Florence is on the Central Oregon coast and shimmers with postcard appeal as one of Oregon's best small towns. The city sits at the mouth of the Siuslaw River, right before it meets the Pacific Ocean, and is adjacent to the sprawling acreage of Siuslaw National Forest
Sand dunes are also on the radar in Florence, as the length of shifting landscape known as Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is directly south of the city. And bookending Florence to the north, Heceta Head stands out with an iconic lighthouse. This combination of coastal landscapes lends to several types of vacations and things to do by the ocean.
On top of the natural scenery, Florence offers in-town tourist attractions with historic districts, museums, and photogenic bridges. Not to mention the several seafood restaurants throughout the town. And with postcard views in every direction, no matter how you spend the day, Florence earns its nickname as Oregon's Coastal Playground.
Find your next reason to visit with our list of the top things to do in Florence.
1. Explore Oregon's Coastal Playground
Florence is also known as Oregon's Coastal Playground, thanks to a surplus of sandy beachfront. Every direction along Florence's coastline caters to the entire spectrum of ocean-related activity. From sandcastle building to surfing and tide pool exploring, the beach is a defining area for any visit.
One of the largest spans of sand near the city is Heceta Beach, not to be confused with Heceta Head farther north. This long and straight beach is popular for all classic sand activities. Heceta Beach is the place to bring the family for things to do like kite flying, searching for sand dollars, or laying down a towel to enjoy a leisurely day.
South of Heceta Beach, and on either side of the Siuslaw River's entry into the ocean, the North and South Jetty areas also have fun beaches to explore. The North Jetty Beach requires an easy sand dune hike to reach and is a popular launching point for scuba diving and surfing. The North Jetty is also a popular place to visit for driftwood fort building.
The South Jetty provides ample open sand for activities like castle building and beachcombing. And the waves next to the jetty attract surfers, wakeboarders, and kiteboarders. The area also serves as the northern tip of the 47-mile Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Several OHV and ATVs enjoy making tracks on these South Jetty dunes.
2. See (and Hear) Sea Lion Caves
Sea Lion Caves is a remarkable wildlife habitat 10 miles north of Florence. Touted as America's largest sea cave, this privately owned preserve and bird sanctuary is home to a herd of approximately 200 stellar sea lions. Visitors to the cave ascend a few steps and take an elevator ride to see (and hear) these massive creatures - some over 2,000 pounds.
Sea Lion Caves is not a zoo, and the sea lions come and go as they please. The winter season is the best time to see the most animals inside the cave. During the spring and summer, the seals prefer their outdoor rookery on the rocky ledges near the cave entrance. Other animals to spot on any visit include a variety of seabirds and the occasional offshore whale.
Sea Lion Caves is conveniently located off the Oregon Coast Highway. Parking is free but sometimes competitive on the weekends. This parking area and ocean overlook is also a popular whale-spotting location in the winter. The caves are open to the public almost every day, excluding major U.S. holidays.
Address: 91560 US-101, Florence, Oregon
Official site: http://www.sealioncaves.com/
3. Enjoy a Bed and Breakfast at the Heceta Head Lighthouse
The Heceta Head Lighthouse offers a beacon of adventure for travelers along the coast. Situated 12 miles north of Florence on Highway 101, this State Scenic Viewpoint delivers quite the overlook.
It's an easy half-mile hike from the parking area to the lighthouse perched atop the 1,000-foot-tall Heceta Head. Sightseeing tours of the lighthouse are available throughout the year. A more challenging trail from the lighthouse heads north two miles down to Hobbit Beach. Here, visitors connect to the family-favorite Hobbit Trail.
Heceta Head also offers a unique place to spend the night. The historic assistant lightkeepers house on-site now operates as a romantic bed and breakfast. Alongside the enchanting landscape atop Heceta Head, this unique place to stay features other memorable amenities like a wraparound porch and seven-course breakfast.
Address: 92072 US-101, Yachats, Oregon
Official site: https://www.hecetalighthouse.com/
4. Hike the Hobbit Trail
The Hobbit Trail is a half-mile path leading down to a secluded beach on the north side of Heceta Head from the 101. The route leads through a mossy, mystical environment, with little "hobbit holes" in the salal shrubbery. It's easy to imagine wood gnomes and forest creatures popping out along the path, and kids tend to flourish in these imaginative surroundings.
Near the end of the trail, a collection of sea-shell decor welcomes visitors to Hobbit Beach – one of Oregon's best beaches. The sand is sprawling here, leaving a moderate amount of space for the crowds that trickle in on the weekends. To the left side of the beach, the encroaching Heceta Head offers excellent tide pool opportunities.
