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A Winter Weekend on the Oregon Coast

Published: December 28, 2019

 

The Oregon Coast is a magical place in the winter. A winter weekend on the coast might involve powerful ocean storms that make for a very dramatic show of high crashing waves — best enjoyed from beside a warm fire with a glass of wine — or warm, sunny days perfect for a tranquil hike through coastal forest. The Oregon Coast is generally temperate so it can be a great place to escape if it's drizzly or cold inland.

Historic Old Town Florence is a charming riverside gathering place for those who love great seafood. As you shop the little galleries and antique halls, savor the smell of fresh-baked bread and warm, buttery clam chowder. At the end of the historic row of shops are the docks where the local fishermen bring in their haul. Winter is also the ideal time to see some of the area's wildlife such as whales and sea lions. 

If you are planning a winter getaway to the Oregon Coast, here are a few things you shouldn't miss. 

Beach Rides

Sand Rail Dune Buggy by Eugene, Cascades & Coast
Sand Rail Dune Buggy by Eugene, Cascades & Coast
 

Explore the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area by dune buggy or horseback. The largest coastal dunes in the U.S., this otherworldly ecosystem is an ever-shifting landscape of sandy mountains home to unique coastal plants and animals. The dunes are easiest to access by buggy on gentle group tours or wild ATV rides. You can also ride out to the flat sandy beaches by horseback. We recommend the popular sunset horseback ride which includes a jaunt through forested dunes to the wide open beach just as the sun sinks into the Pacific Ocean. Keep your eyes peeled for the mysterious green flash and splashing whale tales out at sea. By buggy or horse, this is a journey you won't soon forget. Check ahead for limited hours of operation. 

Prime Whale Watching

Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast by Marco Ycaza
Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast by Marco Ycaza
 

Whale watching peaks in winter on the Oregon Coast. Every December, approximately 18,000 gray whales migrate south to warmer waters. Although some gray whales have made Oregon their permanent home and other whales, such as orcas, pop up at various times throughout the year, winter is the most rewarding time to catch a glimpse of the giant creatures on their journey. During one week in December and one week in March, volunteers turn out to count whales and share whale information with curious visitors. For optimal viewing, find a high place such as the viewpoints along Highway 101, the Sea Lion Caves or Heceta Head Lighthouse. Spray from spouting whales is easier to see in the evening when the sun is low. 

Coastal Storms

Guest Room at Driftwood Shores
Oceanview Guest Room at Driftwood Shores
 

While clear sunny days can grace the Oregon Coast in winter, many visitors come to Florence seeking stormy weather. The romance of rain against the windows, howling wind ripping down the beach and gigantic waves pounding the cliffs can be exhilarating. Feel the rain mixed with salt spray, watch for lightning out at sea and imagine what it was like for ships back when they relied primarily on stars and lighthouses to chart their course. 

But when fog and clouds swamp in the views, which can happen suddenly and stick around for a while, find a cozy spot to wait out the storm. Curl up in the window of a beach-facing hotel room or vacation rental. Or seek out a cheerful coffee shop or diner to watch boats returning to the river harbor in the rain. From Old Town's movie theaters to the museums to used bookstores, there is always a comfortable nook for inside exploration. After the storm, when the fog has lifted, breathe in the fresh ocean air and listen to the gulls discovering stranded crabs and other goodies. For treasure seekers and beachcombers, ocean storms wash up new and interesting discoveries along the beach.

Storm Watching on the Oregon Coast by David Putzier
Storm Watching on the Oregon Coast by David Putzier

 

Please always explore the coastline safely. Stay away from drifted logs or debris which can roll or move unexpectedly, and always keep an eye on the ocean to avoid getting caught unaware by a sneaker wave. Watch nature's beautiful drama with your eyes to the ocean and stay alert both for safety and for joyful discoveries of birds, sea lions and whales.

Winter Beach & Forest Hikes

Hiking Waxmyrtle Trail near Florence by Melanie Griffin
Hiking Waxmyrtle Trail near Florence by Melanie Griffin
 

The Coastal mountain range colliding with the Pacific Ocean makes hiking near Florence incredibly scenic. Trek to one of the highest viewpoints on the Oregon Coast at Cape Perpetua lookout or take an easy stroll along the Siltcoos River from the forest to the beach on the Waxmyrtle Trail. The nearly four-mile trail from Heceta Head Lighthouse to Hobbit Beach is a stunning stretch with plenty of Instagram-worthy stops along the way. The best part of hiking here in the winter is fewer people. While most of the beaches in this area remain fairly uncrowded year-round, during the winter the beaches take on an especially special solitude. Take your time and enjoy every minute.

Wintertime hikes to the coast are a favorite of Oregon's inland locals to relax and recharge. Those fellow hikers you do meet may be mushrooming, flying kites or simply enjoying a little coastal forest bathing. Please remember to follow Leave No Trace principals and join in stewardship efforts to preserve and protect Oregon's pristine public beaches.

Coastal Food & Drink

Crab & Oyster Melts from Mari's Kitchen by Melanie Griffin
Crab and Oyster Melts from Mari's Kitchen by Melanie Griffin
 

No trip to the coast is complete without at least one decadent Pacific Coast meal. The dining options along Historic Old Town Florence's Bay Street are sure to please everyone from seafood lovers to red meat enthusiasts. 1285 Restobar is the local, organic option dished up as an Italian menu including gluten-free options. For amazing seafood, Bridgewater Ocean Fresh Fish House is a consistent draw. For something light and warming, stop by Lovejoy's Restaurant & Tearoom for a wide variety of traditional teas and baked goods. And don't forget the crab shacks and chowder houses!

Art, Antiques & Boutiques

Sticks & Stones Gallery in Florence by Melanie Griffin
Sticks & Stones Gallery in Florence by Melanie Griffin
 

Historic Old Town Florence is full of art, finery and nostalgia. Grab some saltwater taffy to nibble on while you peruse riverfront shops. Buy a handcrafted wooden surfboard, art made from driftwood and cozy new winter coats. You'll find ample free parking, plenty of unique items, friendly shop owners and a festive atmosphere.

Snowfall on the Siuslaw River Bridge by Stephanie Ames
Snowfall on the Siuslaw River Bridge by Stephanie Ames

 

However you choose to spend a winter weekend on the Oregon Coast, Florence has many options for indoor and outdoor adventures. You may come seeking a winter storm and get winter sunshine, or you may come seeking an escape from the snow and then get snow (while rare, it does occasionally snow!). But fog, wind, rain, snow or sun – Florence is a unique winter wonderland just waiting for your discovery.

Ocean View at Driftwood Shores, Florence
From riverfront lodging to Old Town inns, discover special coastal getaways.… More Info
Author: Taj Barnhart Morgan

Taj Barnhart Morgan is the Director of Content Strategy for Travel Lane County. A journalism graduate from the University of Oregon, Taj has two decades of special event management and hospitality marketing experience in San Diego, CA and Maui, HI. Passionate about mothering, and back to her Oregon roots, she is discovering the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region all over again through the eyes of her daughter.