Sandy feet, salty lips, windswept hair, and a toasty bonfire-roasted marshmallow accompanied by the memories of a well-spent weekend at the beach is what I call a perfect getaway. The best part is, you don’t have to buckle up for a flight to Hawaii to enjoy this kind of coastal luxury. Save yourself a plane ticket and drive to Long Beach, Washington, to get your ocean fix year-round.
From Seattle, venture 3.5 hours southwest towards the coast, hopping on and off 101 until you reach the ocean. To the left you’ll find Ilwaco, Cape Disappointment, and the bridge to Astoria, Oregon. To the right is the quintessential town of Long Beach, Washington, complete with colorful storefronts boasting signs that read, “Beach Access,” “Award-Winning Clam Chowder,” “Ice Cream,” and “Arcade,” all welcoming the local and/or visitor to ditch the car for a while and shop-hop before strolling out to the 28-mile-long sandy slice of heaven. But nothing welcomes you to this salty escape quite like the sight of the white arch over Bolstad Way. “World’s Longest Beach” sits pretty above the driver, perfectly framing the distant horizon. While technically true, Long Beach is actually the world’s longest drivable beach, the longest beach on a Peninsula, and the longest beach in the United States, but it takes third place when it comes to the longest beaches in the world.
Technicalities aside, this place has much more to offer than just a record-breaking stretch of sand. Fresh seafood awaits around every corner from smoked salmon chowder at Captain Bob’s and Dungeness crab eggs benedict at Benson’s by the Beach to oysters and pickled fish at Adrift Hotel’s restaurant with a view. T-shirt and trinket shops are interspersed with beach-themed boutiques, and cafes are accompanied by pubs flooding with character. Fairgrounds in the summer months catch the eyes of the little ones and a decked-out arcade is open year-round for the kids’ (or the adults’) amusement.
As cute and welcoming as the town may be, my favorite part is two blocks to the west, the Pacific Ocean. It’s truly something else, walking through the grassy dunes to the point where the continental United States ends and the powerful Pacific begins. Here, the beach has a horizon of its own, often softened by a cloud of salt spray. There are seven public beach approaches within the city limits; park where the sand meets the pavement and walk to the water’s edge, or roll down your windows, shift into four-wheel drive, and cruise from the comfort of your vehicle. Long Beach is an official Washington State Highway with a 25 mph speed limit, so drive away your worries, but remember, the rules of the road still apply! My advice is to drive to a spot you like, park so your tailgate opens up to the waves, break out the salmon chowder from Captain Bob’s and fresh sourdough bread from the Cottage Bakery, and enjoy a mouth-watering meal with a view (without the price tag).
From the north end of town, the paved 8.5-mile Discovery Trail follows in Lewis and Clark’s footsteps, weaving through dunes, along Beards Hollow, and into Cape Disappointment State Park where it climbs the hill and descends to its terminus in the neighboring town of Ilwaco. If it’s a nice day, consider renting beach cruisers from Long Beach Cycles and take off on a scenic joy ride with an idyllic backdrop, and by no means do you have to do the whole trail! If nothing else, pick up a tasty latte from Abbracci Coffee Bar and embark on a short morning stroll; you won’t regret it!
Long Beach is a year-round destination, but make sure you come back for the legendary Sand-Sculpting Competition Extravaganza in July called Sandsations and the week-long Washington State International Kite Festival during the third week of August. From contests, workshops, and even a lighted kite show to larger-than-life sandcastles, these festivals are no joke.
Cape Disappointment State Park
Contrary to its name, Cape Disappointment is jam-packed with 1,882 acres of awe-inspiring localities. From gorgeous coves and sandy beaches to old military forts and two working lighthouses, this Washington State Park is anything but disappointing. It received its name from English explorer John Meares who named this area “The Disappointment” after failing to find the mouth of the Columbia River as described by Spaniard Bruno Heceta (or so he thought). He had no idea that the “bay” he discovered was indeed the river he was searching for. Sadly, the name stuck, but that didn’t keep visitors away. This park is among the most visited in the Washington State Park system!
Hike to the Long Beach Overlook at the North Head Lighthouse, admire the old growth forests while hiking its 8-mile trail system, book a stay in the lighthouse keeper’s home, surf the Waikiki break (don’t be mistaken for its Hawaiian counterpart, these waters require a wetsuit), and visit the remains of Fort Canby. Then, hike the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse Trail to discover the iconic Washington destination and photo hotspot – Deadman’s Cove – before continuing up the trail to the lighthouse.
Next Stop? Oregon!
Have time to spare? Astoria is just a hop, skip and a jump across the Columbia River, but a town that rich in history deserves a post of its own.