Washington's hidden coast

Escape to the Long Beach Peninsula for fresh seafood, beach strolls, and the rough charm of shore towns

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  • Fishing boats dominate the harbor in Ilwaco which anchors the south end of the peninsula.

    Beachcomber

    Jim Henkens

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Cranberries and oysters

From Cape Disappointment, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific, the 1 1/2-mile-wide sand spit of a peninsula stretches 28 miles north to Leadbetter Point. The peninsula here has a singular kind of moody beauty. The long, wide ocean beach is backed by gray-green dunes, and a scattering of hotels runs up and down the peninsula; eastward is a tangle of dense coastal forest stretching nearly to the bay shore.

From the town of Long Beach, we turned east on Pioneer Road, heading toward the bay, making what we thought would be the briefest of swings through the Cranberry Museum & Demonstration Farm. I mean, what could be more earnest and boring than a museum dedicated to one very tiny, very tart fruit? Turns out it was more shop than museum, and not the least boring. We must have spent an hour sniffing the cranberry lotions and tasting the cranberry condiments before moving on.

Following Sandridge Road north along the bay, we got few glimpses of the water until we reached the community of Nahcotta, where we parked and wandered down to one of the piers. The little interpretive center was closed, but we got all the interpretation we needed just by standing there: Broad mudflats exposed by the tide sent a tang into the air; a great blue heron picked its way along the bay's edge; piled in huge mounds were oyster shells the color of the fog that now and then obscured views of Long Island, out in the middle of Willapa Bay.

Bailey's Bakery & Cafe, in Nahcotta's post office building, was open. It was just what we needed by then, and more than we'd hoped for: a low-key gathering place for locals with soup and sandwiches, decent coffee, and a great cranberry scone.

The afternoon was waning by the time we quit the bakery, but Betsy insisted on a mile's detour to Ocean Park to browse Jack's Country Store, a massive mercantile with every useful item you can think of, from camping supplies to kitchen essentials. We stopped at Eric Wiegardt's Studio Gallery to look at his vibrant landscapes, then we continued north, suddenly finding color in what had seemed a purely evergreen scene.

 

 

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