While sandboarding might be Florence’s most unusual attraction, the area has much more to offer. “We have a little bit of everything,” said Beverly Morgan of the Florence Chamber of Commerce. “People can do everything from play on the dunes to shopping.” Five things worth doing in Florence:
1. SEA LION CAVES
It wasn’t too long ago that Sea Lion Caves claimed to be the world’s largest sea cave, but that’s now being disputed. Apparently a cave in New Zealand might be bigger, said manager Jim McMillan. “Now we just call it America’s largest sea cave.”
The massive cave is almost always inhabited by dozens of sea lions, but the experience can be different depending on what time of year you visit, McMillan said. In the winter as many as 500 sea lions might be in the cave, while in the spring you might even see a pup being born on the rocky shore outside the cave. Gray whale sightings aren’t uncommon in the winter and spring.
The only way to access the cave is by an elevator that descends 200 feet into a section of the cave that has been blocked off for viewing the sea lions. Be prepared for strong sea odors. Admission is $12 for adults, $11 for seniors and $8 for children 3-12. sealioncaves.com
2. BIKING THE 101
Riding the Oregon coast is on the bucket list for many Northwest cyclists, but the stretch of U.S. Highway 101 going through Florence can be tricky. The shoulders are narrow, and traffic is thick. Throw in the potential for strong winds off of the ocean and you’d better know what you are doing. Team H20, a group of five cyclists from Austin, Texas, pedaled the Oregon Coast earlier this month as part of their 8,800-mile route around the United States. “We chose to go inland near Florence,” said Eric Breckinridge. “But the rest of the Oregon Coast is OK and the scenery is amazing.” Florencechamber.com.
3. OREGON DUNES
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches 40 miles south of Florence, making it the Northwest’s biggest sandbox. From hiking and sandboarding to horseback riding and camping, recreation opportunities abound. Many people use the designated off-road areas to zip and flip over dunes on ATVs and dune buggies. Sand Dunes Frontiers offers motorized tours ranging from $12-$28 per person. Torex ATV Rentals can set you up for a private adventure for $45-$200 per hour. sanddunesfrontier.com and torexatvrentals.com
4. CARNIVOROUS PLANTS
Just off U.S. 101, north of Florence, is the Darlingtonia Natural Site. According to the Oregon State Parks website, it is the state’s only park dedicated to the protection of a single plant species – the Darlingtonia. Also known as the cobra lily, the Darlingtonia is a greenish yellow-and-purple plant that eats insects. There is no fee to walk through the 18-acre park. oregonstateparks.org/park_115.php
5. LIGHTHOUSE TOURS
The Oregon Coast is a treasure trove for lighthouse lovers. From the California border to Seaside, nine lighthouses brighten an already scenic drive along U.S. 101. Most of the lighthouses are open to tour, including the 56-foot-tall Heceta Head Lighthouse, north of Florence. The lighthouse is open daily Memorial Day- Labor Day from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The fee is $3 per vehicle. Oregonstateparks.org