Historic Sites of the Southern Oregon Coast

posted July 1, 2022 by Holly Hayes part of trip: Old West Road Trip

For my birthday this year, I planned a weekend getaway to the southern Oregon coast. I haven't visited this area in decades, so was hoping to discover lots of historic sites, lighthouses, and beautiful beaches. I was not disappointed! I highly recommend visiting this scenic and historic part of Oregon.

Crow Couple - Port Orford, Oregon
Crow Couple - Port Orford, Oregon

We set off from Salem early Friday afternoon, which (since it was the height of summer) gave us plenty of daylight to make several stops along the way. Our ultimate destination was Port Orford, which is about 4.5 hours of driving on scenic back roads and Highway 101.

It took us about 2.5 hours to reach the coast, during which we enjoyed beautiful forests, minimal traffic, and glorious decreasing temperatures as we headed west. From Florence, we followed Highway 101 south along sand dunes with occasional glimpses of the ocean.

Our first historic stop was an unscheduled one - I saw a brown sign for Umpqua River Lighthouse and followed it. I hadn't researched this and it was a delightful surprise. We parked in a spacious lot facing the ocean, with two jetties protecting the coastline and a sand-dune valley in the foreground. Signs said this is an excellent whale watching area.

Parking area at Umpqua River Lighthouse, Oregon
Parking area at Umpqua River Lighthouse, Oregon

Across a quiet street from the lot is the lighthouse, which stands on the site of the first lighthouse built in the Oregon Territory, in 1857. Unfortunately the original was destroyed by a flood, but the current structure dates from a respectable 1891-94.

Umpqua River Lighthouse, Oregon
Umpqua River Lighthouse, Oregon

The lighthouse is fenced off, but you can approach quite close and tours are available from a museum just down the road, which is a former Coast Guard station built in 1939. There we were greeted by friendly volunteers and offered a tour of the museum and lighthouse starting in 15 minutes, which we had to regretfully decline due to lack of time.

Coast Guard Station Museum - Umpqua River, Oregon
Coast Guard Station Museum - Umpqua River, Oregon

About 30 minutes further south on 101, a spectacular bridge suddenly came into sight. This turned out to be the Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge, which was built in 1936 as the North Bend Bridge. It was renamed in 1946 in honor of Conde B. McCullough, who designed this bridge and about a dozen others in Oregon. About a mile long, it was the longest in Oregon when constructed. It is seriously impressive and has an unusual basket-like design from underneath, along with Gothic arches at each end that remind me of St. John's Bridge in Portland.

Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge - North Bend, Oregon
Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge - North Bend, Oregon

Upon entering North Bend, I glimpsed some Gothic windows uphill on the right and veered off the highway to check it out. The building turned out to be Landmark Church, which a plaque said was originally the Swedish Lutheran Church, built 1908-10. It has an unusual, presumably modified, front window and lovely landscaping.

Swedish Lutheran Church - North Bend, Oregon

Back on 101, at a red light I spotted the Hotel North Bend, which I knew was on the National Register. After being distracted by an adorable dog in a neighboring car, I managed one snap of it through my sunroof... which turned out to be my only photo of that building, as I forgot to return there on Sunday. Better than nothing!

North Bend Hotel - Oregon

North Bend transitions into the city of Coos Bay, where I found an easy and free street parking spot right on Highway 101. We got out to wander for awhile, making a treasure hunt out of finding all the NRHP-listed sites.

Facade, Egyptian Theatre - Coos Bay, Oregon

By far the biggest highlight was the Coos Bay Egyptian Theatre, dating from 1925. We wandered in, explaining to the folks behind the concession stand that we were just interested in the building. To our amazement, a friendly lady replied that we were welcome to wander around! Apparently they were booked for a scheduled private party (showing "Shrek") but no one had showed up. What wonderful luck! (For us at least.)

