On an ocean cliff high above a tiny bay you can find one of Oregon's finest Christmas light displays. When lumber baron Louis Simpson built his lavish estate here in the early 1900s, he could never have envisioned the holiday spectacle we enjoy today. Hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights illuminate the grounds, which include a Japanese pond garden, formal plantings, and venerable specimen trees. The high point where the mansion once stood now features an enclosed viewing kiosk, perfect for wave watching.
This place is truly a destination worthy of at least one whole day, not only because it is just outside of Coos Bay (which is, truthfully, not very near anything else), but because it should be visited in the daylight, as well. Sunset Bay is a small and beautiful basin with its own campground nearby. This is one of our favored retreats, especially if we can score a night in one of the highly popular yurts. We love the sheltered little beach, which has a parking area with unobstructed views of the water. A trail originates near the restrooms and leads over dramatic bluffs, along the gardens, and down to a secluded beach. Small, informal trails wind through the brush; we like to explore the cliff top, trying to guess where the tennis court and barns once were.
In nearby Charleston (which is pretty much a part of Coos Bay), the yearly Miniature Train Village is usually up and running. This is no ordinary model train exhibit, but railroad upon railroad stacked in a fully-lighted display. The exhibit has become so popular they have had to move it to the old Charleston Schoolhouse . This is good news for those who have previously stood in line in the rain, waiting to get in. (Note: for 2017, the schoolhouse is unavailable, so the trains will not be on display.)
Visiting the Area
The light display is open from 4:00 to 9:30 Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve. There is a $5.00 parking fee which works in all of the day use areas if you do not have a State Parks parking pass. Parking is free if you are camping. Please note that pets are not allowed in the gardens.
Come during daylight hours for great photos of waves and sandstone cliffs, then return in the evening for the light display. There is an excellent gift shop where you can buy flower-shaped LED lights and
take a little piece of Shore Acres home with you. Free cookies are served in the garden cottage.
Best of all, most of the gardens are fully wheelchair
Sunset Bay State Park features year-round camping beside a calm little bay. More camping is available to the north at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, which offers cozy cabins as well as regular and deluxe yurts.
Click here for an excellent hiking trail guide. Be especially careful on rocks and beaches during times of high surf, such as just after a winter storm. Large, powerful
waves can form quickly and suddenly.
Charleston's miniature train display has long been an area tradition; sadly, this year (2017), the display is temporarily on hold. Watch for it in future years.