Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Washington Coast Weekend Getaway: Long Beach Peninsula

Way down at the southwest corner of Washington on the Pacific coast is a lush land with rich coastal estuaries, the proclaimed world's longest beach (although it's really only #8), and a slower pace reminiscent of an earlier era. 

In early June I spent a weekend on the Long Beach Peninsula in a grand old rental home just a 15-minute stroll through scrubby forest and grassland to the ocean. As we drove into the quiet Seaview neighborhood of quaint houses with spacious green lawns and voluptuous rhododendrons, it reminded me of childhood trips to my grandparents' beach home.

But this weekend was no kids trip. It was an annual reunion weekend of high school friends, which eight of us have been doing now for a couple decades.

Home base for the weekend
While we cooked most of our meals instead of sampling the local restaurants and cafes, we did get out and explore. 

A mild, lovely June day with blue skies and wispy clouds overhead greeted us Saturday morning. After one of the longest and best nights of sleep I've had in months, first up was the walk down to the ocean, where a refreshing sea breeze cleared all the sleep webs from my groggy brain. 

On the ocean side of Long Beach Peninsula, you'll see horses and even cars on the beach, except at the north end where it's protected as part of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Essentially the peninsula is a big sand bar from sediments washed out of the mouth of the nearby mighty Columbia River. And it's still growing.

Discovery Bicycle Trail along the coastline.
It's hard to get anyone to tear away from the intense catching up going on between eight women, but two friends joined me for an easy hike in the afternoon. 

About 20 minutes drive off the peninsula and northeast along Willapa Bay at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters is the truly enchanting Willapa Art Trail. This short quarter-mile boardwalk trail through a wetland is scattered with sculptural pieces instead of interpretive signs to educate visitors. 

From the huge salmon carcass at the trail entrance to small bronze frogs and fish in trees, these pieces were created and installed by students from the University of Washington Public Arts Program.

From the art trail, we cut off to the Cutthroat Trail to make it a longer loop (1 mile). This trail heads up steep wooden steps and then meanders through lovely old growth hemlocks (the Washington State Tree) and ferns. 

Along the way we passed numerous interpretive signs showing a footprint and a description of an animal, quizzing us. Do you know what this one is?

After crossing a stream and heading back uphill, we passed a charming brick labyrinth alongside the trail. Of course we had to stop and follow its circuitous route to the middle and back.

On Sunday we weren't quite so lucky with the blue skies, but the cool, damp weather that characterizes the Washington coast much of the time makes it especially green and fertile. Personally I love a good walk in the rain.

And so I headed to the north end of the peninsula to Leadbetter Point State Park to walk along the inner tidelands. No one wanted to tramp in the rain with me, but I'm good with being alone in nature. In fact, I seek it sometimes.

Leadbetter Point Park is as far north as you can drive on the peninsula (which wasn't the case when I spent a Thanksgiving weekend here in the 1990s). When I arrived, only one other vehicle was in the parking lot. I decided to do the 1.2-mile Bay Loop Trail to see both forest and beach.

While the forest is young up here, it's very verdant and healthy, as you can imagine with an average annual rainfall of 76 inches, almost twice that of Seattle and Portland. Pacific storms slam onto the Northwest coast here before heading inland.

When the tide is out, like it was that day, the tideland provides fecund feeding grounds for birds and waterfowl. It's a birder's destination and protected habitat for the seriously cute but endangered snowy plover.

On the way back down peninsula I stopped at Oysterville Sea Farms on Willapa Bay, which I basically stumbled upon. I'm not an oyster fan, but the weathered wooden building with a big deck overlooking the bay invited me on in. Inside were a variety of local specialties besides oysters. I snagged some local smoked salmon, dried cranberries, and a bottle of their dry white wine specially blended to pair with oysters.

I'm a sucker for old cemeteries, and the Oysterville cemetery is definitely worth a stop. Chief Nahcati is buried there, for whom the peninsula town of Nahcotta was named. He is known for befriending the original Europeans settlers who founded Oysterville and showing them the prolific oyster beds on what was then called Shoalwater Bay.

