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A Trio of State Parks & More

Southwest of Coos Bay you'll find three state parks and a county park that preserve some of the most breathtaking shoreline in the Northwest. The three state parks are connected by an excellent trail that is perfect for a rewarding day hike.

Start your exploration of this beautiful stretch of coast by heading southwest on the Cape Arago Highway. In 12 miles you'll come to Sunset Bay State Park (tel. 800/551-6949 or 541/888-4902; www.oregon.gov/oprd/parks). This park has one of the few beaches in Oregon where the water actually gets warm enough for swimming (although folks from warm-water regions may not agree). Sunset Bay is almost completely surrounded by sandstone cliffs, and the entrance to the bay is quite narrow, which means the waters here stay fairly calm. Picnicking and camping are available, and there are lots of tide pools to explore.

Continuing on another 3 miles brings you to Shore Acres State Park (tel. 800/551-6949 or 541/888-4902; www.oregon.gov/oprd/parks), once the estate of local shipping tycoon Louis J. Simpson, who spent years developing his gardens. His ships would bring him unusual plants from all over the world, and eventually the gardens grew to include a formal English garden and a Japanese garden with a 100-foot lily pond. His home, which long ago was torn down, and the gardens were built atop sandstone cliffs overlooking the Pacific and a tiny cove. Rock walls, sculpted by the waves into unusual shapes, rise up from the water. During winter storms, wave-watching is a popular pastime here. The water off the park is often a striking shade of blue, and Simpson Beach, in the little cove, just might be the prettiest beach in Oregon. A trail leads down to this beach. There is a $3 day-use fee here.

Cape Arago State Park (tel. 800/551-6949; www.oregon.gov/oprd/parks) is the third of this trio of parks. Just offshore from the rugged cape lie the rocks and small islands of Simpson Reef, which provide sunbathing spots for hundreds of seals (including elephant seals) and sea lions. The barking of the sea lions can be heard from hundreds of yards away, and though you can't get very close, with a pair of binoculars you can see the seals and sea lions quite well. The best viewing point is at Simpson Reef Viewpoint. On either side of the cape are coves with quiet beaches, although the beaches are closed from March 1 to June 30 to protect young seal pups. Tide pools along these beaches offer hours of fascinating exploration during other months.

Also in the vicinity of these three state parks, you'll find Bastendorff Beach County Park (tel. 541/888-5353; www.co.coos.or.us/ccpark/bastendorff), north of Sunset Bay at the mouth of Coos Bay, which offers a long, wide beach that's popular with surfers.

Four miles down Seven Devils Road from Charleston, you'll find the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (tel. 541/888-5558; www.oregon.gov/dsl/ssnerr). An interpretive center (Tues-Sat 10am-4:30pm) set high above the slough provides background on the importance of estuaries. South Slough is in the process of being restored after many years of damming, diking, and reclamation of marshlands by farmers. A hiking trail leads down to the marshes, and there is good canoeing and sea kayaking.

Other Area Activities & Attractions

Charleston is the bay area's charter-fishing marina. If you'd like to do some sportfishing, contact Betty Kay Charters (tel. 541/888-9021; www.bettykaycharters.com). Expect to pay around $70 for a 5-hour bottom-fishing trip and $170 for a 12-hour halibut-fishing trip.

In addition to all the outdoor recreational activities around the bay area, there is also a museum well worth visiting. The Coos Art Museum, 235 Anderson Ave., Coos Bay (tel. 541/267-3901; www.coosart.org), is a highly regarded little museum that hosts changing exhibits in a wide variety of styles and media. Runners will also be interested to know that up on the second floor of the museum, there is a small exhibit dedicated to long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine, who was from Coos Bay and who died in 1975. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 4pm and Saturday from noon to 4pm; admission is $5 for adults and $2 for seniors and students.

Also in town, you can visit the Oregon Coast Historical Railway, 766 S. First St., Coos Bay (tel. 541/297-6130; www.orcorail.org), a free open-air exhibit that includes a partially restored 1922 Baldwin steam engine, a restored 1949 diesel switcher, and a couple of cabooses. You'll find the display on the waterfront in downtown Coos Bay.

Part of the renovation of the Coos Bay waterfront has been the construction of the Mill Casino & Hotel, 3201 Tremont Ave., North Bend (tel. 800/953-4800 or 541/756-8800; www.themillcasino.com). Here you can play slot machines, blackjack, poker, and bingo. There are several restaurants and a lounge. Also, you should be sure to check the calendar at the Egyptian Theatre, 229 S. Broadway (tel. 541/269-8650; www.egyptian-theatre.com), a restored historic movie palace that was built in 1925 and now shows both new and vintage movies.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.