The trailhead and parking area for Hobbit Beach are on opposite sides of the 101, with no designated crosswalk spanning the two. For an extended day trip, a different 1.5-mile hiking trail veers off near the beginning of the Hobbit Trail. This hike gains approximately 500 feet en route to the top of Heceta Head. Both trails are part of the state-spanning Oregon Coast Trail.
5. Walk among Carnivorous Plants at Darlingtonia State Natural Site
This 18-acre natural site is five miles north of Florence on the 101. The entire space is dedicated to a single plant, Darlingtonia californica, also known as the cobra lily (or cobra orchid or pitcher plant). This unique flora is carnivorous, in that it consumes insects alive, and is the only such kind of plant in the state.
The cobra lily attracts insects, like flies, with sweet-smelling nectar. After inspecting this hollow-tubed plant, "false-exits" mislead an insect into a pool of water at the bottom of the stalk. Bacteria in the water disintegrates the insect, and the predator consumes its prey.
Visitors to the natural site have a wide boardwalk to navigate the boggy environment where the cobra lily flourishes. Late spring to early summer is the best time to catch these predatory plants in full bloom. The natural site also features flushing restrooms next to a small picnic area.
Address: 5400 Mercer Lake Road, Florence, Oregon
6. Stroll through Historic Old Town Florence
Old Town Florence is next to the Siuslaw River on the south side of Florence with several tourist attractions to peruse. Local shops and historic buildings line this quaint area of town and the charm is almost tangible in these friendly storefronts. This riverfront area is also quite captivating come sunset.
Old Town is the place to visit to find some local eats. Several restaurants inhabit this area, and many specialize in fresh seafood entrees. Waterfront Depot Restaurant sets a high bar for freshly caught seafood meals. Other restaurants laying claim to the best seafood on the coast include Bridgewater Fish House and Mo's Restaurant.
After a filling meal, Old Town's surrounding riverfront offers an excellent place to walk off that second serving. An excellent direction to head is the Siuslaw Interpretive Center or Old Town Park, where gorgeous views of the Siuslaw River Bridge offer a visual dessert.
7. Bring a Picnic to Exploding Whale Memorial Park
Exploding Whale Memorial Park is right on the Siuslaw River in Florence, on the other side of the 101 from Old Town. It offers a beautiful place for a picnic, with generous river views and a scattering of picnic tables in a quiet, tree-lined environment.
The park opened to the public in 2020 and commemorates the 1970 incident on the Florence coast, when highway engineers over-exploded a sperm whale, sending mammalian bits and pieces skyrocketing in many wrong directions. The exploding whale incident was famously caught on camera by KATU news.
The park is a lovely new public space to visit. A very short hiking trail leads from the parking area to beautiful river views backdropped by massive dunes. The Siuslaw River Bridge is also within sight to the east. Many visitors enjoy the giant chair at the park overlooking this entire tranquil scene.
8. Camp at Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park
Jessie M. Honeyman State Park offers a vibrant coastal paradise three miles south of Florence. Better known as "Honeyman," this popular state park encompasses coastal rainforest, massive sand dunes, freshwater lakes, and ocean access. And with the second-largest state park campground on the coast, Honeyman is also one of the best places to go camping near the ocean in Oregon.
Honeyman has over 300 campsites ranging from full hookup RV parking spaces to tent-only campsites. The state park also features yurts, group sites, and a large hiker/biker site for those traveling by non-motorized transportation. Camping at Honeyman is the only way to experience the wide variety of natural attractions at the state park.
The massive freshwater Woahink Lake at the park lends to activities like boating, fishing, and swimming. The smaller but equally scenic Cleawox Lake offers similar amenities.
Other popular adventure outlets include the massive dunes separating the park from the ocean. These shifting spectacles are common grounds for ATV and OHV exploring and make for a fun trek toward the sea.
9. Hike the John Dellenback Trail
The 40-mile Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area starts just south of Florence. This popular and shifting habitat offers several unique adventures on the Oregon Coast, and many visitors flock to this region for off-roading and exploring. The sand invites foot travel, too, and the John Dellenback Trail is one of the best hikes in Oregon Dunes.
Visitors from Florence reach the John Dellenback Trail with a 40-minute drive south, just past Winchester Bay. The parking area is right off the 101 and is administered by Suislaw National Forest. A parking pass is required and available to purchase at the trailhead.
