We drove south past Bandon on U.S. Highway 101 under a misty gray sky. The road unfurled past lush pastures dotted with dairy cows, flooded cranberry bogs speckled with tiny red fruits, and a two-story, neon-green, carved wood alien at a place fittingly called “Something Awesome.”
Finally, after about half an hour, we found what we were looking for: blue skies and warm, golden, much-longed-for sun. We had hit the quiet seaside town of Port Orford on the northernmost tip of Oregon’s “banana belt,” a 60-mile stretch of gorgeously rugged coastline that boasts an average of 197 sunny days a year. In fact, the weather is so temperate year-round, it’s not uncommon to enjoy a 70-degree day in January.
We pulled over at Battle Rock Park, just steps from the upscale Redfish restaurant and Hawthorne Gallery, which has a sister location in Big Sur. But we didn’t want to marvel at artwork this time; we wanted to soak up some vitamin D, just like the blissed-out little “gallery dog,” lounging belly up in the parking lot.
An easy walk down a paved path led us to a beautiful, long beach framed by giant black basalt boulders, studded with driftwood and agates, and flecked with swirly seashells. The scenery was jaw-dropping—and it was just the beginning.
Sun, beachcombing, stunning views. This track would be on repeat for the next 48 hours as we explored the most beautiful stretch of the southern Oregon coast.
The quiet seaside town of Port Orford is at the north-end of Oregon’s banana belt
By the time we finally pulled ourselves away from the sand and surf, we were starving, so we walked up the street to The Crazy Norwegian’s Fish and Chips and dug into fresh fried cod, bay shrimp cocktail and homemade pie. Then it was on to Gold Beach, our home base for the weekend.
Exactly halfway between Port Orford and Brookings-Harbor near the California border, the workaday town of Gold Beach is right in the heart of the banana, so to speak. Our room at the Shore Stay Plus Hotel Best Western wasn’t even close to being fancy, but even the inexpensive hotels in Gold Beach offer stunning ocean views. We fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves, and in the morning spotted whale spouts from our little balcony. We grabbed coffee and biscuits at Rachel’s Coffee House, the little coffee shop tucked inside used-book emporium Gold Beach Books, then drove south toward Brookings.
It turns out this stretch of highway is a destination in itself. It’s where you’ll find the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, a 12-mile-long stretch of Highway 101 with at least a dozen turnouts along the way, offering a place to park, picnic and gawk at the breathtaking views, which include everything from spectacular vistas to rugged coves. Even better, the turnouts offer easy access to hiking trails for when you really want to stretch your legs.
Just half an hour after driving past the hulking wave-shaped Kissing Rock in Gold Beach, we were at the turnout for Arch Rock. A short loop path from the parking lot led us to several viewpoints (complete with benches) of the giant outcropping, which the pounding waves have formed into a stone rainbow.
Photograph by Elias Billington. Stop at the Oxenfrē Public House in Brookings for a Wagyu beef burger
From here you can hike about 4 meandering, ocean-view-rich miles along the Oregon Coast Trail to Natural Bridges, or drive 2 miles by car. Either way, this is a don’t-miss destination. From the wooden platform just steps from the parking lot, we could stand and watch the turquoise water churn through a cluster of moss-covered rock archways and caves below.
The spectacular seaside landscape at Gold Beach
We spent the next few hours popping in and out of turnouts, exploring trails, tide pools and beaches. Finally, we were ready to close out the day by stuffing ourselves silly in Brookings. We spotted a harborside ice cream shop called, curiously, Slugs ’N Stones ’N Ice Cream Cones, and popped in for Umpqua ice cream sundaes. Then we settled in for an upscale pub dinner of wagyu beef burgers topped with Mama Lil’s peppers at Oxenfrē Public House.
Yes, on vacation, dessert always comes first—and last. If there’s one thing the southern Oregon coast has more of than sun, it’s salt water taffy. And we had a stash big enough to last the whole way home, long after the sunshine was a memory.
Getting there Port Orford, the northernmost town in Oregon’s “banana belt,” is about 450 miles (and a seven- to eight-hour drive) south of Seattle.
Sun meter On average, the Banana Belt gets 197 sunny days a year.
The Crazy Norwegian’s Fish & Chips, Port Orford, 259 Sixth St.; 541.332.8601
Hawthorne Gallery, Port Orford, 517 Jefferson St.; 541.366.2266
Redfish, Port Orford, 517 Jefferson St.; 541.366.2200
Gold Beach Books and Rachel’s Coffee House, Gold Beach, 29707 Ellensburg Ave; 541.247.2495
SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western, Gold Beach, 29232 Ellensburg Ave.; 541.247.7066
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, U.S. Highway 101 (heading southbound, it starts at milepost 343)
Oxenfrē Public House, Brookings, 631 Chetco Ave.; 541.813.1985
Slugs ’n Stones ’n Ice Cream Cones, Brookings, 16360 Lower Harbor Road; 541.469.7584