Escape to Long Beach, WA
Gorgeous coastline, great eats, and zero crowds make this region a winner this winter
Within easy reach of Portland and Seattle, Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula is arguably one of the most visited oceanfront spots in the Northwest. In the summer, that is, when elbow-to-elbow crowds jostle for a glimpse of Jake the Alligator Man, and traffic idles bumper-to-bumper on the “World’s Longest Beach” (as an iconic, if not quite accurate, sign proclaims). In the off-season, though, this windswept peninsula—from the mouth of the Columbia River to the oyster-rich Willapa Bay—is all yours. As empty and awesome as the clear, cold day in 1805 when explorer William Clark declared, “Ocian in view! O! the joy …”
Head out by bike on the 8.5-mile Discovery Trail. You can even learn a little local history while winding through the grassy dunes—retracing Clark’s path with a quick scan of your smartphone at the posted signs.
Have someone else cook dinner. And not just anyone—but rather chef Michael Lalewicz, whose Depot Restaurant ($$$; 1208 38th Place, Seaview; 360/642-7880) is in a former train station. Grab a stool and pair pints of Fish Tale Organic IPA with plates of pan-fried oysters. Or make it extra special (it’s the holidays, after all) and reserve the chef’s table beneath the old ticket window—now an open kitchen—where you can watch Lalewicz rake pans of sizzling duck confit above leaping flames. (And be thankful that you’re not the one slaving over the stove.)
One bite of a dinner plate–size maple Texas doughnut from the Cottage Bakery & Deli (pictured; $; 118 Pacific Ave. S., Long Beach; 360/642-4441), and the kids will never cry for pancakes on Christmas morning again. Run by moonlighting Mayor Bob Andrew and his wife, Judi, since ’74, this sweet-smelling place is mobbed in the summer—but you can step right up now. Then follow the scent of burnt caramel a few blocks south to Long Beach Coffee Roasters (811 Pacific; 360/642-2334), where owners Mandy Metzger and Kelly Walker fire up the Diedrich roaster, and locals settle into sofas to sip Discovery Coast Dark, finish a puzzle, or play the piano.
Really, what’s better than a giant blinking lens over your bed? On the rocky cliff of Cape Disappointment is the North Head Lighthouse and, steps away, its keeper’s residence ($360 for up to 6 people; 2-night minimum). The red-roofed, whitewashed colonial has hardwood floors, a full kitchen, a master suite with windows looking west—and, in the foyer, a journal in which you can pen something like, say, “Ocian in view! O! the joy …”
A couple of hours before low tide on weekends during razor clam season (Dec 4–5 and Dec 31–Jan 1; funbeach.com), everyone gathers to pull meaty bivalves from the sand. Buy a license (from $7.40), a clam gun (from $12), and an inexpensive net or bucket at the Dennis Company (201 Pacific Ave. N., Long Beach; 360/642-3166), and join in. Then take your haul to the Sportsmen’s Cannery (1215 35th St., Seaview; 360/642-2335), a weather-beaten shed festooned with fishing nets and foam floats. For $9, owner Tina Ward (decked in jeans and a “Can Ya Dig It?” hoodie) will clean and vacuum-pack your catch. Arrive empty-handed, and she’ll sell you tuna or salmon, packed fresh from local trawlers.
Also, don’t miss a sunset stroll along artist Maya Lin’s stone-plank path in Cape Disappointment State Park. The Boardwalk (pictured), part of her Confluence Project, leads to Waikiki Beach, a rocky cove overlooking the crashing surf.