The trail starts in a marshy forest and quickly emerges into a vast dune environment. The main trail stretches over two miles to the beach, following tall posts dug into the sand. However, many visitors opt to explore the immediate area and the big surrounding dunes.
Bring water when exploring, and prepare for bright and exposed settings.
10. Sandboard at Sand Master Park
Florence is also known for its sand. The impressive Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches south from Florence for over 40 miles to Coos Bay. This shifting landscape represents one of the largest tracts of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world. The dunes are also a magnet for OHV and ATV operators from across the country.
The dunes are also famous for sandboarding. And Sand Master Park, on the north side of town, is one of the few places in the country to operate a private sandboarding park. Alongside an ample selection of retail sandboards and rentals, this local shop oversees 40 acres of dynamic dunes.
Champion sandboarders offer personalized lessons at Sand Master Park. Guests are also encouraged to explore the dunes on their own. The dunes continuously move due to their nature, but the facility grooms out different runs for first-timers. Sand Master has various other gear rentals available, such as boogie boards, surfboards, and wetsuits (and sand googles).
Address: 5351 US-101, Florence, Oregon
Official site: http://www.sandmasterpark.com/
11. Explore Oregon Dunes NRA at South Jetty Day-Use Area
The vast Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area spans 40 miles south of Florence to Coos Bay. Several adventure opportunities span throughout this unique environment, including off-road driving, camping, and wildlife spotting.
For those interested in checking out some of the action close to Florence, head to South Jetty Day-Use Area on the other side of the Siuslaw River from town.
Several parking areas line Sand Dunes Road navigating the South Jetty. The majority of the road separates a verdant wetland area from a massive foredune standing tall above the beach. At the beginning of Sand Dunes Road are two OHV staging areas for those with off-road vehicles. The rest of the parking areas lead either to the beach or the wetlands via hiking trails.
12. Spend a Rainy Day at a Museum
Museums in Florence offer a fun way to spend any day, not just the rainy ones. Two of the most prominent museums are the Oregon Coast Military Museum and the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum. And each museum offers a unique slice of the region's colorful past.
The Oregon Coast Military Museum honors veterans with public education about the history of the country's armed forces. This volunteer-run space covers all areas of modern U.S. warfare, with a special focus on Oregon soldiers who served overseas. Exhibits include life-size dioramas with real artifacts surrounded by atmospheric details.
A mile-and-a-half to the south, in historic Old Town, the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum sits in what used to be a two-story schoolhouse. Here, several exhibits share the story of the region's history, explicitly highlighting the original lumber and fishing industries that grew the town. The museum also provides a self-guided walking tour of the surrounding Old Town.
13. Watch Whales along the Coast
In transit between summer homes in Alaska and winter abodes near Mexico, thousands of whales (most commonly gray whales) make their way next to the Oregon coast during the spring and winter. And some whales enjoy the coastal waters off Oregon so much that they stay there year-round.
The prime months to see whales from Florence are March, April, May, and June, and again from mid-December to mid-January. While any view of the ocean can yield whale sightings, the higher the vantage point the better.
A few favorite locations for whale watching include the Sea Lion Caves turnout and the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Bring binoculars to either location for better looks at these majestic mammals, with some days producing 30-plus sightings an hour. The city hosts two Whale Watching Weeks in late March and late December, where trained volunteers point visitors toward the best views.
14. Photograph the Siuslaw River Bridge
The iconic Siuslaw River Bridge has provided safe passage for traffic since 1936. And it's been an eye-catching piece of architecture ever since. The unique drawbridge design has several ornamental features that entice a camera's lens. While this scenic section of the 101 can be photographed from either side, historic Old Town is the spot to get the best view.
The Siuslaw River Bridge Interpretive Center, in Old Town, is an excellent spot to see and learn more about the bridge. The facility features educational information on the history and upkeep of this iconic overpass. And a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk at the Interpretive Center enables all patrons to enjoy the view.
15. Enjoy the Sunset at Cape Perpetua
While Florence has several notable nearby destinations along the coast, Cape Perpetua stands above the rest. Located 30 minutes north on the 101, Cape Perpetua is the highest point along the coast accessible by vehicle. This elevated landscape makes for a spectacular sunset view within a short drive from Florence.
Cape Perpetua is fun to visit at any time of day. As part of the Siuslaw National Forest, the Forest Service maintains several cape facilities, including the Cape Perpetua Visitors Center. The Forest Service also operates a popular campground connected to a sprawling network of hiking trails.