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10 Top-Rated Things to Do in Coos Bay, OR

Written by Brad Lane
Feb 22, 2021

Coos Bay is the largest city on the Oregon Coast and the largest deepwater port between San Francisco and Seattle. Alongside the neighboring North Bend, the region is affectionately known as Oregon's Bay Area. This thriving southern coastal city is a hot spot for travel and things to do.

Wooden wharf in Coos Bay
Wooden wharf in Coos Bay

Though the biggest city on the coast, Coos Bay retains much of its local flavor and is steeped in history. From garden bluffs overlooking the ocean to a unique Egyptian-style theater, the city's legacy intertwines with many of its top tourist attractions. Other ways to experience Coos Bay include touring a local candy factory and driving across the Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge.

"Oregon's Adventure Coast" is also readily on display from Coos Bay. Lighthouses and scenic corridors are a short drive from the city. These enchanting environments lend to activities like tide pooling, whale watching, and sunset admiring. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area also extends 40 miles north from Coos Bay, offering all sorts of sand travel and adventure.

Discover one of Oregon's best cities with our list of the top things to do in Coos Bay.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Hop on the Cape Arago Highway

Cape Arago lighthouse from Sunset Bay State Park on the Cape Arago Highway
Cape Arago lighthouse from Sunset Bay State Park on the Cape Arago Highway

One of the best ways to explore Oregon's Adventure Coast is by hopping on the Cape Arago Highway from Coos Bay. This 11-mile road diverges from Newmark Avenue in Coos Bay and navigates toward the ocean. Several scenic pitstops line the entire route.

The highway connects three prominent state parks along the coast: Sunset Bay, Shore Acres, and Cape Arago State Parks. Each of these locations has enough activity to fill the day, making an early start recommended when sightseeing the highway. Many visitors extend their travels by camping at Sunset Bay State Park, one of the best campgrounds on the Oregon coast.

Alongside scenic state parks, other roadside attractions include Simpson Reef and Shell Island. These two marine habitats entice visitors with abundant wildlife viewing opportunities. Specifically, hundreds of seals and sea lions find refuge in these oceanic locales. Seafood restaurants, marine life centers, and sweets shops are some more popular places to visit.

For a real adventure, hikers follow a four-mile hiking trail from Sunset Bay to Cape Arago State Park paralleling the highway. This scenic route is part of the state-spanning Oregon Coast Trail. Alongside better views of the dramatic ocean environment, the hiking trail also encourages a more leisurely pace.

2. Catch a Show at the Egyptian Theatre

The Egyptian Theatre in Coos Bay
The Egyptian Theatre in Coos Bay | Mark Hillary / photo modified

Near the Coos Bay Boardwalk, the Egyptian Theatre is a landmark building in the city. It's also one of the last remaining "Egyptian Revival" style theaters in the country. Opened as a vaudeville theater in 1925, like any iconic movie house, the Egyptian Theatre went through its ups and downs over the years.

Today, the city owns the theater and has provided modern restorations. The Egyptian interior has remained much the same, though. Don't expect the latest blockbusters at the Egyptian. Instead, this local theater screens cult classics and a variety of independent movies and film festivals. Live performances like standup comedy also take the stage.

And it's not just the scheduled showings that make the theater a cinema treasure. It's the intact 1920s Egyptian Revival architecture that makes every screening memorable. Details like pharaoh statues, hieroglyphics, and Egyptian temple adornments cover every inch of the theater, including the grand staircase lobby and 770-seat auditorium.

A still-operating Wurlitzer theater organ sits below the stage at the Egyptian Theatre. This mighty music machine has offered a soundtrack for shows for over 85 years. The Egyptian is the last theater in Oregon with its original Wurlitzer still in use.

Address: 229 S Broadway, Coos Bay, Oregon

Official site: https://egyptiantheatreoregon.com/

3. See What's in Bloom at Shore Acres State Park

Botanical gardens at Shore Acres State Park
Botanical gardens at Shore Acres State Park

Situated off the Cape Arago Highway, approximately 13 miles from Coos Bay, Shore Acres is a unique state park perched atop an ocean cliff. Before becoming a public park in the 1940s, this stunning property belonged to Louis Simpson, a prominent timber baron and a vital figure of the region's development.

Alongside a mansion, which burnt down in 1921, Louis Simpson installed a fantastic array of gardens and landscaping. This botanical display remains today as a magnet for anyone that enjoys cultivated coastal beauty. Something is always in bloom within the property's collection, including a Japanese Garden and All-American Rose Garden.

Shore Acres is also home to a favorite holiday tradition in the area. The gardens are ablaze with holiday lights and decorations between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. This seasonal light display adds a colorful attraction to the early evenings this time of year.

It's not all gardens at Shore Acres; the property also offers fantastic views of the dramatic ocean. An enclosed observation center now sits where Simpson's mansion once presided, offering a beautiful view protected from the elements. The waves against the sea cliff are mesmerizing in their size and dramatic impact.

Official site: https://stateparks.oregon.gov/index.cfm?do=park.profile&parkId=68

4. Explore the Coves at Cape Arago State Park

Rugged coastline at Cape Arago
Rugged coastline at Cape Arago

At the southern end of the Cape Arago Highway, Cape Arago State Park offers a range of oceanic activities. The park is divided between a north and south section accessible from a paved parking area.

To the south, a moderately steep hiking trail navigates Drake Point and accesses the sandy South Cove. Here, activities like sandcastle building and tide pooling are popular. Every activity in the South Cove comes with distant views of Coquille Point and Cape Blanco.

Fishing and beachcombing are more prevalent in Cape Arago's North Cove. This area also includes views of the offshore Shell Island, where hundreds of seals and sea lions are heard barking above the surf.

