Perched on craggy sandstone cliffs high above the ocean, Shore Acres State Park celebrates two sorts of beauty: ruggedly organic and artfully constructed.
Once the grand estate of timber baron Louis J. Simpson, Shore Acres features a formal garden inspired by the original, with plants and flowers from all over the world. Visitors find a Japanese-style garden with lily pond and two carefully curated rose gardens that include All-American Rose Selections. Something is in bloom almost every day of the year: the first spring bulbs pop up in late February; rhododendrons and azaleas soon follow; roses bloom through the summer; and dahlias appear August through mid-October. For a schedule of what's in bloom, visit the Friends of Shore Acres website.
A rougher beauty beckons from beyond the garden, where a trail leads to a secluded ocean cove at Simpson Beach. Another skirts the cliff’s edge, offering spectacular views of rugged seascapes, furious storm waves, and migrating whales from December through June.
No doubt, this same view inspired Simpson to build his mansion here — a site now occupied by a fully enclosed observation building. It’s a windless place to enjoy the view and read interpretive panels describing the history of the Simpson estate.
One mile north of Shore Acres, Sunset Bay State Park offers overnight camping facilities and a sheltered beach. One mile to the south, Cape Arago State Park has hiking trails, picnic tables, and excellent opportunities for viewing tidepool life and the offshore colonies of seals and sea lions on Shell Island and Simpson Reef, part of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. All three parks are connected by a segment of the Oregon Coast Trail.
From Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve, the gardens are ablaze with hundreds of thousands of colored lights and holiday decorations. A tradition since 1987, the event attracts thousands from throughout the region. Consider a weekday visit to avoid crowds and a long wait for parking. Entrance to the event is free; parking is $5 (cash only).
The park is open 8 a.m. to dusk daily, year-round. Closing times are posted at the park entrance. Entrance to the gardens is free, but a $5 daily parking fee (cash only) is required to visit the park and garden.
The Friends of Shore Acres operate an information and gift center at the entrance to the formal gardens, where visitors can purchase items that relate to the historical and natural features of Shore Acres. The Friends also sponsor a variety of horticultural and cultural events throughout the year.
Commercial and recreational use of a radio controlled aircraft, unmanned aircraft - "drones", quad-copters' and similar are prohibited at Shore Acres, Sunset Bay, Norton Gulch, and Cape Arago.
This is a safety effort to control hazards that could negatively affect visitors or protected wildlife.
In 1906-07, lumberman and shipbuilder Louis Jerome Simpson built an oceanfront summer home for his wife Cassandra Stearns on a promontory 13 miles west of Coos Bay. Simpson was the son of wealthy shipping and timber magnate Asa Mead Simpson, who founded the town of North Bend after his arrival on Coos Bay in 1855.
“Shoreacres” eventually included a mansion with ocean view, indoor swimming pool, large ballroom, spacious gardens, a modern farm, and a dairy herd. The luxurious gardens featured trees, shrubs, and flowering plants brought from around the world aboard Simpson’s ships.
Cassandra died in April 1921, and the mansion burned that July. Simpson remarried Lela Gardner and began to build an even larger replacement. Just following its 1928 completion, the stock market crashed, triggering the Great Depression. The financial losses caused both house and grounds to fall into disrepair, and eventually, bankruptcy.
The state purchased the initial holding from Simpson in 1942. Later additions were acquired from other owners between 1956 and 1980. The garden fell into disarray for decades, but it has been restored to perhaps an even grander scale than that achieved by the Simpsons.