In Autumn, longer shadows and a slight chill in the air cast a captivating sleepy-town vibe over the beach towns of Long Beach Peninsula. The buzz of the summer tourists is gone and life slows to an appreciable pace. The locals consider this the best time of year to enjoy their special place, and here is why you will too.
Come in the fall and enjoy misty mornings watching the fishing boats return to the port of Ilwaco. Take a leisurely hike through tall cedars and climb up a historic lighthouse, or walk a portion of the 28 miles of Long Beach in solitude with an occasional seagull riding the wind drafts as your companion. Cuddle by a crackling fire with a great read and a steaming cup of coffee. Explore the art galleries, watch a jewelry maker or woodcarver working in their studio, take a wilderness walk at a wildlife sanctuary, visit a cranberry farm and museum or taste some cranberry spirits at Adrift Distillers.
If you are a fresh seafood lover, you’ll find your nirvana here. According to Nancy Gorshe and Michael Lalewicz, co-owners and chef of The DEPOT Restaurant in Seaview, “This fall, the salmon is holding and looks like it will be available until mid-October. Then as the waters chill, we will have fresh bottom fish including Rockfish and Sole. We will continue to serve local clams and oysters, and, of course, December brings (Dungeness) crab season!”
Here in Pacific County, you’ll find Willapa Bay, the cleanest estuary in the United States. And in the estuary there are Willapa Bay Oysters, one of the finest tasting oysters on the planet. Oyster lovers know that chilly months ending with an “r” produce a fatter and tastier oyster, making a fall visit perfectly timed.
Two casual restaurants to recommend for fresh Willapa Bay oysters, clams and just-off-the-boat seafood are on the harbor front in Ilwaco. Salt Hotel & Pub, a cool motel-style hotel cleverly redone with reclaimed wood and fishing industry parts, also has an excellent restaurant featuring artisan cocktails and fabulous Clam Chowder. Fishermen can be spotted on pub barstools at the end of their day and you may be lucky enough to feast on a daily special of a fresh whole fish platter.
Next door is OleBobs Seafood Grill & Market, an Ilwaco fresh seafood seller which has added a marina-front cafe. The owner makes scrumptious iced layer cakes to top off your meal, so save room.
In Seaview, hands down it’s The DEPOT Restaurant for fried oysters, Dungeness Crab Mac, steak and lamb, clam chowder and the popular Oyster S’Cargot, which are a play on escargot with petit oysters broiled in garlic lime butter. The DEPOT was the train station for the “Clam Shell Railroad,” which transported Portlanders who traveled up the Columbia River by ferry to their summer homes, hotels and beach towns along the Long Beach coast.
It’s not always all about the oysters here in Long Beach; the coast is also famous for spring razor clams, Dungeness crab, salmon, halibut, sturgeon, albacore, cod and other seafood. But in eating according to the seasons, in fall, oysters are king.
There are many unique places to visit, but two standouts are synonymous with the Long Beach location.
One being the 2000-acre Cape Disappointment State Park, where you’ll find two lighthouses, a sand beach that glistens with real gold dust after a heavy storm, hiking, camping and RV parking and driftwood strewn beaches. This is an impressive natural area because the scenery and wildlife are always in flux—wild waves batter the coast in fall, attracting photographers and storm watchers, while birds migrate with the seasons. For Cape Disappointment, you’ll need a Washington Discover Pass if you plan to get out of your car. A day pass or an annual pass good for the entire state is available online.
The beaches are public in Washington and your trip should include a walk on the Long Beach boardwalk. This half-mile wooden walk meanders along the Pacific Ocean from Sid Snyder Avenue to Bolstad, through undulating sand dunes, tracing part of the Lewis and Clark Discovery Trail.
Antiquing is still an affordable pastime in the area and one favorite is the Long Beach Peninsula Trading Post on 226th Hwy in Ocean Park. This well-curated collection spanning two floors is owned by just one couple. Records, Persian rugs, period clothing, books, mid-century furniture, paintings of local sights, jewelry and ephemera are organized into sections, making this one of the most enjoyable antique shops to visit and discover a treasure.
If you like nineteenth-century buildings, park the car on any of Seaview’s streets and take a walk down the beach-side lanes to view the exteriors of well-tended cottages—some dating from the 1860s. Further up the coast, near Ocean Park on Willapa Bay, visit the enclave of Oysterville in Ocean Park.
This area was originally used by the Coast Salish people for oyster cultivation and harvesting. Established by settlers in 1854, marvel at beautiful, historic homes and a little white church framed by elegant old trees in this 80-acre town which is on the National Historic Register. The road leads you to Oysterville Sea Farms, so stop in for some shooters and a glass of Washington chardonnay while enjoying the view of the bay.
A couple of new hotels have popped up at the Ilwaco Marina and Long Beach area, but you can also find cottages and a homey B&B. Prices for accommodations vary and our recommendations are these two well-priced and unique stays:
Salt Hotel & Pub on the Ilwaco Marina is a very cool place with a terrific restaurant and pub. Have dinner and a few drinks and just walk over to your room for the night. Owners Jules Orr and Laila Brown are the king and queen of repurposing building materials in a hip way.
The award-winning Boreas Bed & Breakfast Inn on the ocean side of Long Beach is a cozy, antique-filled Cape-Cod style inn on a quiet street with a large property that opens to the beach. The private hot tub is just the place for some champagne at sunset. Outstanding breakfasts with a hot entrée, local fruit, jams, cookies and pastries are all made in-house by exceptional innkeepers Susie and Bill.
How to Get There
Fly into Seattle, rent a car and drive down (3+ hours). Or fly into Portland, Oregon and drive 2.5 hours, crossing the Astoria Bridge over the Columbia River.
Stay up-to-date with happenings like the local Wild Mushroom Celebration—October 1 to November 15—via the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau online.
More sights are listed, along with places to stay, fishing trips, tips, arts and music, festivals, tide tables, food and drink, plus a free downloadable travel guide. Or stop by and visit them for maps and info at 3914 Pacific Way in Seaview.
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