Discover Oswald West

Whether you’re picnicking, hiking, boogie boarding, surfing, or
looking for that stunning beach photo, this is the place to be.

Story by Pam Hogeweide

I’ve sunned on the white sands off the southern coast of Thailand; I’ve played on warm Hawaiian beaches and the Southern California shoreline. Yet my favorite beaches remain on the wild, rugged coast of Oregon with Short Sand at Oswald West State Park my stand-out favorite.

Pristine old-growth forest lines the path from the oversized parking lot on Highway 101 to the beach, a mere quarter mile away. This is more of a walk then a hike. I savor the scenery, towering firs, and moss-covered nurse logs that welcome me each step of the way. Short Sand Creek flows through the trees like a ribbon of promise. And it’s a promise that delivers. The first time I rounded the curve of the trail and saw the ocean through the trees, it was such a stunning sight that I stopped dead in my tracks. The fabulous view begins right where the bridge crosses the creek. Verdant green forest contrasts with the blue of the ocean and the surf crashes onto the shore. To me, this is one of the most inspiring places on the Oregon Coast.

Oswald West Beach

Above: Photo by Dan Sherwood/iStockphoto.com

Below: Photo by Pam Hogeweild

Oswald West

Oswald West State Park is named after a governor from the early 1900s who saw to it that state law would protect Oregon beaches for public use and avoid being dominated by those with commercial interest. Stretching from Arch Cape south for 4 miles toward Manzanita, the state park covers about 2,500 acres of tame and untamed beauty.

“It was originally a designated rest stop,” says Jim Newell, an Oregon State Parks ranger and overseer of Oswald West. That explains the ample parking and better-than usual restroom facilities accessed directly from the highway. “That’s also why there are no day-use fees. It’s still maintained as a highway rest area.”

Newell has been a ranger for many years, and despite his familiarity with the area, he still appreciates the beauty and history of the park. “You walk through a rain forest and basically see everything that Lewis and Clark saw,” he says. “Yet you’re only an hour away from Portland and 15 minutes from the highway.”

Oswald West is also one of the most accessible parks. The compact gravel path has been widened to accommodate handicapped visitors. “There’s one guy who comes regularly on his motorized chair,” says Newell. There’s a somewhat steep incline not far from the parking lot, but it’s worth the effort.

Originally known simply as Short Sand, Oswald West has become quite popular with about 750,000 visitors annually. It’s also become one of the most popular surfing spots on the entire Oregon Coast. Even non-surfers come to watch the surfing and boogie board action in the waves.

Don’t like getting sand in your shoes? No problem. The gravel-packed path ends at a small bluff with benches and picnic tables overlooking the beach and cove. From this vantage point, visitors can easily drink in the gorgeous view.

Short Sand beach is flanked by two coastal headlands that create a small cove and add considerably to the scenery. To the south juts Neahkahnie Mountain, a peak that looms 1,600 feet above the beach. Neahkahnie is cloaked with legends about shipwrecks and buried treasure, which may be why the small bay is called Smugglers Cove.

On the north end of the beach stands Cape Falcon, so named for its distinctive appearance. “When you’re out at sea, the ridge has a distinct look of a falcon’s talon,” explains Ranger Newell.

Cape Falcon hosts one of the prettiest trails in the area, which begins just past the picnic area. The 2-1/2-mile trail (one way) gains 750 feet in elevation through majestic old-growth forest. Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, and redcedar tower over the trail like giant sentries. I feel transported even further from my busy modern life whenever I walk it.

The hike is a gradual incline. Those who take time to explore this part of Oswald West are rewarded with breathtaking views as the trees thin along the way. Bring your camera. It’s hard to take a bad photo of Smugglers Cove from this vantage point. The blue sea shimmers like sparkling diamonds when sunlight catches the whitecaps. There are several viewpoints along the way.

The reward for reaching the tip of Cape Falcon is the panoramic view of the ocean and the coastline. Steep forested shoreline hugs the wild sea—a mesmerizing sight.

I brought a group of friends to Oswald West on my last visit. Some of them had never been here before. As we hiked the trail to Short Sand Beach and the ocean came into view through the trees, they slowed to a stop. “It’s so beautiful!” they exclaimed. Yes it is, I said to myself. Thank you Governor West. THE END

FYI: There is no regular campground at Oswald West, and the walk-in campground with its 30 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis has been closed indefinitely due to danger of falling trees. Many trees, weakened by storms, need to be removed before it can be reopened. (800-551-6949; oregonstateparks.org)
 


Left: Coos Bay waterfront.
Above: International flags,
Coos Bay.

