The Best Places to Visit Along the Northwest Coast
It's not too late for a summer adventure. Let's hit the road
By Danielle Centoni and Kristen Russell with Lucy Burningham, Mandolin Brassaw, Miriam Bulmer, Jenny Cunningham, Kari Lutcavich August 7, 2014
From the rugged and wild tip of Cape Flattery, Washington, to the undulating dunes of Bandon, Oregon, the Northwest coastline has lured wanderers for centuries—some of them straight into the rocks (one reason this stretch is dotted by dozens of picturesque lighthouses). The danger for today’s vacationer, who most often arrives by land, is making a bad choice: crashing, if you will, into a mediocre inn or slurping down a substandard oyster. That’s where our travel and food experts come in. With a variety of traveler tastes in mind, we point the way to the best sea stacks and fish shacks, viewpoints and tide pools—as well as providing a few how-tos to keep your beach adventures on track.
Have you noticed there seem to be two kinds of ocean beaches in Washington: wilderness beaches that are hard to reach and beaches with wide highways alongside? Then there is Hobuck Beach, a crescent of heaven hidden behind Cape Flattery at the very northwestern tip of the continental United States. You drive here on blacktop, but the road is a minor distraction—the roar of the Pacific is all you’ll hear at Hobuck, the kind of beach that makes you giggle at the cartwheel-inspiring wide-open sands, delightful tide pools and psychedelic sunsets. Don’t bother dreaming of buying a slice of this paradise—the Makah Tribe has lived here for thousands of years. But the tribe will rent you a cabin, nothing fancy, but clean and comfy right here on the northwest edge of America. (Cabins from $150, camping $20. Hobuck Beach Resort, 2726 Makah Passage, Neah Bay, Bay, 360.645.2339) JENNY CUNNINGHAM
Shi Shi Beach
Hiker’s nirvana—Shi Shi Beach; photo by Natekat Photography
Widely (and rightly) revered as one of our region’s most beautiful beaches, Shi Shi is a magnet for hikers and backpackers. With towering sea stacks framing miles of beach, and wind-curved conifers dotting the shoreline, this extreme northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula really brings the vistas. Hike a mellow couple of miles out to the cliff, then brace your knees for the steep descent to the beach and scope out the perfect tent-pitching spot (if you’re there on a summer weekend, you’ll likely have lots of company nearby). Build a fire (advice here), and pack all food in that bear canister, now required along the Olympic National Park coastline, thanks to the ingenuity of local raccoons and bears. Breathe in the salty air, train your gaze on that churning surf and settle back in the sand to revel in the quintessential Northwest sunset. Dogs prohibited; pass required; visit nps.gov for details. About 4.5 hours northwest of Seattle; take U.S. 101 west to Neah Bay. KRISTEN RUSSELL
If watching sea critters cringe, scuttle and sway floats your boat, consider a visit to this lovely spot on the wild Olympic Coast. At Rialto Beach, just north of La Push, you’ll find the only NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY north of California, and plenty of tentacled things lounging around in tide pools. You’ll also find gorgeous views of offshore sea stacks, towering bluffs and a surfeit of surf-battered logs to clamber over (be careful during high tide; logs can roll unexpectedly). Hike two miles on the flat but rocky beach to its northern boundary for a look at Hole-in-the-Wall, a dramatic rock arch carved by sea and wind; you can walk through the hole at low tide—and tick one more thing off your Northwest bucket list. K.R.
