The majority of Florence  restaurants are along the Old Town waterfront. Walk along Bay Street and discover dozens of dining options, from casual to upscale.
Under the bridge in Old Town, Siuslaw River Coffee Roasters (1240 Bay St., 541/997-3443, 7 a.m.–8 p.m. or 9 p.m. daily summer, 7 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun.–Wed., 7 a.m.–6 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. winter) serves good coffee and pastries. There’s a little deck out back overlooking the river, and lots of books and hobnobbing inside.
If you’re visiting on a rainy afternoon, a good place to while away the time is Lovejoy’s Tea Room (129 Nopal St., 541/997-9118, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. daily), owned by the founder of a famed San Francisco tearoom. Dine on a Cornish pasty or sausage roll ($7) or go for high tea service, available at several levels of decadence.
Lack of personality is not a problem at the
Waterfront Depot (1252 Bay St., 541/902-9100, 4–9 p.m. nightly, $10–26), a friendly bustling place with good views out onto the river and lovely filtered evening light. This historic structure was formerly the rail station at nearby Mapleton before it was barged down the Siuslaw River to its current riverfront location. Ask for a table or sit at the bar, where you’re likely to be next to a local regular in for the restaurant’s signature dish, saucy crab-encrusted halibut fillet. For lighter appetites, try ordering from the tapas menu, which, like all the offerings, is written on a chalkboard up on the wall.
In Old Town, the local Mo’s (1436 Bay St., 541/997-2185, 11 a.m.–9 p.m., $9–15) is the largest outlet of this famed Oregon chowder house, and its fresh fish, fast service, fair prices, and Siuslaw River frontage make it this neighborhood’s most popular restaurant.
The Bridgewater Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar (1297 Bay St., Old Town, 541/997-9405, 11 a.m.–8 p.m., $10–24) is what passes for fine dining in Old Town. But with its rattan furniture and tropical motif, it’s much less stuffy than most white-tablecloth establishments. Fresh fish, often with a Cajun flair, dominates the menu, which is so wide-ranging that almost everyone can find something to his or her liking. Be aware that this is a place where simpler is often better—the fancier dishes sometimes sound better than they taste.
The International C-Food Market (1498 Bay St., 541/997-7978, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, $17–35), is a large restaurant perched out over the river with lots of outdoor seating. You can watch the fishing boats unload their catch, which within hours is offered to diners here at the ICM, as this operation is known locally (the restaurant owner also owns the principal local fish processing plant, which ensures that most of the fish on offer is very fresh). Ask your server what’s in season and recommended, or try the smoked salmon pizza—it’s excellent. Although it’s not cheap, you might consider the all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab dinner, a dive-in-with-both-hands experience that you won’t soon forget.
The Oregon Coast isn’t really known for adventurous fine dining, but a handful of hip eateries are spicing up the scene. Craves Fine Dining (294 Laurel St., 541/997-3154, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–10 p.m. Mon. and Wed.–Sat., 11 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–7:30 p.m. Sun., $16–24) offers very well prepared food and a sophisticated menu that changes frequently to take advantage of local and seasonal ingredients. A personal favorite is seared scallops and pork belly served with yellow mole sauce—or try roasted loin of lamb with truffled demi-glace. The wine list features intriguing regional vintages, mostly from Oregon and California.
Sick of clam chowder? Thai Talay (2515 U.S. 101, 541/997-7227, 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 4:30–9 p.m. Tues.–Sun., main courses $8–19) might come as a welcome change, especially if you go for the spicy mango-and-broccoli stir fry. If you can’t be away from seafood for too long, try one of the seafood specialties. The food is authentically fresh and spicy, not the Americanized version of Thai food you might anticipate in a small seaside town.
Another good place to take a break from chowder (though not necessarily seafood) is Pomodori Ristorante (1415 7th St., 541/902-2525, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 5–9 p.m. Sat., $13–22), an intimate northern Italian restaurant in a converted house. Specialties include fresh shrimp and halibut and pasta, as well as a pork chop stuffed with shrimp, pancetta, scallions, and tomatoes.
It doesn’t look like much from the front, but the best reason to seek out the Traveler’s Cove (1362 Bay St., 541/997-6845, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. daily) is the lovely back patio, with tables directly over the river. The food here is eclectic, with homemade clam chowder, tempting salads and sandwiches, and a number of Mexican dishes. Fresh Dungeness crab makes an appearance here with crab quiche, crab enchiladas, and “crabby” Caesar salad.
Driving east on Highway 126 en route to Eugene  from the coast lets you follow the Siuslaw past isolated farms and lush forests topped by clear-cut ridges. It also brings you to an archetypal Oregon eatery. Fourteen miles east of Florence , you come to Mapleton. Set at the base of the Coast Range, it’s one of the rainiest burgs in the whole state.
The Alpha-Bit Crafts Café (10780 Hwy. 126, Mapleton, 541/268-4311, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Fri., $7–12) is only a 20-minute drive from Florence, but it exists as a remnant of Oregon’s hippie heyday, which doesn’t so much exist in the past as in an alternative space.
Started by a group of 20 or so people who share land in the nearby town of Deadwood, the restaurant serves good veggie sandwiches and home-baked treats (try the date bar) at reasonable prices. The pies here have a statewide reputation. The preparations frequently include produce grown on Alpha Farm.
Once a week, on Fridays, the café stays open until 8 p.m. for dinner service. Also, don’t miss the December 1991 Life magazine article about the creators, available upon request. The unusual local crafts and fine selection of books make Alpha-Bit the cultural center of Mapleton.
After dinner, have dessert at either of BJ’s Ice Cream Parlor’s two locations (2930 U.S. 101 or 1441 Bay St., 541/997-7286, 10 a.m.–11 p.m. daily summer, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily winter). BJ’s churns out hundreds of flavors, with 48 on display at any given time, famous all over Oregon. Full fountain service, ice cream cakes, cheesecakes, gourmet frozen yogurt, and pies complement the cones and cups.