 

Working together

Although the towns maintain distinct governments and each has its own high school (Coos Bay’s school, Marshfield High, carries the city’s original name), the area now boasts a combined population base of nearly 25,000 residents and often combines its resources for special events.

Coos Bay has some of the area’s best crabbing The Southcoast Clambake Jazz Festival, a three-day event held each year on the second weekend in March, offers performances by more than a dozen bands at various venues throughout the area. Another big draw, the popular Oregon Coast Music Festival, is held the last two weeks of July. The music ranges from classical to jazz, and the venues this year include Shore Acres State Park, the Egyptian Theatre, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Marshfield Auditorium, Roger’s Zoo, and a brewpub.

Monthly art walks, held the second Thursday of each month from 5 to 8 P.M. are self-guided and cover downtown North Bend, Coos Bay, and the historic Empire District. But the center of cul-ture in the Bay Area—the Coos Art Museum—holds a place of honor among locals. “The fact that we have an actual, stand-alone art museum is just remarkable,” says Cheryl Crockett, director of the Bay Area Visitor Center.

Built in 1936, the Coos Art Museum is housed in the former post office, a beautiful example of art deco. The museum features major exhibits as well as paintings, prints, and sculpture from its permanent collection (see the entire collection online at www.coosart.org). Visitors can see Coos and Coquille Indian artifacts, folk art from the region’s first settlers, the popular Steve Prefontaine Memorial Collection, and much more. Each year the Maritime Art Exhibit shows juried works of maritime artists from throughout the country, and this year, the featured artist is the Bay Area’s own Dutch Mostert, renowned for his rich watercolors.

The newest performing arts center on the coast is the Hale Center for the Performing Arts, located on the Southwestern Oregon Community College (SOCC) campus. SOCC serves Coos County, Curry County, and western Douglas County, and maintains satellite centers in Port Orford, Gold Beach, and Brookings. The college is also home to the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute, where aspiring chefs take the courses needed for a culinary career and com-munity members sign up for classes covering Chinese cooking, seafood, making bread, and much more.

The Bay Area Hospital underwent a major expansion in 2005. It is now the largest on the Oregon Coast and the region’s referral center. Also serving the South Coast is the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in North Bend. As the only commercial airport on the Oregon Coast, it provides daily flights through Horizon Air.

The Bay Area, with the largest deep-draft harbor on the Oregon Coast, is the second busiest maritime commerce center in Oregon. There are 17 major moorages and docks along the 15-mile Coos Bay channel that passes the Empire District, North Bend, and Coos Bay.

McCullough Memorial Bridge Looking back

The bay attracted Native American tribes early on, and the 1850s brought white settlers to its shores. Empire City, founded in 1853, became the county seat for 40 years. It’s now the historic Empire District of Coos Bay. One of its claims to fame is Cranberry Sweets & More, a confectionery shop and factory that makes handmade fruit candies and chocolates.

The communities of North Bend, situated on the north bend of Coos Bay, and Marshfield, named after the Massachusetts hometown of the city’s founder, were also established in the 1850s. North Bend began with a couple sawmills and several houses, and became a city through the efforts of lumberman Louis Simpson. Marshfield became an incorporated city in 1874, but didn’t change its name to Coos Bay until 1944. Both cities were quite isolated from the rest of Oregon until the McCullough Memorial Bridge was completed in 1936, and in both cities, lumber was the major industry until the 1980s.

The Coos Historical and Maritime Museum, currently located in North Bend’s Simpson Park, is a great place to learn about the history of the Bay Area. A new facility for the museum will be part of a $10 million waterfront revitalization in Coos Bay that will also include a plaza and wharf. “The location will be north of the Boardwalk on a remnant of Front Street, which was the main street when Coos Bay was Marshfield and tall ships tied up at the wharf,” says Anne Donnelly, museum director.

The Mill Casino in Coos Bay

Bend—for some $2 blackjack or a few rounds of Texas Hold ‘em. Owned by the Coquille Tribe, the Mill is presently undergoing a $40 million expansion, with the aim of turning it into a full-fledged convention center. A new RV Park was completed last summer, and the first phase was completed in spring 2007 with the addition of Whitecaps waterfront lounge and a new 150-seat entertainment lounge and sports bar, Warehouse 101.

The Tribe, which turned this abandoned mill into a casino complex 12 years ago, has been a major player in the Bay Area’s economic recovery and is one of the top employers in the county.

