I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, a peaceful town perfectly situated between the mountains and the coast. My family made great use of that prime location. Among my favorite memories from childhood were our weekends in Coos Bay.
Dad loved seafood. I did, too, but mostly I liked hanging out with the old man. So, I would go with him on any and all hunter/gatherer excursions—crab pots in Charleston, gaper clams in Empire and that one secret beach where he liked to get mussels.
Mom loved the beauty of Shore Acres State Park. I loved watching the crashing waves and exploring the peculiar rock formations. As an only child, I basked in the glow of the Coos Bay summer sun as well as unfettered parental attention.
I went away to college on the East Coast, where I met the lady who would become my wife, Linda. We settled down in her home state of Idaho, had three (mostly) magnificent children and lived what I am proud to say was a good life.
After two of our kids had gone off to college and the youngest had left for the military, Linda wasn’t sure where she was supposed to go. So last year, when our anniversary came around, I suggested we get out of town. Not only was she receptive, she immediately suggested Coos Bay as the destination. She had never been, and I guess the way I wax nostalgic about the place must have pressed her buttons to some degree.
After looking into Coos Bay hotels and Oregon Coast casinos (we enjoyed our last vacation in Vegas), we discovered The Mill Casino • Hotel & RV Park on Coos Bay. We also discovered that they offer a Celebration Hotel Package for anniversaries and birthdays, including a deluxe room, a $40 dining credit, a cake, a bottle of Champagne and two toasting glasses. Sold!
In an absolute stroke of luck, it turned out that our visit coincided with one of The Mill Casino’s premier annual events, the BBQ, Blues & Brews festival. I swear I didn’t plan it that way, but I was pleasantly surprised with my timing.
It was a clear May afternoon when we finally hit Highway 101 in our rental car. It had been more than a few years since I had driven the stretch of road between Reedsport and Coos Bay, and I instantly regretted such a long interval. The shifting sand dunes, tranquil lakes and majestic coastal forests that ushered us those last 30 miles to The Mill brought back a slew of grin-inducing childhood memories. Upon arrival, we were both impressed with the aesthetic of the place. Casinos in Oregon are a far cry from their blaringly bright and loud Las Vegas cousins. They feel more like a cozy lodge with some high-level entertainment options. We got checked into our room and enjoyed a few moments of downtime.
Despite the fact that we now had more activities available to us than we could possibly tackle in a weekend, Linda’s first words upon getting checked in were, “What do we do?” To a passerby, it might have seemed that she meant what are we going to do first, but I knew better. I don’t think she knew what to do on a vacation with just us—no kids. So, I suggested that we put that $40 dining credit to good use at the Plank House Restaurant for dinner. The seafood bouillabaisse tasted like everything I missed about Oregon. That meal, along with the bottle of Oregon Pinot we shared, put us both in a relaxed but lively mood. So, off to the casino we went!
There’s something about getting a good blackjack table that can’t be described if it’s never happened to you. When your new cohorts are friendly, the drinks are flowing and the dealer is busting, there’s palpable excitement. We were lucky enough to get such a table that night. Knowing that discretion is the better part of valor, we quit while we were ahead and walked over to Warehouse 101 for a little live music before calling it a night.
The next morning’s big event was visiting Shore Acres State Park. Now, I understand that I might be a bit biased, but I maintain that it is the most ruggedly beautiful and inspiring stretch of coastline in the state. This return visit only helped solidify my stance. Linda was awestruck by the unreal rock formations, pools of water and jutting rocks that stood defiant against the crashing waves of the Pacific. As if that weren’t enough, the meticulously manicured garden at the park was a sprawling, technicolor dream of roses belonging to every conceivable hue. This was one of my mother’s favorite places on earth. I suspect the same could be said for Linda, if given a little more time there.
That afternoon, we decided to take in some of the BBQ, Blues & Brews. After consuming what must have been something akin to our body weight in pork ribs and beer, we took a seat to digest for a minute.
The music was infectious. We were essentially dancing in our seats, beers in hand, recounting the highlights of the trip with faces sore from smiling. At first, I thought it was the beer—we’d had a few. But it wasn’t the beer. Well, maybe it was, a little. I think the real reason for me was remembering what life was really about. The absolute joy of those days on the coast with my parents—I was reliving those memories with my wife. And Linda realized that not only were things going to be okay with the kids away, but they could potentially be glorious.
We went back to our room and toasted to life’s next chapter. I’m game for what’s in store for us… particularly if it happens to be back on the Oregon Coast. After all, I’ve got a lifetime of memories to add to.