When visiting coastal state parks, you expect to see whales, sandy beaches, picturesque bluffs and camp sites.
What you don’t expect is one of the most stunning formal gardens on the coast – if not the state – and waves that are hundreds of feet high.
That’s exactly what you get when you visit Shore Acres State Park, south of Coos Bay and North Bend.
“The park rangers do a really good job keeping the park up and we as the friends group for the park do what we can to provide resources for the things they can’t afford to do,” said Shirley Bridgham, who is part of Friends of Shore Acres, Inc., a volunteer group that also runs the information center and gift shop at the park.
Shore Acres started as a private estate on a bluff looking out over the Pacific Ocean. Originally the park was owned by pioneer timber baron, Louis J. Simpson. The state of Oregon purchased the estate in 1942. Since then the park has been re-imaged into one of the lesser-known jewels on the Oregon Coast.
The park has two main areas, the bluff and overlook and the garden area.
When you enter the park, there is a large picnic area, and during summer days you can have lunch or enjoy the sun, while looking out over the relatively flat Pacific Ocean. In the fall and winter, waves crash against the sandstone bluffs, spraying ocean water hundreds of feet into the air.
“It’s very impressive,” Bridgham said. “The waves crash over the rocks and it is just an amazing display.” On the bluff, where Simpson’s original mansions once stood, you will find an Observation Building to keep you dry during the rainy season.
The day I visited, several charter boats were in the area, and you could watch as anglers caught fish, and other visitors enjoyed capturing the scene. A trail runs throughout the park – which connects to the Sunset Bay and Cape Arago state parks and walking along the trail offers views that are unrivaled along the coast.
The rock formations are most interesting and at times you will see seals and sea lions swimming and playing. Birds such as osprey, cormorants, pelicans and gulls are regular visitors.
The second attraction in the park is the information center and gift shop and the garden area.
When visiting, be sure to stop by the Information and Gift Center (IGC), as there are some daily walking tours and other programs offered, but usually they are focused on the spring and summer months. Friends of Shore Acres, Inc., an all-volunteer organization, runs the IGC, which sells seeds and gardening implements, books and Oregon tourist items, among many other items. Proceeds go toward providing interpretive, educational and physical development programs for the park, Bridgham said.
With more than 6 acres of formal gardens, there are many plants from around the world and something is in bloom almost every day of the year.
Attractions in the garden area include:
Hundreds of spring bulbs and daffodils - late Feb. thru March - 8,000 tulips - late March thru April
Hundreds of rhododendrons and azaleas - April thru mid-May
5,000 flowering annuals/perennials - May thru Sept.
800 rose bushes - June thru Sept.
250 dahlias - Aug. thru mid-Oct.
300,000 or more holiday lights (almost all L.E.D.)- Thanksgiving thru New Year's Eve.
The amazing gardens include the formal garden, rose gardens, an Oriental Garden with a 100’ lily pond, a greenhouse, a performance pavilion, and the original Garden House. As you walk around the Oriental Garden, the pond appears to change color and each area offers something a little different. Many photographers spend hours using their skills to capture the perfect postcard image.
About the Shore Acres State Park: Perched on rugged sandstone cliffs high above the ocean, Shore Acres State Park is an exciting and unexpected combination of beautiful natural and constructed features. Once the grand estate of pioneer timber baron Louis Simpson, Shore Acres features lushly planted gardens with plants and flowers from all over the world. Something is in bloom almost every day of the year.
What to bring: As with all places on the Oregon Coast, dress for the weather and check the weather reports often. While during the summer it can reach 90 degrees in the Portland Metro area, on the coast it can still reach only 65 or 70 degrees. In addition, the park is filled with walking trails, and while there are benches and seating areas to take in the view, comfortable shoes are a must.
Tip: The park does require a state of Oregon State Parks pass, but don’t fret. The passes are offered at the information center and gift shop, so when you enter the park, go straight to the gift shop and buy a pass. You can get a day pass, a year pass or a two year pass. Your camping receipt from Sunset Bay State Park or any other state park campground is accepted as a daily permit for those days registered. Display the receipt on the driver side of your dashboard when visiting Shore Acres State Park.
Season: The park is open year round.
Getting there: Shore Acres State Park is located on the Cape Arago Highway, 13 miles southwest of Coos Bay/North Bend and U. S. Highway 101.
Phone: (541) 888-3732 (park office); (541) 888-2472 or 866-888-6100 (Information and gift center)
By Patrick Johnson