I Ate the State – Pacific County

Welcome back! It’s been far too long… I know we’re not running at full-capacity yet, in so many ways, but it feels like things are starting to look up again. Similar to spring flowers seeking the sun, I feel us starting to stretch our limbs, looking hopefully to the parting clouds. And to perhaps begin thinking about adventuring beyond our neighborhoods again…

It’s been an incredibly challenging time for the world – and it’s not over. There has been much loss, heartbreak and discord, but there has also been hope – and it’s growing. Neighbors have reached out to each other. Local businesses have done their best, against great hardship, to continue to serve their communities. The medical community, scientists, teachers, grocery store workers, restaurant staff, postal workers… SO many heroes have worked tirelessly to keep us safe, nourished and healthy. 

I actually visited Pacific County and started writing this article a little over a year ago, just before we all went into hibernation. I have very recently returned to Pacific County and have to say it was amazing. Yes, masks, outdoor dining and social distancing were definitely in rightful play, but to be able to walk along the beach and gaze out at the ocean was so very welcome and rejuvenating.

Aside from masked visits to local shops and take-away from local restaurants, I’ve been pretty sequestered within my two-bedroom apartment for the past year. Granted, I am incredibly grateful to have been able to work from home, but I’m looking forward to a time when a trip to the grocery store isn’t my big social outing. I’m excited to hang out with my friends and family somewhere other than on a Zoom call. I’m dreaming of seeing someone smile at me and being able to smile back, unmasked. I’m looking forward to hugs…

I know many of these cherished activities will be making a comeback, but in the meantime, I plan to continue to mask up, frequently wash my hands and do my best to be respectful and thankful to everyone who is working so hard to bring us back to some point of normalcy. We are all in this together and will persevere only by working together, respecting one another and honoring all of the hard work of our heroes.

COVID-19 Travel Advisory: Please review COVID-19 alerts and regulations ahead of your travels. Refer to CDC guidelines along with local and state guidelines and wear a mask whenever suggested or required.

Me and Sporty Spice, enjoying the sunset on Long Beach

And now, without further ado, onward to beautiful Pacific County!

There are very few beaches on the planet long enough and wide enough to easily accommodate beach-combing, horseback riding and an actual state (sand) highway, but Pacific County in southwestern Washington covers the bill. Add in shorelines brimming with some of the country’s most delicious seafood, lovely coastal wetlands and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and you won’t want to leave. Pacific County is a veritable treasure trove of delicious fare and unique adventure opportunities.

Established as one of the state’s oldest counties in 1851 and integral to Native American life for millennia prior, Pacific County holds a key place in the development of the United States. It was at Cape Disappointment, where the mighty Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, the Lewis and Clark Expedition finally completed its mission in the fall of 1805. Originally part of the Oregon Territory, Pacific County found itself carved out of nearby Lewis County to officially become part of the Washington Territory. Even though it maintains a relatively small population in present day, the impact and continuing contributions of this tiny county cannot be underestimated in the grand scheme of the present-day United States.

While Pacific County is somewhat tucked away along the southwestern coast of the state, it is still fairly accessible. The route I typically favor takes me south on I-5 to US-101 (Exit 104, in Olympia) and on towards Aberdeen in Grays Harbor County via SR-8 and US-12. Once in Aberdeen, I head further southwest on SR-105 towards Grayland and North Cove. (With stops at Westport Winery and Cranberry Road Winery on the way out of Grays Harbor County. I mean, they’re right there, conveniently along the way…)

In general, I-5 accommodates the main arterials into Pacific County. It’s possible to hook up with US-101 further north near Olympic National Park and enjoy a beautiful drive down the coast. (All the way into the Los Angeles area, in fact!) Additional routes off of I-5 include US-12 (Exit 88 near Tenino), SR-6 (Exit 77 in Chehalis) and SR-4 (Exit 40 in Kelso). Any route you choose will inevitably feature mile after mile of beautiful scenery as you make your way to the coast. You can’t go wrong!

Driving south along SR-105 is an excellent example of the extensive, beautiful scenery, but as every rose has its thorn, the Pacific County coast has its battle with erosion. Portions of SR-105 have had to be relocated further inland over the years, along with many residences, buildings and a lighthouse being lost to the encroaching waters. It is quite appropriate the area has earned the nickname of Washaway Beach. The erosion is particularly visible driving through the North Cove area where the tiny North Cove Pioneer Cemetery had to be moved across the highway in 1977 due to erosion.

Not too far past North Cove on SR-105 is the exit to Tokeland Road and its namesake, the coastal community of Tokeland. Named for Chief Toke, the area maintains its strong connection to the Shoalwater Bay Tribe. A few miles down Tokeland Road, the Shoalwater Bay Casino (Daily, 10am – 12am; 2am Friday/Saturday) greets visitors with food and gaming as well as lodging at the adjacent Tradewinds on the Bay. Directly across the street lie more food options at the North Cove Bar & Grill (Currently Friday – Sunday, noon – 8pm; 7pm on Sunday) along with gas, food and conveniences at Georgetown Gas Station.

One place not to miss in the Tokeland area is the historic Tokeland Hotel and Restaurant. (On the National Register of Historic Places) Built in 1885 and the oldest hotel in the state, they regularly feature events such as Clam Jam, Oysterfest, Tokefest and more. In early May, along with local galleries and businesses, they host the popular Tokeland North Cove Art Studio Tour. Many of the local events were cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19, but will hopefully return in 2021. (Note: The Tokeland Hotel is reopening 6/1/21. Restaurant currently open for take-out, Friday – Sunday, 4-6pm.)

Situated on Willapa Bay, Tokeland is well-known for its contribution to the country’s seafood supply. Nearby Nelson Crab Inc. was in fact the first cannery on the west coast to can crab beginning in 1934 and continues the practice today. Operating out of a new building at the Port of Willapa Harbor and Tokeland Marina, they also feature a seafood counter, coffee service, ample seating and a fun gift shop featuring local artists and goods. (Daily, 9am – 5pm) If you happen to arrive via boat, public moorage is available as well as a RV park and boat ramp – and you can throw your own crab pots off of the public fishing pier!

Back on SR-105, my next destination was Raymond, the largest town in Pacific County. Along the way, I was drawn in by the beautiful scenery of the Smith Creek State Wildlife Recreation Area. Located across the bay from Tokeland, the area sports beautiful views and sweeping wetlands with great fishing and bird-watching opportunities. I was truly mesmerized by the views looking out over Willapa Bay and very glad I made time to take in the scene. 

While Raymond holds court as Pacific County’s largest town, it maintains a very homey, small-town vibe. Nestled just inland of Willapa Bay on the Willapa River, it enjoys rolling foothills as well as the coastal flavor of nearby waterways. When driving around the Raymond area, keep an eye out for the many steel statues along US-101, SR-6 and strategically placed throughout town. Made to depict local wildlife and Raymond residents, some of them are strikingly life-like; especially as seen around dusk. (I could’ve sworn those deer were real!)

Historically known for its lumber industry, Raymond also has an interesting artistic past. Northwest grunge gods, Nirvana, played their first gig at a Raymond house party in 1987. Additionally, my very favorite holiday tune, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on An Open Fire) was co-written by Raymond-born, award-winning composer, writer and producer, Robert Wells along with prolific musician, Mel Tormé. That’s a pretty eclectic and cool mash-up of musical history!

On your next visit to Raymond, take a little time to explore the continuing artistic legacy of the area as well as the beauty of its surroundings:

  • Learn more about Raymond’s history and the popular mode of transportation of days gone by at the well-curated Northwest Carriage Museum. (Open daily, 10am – 4pm) Don’t miss experiencing Raymond’s history of seafaring transportation at the Willapa Seaport Museum located directly next door. (Closed Sunday/Monday) And top it off with a stop at the Willapa Bay Public Market for unique finds from local artisans. (Friday/Saturday, 10am – 4pm)
  • Included on the National Register of Historic Places, the lovely Raymond Theater (c. 1928) is still entertaining Raymond residents and features local theater as well as live music and movies. Just down the street and also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Tudor-style Raymond Timberland Library (c. 1929) is a charming part of the downtown core and a great place to relax with good book.
  • The Raymond area is filled with beautiful river viewing opportunities and the Willapa Hills Trail is an excellent way to enjoy the scene. (Hook up with the 56-mile trail at Riverfront Park near the Northwest Carriage Museum) If you’re up for a bit of kayaking or paddle-boarding action, hit up local Willapa Paddle Adventures for Willapa River escapades. Or shenanigans. Your call.

