Storm Watching at the South Coast’s Most Westerly Paradise
Famous for its peculiar geography and hurricane-force storms, Port Orford captivates its visitors with its dramatic scenery and intriguing history.
Every city has its distinctive characteristics. Port Orford, located on the rocky, windy shores of Oregon’s South Coast, is no exception. Settled in 1851, it is the oldest townsite on the Oregon coastline. It is also the most westerly town in the contiguous United States. But it is Port Orford’s peculiar distinction for almost-yearly hurricane-level rainstorms that gains the most attention and respect from its year-round visitors.
Historic Battle Rock Beach
Huddled near the base of Humbug Mountain, and overlooking the monoliths of Battle Rock Beach, Port Orford has an inarguable claim on beauty. With some of the most dramatic scenery to be found north of Gold Beach, the little town of 1,160 residents seems undaunted by Mother Nature. Its motels and bright bed and breakfast inns look out over the ocean; its seafood eateries and espresso cafés have a front-row seat to nature’s tempests and displays. Port Orford has been a fishing town for more than 100 years, and the ocean is an integral part of its life.
Port Orford Fishing Docks
Nowhere is this more evident than on the tall concrete docks that guard Port Orford’s fishing boats. During a storm nature is at its best, whipping across the surface as if it were an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean. Locals and visitors cram into Griff’s Restaurant on the docks for a bowl of clam chowder, some hot coffee, and Port Orford’s best entertainment: storm watching.
The food at Griff’s is worth the stay as well. Meals range from the casual salmon burger with dill sauce to full seafood dinners. A large bay window faces Port Orford’s rocky coastline where enormous stone monoliths are battered incessantly and worn smooth by winter storms.
On a sunny day, the view is just as intriguing. Port Orford’s fishing vessels are lifted by enormous metal cranes and lowered into the waters below. Port Orford’s cove has no protective bar to shelter its boats from southerly winter winds. Yet families have been fishing here for generations, accommodating the weather’s tempests by lifting their boats out each day.
Port Orford Heads State Park
Towering above the town center is Coast Guard Hill (also called the Port Orford Heads), another emblem of Port Orford’s past. Until 1970 the Heads housed an active Coast Guard station. Today it is a state park of rambling trails and some of the most spectacular vistas on the South Coast. Visitors can hike out to the tip of the cape, or overlook the cove where boats were dispatched during storm searches.
Surfing at Battle Rock Beach
During the spring Port Orford’s sandy beaches take on popularity all of their own. Battle Rock Beach is a favorite surfing location, mainly for its jaw-dropping scenery. It is a peculiar fate for a beach that was named in memoriam of Port Orford’s pioneer days when Europeans battled Native tribes on this very beach for the right to homestead. These days the battle is one against nature and the elements, as surfers attempt to command some of Northwest’s most tumultuous waters.
RV Facilities in Port Orford
RV’ers too, have their piece of Port Orford. Well-sheltered RV parks are a major attraction in this part of the South Coast. Many of the parks have full amenities and have become favorite waysides for seasonal visitors.
For the locals, paradise is a little-known road at the backside of the town, where Port Orford’s raison d’etre is summed up in a single glance. They call it Paradise Beach, for obvious reasons. Here there is no competition with the sea, just unparalleled beauty. And there is no better way to appreciate Port Orford’s dramatic storms than to witness one of its spectacular sunsets after the calm. This is, after all, what Port Orford life is all about.