12 miles S of Heceta Head, 50 miles S of Newport, 50 miles N of Coos Bay, 60 miles W of Eugene

The sprawl along Highway 101 just north of Florence may make you wonder if you’re on the Oregon coast or driving along a mall-laden suburb in Anywhere, USA. But head down from the highway toward downtown Florence, and you’ll encounter one of the few communities on the Oregon coast that retains a semblance of historic character. Set on the banks of the Siuslaw River, Florence’s Old Town is lined with restored wooden commercial buildings that house restaurants and shops. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area  starts just south of Florence—hence town’s claim to be “Gateway to the Oregon Dunes.”

Florence got its start in the 1850s, soon after the California Gold Rush, when premium lumber from Oregon forests was cut and floated down the Siuslaw (sigh-oo-slaw) River and shipped south to San Francisco. The town apparently didn’t have a name, or couldn’t decide on one, until a piece of debris from the shipwrecked Florence drifted ashore and spurred someone’s imagination.

Although the Florence waterfront has a picturesque charm, I would recommend that you visit Florence for a stroll and lunch, rather than making it an overnight stop.