Shore Acres State Park
Less than one mile south of Sunset Bay at Shore Acres State Park (541/888-3732, 8 a.m.–sunset year-round, $3 per vehicle or Oregon Coast Passport), the grandeur of nature is complemented by the hand of man. The park is set on the grounds of lumber magnate and entrepreneur Louis J. Simpson’s early-1900s mansion, which began as a summer home in 1906 and grew into a three-story mansion complete with an indoor heated swimming pool and large ballroom.
Originally a Christmas present to his wife, Shore Acres became the showplace of the Oregon coast, with formal and Japanese gardens eventually added to the 743-acre estate. After a 1921 fire, a second, larger (two stories high and 224 feet long) incarnation of Simpson’s “shack by the beach” was built.
Over the following years the building fell into disrepair; the house and grounds were ceded to the state in 1942. Because of the high cost of upkeep, the mansion had to be razed, but the gardens have been lovingly maintained.
The gardens are compelling attractions, but the headland’s rim is more dramatic. Perched near the edge of the bluff, on the site formerly occupied by the mansion, a glass-enclosed observation shelter makes a perfect vantage point from which to watch for whales or marvel at the crashing waves.
When there’s a storm, the waves really slam into the sandstone reefs and cliffs, hurling up tremendous fountains of spray. It’s not uncommon to feel the spray atop the 75-foot promontory.
The history of the Simpson family is really the history of the Bay Area, and their story is captioned beneath period photos in the observation gazebo and in the garden in a small enclosure at the west end of the floral displays.
In the seven acres of neatly tended gardens, set back from the sea, the international botanical bounty culled by Simpson clipper ships and schooners is still in its glory, complemented by award-winning roses, rhododendrons, tulips, and azaleas. A restored gardener’s cottage with antique furnishings stands at the back of the formal gardens. It’s open for special occasions and during the winter holidays. Also in the gardens, note the copper egret sculptures at the pond and the greenhouse for rare plants from warmer climes.
From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, during the annual Holiday Lights and Open House (4–10 p.m. daily), the gardens are decorated with 250,000 colored lights and other holiday touches. The gardener’s cottage opens and serves free refreshments during this time.
If you bear right and follow the pond’s contours toward the ocean, you’ll come to a trail. Follow it north for cliff-side views of the rock-studded shallows below. Southward, the trail goes downhill to a scene of exceptional beauty. From the vantage point of a small beach, you can watch waves crash into rocks with such force that the white spray appears to hang suspended in the air.
Pursuits for the active traveler include exploring tide pools and caves as well as springtime swimming in a cove, formed by winter storms, on the south side of the beach. In summer, thimbleberries and salal growing along the trail down to the beach can provide sustenance for these activities.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel