Everything's Just Beachy on Washington's Pacific Coast
by Sarah Day
On road trips, sometimes you are lucky enough to stumble on places as remote and breathtaking as the Washington Coast simply by taking an unexpected turn. Those are the moments you wish you planned ahead to stay a little longer, to explore a little more. A couple days truly aren’t sufficient for this wild and historically rich coastline.
Tides reveal local secrets. Paths meander through windswept dunes. Bald eagles soar overhead, and during the right time of year, migrating whales breach just offshore. On clear, dark nights, the Milky Way reveals itself. Even the winter storm season puts on a show with its powerful waves, awe-inspiring sun breaks and vivid rainbows.
Though the towns lining the Washington Coast are small, you’ll find
fishing charters, clam digging, horseback rides, galleries, go-karts, arcades,
moped rentals, and a plethora of museums. Even on those classically rainy
Washington days, there’s no shortage of seaside fun.
Tides reveal local secrets. Paths meander through windswept dunes. Bald eagles soar overhead, and during the right time of year, migrating whales breach just offshore"
Long Beach Peninsula
The state’s most southwest corner sits at the mouth of the Columbia RIver, and it’s here you will find Cape Disappointment State Park. Lewis and Clark ended their journey here, and you can retrace their footsteps at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which sits atop a 200-foot cliff.
Once known as Fort Canby, the park still has remains of the Civil War era fort tucked away in the waist-height ferns. Two working lighthouses, each over a century old, stand atop cliffs with sweeping views of the Columbia-Pacific Confluence. Miles of trails lead to this park’s best kept secrets, so pack a lunch and make time for hiking.
This park is part of the Long Beach Peninsula. It’s not quite the world’s longest beach as its historic arch claims, but the peninsula’s continuous 28-mile stretch is definitely the longest on the West Coast. Kites dot the skies, families sit fireside on the beach eating ‘smores and bike riders explore the 8.5-mile Discovery Trail that winds through the dunes.
The popular town of Long Beach has all the beach town classics, including an arcade and go-karts. On the southern end of the peninsula, Ilwaco is known for fishing and art galleries. On the north end sits the historic town of Oysterville and Leadbetter Point State Park, a remote and peaceful place to sit and gaze seaward.
This area is also home to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Its trails are some of the most rewarding for nature lovers and birders, bringing hikers to old growth forests and important birding areas along Willapa Bay. The more adventurous can pack a lunch and paddle to Long Island during high tide.
The fishing (and surfing) village of Westport
Farther north is the tiny town of Tokeland, known for its artists and the oldest hotel in Washington state. The Tokeland Hotel’s restaurant is worth a stop all on its own. The hotel is also the hub for many of the area’s events, including the annual art studio tour and Woodfest.
Just north of Tokeland is Grayland State Park, a peaceful stretch of shore pines and coast perfect for beach combing, kite flying, and relaxing. A stop at the tiny Grayland Cranberry Museum is a hoot. Nearby is the coastal town of Westport where you can learn about the area’s maritime history, schedule a salmon fishing charter, or go surfing at Half Moon Bay in Westhaven State Park.
The Westport Maritime Museum is a must-see. Originally a Coast Guard Lifeboat Station built in 1939, the building itself has a fascinating history. The museum’s largest artifacts are the Destruction Island Lighthouse lens and a full whale skeleton. This museum also maintains the tallest lighthouse in Washington, the Grays Harbor Lighthouse, which is open for tours seasonally or by appointment.
Ocean Shores and North Beach
Ocean Shores sits across the harbor from Westport. Its six-mile stretch of sandy beach along with go-karts, golfing, and bowling make it a family favorite. Nearby Damon Point is a popular beach for bird watchers, but it’s also a treat for rockhounds. Look for amber agates and petrified wood along this beach’s gravel bars. From here, you can also take in an incredible view of the Olympic Mountains.
The North Beach area of Grays Harbor County stretches from Ocean City to Moclips. Visit Copalis Beach and Griffiths-Priday State Park for wonderful hiking trails that lead through the dunes. Rent a bike and explore Seabrook’s eco-friendly trails and well-preserved beach. Close to Seabrook is Roosevelt Beach with its beautiful clay cliffs and lagoons. In Moclips, visit the Museum of the North Beach where you’ll find an expanding collection of Japanese tsunami debris along with other fascinating artifacts.
No matter what part of the Washington Coast you find yourself wandering, you will be rewarded with natural wonder and adventure. And it will keep calling you back long after you’ve returned home.