After your Raymond adventuring, check out the local foodie scene and refuel for continuing exploration. A few ideas to get you started:

  • Not only can you grab a tasty burger and brew – or an insane bloody Mary – at Pitchwood Inn & Alehouse, they also have cozy rooms should you like to extend your Raymond exploits. (Alehouse open from noon to 9pm, 11pm on Friday/Saturday, 8pm on Sunday. Closed Mondays)
  • Featuring classic diner fare along with specialties like their stuffed sandwiches and fresh Willapa Bay oysters, Slater’s Diner is a great local mainstay. (Monday – Thursday, 11am – 7pm, 8pm Friday/Saturday. Noon to 7pm on Sunday)
  • Poutine, tots, brats, hand-dipped corndogs, beer and mead? What?? I’m in! I didn’t get a chance to stop at Wildman Brewing Company, but I’m making a point to visit on my next trip. (Family friendly. Open Tuesday – Thursday, 4pm – 8pm, 9pm on Friday. 11am – 9pm on Saturday, 7pm on Sunday. Closed Mondays.)
  • Drinking delicious wine often makes me say “WooHoo!” so it only seems appropriate a winery should make it their namesake. Check out WooHoo Winery for delicious wine and be sure to try their seasonal Glühwein. (Open Saturdays Noon – 6pm. They also have a tasting room in Leavenworth open Friday – Sunday)
  • If you’re visiting during a summer weekend, head to Smith Creek Blueberry Farm and stock up on u-pick blueberries. (Mmmm… Now I want blueberry pie…) Another great summer event in late August can be found just east on SR-6 in Menlo. Head to the Pacific County Fairgrounds and enjoy all manner of crazy fair food, goods and specialties from all around Pacific County and more. (Hopefully returning in August 2021)

From Raymond, it’s easy to travel southeast on SR-6 to meet back up with I-5 in the Chehalis area in Lewis County. There are a few tiny towns to drive through along the way, but it won’t take long before you meet up with Western Washington’s main arterial. On this journey, however, I chose to hook up with US-101 to head south towards the nearby town of South Bend.  

Billed as the Oyster Capital of the World and now serving as the county seat, South Bend provides 25% of the nation’s oyster harvest out of adjacent Willapa Bay. Oysterville originally served as the county seat until 1893 when disgruntled South Bend residents navigated steam boats up Willapa Bay and absconded with the county records. The pirated records were then relocated to South Bend where they have remained ever since. The scandal! 

For the scoop on Pacific County’s interesting past, stop in at the Pacific County Heritage Museum, located directly off of US-101 in downtown South Bend. (11am – 4pm, March through September and 12pm to 3pm during the winter months.) For more Pacific County information, pay a visit to the historic Pacific County Courthouse and take in the beautiful art glass dome. (c. 1910 and on the National Register of Historic Places)

Even if you are not a lover of oysters, there are many fine meals to be found in South Bend. The scene is a little quieter during the winter months, but there are always great dining options to explore.

  • Head to the casual River View Dining for a nice view of the Willapa River and great food. They do feature the local hero, the Goose Point oyster, but don’t miss their fish-n-chips and burgers. (11am – 8pm daily, 11:30 on Sunday. Closed Mondays.)
  • Oysters are in the name at the Chester Club & Oyster Bar and they represent them well, but they also have several other great dishes on the menu and regularly feature live music. (Daily, 10am – 2am)
  • Take your German specialties to go or grab a spot in the cozy seating area, but do make a stop at Jayden’s German Store & Deli. Featuring a great selection of European sweets, meats and more, they most importantly carry an impressive selection of goods from Germany. Mmmm… (Open daily, 11am – 5pm, 6pm on Friday/Saturday)
  • Newer to the South Bend foodie scene and offering great brew along with hand-tossed pizza and fresh oysters, the Willapa Brewing Company is an excellent addition to the South Bend scene. Check out the Bone River Oyster Stout – made with fresh oysters! (Open daily, noon – 7pm, 8pm on Friday/Saturday. Closed Tuesdays.)
  • I don’t think they have any drinks made with oysters, but you never know. For great, non-oysterfied coffee and beverages, stop in at Elixir Coffee and enjoy a drink, a great river view and something from their tasty menu. (The turmeric latte was particularly lovely! (Daily, 7am – 6pm) In addition to coffee, they also feature event catering and a nice array of handcrafted goods. After enjoying your coffee, stop in at Riverside Gallery next door and enjoy a bit of local artistry and design. (10:30am – 4:30pm, Thursday – Sunday. Closed Monday – Wednesday.)

While it’s possible to get to South Bend via the Willapa Hills Trail from Raymond, I chose to go with four wheels for this adventure. Granted, one might miss a bit in passing, but when there are delicious oyster spots to try and beautiful coastlines to explore, it seems a fair trade-off. Continuing past South Bend on US-101 will definitely lead you to great bounty on both counts. It is a stunning drive filled with twists, turns and gorgeous sloughs and not to be missed. (It also would be pretty amazing on a motorcycle!)

As you get closer towards the coast, you’ll pass through the Bone River Natural Area Preserve and Niawiakum River Natural Area Preserve. Both are protected for their coastal salt marshes, various species of birds and mammals as well as freshwater streams, wetlands and forested areas. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, consider a kayak trip up the Bone River. The Bone River Launch in the nearby Bay Center peninsula area is a popular place to put in. Definitely a bucket list item for a future adventure…

Also located in the Bay Center area and an excellent place to stop for an oyster pilgrimage is the iconic Goose Point Shellfish Farm & Oystery. (Open Friday – Sunday, 10am – 4pm; 5pm during winter) They offer fresh oysters and shellfish to go as well as oysters to enjoy in their picnic area. Grab a round of oysters and a Bone River Oyster Stout and enjoy the Willapa River scene. (They partnered with Willapa Brewing Company in nearby South Bend on the stout.) If you can’t get enough of the oysters – or that very unique stout – consider pitching a tent at nearby Bush Pioneer County Park and making a weekend of it. (Located on the very tip of the Bay Center peninsula and part of the Chinook Nation, where even more oysters can be found close by at the Ekone Oyster Company. Check out their online shop.)

The next stops on my itinerary were two of my very favorite spots in the state, Long Beach and Cape Disappointment. Along the way, however, were some excellent distractions and beautiful areas to explore. Not only is the drive spectacular all on its own, there are many breathtaking spots along the way to stop and commune with nature. If camping, hiking, fishing or just standing still and taking in the scene are your jam, this is the place to be. Just a few of the wonderful options to enjoy on your next Pacific County outing:

  • Out of the Bay Center area, head south on US-101 through the Nemah and Middle Nemah areas towards the gorgeous Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and Long Island coastal areas. The only way to visit Long Island is via private boat, but the bounty is worth it. Shellfish harvesting, hiking, camping and more await you on the island. Long Island has long been a home and point of resource for native tribes and is still used for cultural and spiritual occasions. Be sure to check out the Cedar Grove Trail which features trees over 900 years old. For hiking off-island, check out the Willapa Art Trail and Cutthroat Climb for relatively easy family hikes on a lovely boardwalk through the refuge. (Located at Milepost 24 on US-101. There is also a boat launch for Long Island in this area, across US-101 from the Milepost 24 refuge entrance.)
  • A great way to immerse oneself in the area is with a visit to the Wings Over Willapa festival in the fall. (September 23-26, 2021) It features tours, workshops and classes covering birding, art and a lecture series about the ecology, management and history of Willapa Bay.

Continuing southwest on US-101 will eventually bring you to a junction with SR-103 in the Seaview area. Congratulations – You’ve made it to the Pacific Ocean! And you didn’t have to travel for thousands of miles via horse, wagon or canoe to do it. Thank you, Lewis and Clark!

At this fork in the road, you can opt to go right and head into the bustling town of Long Beach or take a left and head towards Ilwaco and the epic Cape Disappointment. They’re both must-sea destinations and in easy reach of one another. However, since I was in need of some beach action and maybe a tasty treat, I took a right and headed into Seaview and Long Beach, located along the Long Beach Peninsula. We’ll head back towards Cape Disappointment shortly. No need for disappointment…

Before arriving in Long Beach proper, the lovely Seaview area offers several lodging and dining options for the peninsula visitor. Long Beach can get fairly crowded during the summer months and historic Seaview is nice if you’re looking for a little respite. A few spots to explore on your next adventure:

  • If you’re in need of a tasty, local brew, check out North Jetty Brewing for beer, light snacks and maybe even a bit of Bingo. I’m not a huge sour beer fan, but I truly loved their Yara Peach-Passion-fruit Sour as well as their super-drinkable Beach Beer Blonde Ale. They will even fill to-go cans! (Kid friendly (to 6pm), open daily at noon – Closed Tuesdays)
  • Visit local favorite, The Depot Restaurant for delicious farm and ocean-to-table fare served out of the historic Seaview train depot building. (c. 1900) (Open daily, 4:30 – 8:30pm)
  • A stop at the quaint 42nd Street Café & Bistro will yield a hearty breakfast or lunch and tasty bistro fare during the dinner hour. (8am – 12:30pm, 4:30 – 8pm for dinner. Closed Monday/Tuesday.)
  • For the ultimate in hip getaways, check out the historic Sou’Wester Lodge. Stay in the original lodge (c. 1892) or kick back in the adjacent vintage travel trailer resort, cabins or campsite. In addition to cool lodging, they also host various classes, wellness events, live music and artist residencies. Relax further in their Garden Spa and Finnish sauna and check out the goods in at the store in the vintage trailer. 
  • The historic Shelburne Hotel (c. 1896), along with its onsite restaurant and pub, offer trendy lodging, menus and cocktails in a vintage locale. The best of both worlds. (Pub open daily, Noon – 1pm, Monday – Thursday, 11pm on Friday; 8am – 10pm Saturday, 11pm on Sunday.)
  • For an up close and personal look at the history of Seaview, check out the Seaview Walking Tour and enjoy strolling by charming Seaview homes, lodging and more.

Is it maybe a little scary? Yes. Perhaps a little dangerous? Yes. Is it spectacularly beautiful, absolutely unique and full of cool travel cred? Yes, yes and YES! Welcome to Long Beach and the “World’s Longest Beach.” (Drivable. On a peninsula.) The world’s longest beach is actually Praia do Cassino in Brazil with a few beaches in other countries also being longer. But they’re not taking down the sign, so let’s just all be cool…

The scary and potentially dangerous parts come in the form of driving on the 28-mile beach, which is technically considered a state highway. (25 mph. Keep to the right and don’t drive on the dry sand! Seriously.) Of the 28-miles, there are sections closed to vehicles year-round as well areas closed seasonally to vehicles during razor clam season. Follow the general rules-of-the-road in addition to not driving on sand dunes and paying attention to the tides. Check out the Beach Safety and Rules for more information and tips.

If four-wheels on the beach aren’t for you, there are countless other ways to enjoy the day and Long Beach has quite a bit of beach to enjoy. Just a few of the excellent activities to explore during your next beach getaway:

  • Razor clam digging is very popular on Long Beach. Visit the WDFW site for dates, beaches, regulations and more – And don’t forget to procure a Shellfish & Seaweed License before you start digging. They can be purchased online or at one of many local area stores.
  • Horseback riding on the beach is a top item on my Washington State bucket list and my dream shall be realized soon – I know it! Riders can bring their own horses or hit up the outfits offering beach rides. Check out West Coast Horse Rides and The Long Beach Horse Rides for both guided and unguided rides (for the experienced riders) on the beach and the Red Barn Arena and Peninsula Saddle Club for options when bringing your own horses.
  • For an excellent day at the beach and a good bit of exercise, hit up the Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail. The trail goes all the way to Ilwaco and Cape Disappointment State Park (8.5 miles one-way) and offers amazing views along the way. Be sure to visit the Long Beach Boardwalk and don’t miss the wooden whale sculptures near the Sid Snyder beach entrance.
  • It might not be Oahu’s North Shore, but you can still get your surf on in the Long Beach area. Head to Skookum Surf Company for gear, instruction and information on the local hot spots.
  • Long Beach takes kite flying to the next level. Bust out your old school diamond kite or grab the newest in kite technology from one of the many local kite shops. Be sure to visit the World Kite Museum near the beach to take in the majesty of riding the breeze and head to the Washington State International Kite Festival for even more majesty.(August 16-22, 2021)

Important note for any beach outing: Never turn your back on the wily ocean. Sneaker waves are REAL.

There are many great places to eat and stay while visiting the Long Beach area. Whether it’s a beach snack, casual meal or fine dining, Long Beach has you covered. There really is nothing finer than picnicking at the beach on a warm, sunny day. Or grabbing an ice cream cone and walking along the boardwalk. (But don’t count out those stormy beach days!)

The next time you’re in Long Beach, keep these excellent establishments in mind:

  • The Adrift Distillers (daily, 11am – 5pm) feature delicious spirits and tastings and the adjacent Adrift Hotel features onsite dining at the very hip Pickled Fish restaurant. (Daily, 8am – 10pm; 11pm, Friday/Saturday) Excellent food, cocktails and beach-side lodging in a trendy locale – Score! Reservations recommended for the Pickled Fish. I highly recommend the burrata salad, Dungeness crab cakes and vanilla Pavlova – as well as their Triticale Whiskey. (The Shelburne Hotel in Seaview, the Boardwalk Cottages and the Inn at Discovery Coast are sister establishments and equally cool.)
  • Located in the heart of downtown Long Beach, the Boreas Bed & Breakfast features a lovely handful of suites and a separate beach house. Each stay comes with a tasty breakfast and access to onsite features like their private hot tub and gardens.
  • For a quiet beach cottage setting, check out the Anchorage Cottages and Klipsan Beach Cottages, both located just north of Long Beach. Who doesn’t love waking up to a cup of coffee in a cozy beach cottage?
  • If you’re looking for great fish-n-chips and chowder in the heart of downtown Long Beach, stop by Castaways Seafood Grille. (Daily, 11:30am – 8pm) It’s also across the street from the amusement park and games – something for the whole family! But maybe hit the rides first… (Note: The Rides are currently closed for the season, but will hopefully return for the summer.)
  • Located directly next door to the crazy and amazing Marsh’s Museum on Pacific Ave South, Captain Bob’s Chowder serves delicious chowders, lobster rolls and more. (Daily, 11am – 5pm, closed Monday/Tuesday. Wow. I could really use some of their chowder right now…)
  • I love donuts. True story. And if I’m looking for a delicious donut fix while in Long Beach, I head directly to the Dylan’s Cottage Bakery & Delicatessen. (Try the cream cheese-stuffed croissants!) They also have a great deli with excellent sandwiches, soups, biscuits & gravy and more. Oh, and did I mention their delicious selection of PIES?? (Open daily, 4am – 5pm, 6pm Friday/Saturday)
  • Serving delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner in a cozy, old-school setting, the Drop Anchor Seafood & Grill is a great place to enjoy a meal after a day at the beach. Grab one of their chowder kits to take home and recreate the magic! (Daily, 11am – 7pm, with breakfast at 8am, Saturday/Sunday)
  • While also featuring great local seafood, the Australian-themed Lost Roo also serves up great burgers, sandwiches and drinks. (Fill up your growlers!) Adding to their festive atmosphere, it’s a great place to visit whenever a game is on. (Daily, 11:30am – 9pm, 10pm Friday/Saturday)
  • Feel like channeling your inner pirate? The family-friendly Hungry Harbor Grille features old-fashioned hamburgers and hot dogs, fish-n-chips, chowder and handmade milkshakes. Check out their Sunday Breakfast Buffet from 9-11am. Pet-friendly seating outside! (Daily, 11am – 7pm, 8pm Friday/Saturday)

It’s no secret that 2020 was a dark year. The Arts, festivals, concerts and many of our treasured activities were all put on hold. As things hopefully start to open up in the coming year, we can begin to enjoy artistic gatherings and celebration again. If you happen to be in the Long Beach area, here are a few options to consider:

  • If you are looking for quirky, crazy history and a treasure trove of wacky souvenirs and antiques, Marsh’s Free Museum is hands-down the place to be. Established in 1921, Marsh’s – and Jake the Alligator Man – have been greeting visitors for generations. I always come out of this place with things I never knew I needed. (Open daily, 10am – 5pm, 6pm Friday/Saturday)
  • Operating June through September, the Columbia-Pacific Farmers Market showcases local produce, seafood, flowers, crafts and much more. (Fridays, 12-5pm)
  • Established in 1945, Cranguyma Farms is an important part of the Long Beach agricultural heritage. They specialize in delicious cranberries, blueberries and holly and feature a u-pick blueberry season from late July to September. They also feature beautiful, custom holly wreaths during the holiday season.
  • If you’re a fun-guy, or just really love mushrooms like I do, the Wild Mushroom Celebration is well worth checking out. Many restaurants in the area feature special menus and several local hotels offer lodging specials. (Usually October thru mid-November – Stay tuned for 2021 dates)
  • Should you be wishing for a live soundtrack for your beach adventure, the Water Music Festival features ongoing musical events. Upcoming is the Music in the Gardens (7/1/21) and the Jazz & Oysters event. (8/15/21) Presented by the Water Music Society, these shows are a lovely way to enjoy the beach life.
  • Keep an eye on the Events page for the Peninsula Arts Association. Much hope they will again be featuring gallery tours and events in 2021.
  • Hopefully returning in 2021, the long-running Long Beach Razor Clam Festival is a great way to celebrate the bounty of the area and enjoy A LOT of clams. YUM!
  • Regardless of your age, The Rides (seasonal) and the Funland Family Fun Center are excellent additions to a night on the town. Souvenirs, ice cream, candy and all manner of treats (taffy, fudge, cotton candy, etc.) can be found in abundance. Who doesn’t love saltwater taffy at the beach?? (Located on Pacific Ave S and open daily, 10am – 10pm) And don’t forget to check out the WORLD’S LARGEST FRYING PAN, located next to The Rides! (Come on. There are certain things one just needs to experience in life. The WORLD’S LARGEST FRYING PAN clearly falls into that category.)

Heading north out of Long Beach on SR 103/Pacific Way will take you towards the lovely, coastal hamlets of Ocean Park, Nahcotta and Oysterville. (Note: The entire town of Oysterville is on the National Register of Historic Places!) These communities were important parts of the Clamshell Railroad which ran for decades through the area in the early 1900s. (While the railroad no longer runs, the Nahcotta train car is open twice a year for visitors in nearby Ilwaco.) These communities remain integral parts of the peninsula and have much to offer.

Just shy of the very tip of the peninsula, you’ll find beautiful Leadbetter Point State Park with its coastal trails, seaside forest, fishing and great clamming and crabbing opportunities. (Discover Pass required. Pro tip: The last part of the road to the main parking area for Leadbetter Point trail and beach access is single-lane and not the greatest for larger vehicles such as RVs.)

While making your way to this gorgeous, peaceful park, there are many excellent places to visit and things to do along the way:

  • Do not miss a visit to Jack’s County Store, located on the corner of SR-103 and Bay Avenue in Ocean Park. Established in 1885 when Washington was still a territory, it’s thought to be the oldest, continuously operating retail business in the state. It is full of great deals, an amazing array of goods and quirky awesomeness. (Not to mention, fresh grocery items and take-away!) Open daily, 7am – 8pm.
  • Located just off of SR-103, in the Ocean Park area, the Long Beach Peninsula Trading Post features a great variety of antiques and collectibles. This place is huge and could easily fill an afternoon. (Open daily, 10am – 5pm, closed Tuesday/Wednesday)
  • Check out Pacific Pines State Park day-park for great clamming, crabbing and picnicking opportunities along the coast. (Discover Pass required)
  • If you’re hoping to catch some Dungeness crab, head to the Port of Peninsula marina in Nahcotta. (Check the WDFW site before going for regulations, dates, etc. – And you’ll need a Shellfish & Seaweed License.) They also have an interpretive center and public boat launch. (Interpretive center open Memorial Day – Labor Day, Friday-Sunday and holidays, 11am – 4pm)
  • There is some amazing history to explore in the area and a walking tour of historic Oysterville is an excellent option. The Oysterville one-room school house and church are still in use and the Oysterville post office is the oldest continually operating post office in the state. It is said that Chief Klickeas of the Chinook Tribe originally introduced early settlers in the 1850s to its future namesake and main export, the oyster. For additional information, check out Sydney of Oysterville to learn more of the deep history of this area. Oysterville is a tiny hamlet indeed, but absolutely worth a look. Charming doesn’t begin to cover it!

If you weren’t able to catch your fill of shellfish or other seafood delicacies, there are several dining options in the area to help you on your way. Consider some delicious take-away to go with your relaxing hang on the beach!

  • Located just past downtown Long Beach, heading north on Pacific Avenue, the old-school burger joint, The Corral Drive-In is a great place to stop for a burger, fish sandwich, crinkle-fries, TOTS and more. Open daily, 11am – 8pm.
  • Grab a tasty sandwich at the Great Day Café (11:30am – 4pm, Tuesday – Saturday) and then head out for a round of golf on the adjoining Surfside Golf Course.
  • Check out Ocean Park’s MyCovio’s for Italian-inspired fare featuring local ingredients in a cozy setting. (Thursday through Sunday, 4-7pm) It’s recommended to call ahead for reservations, but take-out is also available.
  • For a great burger and local seafood specialties, stop in at Sara’s Rusty Spur Bar & Grill for a relaxing meal and frosty pint. (11am – 8pm, daily – 9pm Fri/Sat. Bar open to 11pm – Cash only, ATM inside.) Located on Bay Avenue in Ocean Park. They also have a dog-friendly deck area.
  • For a spot of tasty, Irish comfort food, head to the Crown Alley Irish Pub along Pacific Way in Ocean Park. (Open 4-10pm, Sunday-Thursday, Noon-11pm, Friday/Saturday, closed Tuesday/Wednesday) Hopefully they’ll again be able to host the awesome Coastal Celtic Music Festival in the coming year.
  • Speaking of festivals, the very fragrant and tasty Northwest Garlic Festival is set to tentatively return in September. I have a deep fondness for garlicky goodness and my fingers are crossed – and my garlic bulbs, braided. (September 18-19, 2021 at the Nahcotta Boat Basin)
  • Anita’s Coastal Café in Ocean Park is a cozy spot to stop for breakfast or lunch. Open daily, 8am to 1:45pm. Great local seafood features!
  • Also located in Ocean Park, The Berry Patch features hearty breakfasts and comfort-filled lunch and dinner plates, along with local seafood specialties. Open daily, 7am to 7pm.
  • Stop in at Willapa Oysters / Willapa Artisan Kitchen for fresh oysters, clams and take-away dishes to heat up at home. (Dungeness Crab Mac & Cheese, anyone??) They will also ship around the country. (Open daily, 11am – 6pm, located off SR-103 in the Oysterville area.)
  • If you’re roaming around the peninsula on the weekend, stop in at legendary Oysterville Sea Farms for fresh clam chowder, oysters and clams, wine and beer. There is also public access to Willapa Bay. (Friday – Sunday, 9:30am to 5pm) I’m still dreaming of the oysters and crab I enjoyed on my recent trip. The freshest, most delicious oysters I’ve ever had! WOW!

After taking in all of the sights and making your way to the tip of the peninsula, unless you have an awesome boat, it’s time to head back south. Not to worry, the drive is beautiful and there’s still a great bit of Pacific County to see south of Long Beach. We’re not done yet!

Head back down SR-103 towards Long Beach and continue forward onto US-101, just past Seaview. This will take directly into the little town of Ilwaco, tucked snugly into scenic Baker Bay. Looking out towards Oregon and enjoying the last waters of the Columbia River as they head out to sea, Ilwaco is a great place to spend a relaxing weekend as well as a jumping-off point for river and ocean adventures.

The general vibe in Ilwaco has always been relaxed and fairly chill when I’ve visited, but they do have their days of festivity and celebration. Whether it’s reveling in local waters, bounty or industry, Ilwaco has much to celebrate. Typically occurring during the second weekend of October and sponsored by the Columbia-Pacific Heritage Museum (Temporarily closed – Reopens June 1st), the Cranberrian Fair is a great way to pay homage to one of the area’s most important exports, the cranberry. Also sponsored by the museum is the Clamshell Railroad Days event during the third weekend of July. Hopefully both of these much-loved festivals will return in 2021.

Situated in the center of town, directly on Baker Bay, the Port of Ilwaco is a hub of activity and commerce. Home to local businesses, including great dining and hotel options, it’s a fine place to spend an afternoon or longer. Grab a bite to eat, a tasty beverage and gaze out onto the waterways – or take a strong along the Waterfront Walkway. (Part of the Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail) Not a bad way way to spend a day…

Just a few of the excellent options to check out on your next visit to the Port of Ilwaco:

  • Considering Ilwaco’s beautiful location, history and environment, it is no wonder it’s a great spot for artists. The waterfront area features several galleries and it’s easy to spend an afternoon taking it all in. On my most recent visit, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting one of the artists and connecting the dots to a piece of art I’d picked up on my last visit to the area. I stopped in at the Don Nisbett Art Gallery and very quickly realized he was the artist responsible for the awesome 12th Salmon magnet I’d picked up at the Nelson Crab shop in Tokeland. I was so excited to meet the maker, but equally happy to enjoy a much broader view of his work. (And pick up a few more fun pieces, which he kindly autographed!) Dan is also a great resource for local information and stories – be sure to hit him up on your next visit! Should you be in town on the first Friday of the month in June through September, be sure to check out the First Friday art walk from 4-7pm along the waterfront.
  • If you happen to be visiting during late spring or the summer, check out the vibrant Saturday Market at the Port and enjoy local artisan goods, produce and more. (Opening Day, May 1st, 10am. Open May-Sept.)
  • In need of a caffeine boost? Stop by Roots Juice, Java & Salad Bar for a great cup of coffee or fresh juice – and a nice salad. (Open daily, 7am to 1:30pm, 6:30am to 10:30 on Saturdays, closed Sundays.)
  • Located just up from the port, the seasonal Serious Pizza serves up delicious pizza, sandwiches and more. Open during the spring months on Friday – Sunday from 11am – 7pm. During the summer months, they’re open Wednesday – Sunday from 11am – 7pm. (Closed November – February)
  • For a comfortable, but very hip stay in the area, head to the Salt Hotel & Pub, located by the marina and overlooking the port. The newly restored hotel is also host to the Salt Pub with its hearty pub fare and dog-friendly patio. I wanted at least a couple more orders of their clams. Delicious! (Thursday – Monday, 11:30am – 7pm, 8pm on Friday/Saturday. Pub closed Tuesday/Wednesday)
  • Bringing a little swank to the port area, the At the Helm Hotel & Pub is both comfortable and upscale. Located by the marina, this boutique hotel also features excellent dining at the Waterline Pub. (Open Thursday – Sunday.) In addition to great lodging and delicious local fare, they also host onsite yoga classes (Friday-Sunday), in-house massage and offer cruiser bike rentals. Enjoy a complimentary glass of beer/wine on check-in!
  • I was very excited to pick up some Sturgeon and freshly caught sole on my recent visit to Fish People seafood, located on the Ilwaco waterfront. Great prices, friendly staff and an excellent spot near the water – you can’t go wrong! (Open Thursday – Sunday, 10am – 5:30pm) 
  • For more great lodging in the Ilwaco area, check out the Inn at Harbour Village (c. 1926) in downtown Ilwaco or the relaxing China Beach Retreat, just up the road towards Cape Disappointment State Park.  (Currently under renovation and temporarily closed)

Due to its strategic location near both fresh and salt waters, Ilwaco boasts several fishing charters and opportunities to catch that big one. Let the area experts show you around the area and help you in your quest.

  • Seabreeze Charters offers great fishing tours of area waters. Hit them up during sturgeon season (May 10 – June 5th) and try your hand at reeling in one of the prehistoric-looking monsters. Sturgeon can live for years and easily grow 6 feet and more. Growing up, I often swam in the Columbia and was sincerely hoping to never bump into one. That said, they prefer the deeper water, so that’s good… Seabreeze also features salmon, albacore and halibut fishing when in season.
  • Featuring fishing tours and lodging, the family-run Coho Charters & Motel offers sturgeon and salmon fishing trips on the Columbia River as well as crabbing tours out at sea.
  • Maybe fishing isn’t your bag. Maybe you want to enter your awesome yacht in a marathon race from Ilwaco all the way to Victoria B.C. (Also, can I come along?) Throw your life preserver into the ring and sign up for the yearly Pacific NW Yacht Race and give those sea legs a good stretch. (First week of May) The race didn’t happen in 2020, but hopefully you can bring me along in 2021. I’d even be amenable to 2022… 2023?

One of my very favorite parts of the entire state can be found just up the road from Ilwaco. Set upon windy bluffs, overlooking the merging waters of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean, Cape Disappointment State Park and its stunning lighthouses are a must-visit in Pacific County. (Discover Pass recommended, but you can purchase day passes on site.) The beauty, historical significance and adventure potential of this area are incomparable. In fact, the entire area is on the National Register of Historic Places.

As the area is apparently one of the foggiest places in the US with over 2500 hours a year of fog, the North Head Lighthouse (c. 1898) and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse (c. 1856 – Oldest operating lighthouse in the Pacific NW) are much needed and appreciated beacons of safety. That said, it’s always been sunny when I’ve visited. (Guess I don’t always bring the grey skies of Seattle with me…) Be sure to bring varied outerwear, plenty of water and a good flashlight or headlamp. (We’ll get to the flashlight part in a bit…)

Stop in at the excellent Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and learn all about the history and beauty of the area. Perched atop a 200-foot high cliff, it offers an amazing view of the North Jetty as it aids passage over the Columbia River Bar and into the Pacific Ocean. (The South Jetty aids passage from the Oregon side of the river) This convergence, also known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific,” hosts the very waters viewed by the Lewis & Clark Corp of Discovery as their 18-month, 3,700-mile journey from Missouri came to its fruition on November 7th, 1805.  

Along with serving as the epic entrance to the Pacific Ocean, the area has been home to the local Chinook Tribe for millennia. Skilled stewards of the land and water, they were instrumental in helping Lewis & Clark and their Corp of Discovery survive the harsh winter in the area and meet their expedition goals. Unfortunately, this friendship was tested when the expedition stole one of the Chinook Tribe’s canoes. It wasn’t until long after the fact that descendants of the Clark family “returned” the canoe to its rightful owners. (The Clark family presented a replica, 36’ seaworthy canoe to the Chinook Tribe in 2011.)

During your visit to the cape, don’t miss out on the many areas to explore. Grab your flashlight and snake in and out of the coastal defense batteries placed strategically throughout the grounds. As early as 1862, the cape has been providing defense for the nation and these batteries were in service throughout WW II. It’s both fascinating and sobering to wander through these narrow passageways and ponder the degree of force Washington State was prepared to release from its shores. (Don’t forget your flashlight!)

If you forgot your flashlight, rest assured there are many other activities to enjoy in the park. Put on your hiking boots and enjoy one of the many trails throughout the park. The Beards Hollow and Bell’s View trails leading up to the North Head Lighthouse are spectacular and the Coastal Forest and Benson Beach trails are also not to be missed. Actually walking to the end of the North Jetty which is just next to Benson Beach was truly awe-inspiring.

Consider extending your stay in the area by taking advantage of the ample camping spots, not to mention the 14 yurts, 3 Cabins and 3 lighthouse keeper’s residences/ vacation homes. This would certainly make hitting up the Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail between Cape Disappointment State and Long Beach much more doable. (8.5 miles one-way. Only trail in park that allows bikes. Rent one in Ilwaco!) Or you can always throw in at the boat launch from Baker Bay on the Columbia River for some crabbing action near the North Jetty or hit up Benson Beach for a bit of clamming. (Shellfish and boat launch permits required.) And hopefully you’ll be able to end your night by taking in a show as part of the Waikiki Beach Concert Series. (June – August, every other Saturday. Cancelled for 2020.)

We’re nearing the end of our Pacific County adventure, but there are still a few great stops to enjoy on your way home. As I’m always up for a bit of meandering, I like to drive towards Chinook on US-101 and then SR-401 up to SR-4 out of the tiny community of Naselle. Heading towards Chinook is also advised if you plan on heading over the Columbia River towards lovely Astoria, Oregon or Wahkiakum County and on to I-5. (Important note: Goonies never say die!) 

Traveler Advisory: SR-401 is presently closed one mile east of US 101 due to roadway settlement. Keep an eye on the WSDOT website for updates on reopening. Use alternate routes.

Following this route will bring you by these great spots:

  • For a great cup of coffee and delicious cookies and pastries, stop in at Chinook Coffee Co. and fuel up for your coastal drive. (Daily, 7am – 3pm. Sometimes 4pm.)
  • For tasty pub fare and a good drink, check out the Columbia River Roadhouse in Chinook. They also feature live music and a casual, sports bar ambiance. (12-7pm, Tuesday – Thursday, 12-9pm Friday/Saturday. Closed Sunday/Monday.)
  • If you’re a history buff, plan a stop at the Fort Columbia Historical State Park just past Chinook and shortly before the bridge to Astoria, along the Columbia River. The area is small as compared to nearby coastal defense sites, but Fort Columbia is considered one of the United States’ most intact coastal defense sites and the Fort Columbia Interpretive Center is filled will artifacts and stories of the area’s history. (Temporarily closed due to Covid-19) In addition to a self-guided interpretive historic walk around the fort, there are a couple miles of hiking trails as well as two, charming vacation houses should you be interested in staying longer in the area.
  • Just before arriving at the bridge to Astoria sits the lovely St. Mary’s Station parish in tiny McGowan. There are nice trails to check out beginning from the parish parking lot and an absolutely beautiful view of the Columbia River. This is also the home of the Chinook Tribe’s Middle Village – Station Camp, an important part of Chinook life and trade and integral to their trade with the Lewis & Clark expedition.
  • Just past the bridge exit, along SR-401 sits the interestingly named spot, Dismal Nitch. It’s now a small rest area along the banks of the Columbia, but bears the historical distinction of hosting the Lewis & Clark expedition while they were riding out a severe winter storm before finally reaching the coast. So close, yet so far… (Travel Advisory: The rest area is presently closed for septic repairs. Keep an eye on the WSDOT website for updates on reopening.)
  • From Dismal Nitch, continue north on SR-401 up to the tiny Finnish community of Naselle. A portion of my family hails from Finland and I was very interested to learn how Finns found their way to this remote part of Washington. I didn’t need to look far as Naselle’s Appelo Archives Center answered many of my questions as I learned about the logging and fishing industries which drew Finnish and Scandinavian immigrants to the area. The museum and bookstore feature interesting exhibits and resources and the onsite café features delicious Finnish pastries and more. They also host the bi-annual Finnish-American Folk Festival which occurs in July. The 2020 event was cancelled due to Covid-19, so they are now set to return in 2022.
  • For other sightseeing and cultural opportunities in the area, check out the lovely Deep River Pioneer Lutheran Church (National Register of Historic Places, c. 1902) and the Knappton Cove Heritage Center (temporarily closed due to Covid-19), formerly known as the historic Columbia River Quarantine Station. (National Register of Historic Places, c. 1899)
  • There aren’t many dining options in the Naselle area, but the low-key Hunters Inn is known for its heart country-cooking and casual atmosphere. (Current hours, daily from 3-9pm)

And with that, it’s time to bring these Pacific County adventures to an end. For now… From Naselle, simply take SR-401 back up to SR-4 and head out to I-5 through Wahkiakum County. As there are so many areas to explore and enjoy in Pacific County, I find myself returning time and again. The beauty of the ocean, the Columbia River, coastal forests and delicious foodie opportunities will never get old. I can’t wait for my next visit – perhaps I’ll see you there. Say, would you happen to have a boat? Asking for a friend…

Until next time, please stay safe, get that vaccine and get ready to eat the state!

Cheers!

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Enjoy the ride with my Pacific County SPOTIFY PLAYLIST!

  • Ventura Highway – America (from Homecoming)
  • Reelin’ in the Years – Steely Dan (from Can’t Buy A Thrill)
  • Lovely Day – Bill Withers (from Menagerie)
  • I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash (from I Can See Clearly Now)
  • Cool Change  – Little River Band (from First Under the Wire)
  • Feels So Good – Single Version – Chuck Mangione (from Chuck Mangione: A&M Gold Series)
  • Happier than the Morning Sun – Stevie Wonder (from Music of My Mind)
  • You Can Close Your Eyes – James Taylor (from Mud Slide Slim & the Blue Horizon)
  • Angel from Montgomery – Bonnie Raitt (from Streetlights)
  • Light Enough to Travel – The Be Good Tanyas (from Blue Horse)
  • It’s Too Late – Carole King (from Tapestry)
  • Let ‘Em In – Wings (from Wings at the Speed of Sound)
  • Doctor My Eyes – Jackson Browne (from Jackson Browne – Saturate Before Using)
  • Isis – Live at Montreal Forum, Montreal, Quebec – December 1975 – Bob Dylan (from The Rolling Thunder Review – The 1975 Live Recordings)
  • Find Yourself – Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (from Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real)
  • Old Friend – Shooter Jennings (from The Wolf)
  • Long White Line – Sturgill Simpson (from Metamodern Sounds in Country Music)
  • The Life You Choose – Jason Isbell (from Something More than Free)
  • Something to Love – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (from The Nashville Sound)
  • You’ve Got A Friend in Me – From Toy Story – Randy Newman & Lyle Lovett (from Toy Story)
  • A Long Way to Get – Bob Schneider (from I’m Good Now)
  • The Boys of Summer – Don Henley (from Building the Perfect Beast)
  • Clean Getaway – Maria Taylor (from Lynn Teeter Flower)
  • Can’t Find My Way Home – Ellen McIlwaine (from Up From the Skies: The Polydor Years)
  • Life Is Beautiful – Keb’ Mo’ (from Just Like You/Suitcase)
  • Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – Paolo Nutini & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (from An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall & the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program)
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – The Muppet Barbershop Quartet (from The Muppets – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on An Open Fire) – Mel Tormé (from That’s All)

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Check out more I Ate the State adventures:

I Ate the State – Island County

Happy New Year from I Ate the State! I’m quite certain it’s going to be a good one – and chock full of Washington State adventure.

To start the year off in coastal style, I’d like to share my recent adventures to the beautiful shores of Island County. Comprised primarily of Whidbey and Camano Islands and located in the upper northwest part of the state, Island County is a wonderful escape from the mainland commotion any time of year. Full of history, sweeping prairies and shorelines, there’s something for everyone to enjoy on these lovely little islands. Holding court as the second smallest county in Washington (by area), one might think there wouldn’t be much to see and do, but they’d be entirely wrong.

True to its name, Island County is indeed a seafaring destination. That said, there are also routes which quite nicely accommodate the four-wheeled traveler. On my recent journey, I hit up the excellent Washington State Ferry system as well as the bridges connecting both Camano and Whidbey Islands to the mainland. One of these days I’d love to arrive via sailboat… #BucketList

Cama View
Looking out towards the Olympics from Cama Beach

To arrive in Camano Island, I drove north on I-5 and took Exit 212 leading to Stanwood. After following SR-532 through Stanwood, I crossed over moody Davis Slough and the Stillaguamish River via the Camano Gateway Bridge and officially entered Island County. For an excellent day trip from the Seattle area, consider a combo visit to both Camano Island and the Stanwood area. While adjacent to each other, they actually span both Snohomish County and Island County. Travel bonus! There are great restaurants, outdoor opportunities and lodging in both areas, making for a great day trip or weekend getaway. For this adventure, however, I was sticking to the gorgeous shores of Island County.

As one of the two largest islands making up Island County, it can be easy at times to forget you’re actually on an island. Filled with beautiful stretches of farmland and forest, Camano Island is an idyllic slice of Northwest living. Driving around the island is a wonderful way to spend the day and the glimpses you’ll catch of surrounding Possession Sound and Port Susan make for a perfectly picturesque road trip.

One of the first places I wanted to visit was the beautiful Kristoferson Farm. Perched on a hill overlooking scenic farmland, this sixth-generation farm (c. 1912 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places) features organic lavender, hay and fruit crops as well as the zip-line outfit, Canopy Tours NW. While I will admit to still mentally recovering from my jungle zip-line incident near Puerto Vallarta, I plan on returning to conquer my zip-line fears on Camano Island in the near future.

To highlight their bounty, they feature related products in their onsite farm store and gift shop. I picked up some delicious culinary lavender on my visit and have been adding it to various bakery and beverage experimentations ever since. Yum! They also host regular farm-to-table Dinner in the Barn events featuring northwest wineries and chefs as well as lavender craft classes. I do plan on making a triumphant return to zip-lining, but I’d be a liar if I said the barn dinners weren’t absolute tops on my list…

If you’re looking for a unique challenge, but zip-lining isn’t your thing, check out some AXE THROWING action just up the road at Arrowhead Ranch. They feature shared and private axe-throwing lanes as well as various workshops. In particular, their Live-Edge Charcuterie Board class is high on my list of things to check out. Wood-working shenanigans which include hors d’oeuvres and local wine? I’m IN! (I wonder if you drink wine while using power tools…)

While Arrowhead Ranch doesn’t offer onsite food or beverage, they do encourage the bring-your-own plan. Located nearby is the excellent Camano Commons, the local hub for restaurants, coffee, gifts and more. Some of the great options to check out:

There are many excellent spots from which to enjoy the shoreline views as well as Camano’s beautiful forested areas. Peoples of the Coast Salish Native American tribes have been visiting the island for thousands of years to harvest the bounty of seafood, berries and to benefit from the natural wonders. The area has been pivotal to the culture of native peoples as well as Euro-American settlers who began moving to the area in the mid-1800s. Driving, hiking, biking and boating around the island – whatever your mode of transportation – it’s easy to understand the appeal and importance of this beautiful locale.

During my own meandering around the island, I spent a bit of time exploring the lovely Cama Beach Historical State Park. Located on the western side of the island, overlooking the Saratoga Passage and onward towards the Olympic Mountains, the park is a true Camano Island gem. Long a destination for vacationing Northwesterners and included on the National Register of Historic Places, the park has been welcoming visitors to its beach-side cedar cabins since 1934. It felt a bit like stepping into a PNW version of the old-school resort in Dirty Dancing… (And remember: NOBODY puts baby in the corner!)

In addition to the Cama Beach Resort cabins, the charming park features a great picnic area, many miles of beautiful hiking trails, the seasonal Cama Beach Store and an events center. If boating is your thing, the Center for Wooden Boats offers boat-building classes and the park features a boat launch and rentals. (Row, sail and motor) And should cabin or outdoor cooking not be your thing, head to the Cama Beach Café for tasty dining options. (Open daily from June thru Labor Day and on weekends for breakfast/lunch, September thru May)

For further enjoyment of the Camano Island shoreline, stroll up the one-mile trail leading south to neighboring Camano Island State Park. (Or hit up nearby Lowell Point Road via West Camano Drive for a quick car ride) While this park also has a small handful of cabins, they feature a large camping area which accommodates both tent and RV camping. In addition to relaxing in the cozy campsites, check out the boating scene and perhaps do a bit of crabbing or saltwater fishing. And as is the case with all Washington State parks, a Discover Pass is recommended for park access. (Daily passes for $10 are also available onsite)

Since it was such a beautiful day on my visit, I opted for a little beach picnic to make the most of the sunshine. In addition to beach picnics, there are several other great dining options on the island. A few places to consider on your next Camano getaway:

  • Not too far from Camano Island State Park, Journey’s End Café (formerly Kara’s Kitchen) offers great burgers, pizza and more. Grab it to go and head back to the beach! They also host regular game nights and feature live music on weekends.
  • Located just across the way from the Kristoferson Farm, Rockaway Bar & Grill serves NW style fare featuring local ingredients. Fresh oysters, fish and produce make for some very delicious menu options.
  • If you happen to be visiting the island during the first weekend of the month and are feeling parched, check out Dusty Cellars Winery and Edward Lynne Cellars for a bit of wine-tasting enjoyment. (First weekend of each month – check websites for hours)
  • Should you like to extend your Camano stay and further enjoy the local scene, head north of Cama Beach State Park on West Camano Drive to the beautiful Camano Island Inn. They feature well-appointed rooms, stunning views and a great location from which to explore the island.

Pro tip: There are many great lodging options on the island – Hit up VRBO and Airbnb to peruse the many possibilities.

Camano Island is fairly large, but it’s still possible to cover the entire island on an afternoon drive. In pursuit of this goal, I was driving around the southern tip of the island, enjoying the views of Port Susan to the east, when I came upon the quaint Tyee Grocery and Farms. After picking up a coffee and quick snack, I continued down East Camano Drive, but was inspired to pull over not too far down the road. I spotted a few art installations and a very cool little lending library with a small, adjacent parking area. A beautiful drive, a little Art and some cool books – Nice! Definitely keep your eyes peeled while rambling around the island as there are great finds around so many of its corners.

Upon wrapping up my tour of Camano Island, it was time to head to neighboring Whidbey Island to continue my coastal adventures. Granted, I did end up making an additional trip to Whidbey Island on a later excursion, but it is absolutely possible to do a grand tour of both islands on a long day or weekend overnighter. That said, it’s hard to not to spend a little extra time in the Deception Pass area as it is positively stunning. And that’s exactly what happened on my first trip out…

Island County
Entering Island County! (As seen from Deception Pass Bridge)

If you happen to have a boat, (#LifeGoals) you can indeed head over the Saratoga Passage from Camano Island to get to Whidbey Island, the largest island in Washington State. The Saratoga Passage is a beautiful stretch of water and a popular section of the Puget Sound waterways. There are no ferries that go between Camano and Whidbey, but you can sometimes see private passenger boats like the Victoria Clipper cruising through both Saratoga Passage and Deception Pass when waters are rough in the nearby Strait of Juan de Fuca. There are also great whale-watching tours such as Deception Pass Tours which regularly travel through the area.

The Coast Salish and Lower Skagit tribes (Now recognized within the Swinomish Nation in neighboring Skagit County) have been stewards of these waters and islands for thousands of years. It’s easy to see how this beautiful, bountiful area could hold such importance to coastal living. Camano Island has many treasures to share, but with Whidbey being the larger island, the bounty is even more plentiful. It is entirely possible to enjoy sweeping forests, coastlines and wide-open prairies on a visit to Whidbey; All of these environments providing a wealth of resources to the enduring island community.

Since I wanted to drive over Deception Pass (on the National Register of Historic Places) to arrive on Whidbey Island, I took Exit 230 off I-5 North (near Burlington in Skagit County) to access SR-20. (SR-20 is also known as the North Cascades Highway or the spectacular Cascade Loop) Once heading west on SR-20, I followed the road until it turned off to the left, just before Anacortes. If you prefer a more seafaring route, take the Mukilteo/Clinton Ferry or Port Townsend/Coupeville Ferry and avoid the crowds of the I-5 corridor. (For another travel bonus trip, link your Island County adventures with Port Townsend and beautiful Jefferson County)

Crossing over Deception Pass is quite a spectacular experience. Whether via car, bike, or foot, it is a beautiful sight to behold. If you happen to be leery of heights, walking over it might not be your bag, but it is well worth the consideration. On my Ragnar Northwest Passage adventure, one of our runners had the opportunity to run across the bridge around sunrise and I’m sure it was amazing. I was traveling over the bridge in the team van at the time and even that was an amazing scene. (The sunrise. Not a bunch of stinky runners piled in a van… not as amazing.) I must admit, however, as much as I love heights, I was completely content to merely walk across the bridge on my own adventure. (Details of my actual bridge visit are included in my Skagit County article)

In addition to the bridge itself, Deception Pass State Park is truly beautiful and should be a must-visit on any list of Northwest destinations. Spanning both Skagit and Island Counties via the bridge, the park has a plethora of camping, hiking, boating, fishing and beach opportunities to enjoy. After becoming a state park in 1922, the Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, buildings and trails and many of the park structures are now on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s easy to feel you’ve stepped back into a quieter, less hectic era when visiting the park. (Check out the in-park CCCs Interpretive Center to learn more about the history of the park.) Don’t miss a visit to this spectacular part of the state! (For even more exploration of the area, stop in a few miles down the road at Deception Pass State Park’s sister park, Dugualla State Park.)

After enjoying the striking scenery of the Deception Pass area, I traveled further south along SR-20 towards the largest city on the island, Oak Harbor. Home to the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Oak Harbor is a bustling and vibrant island community. The area is a fun place to explore as well as a center for tasty dining and fun shopping opportunities – and keep an eye out for the naval planes regularly flying overhead.

Naval Base
Just an everyday scene on SR-20 into Oak Harbor…

As you’re coming through town on SR-20, there are quite a few great dining options. All of that adventuring at Deception Pass can make one hungry and there are several great establishments to check out along the main thoroughfare. Just a few of the delicious options:

  • Stop in at Flyers Restaurant & Brewery for great local beers, tasty burgers and more. Located directly off SR-20.
  • Stock up on delicious smoked salmon at Seabolt’s Smokehouse off of SR-20 or hang out and enjoy their lunch and dinner menu. Their clam chowder and Penn Cover oysters are very tasty!
  • The hours are short, but a visit to Kau Kau Corner is well worth the timing. Specializing in Hawaiian comfort food, they offer tempting dishes such as Kalua pork and Spam musubi. (Mon-Fri, 11am – 4pm – Located directly off SR-20)
  • Don’t let the name fool you. In addition to great, organic coffee, Rock Island Coffee has a full menu which includes beer and wine. Check out their skillet mac-n-cheese! (Open ‘til 5pm, M-Sat and 3pm on Sundays)
  • If you’re looking for a classic Oak Harbor joint, check out Island Café, located directly off SR-20. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a classic diner flair.
  • During the late spring and summer, stop in at the Oak Harbor Farmers Market and enjoy some great local produce and artisan goods. (Thursdays, 4-7pm, right off SR-20)

On any visit to Oak Harbor, it’s a great idea to visit the historic Main Street part of town. This waterfront area is filled with fun shops, great restaurants and regular events. It’s the heart of Oak Harbor and can easily accommodate a leisurely day on the town. The full-service Oak Harbor Marina is also located in this area if you happen to be arriving via boat. (#INeedABoat)

On your next visit to Oak Harbor, check out these great spots in the historic downtown waterfront area:

  • Not far before turning off SR-20 to head towards the waterfront, hit up Wicked Teuton Brewing Co. & Homebrew Supply for a tasty local brew or craft soda. This family and pet-friendly taproom is open daily at 11am – Check website for closing times.
  • There are several fun shopping stops to make in the downtown area. A couple of my favorites are the ridiculously cute Popsies with their excellent selection of treats and Purple Moon with their eclectic selection of gifts and more. And don’t forget to stop in at Whidbey Beer Works to peruse their large selection of specialty beers, ciders, wine and meads. (They also do occasional tasting events)

  • Grab a great cup of coffee for your stroll around the waterfront at Whidbey Coffee Co. In addition to their downtown location, they have 11 others in Western Washington. Fun fact: Contrary to their name, they are actually headquartered across the water in Mukilteo, whereas the excellent Mukilteo Coffee Roasters is based on Whidbey Island in nearby Langley. Shenanigans!
  • Closed for the holidays on my recent visit, Chris’ Bakery (since 1948) has been – and will hopefully continue – making delicious pastries, pies, cakes and more for many years to come. Their sweet treats are delicious, but don’t miss out trying their meat pies and amazing bread as well!

  • I enjoyed a tasty, diner-style breakfast on my last visit to Oak Harbor at the Riverside Café. Classic décor and a small, adjacent bar make this a cool spot to visit any time of day. (Breakfast, lunch and dinner)

  • On the finer dining side, head to Rustica Café & Wine Bar (Open at noon, 10am on Sundays for brunch), the Terrace Wine Bar and Bistro (3-10pm, closed Sun/Mon) and lovely Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway (Tues – Sat, 4:30 – 9:30pm, closed Sun/Mon) for a tasty day or night on the town.
  • If you’re looking to celebrate all things Oak Harbor, be sure to hit up their annual Holland Happening International Festival every April. Pioneer Way and the waterfront is blocked off for craft and food vendors as well live music and beer gardens. (April 23-26, 2020)
  • If you’d like to work off some of that downtown decadence, head a little further towards the water and check out the Wildwood Farm B&B. This equestrian-friendly, 80-acre farm features horse boarding, instruction, training and indoor/outdoor arenas. Guests can also stay in a remodeled 1914 bunkhouse and enjoy beautiful walking trails during their stay. Dreamy!

Heading further south on SR-20 will bring you through some magnificent scenery. There are beautiful farms, pastures and sweeping vistas around every turn and one would be hard-pressed to get bored of the views. The drive itself is interesting, but there are several great stops along the way. One such destination is the awesome Blue Fox Drive-in Theater. Entertaining Whidbey Island since 1959, they feature movies, go-karts, concessions and arcade games. When was the last time you went to a drive-in movie?? Sigh…

In keeping with my, “Hmmm – maybe there’s something cool off in that direction – I should check” plan, I turned off SR-20 onto Hastie Lake Road. I had no idea where it would lead, but the landscapes were gorgeous and I thought maybe it would head towards the water. (But then, most paths on an island typically do at some point…) I’m very glad I did as the drive was stunning and beyond idyllic. Along the way, I passed lovely farmland and spots where I’m pretty sure time had stood still. Around one bend, I stumbled upon the charming Hennrich Tree Farm, busy in full-operation for the holiday season.

Not too far past the tree farm and much as expected, I reached the shoreline. Conveniently located at the intersection of Hastie Lake Road and West Beach Road was the tiny, but perfectly-positioned Hastie Lake County Park. Situated on the shoreline in between private beaches, it was a beautiful spot to pull over and enjoy the view and it brought back some wonderful, unexpected memories.

When I was very young, my family made a couple of visits to Whidbey Island to visit friends. (All the way from very non-coastal Eastern WA) I have vivid memories of their house overlooking the water and a cool rope ladder leading down the bluff to the private beach below. Standing on the shores of Hastie Lake County Park and looking down the beach at the homes overlooking the water brought me right back to my 5-year-old self. I remember being absolutely charmed by coastal living and can honestly say that nothing has since changed. Just dreamy…

Just as I’d hoped, it was both an easy and beautiful loop drive back to SR-20 beginning on West Beach Road. Once back on the highway, I continued south towards my next planned destination, Fort Ebey State Park and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. I’d been wanting to visit these areas for quite some time and since there was a fortuitous break in the rain, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Pro tip: As helpful as on-board and mobile GPS can be, it’s always good to have a map or printed directions of the area on hand. It’s common to lose satellite or mobile connections in the more remote and forested areas – be prepared! And in the least, have a full tank, water and SNACKS at the ready. Mmm… Snacks…

The first area I visited was Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. On the National Register of Historic Places and the first National Historic Reserve in the US (established by Congress in 1978 and one of only three presently in the country), the entire area is a one of the most remarkable stretches of land in the state. (And beyond!) I’m sad I hadn’t visited sooner, but am completely grateful to have finally experienced this stunning, expansive beauty in person.

