Discover world-class golf courses, dramatic beach scenery, and delectable dining on Oregon's southern coast.
When you turn off the Oregon Coast Highway and pass beneath one of the arches that read welcome to old town bandon, what you’ll find is not the old Old Town, but the one that rose from the ashes of a 1936 fire. Bandon’s rebuilt downtown closely resembles the original: a handful of blocks facing a little harbor at the mouth of the Coquille River, where schooners and steamships once put in. Because Bandon hasn’t been prettified or overdeveloped, and because its population of just 3,100 includes many artists, it’s one of the most beguiling beach resorts between the Columbia River, around 250 miles north, and the California border, about 100 miles south. It feels like a village for leisurely walking, largely because it turns its back on Highway 101, the pulsing artery that pierces many other coastal communities.
Chief among Bandon’s walkable pleasures, at least in the minds of thousands of golfers who make the pilgrimage here every year, are the four world-renowned courses at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. Of these, Pacific Dunes has twice been rated by Golf Magazine as the best public access course in the United States, ahead of Pebble Beach; the other three have made the top 15. Their challenging, windswept terrain and views of the coastline are so similar to those in Scotland’s Kingdom of Fife that the resort was chosen as the shooting location for the forthcoming movie Golf in the Kingdom, based on Michael Murphy’s best-selling 1972 novel of the same name.
“I’ve golfed all over the country and in Scotland and Ireland, and you just can’t get this peaceful, natural setting anywhere else,” says Keith Carlton, a Mississippian who played 90 holes in five days with his buddies. “We had to take three flights and swing in on a grapevine to get here, but it was fan-tastic.”
If golfing doesn’t lift your kilt, head for the agate-strewn beaches that extend north and south from the twin jetties, visible from the Old Town boardwalk, where the Coquille meets the Pacific. A two-mile stroll down from Bandon South Jetty park takes you to Face Rock, an offshore formation that, according to legend, is the upturned face of an American Indian princess frozen in stone. At low tide, you can slip through a maze of boulders toward the rock and see Oregon’s south coast open up before you. The views may even tempt you to continue down Highway 101 to Floras Lake, a windsurfing hot spot 18 miles away, and Blacklock Point, a majestic headland south of the lake with imposing yellow cliffs and grassy bluff-top meadows perfect for picnicking.
Back in Bandon proper, Old Town retains the authentic, slightly gritty feel of a working port, yet it lacks nothing in amenities. Chocolate aficionados should proceed straight to Coastal Mist for Tara and Kevin Shaw’s artisanal truffles and sublime hot caramel and chocolate drinks. Around the corner, the cavernous Second Street Gallery offers works by more than 100 local and regional artists, among them photographer Alan Hoelzle’s panoramic beachscapes and the handsome myrtlewood-strip and copper-rivet baskets by Don and Polly Barber. Keep your eyes open for products made at Vincent Family Cranberries: The Vincents’ 27 acres of bogland sits 11 miles south of town and helps provide (along with 40 other local cranberry farms) a colorful rationale for Bandon’s claim to the title of Oregon Cranberry Capital. In spring the bogs are a sea of pink blossoms, and by fall crimson berries herald the town’s annual Cranberry Festival, taking place this year September 9 to 11.
Old Town’s culinary lures build on the area’s heritage of fishing and farming. At Alloro Wine Bar & Restaurant, chef Jeremy Buck’s Tuscan-style fish stew, or cacciucco, incorporates snapper, Dungeness crab, prawns, calamari, mussels, and Manila clams in a delicately spicy tomato-herb broth. The Loft’s young rising star, chef Kali Fieger, adorns succulent fillets of roasted albacore with shaved fennel. Fast food Bandon style usually means fish-and-chips on the boardwalk—but at Tony’s Crab Shack it’s heaps of fresh, shelled crab and bowls of chunky clam chowder served at picnic tables overlooking the harbor.
Tony’s is as fine a place as any to reset your internal clock to vacation time. Afterward, lace up your walking shoes or golf cleats and explore Bandon’s seaside enticements.
This article was first published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.