In Southwest Washington, visitors will find the undeveloped Willapa Bay with miles of pristine waterfront with nary a house in sight. The bay flows into the Pacific Ocean and a relatively unknown area of Washington known as the Cranberry Coast. In between are charming small towns that are just now being discovered as destinations for travel.
Visit now before this area becomes more popular. It is like Rick Steves’s Cinque Terre, Italy, before he popularized the area by writing about it. I love this region of Washington; it is so off the beaten path and the drive around the bay is just gorgeous.
I take day trips to these little towns often. I will either visit Raymond, South Bend, and Ilwaco, or Raymond, Tokeland, Grayland, and Westport. From Raymond, you head out on Highway 105, which will take you to Westport with a short detour to Tokeland. Highway 105 offers views of the Pacific Ocean and beach access via coastal Washington State Parks.
Pro Tip: When you reach the Pacific Ocean on Highway 105, watch the roads on the left for Old Highway 105. There are two viewpoints on a bluff that provide stellar views of the Pacific and two of the Raymond Wildlife Heritage Sculptures.
Quaint Fishing Village
This fishing village is located on the Columbia River right before it flows into the Pacific Ocean. There are some cute shops, restaurants, a few inns, and fishing charter companies overlooking the marina. On Saturdays during the summer, a popular market is held with lots of handcrafted items. Make sure to visit the Waterline Pub for their incredible seafood nosh board. It is more than enough for two to share and is full of fresh seafood, warm Brie, and grilled bread. Nearby, explore Cape Disappointment State Park with its windswept cliffs and lighthouses. Observe where the Columbia River pours into the Pacific Ocean and explore where the Lewis and Clark expedition first saw the Pacific Ocean.
Pro Tip: Explore the Teal Slough at the Willapa Wildlife Refuge. It is 1.6 miles past the refuge headquarters on Highway 101. Keep an eye out for the bridge crossing Teal Slough. Right past is a small pullout. Park there and do not block the gate. Follow the old road until you see a small arrow. These arrows mark the trail and these six huge trees that in some miraculous bit of fate were not logged. This little trail is mostly unknown and I have had it to myself every time I have stopped. The trees are mind-bogglingly huge and some of the largest in the state.
2. South Bend
Famous For Oysters And The Pacific County Courthouse
After a beautiful drive along the shores of Willapa Bay, the highway turns inland following the Willapa River until you reach the town of South Bend. If you blink, you’ll miss it. This darling town is famous for its oysters and the Pacific County Courthouse. It is known as the “Gilded Palace of Extravagance.” When the original design for the interior proved too costly, an inmate at the jail who happened to be an artist painted lovely murals. They also painted the concrete columns to look like marble. On a nice day, Robert Bush Park overlooking the river is the perfect spot to enjoy a meal of Willapa Bay Oysters you can pick up from a South Bend restaurant.
Pro Tip: Once you leave South Bend, keep a lookout as you get closer to Raymond for rusty stainless-steel sculptures. This is the Raymond Wildlife Heritage Sculpture Corridor. Visitors will find the statues throughout Raymond and the roads leading into it. So unique and it is fun to see how many you can see of the more than 200 sculptures.
Historic Logging Town
Raymond is a historic logging town. A visit to the Northwest Carriage Museum is a must. This museum is such a surprise as it has one of the best collections of horse-drawn vehicles in the United States and carriage aficionados come from all over to view this amazing collection. The vehicles are split between two rooms with those of the wealthy creatively displayed. There are famous carriages that appeared in movies such as one from “Gone with the Wind.” The second room has a variety of farm vehicles and wagons. The museum is next to Riverfront Park so it is a great place to park to explore the town. Walk to the waterfront and view the interpretive sign.
Rent a kayak from Willapa Paddle Adventures, which was started in 2015 by Baylee Countryman who was 17 at the time. She will help you launch right from the dock into the Willapa River. Stop by the Dennis Company located near the park. The historic company dates back to the early 1900s and has a mural highlighting the logging history of Raymond covering one side of the building. It is impressive.
Home To The Historic Tokeland Hotel
See more of Willapa Bay as you head towards Tokeland. This tiny town is home to the Tokeland Hotel, which is a time capsule into life in the late 1800s. Built in 1895, it is the oldest hotel in Washington. The beds are comfy and the bathrooms are down the hall. I enjoyed my stay here and felt like I had stepped back in time. Chef Heather Earnhardt owned a popular restaurant in Seattle before taking on the challenge of reviving the hotel with her husband Zac Young and five children.
The food here is incredible. Earnhardt incorporates some of her favorite ingredients like Boonville Flour and Daniel Boone Grits from living in the south with the bounty of the Pacific Northwest into a cuisine that has people driving the distance to enjoy her food. They are the perfect owners to continue the heritage of this historic hotel.
Pro Tip: At the end of the peninsula is the Tokeland Marina where you will find Nelson Crab. The cannery was opened in 1934 and processes albacore tuna sustainably caught and Dungeness Crab. Their seafood shop moved from the cannery to the marina and is run by Kristi Nelson, the third generation of Nelsons. The shop at the marina not only carries fresh seafood and Nelson’s canned products but also is a coffee shop and an art gallery/gift shop. Upstairs is a community space. Well worth the stop. In season you can pick up a license and supplies at the Dennis Company in Raymond and catch crab right from the dock.
A Rural Beach Town
Grayland is a darling hamlet located on Highway 105. Make sure to stop at Pomegranate, an intriguing gift shop in an old schoolhouse. It is such a pleasant surprise. My favorite beach access in the area is Twin Harbors State Park. The park has a nice parking area with restrooms and lovely trails to the beach. Grayland is what I term a rural beach town. It has more vacation rentals than hotels and is quieter in the winter. On my recent visit, Pomegranate was packed but when I went to the beach, there was only one other couple. It is so magical walking on the beach when you have it all to yourself.
Home To The Largest Marina In Washington
The town of Westport is well known in our area for the fresh fish right off the boats. The town has the largest marina in Washington and more than 100 million pounds of seafood come from these docks each year. When you visit, make sure to head down to the docks at the Westport Marina even if you aren’t going to go on a fishing charter as the local sea lions often frolic in the area or hang out on the docks.
Visitors are welcome to this commercial area and you can purchase locally caught seafood right from the fisherman or at a market. The waterfront district has a variety of shops and restaurants overlooking the marina. Take the time to hike to the top of the Port Centennial Viewing Tower for the gorgeous views of both South and North Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Westport has more resort-type lodging for a beach vacation. If you are physically fit, a stop at Grays Harbor Lighthouse is a must. The lighthouse was dedicated in 1898 and it is 135 steps up to the lantern room. What makes this lighthouse unique is that it still has its original third order clamshell-shaped Fresnel lens built in Paris, France. The effect is worth it to reach the top for 360-degree views. For those not up to the climb, the lighthouse is impressive and makes for a great photo.
Pro Tip: Make sure to visit the Westport Winery Garden Resort. I have to say this is like the Disney World of wineries. There is a fun gift shop and a bistro for lunch. Oddly enough or should I say, “How awesome!” The property also has the International Mermaid Museum. Fun fact about me. I lived in Florida when I was younger and my dream job was to be a Weeki Wachee mermaid. In Florida, you can become a mermaid when you grow up.
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