A bonus for Washington

Visit Point Roberts for natural splendor and great city views
MIKE McQUAIDE
Fifteen miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia, a nubbin of land hangs down across the U.S. border like a limb from a neighbor's tree. At only 5 square miles, Point Roberts, Washington, at the tip of the Delta Peninsula, is a curiosity of cartography blessed with several beautiful small beaches.

But first things first: How is it that this peninsula is part of the United States and not Canada? In 1846 Great Britain and the United States established the 49th parallel as the border in this area. Just west of here, they bent the boundary so that all of Vancouver Island became British territory, but cutting across the Delta Peninsula, they adhered to the 49th. So these days, getting to Point Roberts by car from the rest of Washington requires two border crossings and a 25-mile drive through Canada.

About 1 1/2 miles due east of that second border crossing, Maple Beach on Boundary Bay is a sandy spot that's perfect for spreading a blanket and basking in the sun (from Tyee Dr., go left on Johnson Rd., then left on Goodman Rd.). When the tide is in, the shallow, protected waters of Boundary Bay are often warm enough for swimming. When it's out, it's out ― as in a mile or more, and there's no better place on the peninsula for beachcombing. Maple Beach treats visitors with a sweeping view too ― taking in the glittering skyscrapers and bridges of Vancouver to the north, majestic Mt. Baker and her Cascade siblings to the east, and the jewel-like San Juan Islands to the south.

Looking for whales? Head for Point Roberts's southwest corner and the top of Lighthouse Marine Park's whale-watch observation tower ($4 per vehicle; 811 Marine Dr.; 360/945-4911). Through September, orca pods cruise by, drawn to salmon making their annual run. Don't bother looking for the lighthouse; the park hasn't had one for decades, though a local group is working to change that.

South Beach House ($$; dinner Tue-Sun; 725 S. Beach Rd.; 360/945-0717) offers pay-by-the-pound grilled dinners with your choice of fresh local seafood ― a perfect stop before you head back across the border.

Getting there

From I-5 near Blaine, WA, enter Canada at the Peace Arch border crossing. Drive north 17 miles on Hwy. 99 to Hwy. 17, then go west 5 miles to the Tsawwassen exit. Follow 56th St. south 3 miles to the Point Roberts border crossing and Tyee Dr. For information visit www.pointrobertschamber.com or call 360/945-2313.