Coastal Idylls: Small-town Getaways

Three sweet seaside oases that let you leave your cares at the beach.

By Liz Hummer, Kristen Russell, Roddy Scherr, April 17, 2012


This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Seattle Magazine.

{ Population: 936 }
When your cell-phone reception gives out and the air is sharp with a briny breeze, you’ll know you’re getting close to Ilwaco. Nestled into the southern end of the Long Beach Peninsula in southwest Washington, Ilwaco is part hard-working fishing port and part relaxed vacation destination. Harbor strollers can take in working fish-processing plants, a busy recreational marina, and several galleries and restaurants.

If seafood is on the agenda, Ilwaco is the place to be. Buy it fresh off the boats at Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Company (117 Howerton Way SE; 360.642.3773) and prepare it on your own terms. Or leave it to chef Jeff McMahon at Pelicano Restaurant (177 Howerton Way SE; 360.642.4034; ), where the usual Northwest seafood suspects are infused with Mediterranean panache. Tuscany Cafe (161 Howerton Way SE; 360.642.4899) also gets high marks for Italian specialties, while locals head for Harbor Lights Restaurant (147 Howerton Way SE; 360.642.3196) or Don’s Portside Cafe for comfort food ( 303 First Ave. N; 360.642.3477).

The paved eight-and-a-half-mile Discovery Trail starts right in town and gives cyclists and walkers access to the cliffs, tidelands and beaches where Lewis and Clark first came to the mighty Pacific two centuries ago (Discovery Trail details: and

North Head Lighthouse makes for an interesting side jaunt off the Discovery Trail. Lighthouse keepers’ residence houses there and at nearby Cape Disappointment are now available for rent by the night to the public through Washington State Parks.

Originally built in 1928 as Ilwaco’s Presbyterian Church, the Inn at Harbour Village (120 Williams Ave. NE; 360.642.0087) has gone through several incarnations—including flophouse for wayward fishermen and later, a temporary high school—before becoming the nicest hotel in town. Each of the 10 unique guest rooms has its own private bathroom, and an elegant parlor features a grandfather clock, game table and oversized sofas. The original chapel/auditorium can still hold 120 guests, making the inn a great place to tie the knot. —R.S.

GETTING THERE: About three and a quarter hours southwest of Seattle, via Interstate 5 South to S.R. 8 West, to U.S. 101 South. See map.


Astoria, Or
{ Population: 9,477 }

Astoria’s restored 1920’s vaudeville palace, the Liberty Theatre, hosts music and dance performances. Photo by Susan Seubert

The “Graveyard of the Pacific” may not sound like a peaceful getaway, but visit this shipwreck-prone coast (thanks to vicious offshore currents and volatile weather) and you’ll find that Astoria’s rough-and-tumble past belies its idyllic present: a river walk with restored trolley, cute shops and gorgeous Victorian homes scaling the hills. Serving as the gateway to the Columbia River, this former cannery capital of the world is easily the quirkiest of Oregon’s coastal towns, but still a breathtaking and relaxing escape to the beach.

Astoria has had a colorful history, most notably, a 1922 fire that destroyed most of the town, which was at the time built on wooden pilings in the water. The Cannery Pier Hotel (No. 10 Basin St.; 888.325.4996) sits 600 feet into the Columbia River; each room offers stunning views of big-ship traffic heading under the majestic Astoria-Megler Bridge.

The Commodore Hotel  (258 14th St.; 503.325.4747), meanwhile, recently turned a classic 1920s building into a modern, European-style hotel with hip furnishings.

Start the day with breakfast at the cozy Columbian Cafe (1114 Marine Drive; 503.325.2233) or brunch at the Astoria Coffeehouse & Bistro (243 11th St.; 503.325.1787). For lunch, slurp clam chowder at the Silver Salmon Grille (1105 Commercial St.; 503.338.6640), or sample authentic Bosnian cuisine at Drina Daisy (915 Commercial St.; 503.338.2912). For dinner, try fresh fish at Clemente’s, owned by a fourth-generation fishing family (1198 Commercial St.; 503.325.1067).

End the day with a pint at Fort George Brewery and Public House (1483 Duane St.; 503.325.7468), or cocktails at the Voodoo Room (1114 Marine Drive; 503.325.2233).

For shopping, peruse world imports at Cargo ( 240 11th St.; 503.975.5305; call for an appointment), salvaged décor at Astoria Vintage Hardware (380 14th St.; 503.325.1313) and denim at Betty Lou Jean Co (1412 Commercial St.; 503.325.1994).

Take in the view from the 125-foot-tall Astoria Column  and stop by the Columbia River Maritime Museum to dive into Astoria’s past (1792 Marine Drive; 503.325.2323). Then swing by the new Oregon Film Museum (732 Duane St.; 503.325.2203) to learn about local sights made famous in films such as Kindergarten Cop and The Goonies. —LIZ HUMMER

GETTING THERE: About three hours southwest of Seattle in Oregon via Interstate 5 and U.S. Highway 30. See map.


Manzanita, Or
{ Population: 598 }

The wild coastline near Manzanita, Oregon. Photo by Amanda Wilson

 Weatherworn shingles, the smell of the sea on the breeze and a dog on every corner: Manzanita’s main street, Laneda Avenue, dead-ends at the beach, where you can take in the white sands and sea cliffs. This quaint town 14 miles south of Cannon Beach is short on neon, chain stores and stoplights, but long on charming shops, ocean-view lodging and terrific nearby hikes.

Park your car at the ocean end of Laneda, so you can bookend your day with a stroll on the sand. The cliffs of nearby Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain slope straight into the sea on the north end of Manzanita Beach—it’s a stunning vista.

Next, take your fierce, windblown hair up the street to the tiny cafe, called simply The Coffee Shop (60 Laneda Ave.; 503.368.2233), where strong lattes and pastries are served up in laidback fashion. Farther along, at T-Spot (144 Laneda Ave.; 503.368.7768), you’ll find locally spun yarns in jewel colors, chocolates, and locally created accessories and jewelry. Dog lovers won’t want to miss Four Paws on the Beach next door (144 Laneda Ave.; 503.368.3436).

A few doors down is the cozy, brimming Cloud & Leaf Bookstore (148 Laneda Ave.; 503.368.2665); stop by for a browse before lunching at the excellent deli, café and bakery Bread and Ocean next door (154 Laneda Ave.; 503.368.5823).

Or, if it’s still early, take a quick drive up Highway 101 to the lovely Arch Cape Inn and Retreat (31970 E Ocean Lane; 800.436.2848), where a prix fixe breakfast—menu philosophy designed with the help of beloved PBS chef Graham Kerr—is served in gracious style in a picturesque, fairy-tale setting (reserve several weeks ahead).

Beachfront lodging options include the Ocean Inn (32 Laneda Ave.; 503.368.7701), with large rooms that feature full kitchens and woodstoves. A block from the beach, but sporting Jacuzzi tubs and mini kitchens in several rooms, is the Inn at Manzanita (67 Laneda Ave.; 503.368.6754).

Lace up your sneakers and head to nearby Oswald West State Park; the complex of trails meander out to sweet little pocket beaches and bluffs along the coast. It’s a great way to take in jaw-dropping vistas to the tune of pounding waves and sea breezes in the trees. —KRISTEN RUSSELL

GETTING THERE: About four hours southwest of Seattle in Oregon via Interstate 5 and U.S. Highway 101. See map.


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