Lake Ozette and Ozette River
Plunge in the fresh water of Lake Ozette; Photo by Nigel Foster
Coast lovers in search of remote, desolate beauty—and unafraid of hard work and a conspicuous lack of amenities—can hardly resist this iconic trek along the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous U.S. near Lake Ozette. It’s not a hike, it’s a lifestyle, for as long as your supplies, your legs and your strategy hold out. Pack up your ultralight gear, a tide chart and enlist your hardiest friends for a weekend of camping and clambering over a stretch of more than 73 miles of beach and headland. You’ll be rewarded with unparalleled vistas of rugged coastline and wild, breathtaking glory—but be warned: There’s treachery here, in the form of unforgiving tides. Rounding a headland can take strategy; many are passable only during low tide. Miss the window? Better hope there’s an overland bypass, or you’ll be forced to make camp and wait another day, or risk a dangerous—potentially even deadly—stranding. One particularly challenging ford hits two-thirds of the way into the 15-mile trek from Shi Shi Beach to Cape Alava, where the Ozette River pours into the Pacific. Nail the timing and celebrate with one of the 99 different microbrews available at the down-home Lost Lake Resort on Lake Ozette, an hour hike inland via boardwalk (campsites, starting at $17.50; cabins, starting at $80. Clallam Bay, 208660 Hoko Ozette Road; 360.963.2899; lostresort.net). K.R.
Seabrook is master-planned for the whole family;Courtesy of Seabrook
It’s easy: Drive in. Unpack. Have fun. Seabrook is a family-friendly New England–style planned village on the Washington coast with an incredibly beautiful, sandy (yes, sandy!) beach, parks and trails, everything from sweet little cottages to stately homes for rent, and amenities such as an indoor community pool and the Front Street Market—the go-to place for s’mores fixin’s, a great wine for dinner, an early-morning latte (15 Seabrook Ave.; 360.589.2414; Facebook, “Front Street Market”)—all within easy walking distance).
Spend days getting physical with hikes, long beach walks, bike rides (cycles are available to rent, $5/2 hours or $20/day) and playground adventures. Perfect evenings include cooking fresh seafood in a fully equipped kitchen (don’t picture a cramped, kitschy condo; these new homes are nicer than most folks’ primary residence) or dining at Seabrook’s Mill 109 Restaurant and Pub (mill109.com), followed by relaxing on the front porch. It’s the best of two worlds: roughing it (imagine your kids covered with trail debris) combined with the comforts of plumbing and a beautiful roof over your heads (welcome on rainy afternoons).
Recent additions include super-luxe, bluff-top homes; SeaWorthy Home, a purveyor of eclectic home decor and gifts fit for the coastal life (360.589.1607; Facebook, “SeaWorthy Home”) and the pristine Town Hall, an enchanting space for gatherings. Also, Wind Gate Equestrian (windgatesb.com) opened in Seabrook’s new Farm District this year, offering rides, pony camps and programs suitable for children with special needs. Pacific Beach; 360.276.0099; seabrookwa.com SHEILA MICKOOL
Photo by Erika Plummer
Iron Springs Resort in Copalis Beach, 11 miles north of Ocean Beach, retains the simple charm of the 1940s (when it was built) with not an ounce of mustiness, and has plenty of modern extras, including a well-stocked general store, Wi-Fi and its very own food truck. Each of the 28 cozy (and tastefully restored) cabins perched among windswept pines has a killer view and either a woodstove or fireplace—an ideal base for hiking nearby sand dunes, collecting seashells or playing hours of “fetch the driftwood” with your pup, who is welcome here, for an additional fee (from $279 in the summer. 3707 Highway 109; 360.276.4230; ironspringsresort.com). BYO kayak or canoe, and paddle the nearby Copalis River to see the ghostly remnants of an old cedar and spruce forest believed to have been transformed into a salt marsh by an earthquake hundreds of years ago.
Long Beach hosts a kite festival every August; Photo by Jason Taellious
Whether you think life’s a beach, a beet or blue grass (or all three), the Long Beach Peninsula is the ticket. Birders, walkers and families are among those drawn to the shore; and kids and dogs find it marvelously exciting to splash at the water’s edge. Many folks are attracted by what is billed as the world’s longest drivable beach. But be aware that the practice endangers wildlife, pedestrians and the vehicles themselves; photos and stories of cars stuck in the sand as waves engulf them are a staple of the peninsula newspaper. (If you can’t resist, go to the Long Beach Peninsula website for tips: funbeach.com/beach-driving.) Nonmotorized pastimes include building sand castles (Long Beach hosts an annual competition; sandsationslongbeach.com) and flying kites (thousands of aficionados attend the annual kite festival; kitefestival.com).