Overlooking The Mill Casino exterior and bay

Local Tips

Waves crashing into cliffs at Shore Acres

Storm Watching, Whale Watching and Holiday Lights

Oregon’s best kept secret in the winter is its southern coastline.

“People are surprised by how stunningly beautiful our beaches are,” says Katherine Hoppe, Tourism & Content Manager at The Mill Casino Hotel & RV Park on Coos Bay. “There are no hotels or restaurants on the beach, so you can have the majority of the beach to yourself.”

The Coos Bay/North Bend area, home to about 30,000 residents, is a big draw for visitors from around the U.S.

Storm-watching is at the top of the list of things to do for residents and visitors, especially during the winter. Hoppe notes that the position of the cliffs at Shore Acres State Park can turn a 20-foot wave into an epic 120-foot splash.

“When there’s significant activity out at sea, it causes the huge swells,” Hoppe says. “You watch wave after wave come in, and it’s too mesmerizing to leave.”

And the weather doesn’t have to be bad on land. Just in case, Shore Acres State Park features storm huts for when the rain comes too close to shore.

Cape Arago State Park, just a few miles from Shore Acres, is the site for another major draw to the southern coast: whale watching. Gray whales travel close to the shore as they migrate to Baja California, Mexico. The heaviest concentration of gray whales occurs at the end of December. Volunteers from the Whale Watching Spoken Here® program offer “assisted whale watching” in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

“If you’ve never gone whale-watching before, it’s good to have the volunteers help you spot them at first,” says Hoppe. “Then you can go out on your own.”

The Holiday Lights at Shore Acres State Park offers a spectacular light show during the winter.  About 1,500 community volunteers set up more than 300,000 lights — and almost all are LED.  The tradition, now in its 30th year, runs from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve.

“Fifty thousand people go out during that five-week period from almost every state,” Hoppe says. “It’s magical.”

Life sized whale LED structure amongst holiday lights

Visitors ringing in 2017 can participate in the Polar Bear Plunge, with a dive into the ocean. The only rule is that you have to fully submerge yourself. The event takes place on New Year’s Day, at Sunset Bay State Park at 9 AM, sharp. Everyone is welcome to participate.

The Egyptian Theatre is an ideal choice for historic cinema fans. Built in 1925, the theater is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its schedule includes holiday concerts, an Ugly Sweater Contest and fundraisers for local attractions, such as the Oregon Coast Historic Railway. Volunteers decorate the railroad cars each year, providing a “real local flavor for the holidays,” says Hoppe. “It looks really beautiful.”

Worried the winter weather could put a damper on your fun? You might be pleasantly surprised.

“We get great weather in the winter time. Our temperatures stay within the same 15 degree temperature range all year,” says Hoppe.