Ultimate Coast Guide: Long Beach Peninsula
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Go here if: you love a dose of history with your beach. Along with the tiny historic settlement of Oysterville, the peninsula is home to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.
Travel time: approximately 3.5 hours from Seattle
Soak up some history
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center (248 Robert Gray Drive; 360.642.3029; parks.wa.gov; 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily; $2.50–$5), perched 200 feet above the Pacific on the tip of Long Beach Peninsula, traces the historic expedition’s journey west with short films, photographs, mural-style timelines and other memorabilia. The center is in the 1,882-acre Cape Disappointment State Park, which boasts 27 miles of ocean beach, saltwater marshes, lush forests and two historic lighthouses. Catch a concert in June, July or August, when a twice-monthly series features local acts.
Stroll the Long Beach boardwalk
The half-mile-long wooden boardwalk on the Pacific Ocean side of Long Beach (between Bolstad Ave. and Sid Snyder Drive) weaves through dunes and tall grasses. The walk is punctuated with informational displays on the area’s flora and fauna, as well as on shipwrecks that have given this stretch of coastline the moniker “Graveyard of the Pacific.”
Seattle magazine food editor Allison Austin Scheff’s Ilwaco pick: The Port Bistro
After a quiet stroll along the working docks of Ilwaco—the fishing village at the southern end of the Long Beach Peninsula—stop into Larry Piaskowy and Jennifer Williams’ sunny restaurant, The Port Bistro (235 Howerton Ave SE, Ilwaco) for carefully crafted, locally sourced dishes such as Willapa Bay clam chowder and oysters—also from that famed bay just up the coast—fried in a Chinese five-spice batter and accompanied by apple-fennel slaw. In summer, gaze at the bay view from the patio while diving for mussels in the saffron-speckled bouillabaisse and sipping one of the dozen Northwest wines offered by the glass.
Camp on a desert(ed) island
The camping is free on Long Island (at designated sites; funbeach.com/local-attractions), if you can get there. The five square miles of uninhabited paradise in Willapa Bay are accessible only by kayak or private boat. Once there, marvel at old-growth cedar and enjoy the experience of having an island (almost) to yourself. The crowds are most sparse in May and June.
The Other Coast
Away from the arcades, Long Beach Peninsula’s east side is steeped in oysters—and history
I gave up on the Long Beach Peninsula about the same time I gave up penny arcades and go-carts. Essentially, I outgrew them all.
The ear-ringing bacchanal of these and other pre-adolescent pursuits that Long Beach is known for made it easy to cross off my list. The peninsula’s 28 miles of beachfront seem almost incidental.
But then there is the other body of water. As they say: miles away, worlds apart.
The quiet shores of Willapa Bay, on the east side of the narrow peninsula, are never more than a few miles away from its boisterous coastal neighbor. This side seems to exist much like the oysters that famously grow in the tidal flats—quietly submerged, revealing itself only to those who are willing to look for it.
It wasn’t always this way. In the late 1800s, the bay side was flooded with commercial oyster producers, shipping most of their bounty to San Francisco and points elsewhere. They are largely gone, but like sun-bleached oyster shells piled up in vacant lots and alongside roads, the remnants can be found everywhere.
Oysterville, at the northeastern end of the peninsula, is the most noted example, a lovely former company town that has remained largely intact—and likely more pristine—since its heyday. Now composed of private residences, there are almost no services, aside from Oysterville Sea Farms (360.665.6585; willabay.com), where one can purchase shellfish that, less than one hour ago and 100 yards away, were still thriving in the muddy flats. That, and a walk through town, is enough to make any day satisfying.
This side of the waterfront, more than 20 miles long itself, is largely controlled by several generations of oyster farmers and the sleepy businesses that cater to them. That means walks along the tidal flats are mostly short ones—if permitted at all. However, Leadbetter Point State Park and the adjacent Willapa National Wildlife Refuge have all but one of their boundaries bordered by saltwater, which allows for long, unimpeded walks along the bay or the beach—take your pick. It also is probably the remotest-feeling natural area with the best cell-phone service that I’ve ever visited.
What really makes this part of the peninsula so appealing is the locals’ seeming willingness to play along with me and ignore the existence of the coastal side. There seems to be a pervasive do-it-yourself attitude here, particularly around Nahcotta, about four miles south of Oysterville, and a little more than a mile east from Ocean Park, its coastal twin. Nahcotta is the industrial heart of the peninsula, if such a thing could be said of an unincorporated town of a few hundred people. A few commercial oyster processors operate on the dock, as does the Willapa Bay Interpretive Center. Nearby, Bailey’s Bakery and Café (26910 Sandridge Road, Nahcotta; 360.665.4449; baileysbakerycafe.com/home.html) might offer the only decent cup of coffee on the entire peninsula and, because it also doubles as a post office, the only place to buy a stamp. The Moby Dick Hotel and Oyster Farm (see below), is the only lodging here, aside from a scattering of B&Bs.
But the best displays of this DIY attitude are found at the little spots here and there where family-farmed shellfish can be purchased at what might otherwise be bus-stop shelters. This place is fresh—both in attitude, and in taste. And that’s the way we should expect it out here—far, far away from the puerile pleasures of coastal Long Beach. Well, a couple miles away, at least. But far enough. (Steve Hansen)
Catch the calm at the Moby Dick Hotel
Set on stunningly serene Willapa Bay, the Moby Dick Hotel (25814 Sandridge Road, Nahcotta; 360.665.4543; mobydickhotel.com; from $90), is a peaceful, quirky gift to a stressed-out world. The 10 individually decorated rooms—some with brightly painted walls—are anything but standardized. Its tongue-in-cheek motto—“Worker’s paradise”—reveals the political passions of owner Fritzi Cohen. A crackling fire in the lobby fireplace, along with books for browsing, board games for lying about, and chairs for snoozing, are a cozy respite for guests. Come for the bayside walks, the quiet, the fresh oysters. Leave with your soul becalmed.
This article was originally published in May 2008