Katherine Hoppe, Director of Promotions and Conventions for Coos Bay, Oregon found out I was traveling up the coast, sent me a quick email, and that’s how it all began. After a few exchanges I knew I had to meet her. She, like all of the tourism professionals I’ve met on the road, is so cool, so helpful, and so ready to show off her town. It was hard not to break the speed barrier driving into town to meet her.
With Coos Bay and I it was love at first sight—it’s not your typical coastal tourist town. This
is a town with industry- lumber and fishing. This is a town where you can settle into seeing all sorts of action instead of just dropping in and skimming the touristy surface. Of course, Kat made sure I got to see it all.
The first thing she deciphered – do I like clam chowder and oysters? Yes and yes. Do I want to go crabbing? Yes. Do I want to go surfing? Yes. Do I want to see the giant sand dunes? Yes.
She said, “I’ll pick you up at 9am and wear sneakers.” The plan? To wear ourselves out with fun.
COOS BAY HIGHLIGHTS
1. First up, the picturesque 500 foot natural sand dunes—31,000 acres of rolling, white sand mountains— on top of 400cc Quad ATVs. Spinreel Dune Buggy Rentals provides a thorough explanation of how the dunes were formed, and their future. Then they show you a safety video, strap a helmet on your head, and turn you loose to experience their magnitude by doing your best Evil Kneivel. SO. MUCH. FUN. Then, full of sand and on an adrenalin high, the Spinreel guys had a treat for us— the RZR 800cc 4-seater. This state of the art dune buggy is fully equipped with seat belts, hallelujah. The ATV is rough and tumble but the RAZR is like a hovercraft. I don’t think we had four wheels on the ground for more than a few seconds at a time. Here we are screaming our faces off in terrified delight.
2. Next up— crabbing with locals on the docks at Charleston Boat Basin. I helped Kat carry the pods and bait to the
dock, and picked up a six-pack of local beer. That’s what you do when you go crabbing— hang out, talk, drink beer, throw the pods out, and pull them back in. You take a bunch of chicken legs and secure them to the inside of the pod and whirl the pod out into the water like a frisbee. It sinks to the bottom and you leave it there while you drink your beer. It’s a stress-free sport. When you’re about 3/4 through your beer you pull up the pod. People gather round ooohing and ahhhing over whether he’s big enough to keep— females and babies go back automatically and males have to be a certain size. We caught only one keeper and gifted him to the crabbers sitting next to us. The hours gently drifted by.
3. Rounding out the first day– a special humiliation associated with booking a surfing lesson. Trying on a wet suit. This whole rigmarole would be a lot easier if you could just slick your epidermis from the neck down and wheel a pulley system into the dressing room. Getting into this thing was a pride swallowing event for me and endlessly entertaining for my new friend Kat. Brian, owner of Waxers Surf Skate Shop, is a natural teacher– amazing and unbelievably patient. A total man’s man. He put me at ease right off the bat. I felt like a real surfer girl carrying my board on my head down a harrowing makeshift trail to Bastendorff Beach. The water was freezing but totally worth it. Brian taught me how to use the current as a guide, when to scoot my body back on the board, and when to paddle like hell. I caught a dozen waves and didn’t wipe out once. (Notice there are no photos of this glorious morning on the water.) Even if you don’t surf, which you should, check out Bastendorff for watching the waves roll in.
4. Finally— Kat’s Culinary Tour. In two days I compared six bowls of clam chowder. Coos Bay claims they have the world’s best. It comes down
to personal taste– do you like thick, potato-y, thin? Kat wouldn’t tell me her favorite but she did narrow it down to a nice sample set. My favorite was from Shark Bites— their broth is on the thinner side, really tasty, and they use red potatoes thinly sliced. We also compared oysters from three different locations. Again, they’re all delicious but my personal favorite was Hilltop House. Below you will find name and location of the places we tried. Don’t miss the crabmelt sandwich at The Mill Casino Hotel— I will dream of this sandwich all my days to come.
Sitting on the docks, watching the sea lions dive for tuns scraps, pulling up our pods and sorting the keepers from the throw-backs is where I got to know Kat. She’s been the Director of Promotions and Conventions for Oregon’s Adventure Coast for 5 years. It’s obvious she loves what she does. In fact, everyone I’ve met who’s working in tourism really enjoys their work and find themselves creatively challenged every day.
She moved to Coos Bay 7 years ago and had a hard time adjusting to the small town life after years of big city California living. Trading in her heels and regular mani-pedis for the slower pace and focus on the outdoors wasn’t her plan. But, that turned around when her family visited for the weekend and she planned the ultimate tourists’ adventure right in her hometown. From that moment on, she realized she was living in a dream location and began promoting Coos Bay to potential visitors around the world. She’s a one-man-band but cultivates partnerships with local businesses, is a social media marketing maven, and everyone’s favorite around town. There wasn’t one place we visited where someone didn’t light up when she walked in. The charm of a small town.
KAT’S FORMULA FOR HAPPINESS
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO: I enjoy the diversity of what I do. I love showing off the area off to writers and visitors and letting them in on the secrets that the locals know. I work on so many different things that I am never bored. Perhaps my favorite thing is cultivating a relationship with travel writers and seeing that moment where they get how special this area is. Seeing that translated into print to share with a larger audience is extremely satisfying.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT COOS BAY: Almost everything… I love being so close to the beach
and that I can let my dogs run free. I love going crabbing on the docks and making new friends each time I go. When you first come into town it has a very industrial feel; you can see the boats coming in and the wood chips being shipped out… and then you turn… and there’s an unimaginable beauty that makes it feel like a secret that was meant just for you. It’s a combination of timber, fishing, small businesses and a seclusion that you don’t find many other places. It’s also the little things; In the morning when I’m contemplating going crabbing, I call the fish market on the docks and find out if I should wear pants or shorts that day, and no one thinks its strange that I call. If I’m taking a trip out of town, I always run by the airport the night before and weigh my suitcase to make sure it’s not too heavy. I drive through my favorite coffee shop and I don’t have to order, they know exactly what I want. There’s a friendliness here that allows you to come as you are and never feel out-of-place.
WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPY: My dream is to retire here and have a house overlooking the beach. The beaches here are so scenic and rugged, I love falling asleep to the sound of the ocean and watching the waves come in. I can think of nothing better than waking up every day to a view of the ocean and taking my dogs for a morning walk on the beach.
Dune Adventure Riding: Spinreel Dune Buggy Rentals
Crabbing: Davey Jones Locker Cape Arago Highway & Boat Basin Road Charleston, OR 97420 (541) 888-3941 and Basin Tackle Shop 63510 Kingfisher Rd Charleston, OR 97420 541-888-3811
Surfing: Brian Menten Waxer’s Surf Skate Shop 242 South Broadway (hwy 101) Coos Bay, OR 97420 541-266-9020
Shark Bites Seafood Café 240 South Broadway Coos Bay, OR 97420 (541) 269-7475 My pick for best clam chowder.
The Coach House 604 6th Avenue Coos Bay, OR 97420 (541) 267-5116 A great dive with delicious oysters and chowder.
Miller’s at the Cove 63346 Boat Basin Road Charleston, OR 97420 (541) 808-2404 Don’t miss the fish tacos and chowder.
Hilltop House 93405 Wilsey Lane North Bend, OR 97459 541-756-4160 My pick for best oysters. Also, don’t miss the prime rib sandwich.
Mill Casino Hotel 3201 Tremont Ave., North Bend, OR 97459 541-756-8800 Best crab melt sandwich I’ve ever had.