Oregon Coast

Where to Eat, Stay, and Play on Oregon’s South Coast, from Coos Bay to Brookings

Frozen-in-time dinosaurs, a private zoo, and Captain Kirk reward those who make the big drive.

By Margaret Seiler Published in the June 2022 issue of Portland Monthly

The largest city on the coast, Coos Bay and its environs lure with tiny charms, starting with North Bend’s Itty-Bitty Inn, a five-room wonder built in 1950 and redone in the past decade with sci-fi and midcentury vibes. In the Tiki Lounge room, a Martin Denny record is ready to drop on a turntable that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker, though the swooping Space Age ashtray is for display only. A John Wayne poster looks out on the Oregon Trail room, and Ensign Rizzo appears to be holding your towels in the Star Trek room. Bikes, helmets, and crabbing gear are available to borrow, Atari systems are available for rent, and innkeeper Rik Villareal is at the ready to shuttle mountain bikers up Whiskey Run or recommend a great breakfast spot. (Hint: it’s Grounds Café, in the back of Books by the Bay, an airy, well-organized shop stocking new and used titles.) 

The Tiki Lounge room at the Itty-Bitty Inn

Find a Goldilocks aquarium, that sweet spot between the ones in Seaside and Newport, at the Charleston Marine Life Center, and then take the Cape Arago Highway south to discover pocket parks connected by rain-forest trails.

In Coos Bay proper, join the debate over the best fish-and-chips served on something that floats or used to: it’s either The Boat, now grounded next to the Oregon Coast Historic Railway Museum, or the baskets of fried cod and oysters served on a floating covered patio at Fishermen’s Seafood Market.

Continuing on 101, Bandon offers waterfront eats at Tony’s Crab Shack and the world-class Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. Just south, West Coast Game Park Safari is a roadside attraction not to be missed, home to a lion, chimps, zebras, a camel, and more, plus free-roaming deer, goats, alpacas, and donkeys. The rotating “special petting experiences” (on a recent visit, there was an eight-week-old Syrian brown bear who drank from a bottle and an unthinkably soft red fox, among others) are the stuff memories are made of for those who can keep calm.

Windsurfers will detour near Langlois to Floras Lake, but other travelers can keep heading south to Port Orford. The fish and chips might not be that memorable at The Crazy Norwegian, but the “Cod is my co-pilot” souvenir T-shirt is reason enough to stop. Down the block, Redfish offers a greater variety of seafood and a view of the beach at Battle Rock City Park. At another kitschy roadside favorite, Prehistoric Gardens, the animals, long extinct, are just painted statues.

South of Gold Beach, 101 travelers enter the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, named for a man honored as “the father of Oregon State Parks.” Just like the last minute of a March Madness basketball game can take a half-hour, these scant 12 miles can take an eon to traverse. Each scenic turnout is more stunning than the last, with trails down to secret beaches and seastack arches. Toast their beauty once you reach Brookings, over a Pippin’s Porter at Misty Mountain Brewing, a basement operation that’s part of a foodie block, downstairs from the breakfast burritos at Compass Rose Café and handmade pastas at Black Trumpet Bistro. To bed down, book the Chetco yurt (C2) at Harris Beach State Park, and make an early-morning scramble to the tidepools. Brookings bleeds into the community of Harbor on the south side of the Chetco River, which caters to early risers ready to make the most of their day on the water. Grab a loaded “sink” omelet, a sack lunch, and a fishing license before the sun is up at the Oceanside Diner, or beat the crowd by getting to Mattie’s Pancake House when it opens at 6 a.m. 

Green "Welcome to Oregon" highway sign with many stickers and scrawled message, including "Go Home" and "Calif Go Home & Stay Home"

This sign greets northbound traffic at the Oregon-California border on US 101.

And that’s the end. The end of Oregon, at least. Make a U-turn at the border and let the heavily stickered Welcome to Oregon sign greet you as you head back north, or dip into California and take the Redwood Highway to join I-5 at Grants Pass for
another way home.