What do you do when your pre-teen niece and nephew come to visit—or you have kids of your own who need a school’s-out-now-what adventure? You obviously beeline to the Oregon coast. Lured by the promise of riding dune buggies in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area that meant Florence.
Extending more than 40 miles from Florence and to Coos Bay, the dunes include steep inclines that rise 500 feet as well as wide, rippled, flat stretches. I felt like I was motoring through a living sculpture dotted here and there with sparse plant life. My nephew had a different take on the adventure, acting more like he was participating in a video game come to life. Safe to say that he enjoyed the adrenaline rush as much as I did the windswept beauty.
For those who don’t want to drive themselves (or let their kids behind the wheel), Sandland Adventures offers Sandrail dune rides for the thrill seekers or a more relaxing tour of the dunes on their Giant Dune Buggies—with professional drivers at the helm in both cases. After you can hit their Family Fun Center for a round of miniature golf, go karts, bumper boats (can you say splash!) and a 12-minute ride on a the Cloverline Train which runs on 24” rail and passes through a 70-foot tunnel and a western town as well as wooded areas, flower garden and lakes.
Motorized vehicles aren’t the only way to explore the sand dunes. C&M Stables offers horseback rides for riders ranging from beginning to advanced. After about a half-hour ride through the dunes and coastal pines, you’ll reach the shore where you’ll ride along as the waves break on the beach. Call 541-997-7540 for a reservation.
Of course, if you have adventurous types who don’t mind a workout, there’s always sandboarding. That’s what my nephew, an avid snowboarder, decided to try. We rented a board and headed back in the dunes. I found a sheltered cove and settled down to enjoy the sun, having hit on one of the 160 days a year that are sunny. Sandboarding, it turns out, doesn’t quite work the same as snowboarding (especially since there are no chairlifts). Next time I’d head to Sand Master Park since in addition to having opened the world’s first sandboard park with 40 acres of privately-owned sculpted sand dunes and beginner to advanced slopes, they offer lessons on how to properly prepare your board and ride the sand.
Ten miles north of Florence, you’ll find the Sea Lion Caves, the country’s largest. This set of interconnected sea caves and cavern—a privately owned wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary—opens onto the Pacific and houses hundreds of Stellar sea lions all year long. However, they’re not always at home. In spring, they move to the rock ledges in front of the Cave (known as the rookery) to breed and birth their pups, and they’ll stay there through the summer. And sometimes they just go on walk about—or swim about in this case. Best to call ahead (541-547-3111) or check the web cam.
For a lower-key outing, head to Given Back Bird Houses Working Museum at 1300 Bay Street in Historic Old Town to watch Florence locals Amen & Maria Fisher create delightful, one-of-a-kind birdhouses using found wood and driftwood pieces, as well as different types of mosses, bark and fallen branches. They create different camouflaged houses for different kinds of birds, based on the shelter the various types of song birds (like Nuthatches, Chickadees and Wrens) as well as Bluebirds, Robins, Finches, and Hummingbirds prefer. They also make feeders, bat houses and pollinator houses for moths, bees and butterflies. The museum, which the couple describes as in indoor forest, is open Friday through Sunday only.
While you’re in Old Town, you can chronicle your family vacation with a family photo straight out of the Old West, Roaring 20s or the Victorian Age. Flashback Old Time Photos at 75 Nopal Street will set you up with the costumes and pose you in front of a backdrop that looks just like the real thing. Call 541-997-1686 for more information.
For a taste of what life was really like in the old days, head to the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum, with its historic displays and photographs depicting how pioneers who settled on the Siuslaw River primarily as loggers, fisherman and farmers actually lived. In addition, you’ll find an impressive collection of Native American artifacts. The museum also offers a self-guided walking tour to 21 locations in Old Town, but I’m guessing that’s going to be a stretch for the kids. If I’m wrong, check the website for information.