Cape Arago also provides picnic tables and flushing restrooms near the parking area between the North and South Coves. Migrating whales tend to pass by in view from this picnic area, which faces the ocean.

5. Take a Tour at Cranberry Sweets & More

Cranberry Sweets & More
Cranberry Sweets & More | Rick Obst / photo modified

For over 50 years, Cranberry Sweets & More has taken advantage of the fact that the nearby Bandon is "Oregon's Cranberry Capital." And the several bogs in the neighboring city go to good use, providing the key ingredient to this candy company's best-selling products.

Today, the list of confections from this family-owned facility includes jellied candies, chocolate assortments, and cookies, among many others. A signature item, Pates de Fruits, are jellied fruit cubes flecked with sugar.

Cranberry Sweets & More operates a factory store in Coos Bay where the public can take tours and watch the candy-making process. Public tours are available on weekdays throughout the factory's working hours. More importantly, these public tours also come with a surplus of free samples.

Cranberry Sweets & More also runs a flagship store in Bandon. This popular pitstop on the 101 features shelves upon shelves of sugary treats.

Address: 1005 Newmark Avenue, Coos Bay, Oregon

Official site: https://cranberrysweets.com/

6. Enjoy the Rotating Exhibits at Coos Art Museum

In a historic and remodeled Art Deco post office building, the Coos Art Museum is a central hub for visual arts on the southern Oregon coast. This two-story museum features five galleries and an atrium that highlight artists from the Pacific Northwest.

The museum's permanent collection features over 600 works. Many of these pieces are displayed on the first floor, ranging from contemporary fine art to multi-media compilations. However, the bulk of art to appreciate comes from the museum's frequently rotating exhibits.

A large painting of long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine hangs in the lobby of the museum. And a second-floor room is dedicated to this Coos Bay-native and international track legend.

The museum also provides several art education opportunities. Classes and workshops are generally tailored to broad age groups and cover a variety of topics. Favorite classes in years past include pinhole photography, oil painting, and woodblock printing.

Address: 235 Anderson Avenue, Coos Bay, Oregon

Official site: https://www.coosart.org/

7. Drive across the Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge

Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge
Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge

Whether you're a fan of architecture or not, there's little denying that the Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge catches the eye. The bridge is part of Highway 101 and spans over 1,700 feet across Coos Bay. Completed in 1936, the bridge was renamed eleven years later for the lead engineer on the project: Conde B. McCullough.

Including this bridge spanning Coos Bay, Conde B. McCullough left a lasting legacy on the Oregon Coast. A South Dakota native, McCullough came to work for the Oregon Department of Transportation and designed several bridges still in operation today. A few of his other notable works include the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport and the Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge in Gold Beach.

Even without this history lesson, the McCullough Memorial Bridge tends to be a memorable part of any visit. Driving across the bridge lends a better view of the intricate detail along the trusses. It also offers a ceremonious way to enter the city. Photographers with a zoom lens can capture the aesthetics from places like Jordan Point or Glasgow on the bridge's north side.

8. Step Back in Time at the Coos History Museum & Maritime Collection

Established in 1891, the Coos County Historical Society is the second oldest historical society in Oregon. In 2015, the organization opened the two-story Coos History Museum & Maritime Collection on the waterfront.

Today, the museum houses a collection of more than 50,000 objects and a quarter-million images. This impressive assemblage paints the picture of Coos County's history and the development of the southern coast.

Permanent exhibits on the first floor range from the logging and lumber industry to shipbuilding and the evolution of overland travel. The second-floor mezzanine at the museum features rotating exhibits throughout the year.

The museum is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, excluding major holidays. The facility also hosts several events, including a monthly lecture series on the first Tuesday of every month. The museum offers free admission every second Saturday of the month.

Address: 1210 N Front Street, Coos Bay, Oregon

Official site: https://cooshistory.org/

9. Meander along the Coos Bay Boardwalk

Coos Bay Boardwalk
Coos Bay Boardwalk | Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife / photo modified

If you're ever in the rare moment of feeling bored in Coos Bay, head to the downtown Coos Bay Boardwalk at the end of Anderson Avenue. Here, alongside great views of the bay, this half-mile boardwalk features fun learning opportunities and a fish market.

Three pavilions along the boardwalk contain interpretive information relating to the town's founding. The historic and retired Koos #2 tugboat is on display beneath one of these pavilions. The boardwalk also features several picnic tables that are perfect for lunch by the water.

After exploring the boardwalk, take a leisurely walk downtown for some afternoon entertainment. Several local eateries are within easy walking distance from the Boardwalk, as well as local boutiques and specialty stores.

10. Explore Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Off-road vehicles at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Off-road vehicles at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Coos Bay is the southern terminus of the 42-mile-long Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. This popular place to explore encompasses the largest span of temperate dunes in the world - some over 500 feet tall. Hiking is one common way to navigate the dunes. However, the more popular transportation method is all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and off-highway vehicles (OHVs).

Several access points line the Oregon Dunes between Coos Bay to the south and Florence up north. The city's closest dunes are across the bay, with areas like Bluebill Campground and Bull Run Staging Area providing instant access.

North along the dunes, other popular access points include the John Dellenback Trail near Lakeside and Umpqua Dunes in Winchester Bay. Farther north, the city of Reedsport is home to the Oregon Dunes Visitor Information Center. This interpretive facility is an excellent resource for planning a dunes adventure and learning about seasonal western snowy plover restrictions.

To leave the planning to a professional, Spinreel Dune Buggy and ATV Rental, in North Bend, offers guided rides with a variety of sand-specific vehicles. The company provides both passenger-seat rides and the preferred "You Drive, Follow Me" tours, where visitors have their hands on the wheel.

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