Just across the highway from the casino and a short distance north is one of the most popular places for breakfast and lunch in the Bay Area—the Pancake Mill. Coastal residents make a point to come here for the out-of-this-world baked goods.

Downtown Coos Bay

Coos Bay—the city

North Bend and Coos Bay flow seamlessly into one another. Coos Bay, the larger of the two, has become the commercial center of the South Coast with big-box stores and a downtown beginning to show some rejuvenation. Its 2/3-mile long boardwalk has three interpretive centers and is a great place to enjoy the bay up close.

Footbridge in Mingus Park
Footbridge in Mingus Park

On the cultural side, the On Broadway Thespians perform both new plays and Broadway hits at the 82-year-old Egyptian Theatre, which recently reopened its doors even as efforts con-tinue to raise $3 million for additional renovation. The Egyptian also hosts musical events and serves as a revival house for classic movie favorites. A wonderful example of art deco in the Egyptian motif, the theater greets patrons with 8-foot tall pharaohs. It is the only theater in the country to still have its originally installed organ—a Wurlitzer with 18 sets of pipes.

Another link to Coos Bay’s past is the Marshfield Sun Printing Museum, which displays antique printing presses sand other equipment from a bygone era.

Coos Bay’s antique shops include Sincerely Yours! Antique Mall with several choices under one roof; Antiques at the Bank for furniture, Oriental rugs, and estate sales; and Mossy Rose Antiques with vintage clothing and jewelry, and more.

For great dining, Coos Bay alone boasts everything from European specialties at Blue Heron Bistro, a Coos Bay landmark, to purely American cuisine at Bay Burger Inn.

When it comes to Italian cuisine, certainly no Coos Bay establishment is more famous than Benetti’s. The Benetti’s have been running their family business together for nearly 30 years. As for Asian food, it’s hard to beat another old favorite, Kum-Yon’s, for quality, variety, and their beautiful outdoor garden.

Speaking of gardens, visitors to Coos Bay should not miss Mingus Park and its Choshi Gardens, created in honor of Coos Bay’s sister city, Choshi, Japan, and inspired by features from a Japanese fishing harbor with similar weather. Another exceptional park is John Topits, adjacent to SOCC, with the three Empire Lakes, which are often used for fishing or quiet paddling (motors not allowed). The college-constructed trail system is also well used.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s a familiar face on Bay Area trails was that of track legend Steve Prefontaine. Prior to his death at age 24, Prefontaine set 14 track records, some of which stand to this day. Coos Bay honors its native son every September with the popular Prefontaine Memorial Run, a challenging 10K event that follows the route of one of his regular training courses.

The run is the showpiece of the Bay Area Fun Festival held the third weekend in September. Other festival events include a parade, quilt show, mountain bike race, the “Cruz the Coos” car cruise, and a car show.

Remains of the Sujameco
Remains of the Sujameco

Coos Bay—the bay

Coos Bay is a source of commerce for both cities, but it’s also the source of some of the world’s freshest oysters. Its inlets and sloughs are a magnet to birders. And many anglers fish the bay and the rivers that feed into it for salmon, lingcod and rockfish near the north jetty, and occasionally sturgeon. “And we have wonderful scuba diving,” notes Katherine Hoppe, executive director of the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.

Two tall ships visit the Bay Area each year. The Lady Washington is a full-scale reproduction of the first American ship to sail the West Coast, and the Hawaiian Chieftain is a steel-hulled representation of trading vessels that plied the Hawaiian Islands during the late 1700s and early 1800s. From May 9 through 14, visitors may tour the boats or take a three-hour Adventure Sail, where they may participate in hoisting sails and other chores. The truly adventurous may go on the Sea Battle, and be a part of a mock battle between the two ships.

With all there is to see and do and new development on the way, it’s easy to say that things are looking bright for Coos Bay and North Bend.

“This place is coming alive. It’s really neat to see,” says the visitor center’s Crockett. “Travelers need to turn off 101 and take a look.”