Auditorium, Egyptian Theatre - Coos Bay, Oregon

We had a great time exploring and were wowed by the huge auditorium and exotic decor. The friendly lady, whose name was June, caught up with us after awhile to offer some history and information about the theater and its restoration, which was fantastic. She's a volunteer for the Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association, which operates and cares for the theater. See my comment here for more details of our tour.

Historic Downtown with Egyptian Theatre and Prefontaine Mural - Coos Bay, Oregon
Heading down Highway 101 from the Egyptian Theater (right), with Steve Prefontaine mural up ahead.

We wandered a bit more after that, checking out some tugboats moored on the waterfront.

Koos 2 Tug Boat - Coos Bay, Oregon
Tug boat "Koos 2" (built 1950) moored near railroad tracks in Coos Bay, Oregon, USA.

Along the way, we came upon a memorial to Steve Prefontaine, the famous Oregon runner. He was born in Coos Bay, which I didn't know previously. He died in a car accident in Eugene in 1975, when he was only 24. At the time he held every American running record between two miles and 10,000 meters - eight records in all.

Steve Prefontaine Memorial - Coos Bay, Oregon

Then it was time to find dinner. After much dithering and some consultation with Yelp, we chose a German restaurant conveniently close to my parking spot. It was kitschy but good, especially the warm sauerkraut and German potato salad. The windowsill next to our table had a paperback book written by the restaurant's founder (who was actually Dutch).

South Exterior, Tioga Building - Coos Bay, Oregon
From left to right: German restaurant, Koski Building, Tioga Building.

After dinner we checked out the historic buildings next to the restaurant: the unassuming Koski Building and the very impressive Tioga Building. The latter was built 1925-28, abandoned unfinished for 20 years (thanks to the Depression and WWII) and opened in 1948. It is said to be the tallest building on the Oregon coast. I later learned its attractive facade is the result of a restoration just completed in 2021 - we came at the right time!

Then we were back on the road, arriving a half-hour later at the Coquille River Lighthouse in Bandon, which was lovely in the summer evening sunlight around 8pm.

Path to Coquille River Lighthouse - Bandon, Oregon

The parking area was free and mostly empty (as turned out to be wonderfully common on this trip) and it's a really short walk uphill to the lighthouse and some small dunes overlooking a beach. Both were absolutely beautiful.

Coquille River Lighthouse - Bandon, Oregon

However, it was windy and freezing cold! We got out of the car in our short-sleeved shirts and I was too lazy (and excited about the views) to go back once I realized, so just went on shivering.

Coquille River Lighthouse and Marker - Bandon, Oregon

The lighthouse was built in 1896 where the Coquille River flows into the Pacific Ocean. It's attached to a room with an unusual polygonal shape and a base painted dark red. This housed the fog signal equipment: there was originally a trumpet projecting out of the west wall.

Coquille River Lighthouse with Tall Grass - Bandon, Oregon

We climbed all over the dunes and rocks to capture various photo angles and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. A surprise bonus was the beautiful views over the jetty and Bullard's Beach from atop a small dune next to the lighthouse.

Bullards Beach - Bandon, Oregon

From there we crossed another cool bridge (Bullards Bridge, 1954) to Bandon, which we bypassed this time to get to our lodgings for the night.

Welcome to Old Town Bandon

We arrived in Port Orford at sunset, just before 9pm, and were thrilled with our Airbnb. Located just outside of town, it's a stylish new structure nestled in the trees with a great view of the ocean and Battle Rock (as seen at the top of this post). It was a great base for our next two days of exploring.

Port View Bungalow - Port Orford, Oregon
Port View Bungalow - Port Orford, Oregon
Port View Bungalow - Port Orford, Oregon

next: Seizing the Serendipity in Prospect, Oregon

previous: Road Trip Day 4: Arches National Park

Article Info

Page Title
Historic Sites of the Southern Oregon Coast
Added By
Holly Hayes
Date Published
July 1, 2022
Last Updated
April 15, 2024