Spending a Day in Kalama

kalama coffee

Have you ever been to Kalama? Have you even heard of Kalama? Chances are if you made the drip from Seattle to Portland you’ve passed by. The giant McMenamins lodge sitting along the Columbia River is hard to miss and it’s what originally attracted me to make the stop in this cute town. 

Morning

Kalama is two hours south of Seattle along I-5. I embarked on the trip on a Saturday morning around 9 a.m., hitting minimal traffic. I rolled into town, grabbed a coffee from the drive-thru stand known as Kalama Koffee, and parked on 1st Street. 

kalama antique shop

Antique Shops

The historic downtown has five antique stores, not including the pharmacy which also houses antique goods. The nice thing about these stores is they’re all different! 1st Street Antiques has anything from old books and vintage beer signs to local pickled vegetables and cake bombs (YUM!) At Drew and Davis Antiques, you will find more collectible treasures which are only sourced locally. Then there is Dream Weaver which was a combination of old and new in a more thrift store style. 

Ella Gray, a home and gift store, is also located on the main strip. Although it is in a small town, it surprised me with mid-century modern furniture and tasteful finds. It reminded me of the home section in Anthropologie or Watson Kennedy, but with a lot of local flare. I could have spent hours in there smelling all the candles or flipping through the latest cookbooks.

kalama library

Kalama Library

I even popped into the local library where the friendly librarian greeted me and offered some brochures. I believe you can tell a lot about a town based on their library, and I felt a great sense of community in Kalama. Flyers filled the bulletin with community events, ways to get involved with the city, group clean-up days, and more. 

On the outside of the library wall is a beautifully painted mural of people reading books under a clear blue sky surrounded by nature, along with a plaque marking it as the first home site in 1853. There is history like this sprinkled throughout the town. It’s easy to walk by and miss these gems, so keep your eyes peeled! 

Afternoon

Lunch Options

Normally for lunch, I would stop by Antique Deli and Antiques for a sandwich but due to Covid, they are currently closed on the weekends. If they’re open, I highly suggest eating there. Nothing beats a good sandwich with homemade deli sides and a baked-from-scratch cookie. 

Instead, Willie Dicks, a gastro pub, is a good choice as well. They have an assortment of fresh eats and local pours. I was told by an insider that all the food in Kalama is good, so whether you stop at Willies for some flatbread pizza, or hit up the Lucky Dragon next door for some fried rice, you can’t go wrong. 

kalama high school

Twilight Filming Location

Behind the Kalama Shopping Center is the Visitor Information Center. Hot Tip: town information centers are a great resource! How else would I have known that Kalama High School was a filming location for the movie Twilight? 

In the first Twilight movie, Bella is walking to her car after school and almost gets hit by a car (if it wasn’t for Edward’s vampire super-strength). She looks at him and says, “what are you?”. This scene, along with all exterior school scenes, was filmed at Kalama High School. 

After reliving my teenage years via Twilight, I wandered down to Toteff Park where they happened to be having a mini craft fair. I started chatting with a local who told me they plan on having park events often. This particular one was for Mother’s Day, but she informed me they also have sales for plants, books, and art. 

Evening

Explore McMenamins

I could probably spend a whole day just exploring the Kalama Lodge McMenamins. It is an adventure in and of itself. I grabbed some Cajun tots at the Pub, but there are three other bars/restaurants. On the main floor next to the pub is the Harbor Lounge. The Polynesian-inspired restaurant includes a 1960 canoe that was hand-carved in Tonga.

kalama lodge
mcmenamins pub food
Ahles Point Cabin

On a clear sunny day, I’d recommend hitting the Cloud Bar located on the fourth floor. There is outdoor patio seating that overlooks the Columbia River. But, if you’re looking for a more intimate setting, the Ahles Point Cabin is about half a mile away. Since it’s off the main campus it’s often less crowded and filled with more locals. 

kalama truck

History and Culture

With a belly full of tots I made the short walk over to the Port of Kalama building. It’s free and open to the public. Inside includes a small exhibit including an old railroad cart, an Oregon Trail wagon replica, and one of the original Ford trucks along with historical facts about Kalama and an array of visitor information. In the Winter of 2022, a Public Market will be added to the waterfront that includes vendors on the main floor, an event space, a restaurant, and even guest rooms! 

kalama river walk

Marine Park

Also within walking distance is Marine Park. Here you’ll find the tallest Totem in Washington. Carved from a 700-year-old red cedar for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, it is 140 feet long. I should say “high”, but because of rotting the totem pole was grounded in 2018. 

Marine park is beautifully maintained and clean. It’s the kind of park where I see myself enjoying a picnic or tossing a Frisbee. Through the park and along the river is a paved trail. I took a nice stroll, breathing in the view and stretching out before getting back in the car for the trip back to Seattle.

Driving by, it might seem like Kalama doesn’t have much to offer. But if you take the time to go through the shops, chat with the locals, and discover the hidden gems (like the totem pole) it’s worth the stop!   

Madi Lydig

My name is Madi Lydig and I currently reside in West Seattle with my husband and two cats. When I’m not working nights as a nurse you’ll find me training for my upcoming Ironman triathlon, Reading, hiking, or finding a delicious bakery.

8 Comments

  1. Morgan on May 13, 2022 at 6:07 am

    Great article! Really enjoyed the read, will have to check out Kalama!

    • Neil Wright on May 13, 2022 at 3:47 pm

      the “beautifully painted mural” at the library sounds like something worth seeing. it’s too bad you didn’t include a shot if it instead of the relatively-boring front façade.

      • Madi on May 15, 2022 at 3:05 pm

        Hi Neil! I did take a picture but it didn’t make the article. You’ll just have to go see for yourself 🙂

      • Madi on May 15, 2022 at 3:06 pm

        Hi Neil! I did take a picture but it didn’t make the article. Maybe bad quality. You’ll have to go see it for yourself 🙂

  2. Carlos on May 13, 2022 at 6:09 am

    What a great article! I will have to stop in Kalama when I am on my way to Portland next time.

  3. Dee Lydig on May 13, 2022 at 11:11 am

    Great article! We will have to stop in Kalama soon. 🙂

  4. Lindsay on May 13, 2022 at 11:30 am

    Looks like a fantastic place for a day trip! Love the details, makes me feel like I’m there!

  5. Na Pham on May 14, 2022 at 4:15 am

    Great! I will have to check Kalama soon.

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