When you go

Map of Coos Bay and North BendGETTING STARTED
Bay Area Visitor Information Center, 50 Central Ave., Coos Bay
(800-824-8486; www.oregonsbayareachamber.com)

North Bend Visitor Information Center, Simpson Park behind museum (541-756-8500; www.northbendcity.org)

EVENTS
March—Dune Mushers Mail Run (541-890-2113)

March—South Coast Clambake Jazz Festival (541-888-4386 information; 800-953-4800 tickets)

May 9–14—Tall Ships Visit
(800-200-5239;
www.historicalseaport.org)

July 14–28—Oregon Coast Music Festival (541-267-0938; www.oregoncoastmusic.com)

July 20–22—North Bend July Jubilee (800-472-9176)

August 25–26—Blackberry Arts Festival (541-269-0215)

September 15—Prefontaine Memorial Run (541-269-1103; www.prefontainerun.com)

September 15–16—Bay Area Fun Festival (800-824-8486; www.oregonsbayareachamber.com)

MUSEUMS
Coos Art Museum (541-267-3901; www.coosart.org)

Coos Historical & Maritime Museum
(541-756-6320;
www.cooshistory.org)

The Marshfield Sun Printing Museum con-tains type cases and printing equipment used by the newspaper between 1891 and 1944.
(541-267-3762)

THEATER COMPANIES
Little Theatre on the Bay (541-756-4336; www.ltob.net)

Waterfront Players, Repertory Theater (541-751-0708; www.waterfrontplayers.org)

On Broadway Thespians
(541-269-2501;
www.onbroadwaytheater.com)

INDOOR PURSUITS
Antique shops in both cities attract serious and not-so-serious collectors. In North Bend, Beauty and the Beast Antiques (541-756-3670; www.beautyandthebeastantiques.com) is located in the historic “brick block.” In Coos Bay, check out Sincerely Yours! Antique Mall (541-267-0905); Antiques at the Bank (541-269-5293);

and Mossy Rose Antiques (541-267-5654; http://chchrans.com/mossyrose). Books by the Bay (541-756-1215), has a great selection of new and used books. Threads That Bind (541-267-0749; threadsthatbind.net) offers fabrics and accessories galore, plus instruction. Cranberry Sweets & More (800-527-5748; www.cranberrysweetsandmore.com), will tempt your sweet tooth. Oregon Wine Cellars, Etc. (541-267-0300; www.oregonwinecellarsetc.com) carries wines from more than 50 Oregon wineries and offers free tastings.

Myrtlewood is unique to the South Coast and Coos Bay’s The Oregon Connection—home of the myrtlewood “wooden touch” putter—offers tours of the factory and a gift shop. (800-255-5318; www.oregonconnection.com)

OUTDOOR ADVENTURES
Betty Kay Charters (800-752-6303; www.bettykaycharters.com) and Bob’s Sport Fishing (800-628-9633; www.bobssportfishing.com) provide ocean charters out of Charleston. Betty Kay also offers crabbing trips within the bay and rents crab rings. Those with their own boats can use the Empire Boat Ramp off Mill Street in the Empire District of Coos Bay, where you’ll also find a fish-cleaning station, docks to fish and crab from, and nearby mudflats for clamming.

Sunset Sports is a dive shop that also has everything for skateboarding, sandboarding, and disc golf. (541-756-3483; www.sunsetsports.net)

Golf is available near North Bend at the 18-hole public Kentuck Golf Course (541-756-4464; www.kentuckgolfcourse.com); in Coos Bay at the semi-private Coos Country Club’s 18-hole course (541-267-6313; www.scod.com/ccc); near Charleston at Sunset Bay Golf Course’s full regulation 9-hole course (541-888-9301;

www.sunsetbaygolf.com); and in Bandon at the world-class courses of Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, and Bandon Trails (888-345-6008; www.bandondunesgolf.com).

Disc golf courses are found at Windsor Park (541-756-4613) in North Bend and in Mingus Park (541-267-5566) in Coos Bay.

Guided nature tours through Wavecrest Discoveries include walks, clamming, tide pooling, half- or full-day tours, and longer excursions. (541-267-4027; www.wavecrestdiscoveries.com)

Clausen Oysters (541-756-3600) offers tours of the processing facilities.

Spend a day in the woods with a forester on a free Forest Tour offered by Menasha Forest Products Corporation. (800-824-8486)

DINING
North Bend and Coos Bay have a number of dining options. Here is only a selection of what is available:

Bay Burger Inn (541-888-3688)

Benetti’s Italian Restaurant & Lounge
(541-267-6066)

Blue Heron Bistro (541-267-3933)

Kum-Yon’s (541-269-2662)

Lucky Dragon (541-751-5799)

Mamma Mia (541-751-0837)

The Pancake Mill (541-756-2751)

Rick’s Portabelle (New) Anderson Avenue, Coos Bay

Sapphires Mongolian Grill (541-751-1729)

The Mill Casino–Hotel has two great restaurants: The Plank House Restaurant and the Sawblade Buffet. (800-953-4800; www.themillcasino.com)

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