Since the mid-1800s, seaside beauty has drawn newcomers to this spunky Pacific Northwest town.

By John Doerper
March 31, 2004

"Living in Bandon is much like being on vacation," says MikeVickrey. He moved to the Oregon coast in 1993, after many years inWisconsin, Michigan, Florida, and California. Mike finds that thislittle town, population 2,800, backs up its motto as "the perfectchange of place."

"Here are some of the cleanest and easiest walking beachesyou'll find anywhere," he says. "Beachcombing―especiallyduring the winter months―is unsurpassed." In spring andsummer, with the ocean just minutes from his doorstep, Mike says hedoesn't have to worry about an air conditioner. "I just let theclean breeze come through."

Driving Oregon's southerly coast on Highway 101 takes youthrough Bandon's modern business center, and few can resistdetouring to Old Town's restaurants, galleries, boutiques, andbookstores. This historic district stretches about six blocks alongthe Coquille River and two blocks inland. Residential neighborhoodsrise on the slope to the south, on the bluffs above the South JettyBeach, and upriver to the east. It's easy to imagine travelersgazing toward these homes from a café and thinking, "I wonderwhat it's like to live here."

"There are a lot of 'wannabe Bandon people,'" says Nancy Evans,who settled here in 1972 after driving through. What makes Bandonso attractive to both travelers and new residents is thespectacular seaside-ness of it. Shorebirds, ducks, geese, baldeagles, ospreys, and white-tailed kites hang out in the pristinesalt marsh of Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, a few mileseast of downtown. Cormorants, murres, and tufted puffins frequentthe ocean waters off Coquille Point. Gray whales migrate nearshore, and orcas have been known to enter the Coquille estuary.Salmon remain plentiful, too. Bandon charter boats number among thefew in the entire Pacific Northwest to return to port with fullcatches. Bountiful Dungeness crab inspired the port to rig aspecial harbor dock where crabbers can set their traps.

The town burned to the ground twice―in 1914 and again in1936. Both times, the resilient and pragmatic locals rebuilt theirhomes and businesses and didn't look back. Economically, Bandon'slocation at the mouth of the Coquille shaped it as a port for seaand river. In the early 1900s, the town frequently hosted vesselstraveling between San Francisco and the Columbia River intoPortland. As local timber, fish, and produce resources declined,Bandon moved on to tourism.

When Nancy arrived more than 25 years ago, many residents hadyet to appreciate Bandon's historic significance, so she set aboutco-founding the Bandon Historical Society. She has beeninstrumental in the ongoing renaissance of Old Town―now amecca for visitors. "I worked so hard on getting the tourism up andrunning that [now] I have no place to park," she says with alaugh.

People move here even though well-paying jobs are scarce, andsome, like Nancy, create their own work. Having contributed so muchto the tourism boost via her Old Town efforts, Nancy says, "I'm nowdoing penance by bringing the sustainable organic industry to town.We need a viable industry other than tourism."

In 1997, she helped start Bandon Organic Growers (BOG) andremains a key player in this enterprise. "Bandon is the perfectplace to get sustainable organics growing," she says, naming thelocal stars―blueberries, blackberries, strawberries,cranberries, raspberries, artichokes, lettuces. Now Nancy ishelping develop international markets for Bandon organic produceand serves as the Web site master for BOG.

Local kids who leave Bandon often return once they have madetheir bundle elsewhere. A few, such as Judy Knox and her husband,Ron, have lived in Bandon all their lives. "Bandon is a truly greatplace to have been raised and to call home," says Judy, who runsthe Coquille River Museum. "We both feel very fortunate to havebeen able to stay here." She welcomes visitors and transplants. "Wefeel people come to Bandon for all the right reasons―thebeauty, the small-town atmosphere, friendly people, and a relaxed,laid-back community."

Saying it most succinctly is Southern California transplantConnie Madden, now a waitress at the Bandon Dunes Resort. Shedecided she would rather "live in a nice place and visit the citythan escape from the city to wind down in nice places."

(published 2001)