Featured image: The Garden House decorated in lights for the holidays at Shore Acres State Park south of Charleston, Oregon
Photos by Cheryl Landes
Updated April 14, 2020
When darkness falls on Shore Acres State Park from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve, the botanical garden bustles. A gray whale surfaces and spouts water from its blowhole. Frogs leap over the lily pond in the Oriental garden. A raccoon, deer, and rabbit peek over a fence into the garden. Bees and hummingbirds pollinate flowers.
These scenes are part of the annual Holiday Lights display at the historic estate of North Bend timber baron Louis J. Simpson four miles south of Charleston, Oregon. Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, he bought more than 750 acres from Sunset Bay to Cape Arago to build a summer home for his wife, Cassie. They named the summer home Shore Acres.
In 1932, Simpson donated 134 acres south of Shore Acres State Park to the State of Oregon to be used as a park. The state developed the property into the Simpson Reef Viewpoint and Cape Arago State Park. Ten years later, he sold 637 additional acres to the state, which included the Shore Acres estate.
Holiday Lights started in 1987 with 6,000 lights and expanded over the years to 325,000 LED lights, which are more energy-efficient.
An Orca breaches and dives into the water with a big splash.
Every night in the Garden House, hot cider, coffee, punch, and cookies are served. There’s also live entertainment, from choirs to jazz bands to square and folk dancers.
Bell ringers play holiday favorites in the gazebo at Shore Acres State Park.
The lights are on daily, 4-9:30 p.m., and the Information and Gift Center at the garden’s entrance is open on the same schedule. The park charges a $5 entry fee per car, but admission to the display is free. The grounds are accessible for the disabled, and wheelchairs are available at the gift shop if needed.
The park and gardens are also open 8 a.m.-dusk year-round. Different types of flowers bloom here each season (view list), and a steep trail connects the botanical garden with the beach. Outside the garden, a gazebo overlooking the Pacific Ocean marks the site of the Simpsons’ former home. It’s a great place to watch the dramatic crashing waves during winter storms, and you’ll probably hear sea lions barking at nearby Simpson Reef. The $5 entry fee per car also applies during daylight hours.
Some daytime views of the garden: A hummingbird pollinates a flower in the Formal Garden (left), the Garden House (upper right), a rhododendron in full bloom in the Formal Garden with the Information and Gift Center in the background (middle right), and the Oriental Garden and Lily Pond (lower right).
Shore Acres State Park is located at 89428 Cape Arago Highway, four miles south of Charleston. To get there, follow US Highway 101 to either Coos Bay or North Bend and take the exit marked, “Charleston/Oregon Beaches.” From there, follow the signs to Charleston, which is eight miles south of Coos Bay and nine miles from North Bend. Continue driving south on Cape Arago Highway, the main road through Charleston, until you reach the park on the right.