inspired by Mari’s Romanian heritage, with dishes such as a Romanian meatball sandwich and Hungarian beef goulash. Other entrées, like their Gorgonzola burger or chicken Marsala, will satisfy anyone’s appetite.

Afternoon

Take in the rest of Old Town this afternoon, stopping by quirky shops such as Leather Works, Funky Monkey Toys, and Kitchen Klutter. Need a pick-me-up? Stop by BJ’s Ice Cream parlor, home to old-fashioned ice cream and taffy. Once you have your cone piled high with your favorite flavor, make your way to the Old Town Park, where you can enjoy the riverfront.

Evening

The dinner options are plentiful in Florence, including within Old Town. We recommend 1285 Restobar, which combines Italian food with a comfortable and relaxing environment. Their menu offers a wide variety of pizzas among other selections, with accommodations for the kids and dietary preferences such as vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. All of this comes with a view of the river and an extensive drink list at your fingertips.

After dinner, take in a show at City Light Cinemas. With four screens, this theater offers a variety of movies and films, from current mainstream movies to independent films, and even taped showings of performing arts productions.

Where to stay

We have two recommendations for where to sleep in Florence. First, nestled in the heart of Old Town, the Old Town Inn makes it easy to walk to cafes, restaurants, shops, galleries, and the riverfront. It recently underwent renovations and has received awards in the past for its accommodations.

For ocean views, the Driftwood Shores Resort and Conference Center is Florence’s only beachside hotel. If you’ve gotten enough of the sea air, their indoor pool and kids’ play area, with a water tunnel and splash toys, are a perfect place to relax and let your feet rest.

Day 2: The beaches

North and south of Florence can be a choose-your-own-adventure journey. We recommend spending your morning going south.

Morning: South of Florence

After picking up your morning caffeinated drink at River Roasters, go south on Highway 101. You’ll cross Florence’s grand bridge, built in 1936 in Art Deco style to span the Siuslaw and connect more of Oregon’s coast by road.

After half a mile, turn right onto South Jetty Road, then keep right at the fork to follow the road north through part of the 31,500-acre Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, one of the world’s largest temperate coastal sand dunes. Beach access to the west takes you to the sands and waves of the Pacific Ocean. To the east, you can explore the Siuslaw’s fresh waters and estuary.

Heading back to Highway 101, continue south about two more miles to take advantage of the hiking, fishing, two lakes, and other recreation at Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park.

Afternoon: North of Florence

Heading north on Highway 101, just as you leave Florence, an alien oddity will beckon. Take a short wander along the boardwalk through the 18-acre Darlingtonia State Natural Site. This curious botanical park is home to Darlingtonia californica, also known as the cobra lily. Luckily, this rare carnivorous pitcher plant is hungry only for insects—but it’s also a hit with kids.

The world-renowned Heceta Head Lighthouse offers beach access, photos, and splendid views. A little farther on, you may see cars seemingly parked at random off to the right side of the road. Join them.

Carefully crossing Highway 101, you’ll see a sign that shows you where to start on the half-mile trail to Hobbit Beach. Surrounded by a tunnel of rhododendrons and Sitka spruce, the hike has some challenging spots, but it takes you down to a magnificent stretch of beach. (Along the way, you can also choose a two-mile trail to the Heceta Head lighthouse.)

Your final stop is the Sea Lion Caves. The sea cave—considered by some to be America’s largest—is part of a privately-owned wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary. Open year-round and among the state’s most popular attractions, the Sea Lion Caves are home to hundreds of Steller sea lions. A 200-foot elevator descent is all it takes for you to see them up close.

After Florence’s mix of fine food, art, and the great outdoors, return home knowing that you have spent two days visiting a wonder of the Oregon Coast—and you can easily come back anytime.