If you study the map of the central Oregon coast , you’ll see that Florence is oriented along the Siuslaw River; a spit of dunes reaches up from the south, barring quick access from downtown to the ocean. But don’t dismiss this riverfront town for its lack of oceanfront real estate; the views onto the river are plenty scenic, and Old Town is charming and easy to navigate on foot.
If first and last impressions are enduring, Florence is truly blessed. A short way to the north of town, U.S. 101 passes over Heceta Head , with great views onto the lighthouse there. As you leave the city to the south, a graceful bridge over the Siuslaw ushers you away.
The Siuslaw River Bridge is perhaps the most impressive of Conde McCullough’s Works Progress Administration–built spans. The Egyptian obelisks and art deco styling of McCullough’s designs are complemented by the views to the west of the coruscating sand dunes. To the east, the riverside panorama of Florence’s Old Town beckons further investigation.
Old Town itself is a tasteful restoration, with all manner of shops and restaurants and an inviting boardwalk along the river. The quickest access to the beach and dunes is south of the bridge via South Jetty Road.
Florence began shortly after the California gold rush of 1849 put a premium on the lumber and produce shipped out via the Siuslaw River estuary. Several decades later, the town’s name was inspired by a remnant from a French shipwreck that floated ashore, bearing the ship’s name, Florence. The townspeople either recognized an omen when they saw it or just couldn’t come up with anything better.
Porter Stage Lines (541/269-7183) offers daily bus service between Coos Bay  in the south and Eugene  to the east. These buses can be booked through Greyhound’s reservation service (800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com ). Eugene offers both Greyhound and Amtrak service, as well as air links to the rest of the country from Mahlon Sweet Field Airport (EUG).