My 10-year-old Gus and I were alone for the week and I wanted to get away on a summer DSC_0618outdoor adventure, but farther than our usual more local, within-an-hour-of-Portland trips. Chris and the twins were on a 10-day high adventure-rafting trip on the Deschutes River then water skiing on Cove Palisades while Gus and I were home. I like to be away, I realize, but I am glad they had this Boy Scout high adventure trip.

The week was a bit chopped up with Ryan’s 22nd birthday and the Writers Connection prison visit and a sleepover Gus was invited on, so we really only had a day and a half to do this outdoor adventure. Hard to go very far and spend the night. I wanted to find a location that would be interesting for Gus, a place we could visit where he didn’t need to have a friend along, as an amusement park requires (I had considered Great Wolf Lodge but it did not work out).

I wanted a place that was far enough away to feel like we got out of the city, but close enough that we could make it a day trip. Driving. Caves came to mind, as they sounded entertaining. I googled and found the Oregon Caves, but it was a 5–hour drive. Hmm. Then, I googled again and found Ape Caves, 1 1/2 hours away into Washington. Not bad, but I wanted something a bit farther. Finally, I found the IMG_3591Sea Lion Caves online, and they were a three hour drive. DSC_0608The fact that they were caves to look at was great and the fact that there were sea lions. Priceless (I just had to do this). It sounded entertaining for a 10-year-old: Sea lions AND a cave.


I ignored the negative reviews on Yelp, which sounded mean-spirited. They warned us that there may not be sea lions during a particular visit, and that it was costly for a family to attend. For me, visit was worth it nonetheless. When we arrived, the owner told us indeed, that there were no sea lions to view as they were out in the wild, so they gave us a discount.

It’s not about the sea lions. Plus, this is not a zoo, where they lock sea lions in a small cage for your viewing pleasure. This is the wild, a place where sea lions gather when they may be out to sea.

The visit starts walking down this paved path with this IMG_3565breathtaking IMG_3568view of the ocean and the Heceta Head Lighthouse. At the bottom of the path, you take an elevator to the depths of the Sea Lion Caves. When you walk out of the elevator, there is a pathway that you walk along, a pathway with cave rock walls. This leads you to the viewing area of the splashing ocean waves crashing against the large boulders where the sea lions usually gather. It was neat because these IMG_3572large boulders with the waves crashing against them are at the bottom of this canyon that has natural light from above streaming down. The shadows cast are surreal. Another path leads to a different viewing area that overlooks the lighthouse in a distance. Views with bioculars for a couple of quarters were a highlight for GusDSC_0584DSC_0588This area is with no netting or fencing, it’s open air, with cave rock walls on the side. Signs explaining the history of the Sea Lion Caves line the walls and a couple of sea lion skeletons are on display in museum like fashion. DSC_0593

After the Sea Lion Caves visit, we were drawn to the far away lighthouse. A short drive away and half mile walk away, we found the Heceta Head Lighthouse, built in 1894. The lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.The gravel uphill trail to the lighthouse offers stunning views of the central Oregon coast and the historic  Cape Creek Bridge and Devils Elbow State Park. DSC_0634The bridge was designed by Oregon’s famous bridge engineer, Conde B. McCullough, and completed in 1932.

Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint is located in a cove at the mouth of Cape Creek.  A short trail leads to the historic Heceta Head lighthouse and assistant keeper’s house. Heceta Head trail is part of a 7-mile network.IMG_3614

A sign said they stop lighthouse tours at 3 pm, and it was 2:50 pm before we got on the trail. When we got there, though it was a bit after 3 pm, they still allowed a group of us to tour the recently restored lighthouse. IMG_3600Gus loved the information on the tour and asked a bunch of questions regarding the spiral stairs and how the light in the lighthouse rotates. The volunteer tour guide was very gracious-and impressed-with his questions.

After our little hike on the trail to the lighthouse, we hung out at the beach and relaxed. It is a neat little private beach, surrounded by the lighthouse and the lighthouse innkeeper house and the Cape Creek Bridge.

We ended our outdoor summer adventure with kids with a stop at Mo’s in Florence for dinner. IMG_3618It had to be Mo’s, Gus’s favorite at Cannon Beach, which we go to every year for his birthday. We had never been to the Mo’s in  Florence, or at least not as a family. The breathtaking view of the Siuslaw River and Florence Bridge as well as this bay area with serene sailboats made the seafood meal that much more memorable. I was trying to pick things to do that would appeal to my baby. Yes, I still call him my baby, yep, though he is 10, he will always be my baby.

It was such a beautiful view and fun day that I did not want it to end. I saw a hotel from Mo’s that overlooked the river and thought, hey, maybe we can spend the night after all, but there was no opening. We drove the three hours home, arriving about 10:15 pm.

As I reflected on this outdoor summer adventure with one of my kids, I thought about how great it was to see the Sea Lion Caves, and yet, how the reviews of the caves almost made me not want to go. But I went anyway, and wrote my own review. It’s not about the sea lions. It’s about the experience with the kids. It’s the adventure, outdoors, in historic places. If it were about the sea lions, we could go to the zoo. But, we didn’t want to go to the zoo today. We wanted to see the Sea Lion Caves, America’s largest sea lion cave, “nothing short of wild.”  Not contrived or structured like a zoo (though I love zoos). The sea lions come when  they are ready. It was mostly about the caves for us, with the sea lions, if we found them, a bonus. The lighthouse and bridges and seagulls DSC_0665perched on viewing docks and the expansive ocean and the river view. And Mo’s, my 10-year-olds favorite. Truly priceless. I want to capture these years and bottle them up and never let them go. I am wanting to squeeze as much of summer into our lives as possible. Which is precisely why we found this great little ice cream shop in Florence, which had great contrast and reflection. This adventure helped make me feel like we are doing just that, wringing out the last drops of summer. Our adventure.

[For more information:

Sea Lion Caves- Florence Oregon

The address is:Sea Lion Caves, 91560 Hwy. 101 N.,Florence, OR 97439

Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic View point]


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