Back in the town of Long Beach, I met up with my g'friends at popular Cottage Bakery on the main touristy business strip. I read later that it's famous for having some of the best doughnuts in the Pacific Northwest, although we just indulged in soup and tea.

Early Monday morning I was on the road by 6:45 a.m. with work obligations back home in Seattle. Instead of heading east to Interstate 5, though, I meandered up the coast along Highway 101 through lovely coastal estuaries. With the soft, misty morning light, I had to stop and snap some shots.

If you've not been along that stretch of highway before, be prepared for a lovely scenic drive as the highway winds through estuaries, across rivers, and past evergreen forests in various stages of regrowth from logging. After an hour of early morning driving, I lucked out by stopping at Elixir Coffee Shop in South Bend, where the high-quality hot tea and still warm, freshly baked cranberry scone were a sweet surprise in such a small town

With much more to do there, we'll be back in 2019, same weekend, unless the inevitable tsunami hits before then. But that's another blog post altogether. I'm already plotting where I'm going to explore next time around. Have you spent much time down there? What do you recommend if so?

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

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When You Go

The Long Beach Peninsula is close to the southern border of Washington along the Columbia River. Check out an area map, directions and travel options here. From Seattle, I drove down I-5 to Olympia and then cut southwest to Grays Harbor and down Highway 101 along the coast (here's my route on Google maps). It took me almost 3.5 hours to drive home to north Seattle on Monday morning with some rush hour traffic (but not that much).

We stayed at the historic Bloomer Mansion in Seaview, available for rent. It was spacious, private, well-stocked, and comfortable for sprawling out.


Anneskers said...

Love the photos, who would have known there was so much of interest there? Especially love the "artsy" path.

JoJo said...

I went down there once but not as far as Leadbetter. I wish I had gone a second time. It's very much like Cape Cod in that part of the state w/ the marshes, shellfish and cranberry bogs. There is a village in the town of Barnstable called Osterville, presumably also named for oysters. Did you go to Marsh's Free Museum to see Jake the Alligator Man?

jill said...

Thanks Anneskers!

Hi JoJo, yes it does have a Cape Code feel to it down there. I did not go to the Museum. Next trip perhaps. Hope you're almost summer is off to a good start!

Suezy Proctor said...

Jill...The Long Beach Peninsula was one of my favorite places for fishing (when fishing was really good), crabbing and clam digging, wild mushroom hunting (chanterelles) (now, they have a annual mushroom festival in October or November.) and berry picking, especially the red variety of huckleberry and blackberries.(in my 20-s and early 30-s) I also used to gather salal for holiday wreath making. The best thing about Long Beach then, was that there were very few people and it was like having the place to yourself. It sounds like it has grown up a bit and is a more popular destination these days. A special treat - I loved to visit the Cape Disappointment and North Head Lighthouses...I love lighthouses. I hope they are still open.

Glad you and your gal pals are keeping the tradition alive!!

Robbie Wright said...

Hi Jill, what a wonderful write up of Long Beach Washington! I grew up in Long Beach and have not stopped coming back for over 35 years now. For people visiting, there are some great places to eat here in addition to the Cottage Bakery (which is not to be missed)! Some of the local favorites: The Depot Restaurant, 42nd Street Cafe, Lauri's Homestead Breakfast, Saltwater Bar and Grill and the Lost Roo. Also, as the owner of Bloomer Mansion I want to thank you for staying in our home. We hope to see you again!
Best, Robbie Wright

Jillian KyungJa Graham said...

Hey Jill, as always your photos are breath-taking! Looks like such a wonderful time with your friends and the beauty and splendor of the PNW. Thanks for sharing! Jillian

jill said...

Suezy, what wonderful memories you share. It still feels less crowded and a bit sleepy, but I think certainly not like when we were young. The PNW is way on the map now. Next trip will visit the lighthouse!

Jillian, thanks for the feedback! Yes, always a great weekend with my framily of friends I grew up with. Hope to see you sooner than later.

Robbie, thanks so much for your comment and restaurant recommendations. We loved being at your place and definitely are booked for next year! It really reminded me of my grandparents home on the beach up on Puget Sound, similar vintage and style. Of another era. What lovely memories you must have growing up there.