Between Coos Bay and Bandon, U.S. 101 veers inland through forests and bucolic farmland. The highway reencounters the Pacific at Bandon, near the mouth of the Coquille River.
In contrast to the glitzy tourist trappings of some of the larger coastal towns, Bandon-by-the-Sea (pop. 2,900) is characterized by the style and grace of an earlier era. The glory that was Bandon is alive and well in Old Town, a picturesque collection of shops, galleries, and restaurants, fronting onto a bustling waterfront.
Although logging, fishing, dairy products, and the harvest of cranberries have been the traditional mainstays of the local economy, in the early part of the 20th century Bandon also enjoyed its first tourism boom. In addition to being a summer retreat from the heat of the Willamette Valley, it was a port of call for thousands of San Francisco–Seattle steamship passengers. This era inspired such tourist venues as the Silver Spray dance hall and a natatorium with a saltwater swimming pool.
The golden age that began with the advent of large-scale steamship traffic in 1900, however, came to an abrupt end following a devastating fire in 1936 that destroyed most of the town. The blaze was started by the easily ignitable gorse weed, imported from Ireland (as was the town’s name) in the mid-1800s. Dramatic descriptions of the townspeople fighting the flames with their backs to the sea earned the incident a citation as one of the top 10 news stories of the year.
The facelift given Old Town decades later, and the subsequent tourist influx, conjured for many the image of the mythical phoenix rising from its ashes to fly again. Today, Bandon is a curious mixture of provincial backwater, destination golf resort, and New Age artist colony. Backpack-toting travelers coexist happily with the large population of retirees, artisans, golfers from around the world, and locals who seem to have cornered the market on late-model pickups with gun racks.
One of the appealing things about Bandon is that most of its attractions are within walking distance of each other. In addition, on the periphery of town is a varied array of things to see and do.
Getting to Bandon
North- and southbound Coastal Express buses (800/921-2871) run three times daily, weekdays only, between North Bend and Brookings, stopping near the north end of Bandon at Ray’s Food Place supermarket.
Between Bandon and Coos Bay, you can escape the tedium of U.S. 101’s inland route by taking the Seven Devils Road about three miles north of Bandon. This route runs 13 miles to Charleston, a fishing village that sits closer to the ocean than its larger neighbors to the northeast, Coos Bay and North Bend. En route, beaches, state parks, and an estuarine preserve make the drive interesting, although the miles of heavily logged mountainsides may take you aback.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel