Drive down the coast through Washington and Oregon, and it quickly becomes apparent where the hot spots are for tourist destinations.
Ocean Shores, Westport and Long Beach in Washington; while Seaside, Cannon Beach, Lincoln City and Newport in Oregon are known for their perfect locations to take a long weekend or a week’s vacation at the beach.
However, for those who continue the journey further down the Oregon coastline along Highway 101, the off-the-radar coastal town of Bandon is an unspoiled jewel worthy of the nine-hour drive from the Seattle area to visit.
Sure, golfers seeking the best courses are knowledgeable about Bandon Dunes Golf Resort with its St. Andrews inspired course located about five miles north of the town along the ocean’s shore.
Many choose to fly into Bandon for a golfing excursion, as evidenced by the line of private planes and jets parked at the small airport when the weather is favorable.
For those who crave finding a beach that offers a little bit of everything, if that everything includes ample tide pools teeming with sea anemone, hermit crabs and starfish, rocks to climb or perch yourself upon to watch stunning sunsets, driftwood and agates to discover and explore, then Bandon should be tops on your list of destination beach vacations if swimming and getting a tan are not your highest priorities.
The best view beach in Bandon is located along Beach Loop Drive where the Oregon Islands Wildlife Refuge and the iconic Face Rock are located just offshore. There, visitors can find numerous hotels overlooking the beaches and cabins for rent year-round.
Nearer to the small town’s Old Town, are other hotels and small cabins for rent that face out toward the Coquille River, the jetty and the historic lighthouse across the river.
When the tides are too high for long strolls on the beach, there are plenty of things to do in and around Bandon, starting with the Old Town section where visitors will enjoy a variety of shops from candy stores like Cranberry Sweets to Second Street Gallery, an excellent art gallery featuring local artists’ works.
Those needing their daily espresso coffee fix won’t be disappointed there’s no Starbucks when they visit Bandon Coffee Cafe, where their specialty mochas all have names that remind you where you are: the Beachcomber, the Coastal or the Lighthouse Mocha.
Also located in Old Town are several restaurants offering a variety of cuisines from Italian, or old-fashioned American diner food, to classic coastal seafood fare. Some restaurants close down during the slow times of late December to early February, but those that remain open still offer plenty of choices for diners.
If it’s fresh, off-the-boat Dungeness crab you’re looking for to bring back to your room or cabin for dinner, then stop by Tony’s Crab Shack located near the marina.
Or visit Face Rock Creamery, home of award- winning locally made cheeses you can enjoy with a glass of wine while you watch the sunset.
The historic Coquille River Lighthouse can be explored from the outside after just a short road trip north of town and across the river, as well as numerous state and county parks and lighthouses that dot the coastline both north and south of Bandon.
One state park well worth the 25-mile curvy road drive to get there is Shore Acres State Park in Charleston, north of Bandon.
This park, located along a rocky bluff with some of the coolest geological formations caused from tectonic plates pushing against each other, is best visited during a very high tide, and it’s even better to visit when you add a stormy day to the mix.
That’s when the waves come crashing into the bluff causing spray to shoot up 75 feet or more into the air.
The park is also home to almost five acres of stunning gardens as it used to be the property of pioneer lumberman and shipbuilder Louis J. Simpson. While his mansion is long gone, the gardens have remained and been maintained.
Over 8,000 tulips put on a showy display in spring, while over 300,000 LED lights are used to illuminate the gardens between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The annual Holiday Lights Festival draws over 45,000 visitors annually.
About an hour north of Bandon is the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, perfect for hiking, photography, horseback riding or renting a dune buggy.
During the winter months, gray whales can be seen migrating south the last week of December, and then returning north the last week of March.
Volunteers count whales through the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department’s "Whale Watching is Spoken Here" program and help visitors at state parks along the Oregon coast, including the Face Rock Scenic Viewpoint on Beach Loop Road in Bandon, to spot them as they pass by.
If Bandon is a destination you want to try for your next vacation but you’d also love to add wine tasting to your adventure, consider breaking up the nine-hour drive into two days, stopping after seven hours driving in Roseburg, Ore., along Interstate 5 overnight.
Located in the heart of the Umpqua Valley, the Roseburg area is home to the 2013 Oregon Winery of the Year, Abacela Winery, plus several other award-winning wineries.
From Roseburg, head west on Highway 42, then south on Highway 101 to Bandon for the remaining two hour drive to reach the beach.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Michael. The many rocks dotting the coastline in Bandon, Ore., include those that can be explored during low tides, and the iconic Face Rock, to the left in the photo above.