Sure, Portland is a cool town, but what about Coos Bay? This cozy, oceanside city of 16,000 is the perfect getaway if you’re looking for leisure mixed with just a splash of adventure. For us, there were plenty of activities to keep us engaged while quaint B-and-Bs and hometown cafés gave us a chance to relish true relaxation. If you need more impetus than that, check our top 7 reasons to visit Oregon’s charming Coos Bay.
1: The city has a museum-esque showcase of trains from the Oregon Coast Historic Railway.
Most of us know the epic of the transcontinental railroad – an 1860s story that spanned four years, thousands of miles, and countless laborers. It was a monumental feat. Given its notoriety, coastal railways languished in the shadows. They are nonetheless incredible showcases of American transportation history. The Oregon Coast Historic Railway, for instance, was critical to connecting farmers and ranchers to the cities where their products could be sold.
The first such train docked in Tillamook in 1911, serving both commuters and those looking to sell their goods along the coast. By some accounts, early trains would even stop to give hitchhiking fishermen a ride up to the Salmonberry River. The trains of these early days are the ones on display in Coos Bay – like the Baldwin steam locomotive (used by loggers to transport wood) and the Burlington Northern wooden caboose.
Guests to the exhibition site can not only see the trains but various relics and artifacts from the turn of the century, too. Thanks to various grants and donations, additional features are anticipated – but the trains were fascinating enough for us.
2: Coos Art Museum is not only a spot for innovative regional and national art, but offers exhibit pieces for sale.
We know – if you’ve seen one art museum, you’ve seen them all. Not so in Coos Bay, where the city’s art museum is a truly eclectic mix of classic European styles and regional American whimsy. You can hop from one exhibit on stunning impressionism (like the recent Vince Carl showcase) to another revealing the promising talent of high schoolers. In fact, Coos Art Museum regularly works with area artists who are interested in submitting their work for museum shows. What’s more, you can find exhibit pieces for sale here. Imagine walking through the Louvre and deciding you wanted to take home a Da Vinci – pretty neat idea, huh?
If you’re keen on artistic education, Coos Art Museum also offers classes that are open to the public. Check their website for a full schedule.
3: Nothing beats the vistas and oceanside splendor of nearby Shores Acre State Park.
We like to think of Shores Acre State Park as the U.S.’s version of the Cliffs of Dover. A slight exaggeration, but you get the idea: A verdant expanse perched on sandstone cliffs above the ocean. Shores Acre has a few things Dover doesn’t, however, including rows and rows of brilliantly colored flowers, a Japanese-style garden with a lily pond, and two rose-only plots. Ambling through the colored beds is a wonderfully peaceful experience, capped only by a further trek down to the cove at Simpson Beach where you can sit and savor the meditative wash of the waves.
For added perspective, check out the site of former timber baron Louis Simpson’s mansion, now an observatory with stunning views of the ocean and a little bit of Simpson history on display.
A single-day parking permit is a modest $5, so we highly recommend taking advantage of this natural escape on the coast.
4: The Bandon Cranberry Festival is the best time we’ve had in years.
Before you roll your eyes at a fruit fête, you should know that this is no one-dimensional cranberry to-do. The Bandon Cranberry Festival is a veritable institution here and includes everything from carnival rides to live music and car shows. Much of Coos Bay and, of course, the city of Bandon, gets in on the action; there are farmers’ markets, a parade, sports games (always root for the underdog), a cranberry-eating contest, a bake sale, and a craft bazaar. Did we mention there’s a quilt show? Seriously, there’s something for everyone here – not just those who favor the tart little berry.
Here’s the catch, though: It’s only in September, so you have to plan your trip accordingly. (We highly recommend you do.)
5: Bandon Crossings golf course has some of the most scenic holes this side of Scotland.
The brainchild of Rex and Carla Smith, Bandon Crossings was designed by Dan Hixson as a course “in the great British tradition.” It opened in 2007 near the ocean – is there any better backdrop for a round? – mirroring many of the favorable features of the Heathland golf courses across the pond. You’ll notice the course is hillier than many other courses, offering a fun challenge for golf devotees, and is pristinely maintained. In fact, you half expect Jack Nickolaus to pull up next to you as you navigate that long, narrow fairway along the water.
The clincher, though, is the cost – rates start in the $20s for nine holes, making it an affordable option for anyone who wants to experience a few swings in beautiful surroundings, set against the backdrop of the ocean.
6: The quirky-fun Egyptian Theatre is tops for entertainment and history buffs.
For some, the venue for entertainment is far less important than the entertainment itself. But we would argue that the Egyptian Theatre in Coos Bay is part of the entertainment. The building doesn’t date back quite to the time of Ramses (it was built in 1925), but is nonetheless listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Fun story: It was originally conceived as a car garage and service center, but was flipped following WWI and America’s renewed fascination with Ancient Egypt after Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered.
When you walk in today, you’ll find two 8-foot bronze pharaoh statues seated on thrones, a sea of hieroglyphics, pillars erected in the style of Ancient Egyptian temples, and snake heads casually peering out from ceiling lights. With all of this detail, it’s easy to forget you came for a show.
Shows are still the centerpiece, however, and feature everything from local musical talent to orchestral magic, plays, musicals, and movies. There are even fundraising galas and live quiz shows on offer. Check the website for the full roster of events – and make sure you come early to ogle the intricate Egyptian designs before curtain.
7: Self-guided Coos Bay walking tours are a laidback, fun way to experience the historic city.
Depending on your destination, self-guided walking tours are a nice way to get to know the area without enduring the pressure and pace inherent in professional tours. You get to set the speed, pick the sites, and add off-the-beaten-path stops along the way. Coos Bay was made for this – an opportunity to reflect on the early industrial character of the city before (or after) stopping for a coffee and a casual breakfast. You can also weave in parks and waterfront landmarks while getting in stops at iconic mansions and city buildings.
Oregon’s Adventure Coast-recommended walking tour includes 26 different locations spread over about eight square blocks, but we cut that in half. And, honestly, it’s easy to break the tour up over a couple of days; we spent one afternoon on mansions, for example, and another on city buildings and non-residential historic sites.
Want more Coos Bay? We’re only scratching the surface, of course. To experience everything this amazing town has to offer, visit the Coos Bay website.