Even if you race right through, it’s quite apparent that Coos Bay (pop. 16,415), once the world’s largest lumber port, retains a core of heavy industry. Many of the big mills have closed, and one has been replaced by The Mill Casino, a popular resort complex operated by the Coquille Indian Tribe. You can still watch huge piles of wood chips, the harbor’s number-one export, being loaded onto factory ships in the harbor east of US-101. The chips are sent to Asia, where they’re turned into paper.
There’s good seafood and other meals available at Sharkbites Café (240 S. Broadway, 541/269-7475), on southbound US-101. Microbrews and a wide range of beer-friendly German dishes are served at the Blue Heron Bistro (100 Commercial Ave., 541/267-3933), across from the visitors bureau. There’s no shortage of easy-to-find lodging, including Motel 6 (1445 N. Bayshore Dr., 541/267-7171, $45 and up) on US-101.
The historical antecedents for Coos Bay port development were laid a century ago by the Simpson Lumber Company, whose ships transported Oregon logs around the world. The ships returned with exotic seeds that were planted in the Simpson estate’s garden, 12 miles west of Coos Bay via the Cape Arago Highway. Although the Simpson house burned to the ground in 1921, the five acres of formal gardens are still a floral fantasia, now open to the public as Shore Acres State Park (daily 8am-dusk). Besides the formal gardens, which are illuminated during the Christmas holiday season, there’s an observation building above wave-battered bluffs and a trail down to a delightful beach.
On the way to Shore Acres from Coos Bay is Sunset Bay State Park, perhaps Oregon’s best swimming beach. South of Shore Acres is Cape Arago State Park complete with tide pools and seals (and seal pups in springtime) lounging on offshore rocks. Mostly level trails lead along the coastline from Shore Acres to Sunset Bay and Cape Arago State Parks. If you’re tempted to stay overnight and explore the lovely region, consider taking advantage of one of Oregon’s best-kept secrets: the roomy, tent-like yurts (800/452-5687, $43-53) available for overnight rental at Sunset Bay and in a dozen other state park beauty spots.