Explore Brookings, Port Orford and Charleston
Oregon’s 363 miles of coastline offer a lifetime’s worth of hiking, biking and beachcombing. Roughly divided into thirds, the North, Central and Southern parts of the state’s coast each offer a unique take on coastal life. As Mount Bachelor’s ski season winds down, consider Oregon’s less-traveled Southern Coast as your vacation destination. Its uncrowded beaches, bustling commercial ports, and relaxed approach to tourism make it a lovely getaway from the High Desert.
Nestled in a “banana belt” just north of the California border is the Curry County coastal gem of Brookings-Harbor (Brookings), Oregon. Lauded for its warm average temperatures in the winter months—think 70-degree days in January—Brookings is more than just a sunny getaway. The temperate climate lends itself to a growing nursery industry, including Azalea Park, home to 33 acres of native azaleas and nearly all of the lilies grown commercially in the United States. For sea-faring fisherman and crabbers, Dungeness Crab reigns king off the Oregon coast—the harbor and port at Brookings offer one of the safest bar crossings in Oregon. Crabbers can also set up in the bay at Brookings, while the Chetco River—a famed Chinook salmon and winter steelhead fishery—flows through town.
Brookings blends functionality with fun. Many retirees call Brookings home for all or part of the year and the Port of Brookings is busy with commercial and sport-fishing businesses. There is also a younger pulse to Brookings adding to the spirited, coastal mix.
Interested travelers can taste locally-crafted beers at the no-frills Tight Lines Brewery and the popular Chetco Brewing Company or indulge in a vodka martini and mussel appetizer at Superfly Distilling Company, one of two distilleries in the Brookings area. For a great weekend meal and live music, try the trendy Oxenfre Public House on Chetko Avenue.
The hamlet of Port Orford lies about an hour’s drive north of Brookings. An economy built on the timber industry and thriving though commercial fishing, the community remains protective of the town’s historically-rich past. Port Orford was first populated by the Native American Qua-to-mah tribe of the Tututni peoples.
Port Orford also boasts a burgeoning artist scene, with eight galleries owned and operated by working artists. Happily absent are strip malls and the exacting hum of seasonal tourism. Rather, the town is proud of its working fishing port, home to 30 commercial boats. A thriving fly fishing economy also pours over to the nearby Smith, Rogue, Elk and Sixes Rivers.
Because of the coastal geography surrounding Port Orford, there is no traditional dock from which to launch boats. Instead, one of only six “dolly” ports in the world makes its home there, providing the hypnotic and visually-pleasing pastime of simply watching the boats being lifted in and out of the water. For those traveling with bicycles, the 60-mile Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway—recently added to Oregon’s Scenic Bikeway system—starts in Port Orford. The Wild Rivers Bikeway pedals through old-growth forests, along wildly scenic coastal vistas, and ends at Cape Bianco State Park, just South of the windsurfing mecca of Floras Lake.
Charleston is a small fishing community 15 minutes south of bustling Coos Bay. Located at the entrance to the large, eponymously-named Coos Bay, Charleston is a must visit for seafood lovers. Chuck’s Seafood, arguably one of Oregon’s best seafood retailers, sits on the main drag in Charleston. Try their house-smoked albacore tuna. A number of vacation rentals—overlooking the Bay or perched on the cliffside to the south of town—are available. RV travelers who love to fish and crab frequent Charleston for its easy bay access and the abundance of RV hot spots. Sunset Beach State Park and Shore Acres State Park, both located on the Cape Arago Highway, are fabulous places to spend the day beachcombing, kayaking and clamming. Shore Acres lights up from Thanksgiving through the New Year and delights with sea-themed holiday decorations.