Locals call it Bandon-by-the-Sea, and the sea has shaped this small Oregon town from the beginning, orchestrating the rhythms of its industry. The sea carried the ships that hauled away the lumbered Douglas fir as it spilled from the mouth of the Coquille River, 90 miles north of the California border. And the sea furnished the salmon, halibut, and cod that filled Bandon's once-teeming fisheries. The lumber industry is all but defunct, the fisheries shut down. But the sea has one resource that never dwindles—the sea is where the storms are born.
Throughout the winter, when the wind huffs and puffs and the rain slants down on shuttered storefronts, visitors and residents of this coastal community keep their eyes to the west.
They idle in their cars on scenic Beach Loop Drive. They gather by the south jetty and in the parking lot near the Coquille River Lighthouse. They huddle at the 11th Street lookout near Coquille Point, where the waves bang angrily at the bluffs. There's good reason why Bandon, the self-proclaimed Storm Watching Capital of the World, remains so attractive even in the off-season. Folks come to walk on sandy beaches, to savor fresh seafood, and to tour the town's vast cranberry bogs. But often they come simply to observe. Nature's tumult, the bane of ship captains, turns out to be quite a show.
The drama of foul weather holds such a grip on the town that, in 1983, two residents established the Bandon Storm Watchers, an educational group that organized lectures and excursions. The group has since disbanded, but not before its past president, Ruth Ball, sent a child's umbrella (with her hand-drawn cats and dogs hanging from the tips) to famed weatherman Willard Scott, who laughingly brandished it on television.
Storms are, of course, a serious matter, a point you'll find driven home at Bandon's Coquille River Museum, which devotes a large room to the litany of shipwrecks off Bandon's coast. One of those doomed vessels, the steam schooner S.S. Fifield, sank in 1916. Its remnants can be still seen at low tide from the jetty at the edge of town.
When storms roll in, none but the foolish walk the jetty. People watch from the safety of parked cars or from the dining room at the Bandon Boatworks Restaurant, which serves first-rate cod and red snapper and commands an excellent ocean view. Or they head down the road to Lord Bennett's, a popular seafood restaurant (with a sinful dessert cart) named after town founder George Bennett, who arrived from Bandon, Ireland, in 1873.
When he first set foot in what came to be called Bandon, Bennett recognized that lumber offered a prosperous future for the town.
Another settler, Charles McFarlin, had a longer-range perspective. He saw a fortune in cranberries. In 1885, McFarlin planted vines that came from Massachusetts. They flourished, and the "McFarlin variety" became the most common cranberry on the West Coast. Other hybrids have since appeared on the scene, but Bandon's cranberry industry is still going strong. For a close-up look at the crop, stop by Faber Farms, which offers seasonal tours of its bogs.
Visit the Faber Farms gift shop for chocolate-covered cranberries, cranberry lip balm, and the champion-of-the-underdog children's book, Clarence the Cranberry Who Couldn't Bounce. Ocean Spray also has growers in Bandon—fitting for a town that is also known as the Cranberry Capital of Oregon.
Not that Bandon is all berries and bad weather.
The sun shines frequently, even in winter, and the town shows its warmer side. Downtown, or "old town," is given over to fudge factories, fish-and-chips stands, and gift shops selling items made of myrtlewood. Walk along First Street and check out the small boats lolling in the harbor, with banners advertising "Fresh Fish." A few blocks away, the Bandon Cheese Visitors Center sells loaves of cheddar and other varieties as well as Tillamook ice cream.
On mild days, the sandy state beaches bordering Bandon are ideal for strolling. You can watch the Western gulls and red-necked grebes wheeling over Face Rock, an outcropping in the ocean that forms the profile of a woman. Look beyond the breakers in early December and you might catch a glimpse of a gray whale migrating south.
Just north of town, a different sort of sand awaits at Bandon Dunes, a golf resort with 36 links-style holes that serious golfers regard as the closest thing to St. Andrews this side of Scotland. The resort also has coastal trails and a pub specializing in single-malt scotch.
In recent years, a growing number of retirees have made a home in Bandon. The moderate coastal climate (wet but warm) agrees with seniors—and, apparently, with baby pumas, which are bred,like many big cats, at the nearby West Coast Game Park Safari. (The park is open in November but closed through most of December.)
Over the past 27 years, the park has expanded into a refuge for roughly 80 exotic species—lynx, leopards, zebras—many of which you can pet. Owner Bob Tenney says the animals know when the rains are coming. The bighorn sheep run in circles through the park. The chimps holler and "act irrationally."
As a higher primate, you have the option of logical behavior. Hunker down in front of a window with a blanket and watch the storms blow in from the sea.
Planning Your Trip
Phone numbers are area code 541 unless noted. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington TourBook and map. For information, contact the Bandon Chamber of Commerce, 347-9616, www.bandon.com.
Things To See and Do
Bandon Cheese Visitors Center, 680 E. Second St. 347-2456, (800) 548-8961, www.bandoncheese.com.
Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, near the mouth of the Coquille River. 347-1470, oregoncoast.fws.gov/bandonmarsh/.
Bandon's Coquille River Museum, 270 Fillmore Ave. 347-2164, www.bandonhistoricalmuseum.org.
Coquille River Lighthouse, in Bullards Beach State Park. 347-2209, www.oregonstateparks.org.
Faber Farms, 54980 Morrison Rd. 347-4300, (866) 347-1166, www.faberfarms.com.
Port O' Call, 155 First St. Boat rentals, charters. 347-2875, www.bandonportocall.com.
West Coast Game Park Safari, 46914 Hwy. 101. 347-3106, www.gameparksafari.com.
Bandon Boatworks Restaurant, 275 Lincoln Ave. SW. Fresh seafood. 347-2111.
Lord Bennett's Restaurant and Lounge, 1695 Beach Loop Dr. Seafood and elaborate desserts. 347-3663, www.lordbennetts.com.
Harp's on the Bay, 480 First St. SW. Steak and seafood. 347-9057.
Mulligans, 57744 Round Lake Dr. Scottish pub at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. 347-5851, www.bandondunesgolf.com.
Bandon Fish Market, 249 First St. SE. Fish-and-chips. 347-4282, www.bandonfishmarket.com.
Wild Rose Bistro, 130 Chicago St. Pasta, risotto, and seafood. 347-4428, www.wildrosebistro.com.
Cranberry Sweets & More, 280 First St. Fudge, fruit jelly candies, and cranberry-inspired sweets. 347-9475, www.cranberrysweets.com.
The Tea Cosy, 95 W. 11th St. High tea and hearty British fare. 347-4171, www.theteacosy.com.
Best Western Inn at Face Rock Resort, 3225 Beach Loop Rd. $88-$254. 347-9441, (800) 638-3092, www.facerock.net.
Sunset Oceanfront Lodging, 1865 Beach Loop Dr. $55-$175. 347-2453, www.sunsetmotel.com.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, 57744 Round Lake Dr. $90-$400. 347-4380, (888) 345-6008, www.bandondunesgolf.com.
Inn at Old Town, 370 Hwy. 101. $50-$85. 347-5900, (877) 884-3466, innatoldtown.bizland.com.
Photography by Rick Wetherbee
This article was first published in November 2003. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.