Driving up the access road, the view of gorgeous prairies began to stretch out in front of me as I gained elevation up the hillside. While the prairies expanded, so did the amazing view of the shoreline, making room for the glimmering skyline in the distance. The way the sun was lighting the horizon was exquisite and I can definitively say it was one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.

Ebey Landing
Looking out towards the water from Ebey Landing

The Lower Skagit Tribe has been gazing out over these vistas for thousands of years with western settlements beginning to populate the region in the 1850s. One of the first homesteads was plotted by Whidbey pioneers, Isaac Ebey and his wife, Rebecca Davis. After having established himself in the Olympia area, Isaac brought his family over from Missouri to cultivate the sprawling farmland which is now known as Ebey’s Landing. Their home still stands along with defense blockhouses and acres of presently farmed area.

A leisurely hike through the area via the Ebey’s Landing trails is a must for any Whidbey Island visit and nicely showcases a landscape that has scarcely changed over the last few hundred years. Even just a drive up to the Prairie Landing Overlook to enjoy the coastal and farmland views is well worth it. (Located just across the road from Sunnyside Cemetery (c. 1865) and the Davis Blockhouse. Isaac Ebey and Rebecca Davis as well as Coupeville’s namesake, Thomas Coupe are laid to rest in this cemetery.)

Not too far north up the coast and included within the National Historical Reserve lies Fort Ebey State Park. If you’re up for camping, this is a great location from which to explore the area. Not only is there ample camping, the area is popular with paragliders and surfers and the beaches serve as great seaweed gathering spots in the spring. If you’d like to do some smallmouth bass fishing, check out lovely Lake Pondilla, found in the park’s interior. (Note: Until a recent double-check on my research, I was convinced the name was actually Lake PondZILLA. And that’s what I’ll be personally referring to it as moving forward… But hey, score one for double-checking your research! I had a whole backstory worked out in my head and everything! A fisherman must’ve caught a GIANT fish at some point and told his buddies he caught a Godzilla fish in the pond… Come on, it makes sense! I can’t lie – I feel a little let down…)

While visiting the park, be sure to check out the WWII era battery and gun emplacements. Bring a flashlight and snake through the darkened corridors of the island’s military history. Continue your explorations along the stunning Kettles Trail System which connects the park to the reserve as well as the epic Pacific NW National Scenic Trail. The views and vistas found along these coastal trails are gorgeous and not to be missed. (Even minus the Godzilla Fish…)

Just over from Fort Ebey State Park and off SR-20, lies the historic center of Whidbey Island, the ever-charming Coupeville. While not incorporated until 1910, it is actually the second oldest town in the state. (Steilacoom is the oldest incorporated town in the state) Western settlement began in the 1850s and was led by the city’s namesake, Captain Thomas Coupe. Serving as the county seat and featuring a wonderful, historic waterfront and wharf area (c. 1905), Coupeville is a wonderful town to explore and an excellent look into the evolution of Washington State. Be sure to stop in at the Island County Historical Museum located near the waterfront for an in-depth look at the area’s fascinating history.

Nestled alongside beautiful Penn Cove, Coupeville is fairly compact, making it easy to explore. That said, there are many treasures packed into its tiny downtown and it’s advisable to plan on spending at least a day in the area. The Coupeville Wharf (on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, along with Coupeville in general), is a great place to start your explorations. The views of Penn Cove, downtown Coupeville and Front Street are picture-perfect and the subject of many a northwest photo op.

Grab a cup of coffee at Coffee on the Cove, housed inside the wharf building and enjoy investigating the interpretive displays and exhibits courtesy of the Marine Education Center. Also housed in the historic building is the funky Harbor Gifts shop as well as newly reopened restaurant, The Cove. (Formerly the Cove Café. Note: As of this writing, Yelp and Trip Advisor say they’re closed, but the new owners have recently reopened the spot…) When you’ve finished your visit, head back down to the sailboat you’ve moored nearby and enjoy the beauty of Penn Cove. (#BoatDreams)

Coupeville’s downtown Front Street is an absolutely delightful place to spend an afternoon. Packed into a few blocks are charming shops, restaurants and galleries, all nestled along the shores of beautiful Penn Cove. Consider checking out the walking tour offered by the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association or discover the area at your own leisure. Either approach will be filled with great finds and tasty treats. A few of the intriguing spots you’ll find along the way:

  • Located next to the wharf boardwalk, Collections Boutique features clothing, accessories and beach-themed gifts.
  • If you’re looking for a cool, local bookstore, check out Kingfisher Bookstore. The building, itself, constructed in 1874 is alone worth a visit and once housed the popular, Benson’s Confectionery. (c. 1915)
  • For all things quirky and hilarious, Far From Normal is the perfect stop. I picked up everything from vintage sheet music to soap and old school candies. Definitely my kind of place…
  • For a lovely selection of clothing, shoes, gift items, soaps and more, stop in at the very quaint Aqua Gifts.
  • Celebrate the NW Dutch influence at A Touch of Dutch. They feature Dutch foods and tasty treats, blue Delftware and more in their incredibly cozy shop.
  • Sporting an excellent view of Penn Cove, Front Street Grill offers tasty seafood and NW coastal dining in their lovely waterfront building. Try some of the famous Penn Cove mussels!
  • Take a break from exploring the shops and enjoy a nice glass of wine at the Vail Wine Shop & Tasting Room. A great glass of vino and an amazing view of Penn Cove – sign me up!
  • Oh, wow… the bread! Stop in at super cute and deliciously tasty Little Red Hen Bakery for fresh baked bread and bakery specialties. Community supported and island sustained!
  • Recently rescued and now under restoration, the Haller House provides a great look at Coupeville’s past. Built on the original land claim of Thomas Coupe, it is an important piece of Coupeville’s history and will be a fine re-addition to the Front Street scene.

For more great shopping and dining options, check out the blocks just above Front Street and the Waterfront area. There is also a nice public parking area adjacent to the Coupeville Library, located just past the Bayleaf shop…

  • The Bayleaf shop features the stuff of foodie dreams. Wonderful artisan meats and cheeses, specialty foods and a great wine selection. Grab things to go or order one of their amazing sandwiches to enjoy in-house.
  • Stop in at Currents Bistro for delicious NW-inspired fare and island ambiance. Featuring locally sourced ingredients, their dishes are delectable.
  • I’m going to have to return to Coupeville soon so I can again try to visit The Oystercatcher. I’ve heard many great things and was excited to stop in, but the line was literally pressed up against the door when I peeked in. Next time!! Mmmm… Oysters… (Their bread has such a following it inspired the creation of the aforementioned Little Red Hen Bakery!)
  • While their local lavender farm doesn’t re-open for the season until June, the lovely Lavender Wind Farm shop is open in downtown Coupeville. (Just across from the Oystercatcher) Walking into the store is like walking into the French countryside. Sigh… Along with a wide variety of culinary and home-based lavender goods, they also feature a coffee bar and baked goods. I greatly enjoyed their lavender caramels and can’t wait to get my hands on some more!
  • Check out Ciao for deliciously crafted pizza, salads and fresh seafood as well as a great lounge area and regular live music. Located just up from downtown on North Main Street.
  • Located on South Main Street, a mile of so west of the downtown core, Penn Cove Brewing Company is an excellent place to take a break. They feature tasty brews, a small menu and various weekly specials. (Also in nearby communities, Oak Harbor and Freeland)

The Coupeville area has many wonderful lodging opportunities, including several traditional B&Bs. You can’t miss the stately Anchorage Inn B&B on North Main Street, just before you enter the Waterfront area and the lovely Blue Goose Inn B&B can be spotted just before. The Compass Rose B&B, with its charming, minty green exterior can be found on South Main Street and for something a little less traditional, consider the rustic, shoreline cabins and rooms at the wonderfully unique Captain Whidbey Inn. They also feature a restaurant and tavern as well as accessibility via boat and seaplane! (Additionally, the drive there via coastal Madrona Way is beautiful!) If camping is your thing, Rhododendron Park, located in Coupeville proper, offers tent and RV camping and great access to local hiking trails.

Shellfish tip: If you’d like to try your hand at gathering some of the famous, local shellfish, the area near Captain Whidbey is wonderful. Check out the West Penn Cove and Twin Lagoons areas, located at the base of Penn Cove. West Penn Cove has clams, mussels & oysters (Mid-July thru Mid-Sept only) and Twin Lagoons has clams, mussels and oysters year-round. Be sure to check the DOH website on day of harvest to ensure the beach is open for shellfish harvesting.

There are already countless things to do in the Coupeville area, but they up the ante with several annual festivals in addition to many surrounding farms to visit and enjoy. A few more reasons to spend some time in Coupeville:

  • Celebrate the jewels of the area at the yearly Penn Cove MusselFest (March 7-8, 2020)
  • Celebrate the waters that host the jewels of the area at the annual Penn Cove Water Festival (May 16, 2020)
  • Many artists and craftspeople call the island home and a great place to check out their wares is at the annual Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival (August 8-9, 2020)
  • Since 1946, Bell’s Farm has been providing delicious strawberries, produce and more to the island. Head over to their Strawberry Daze celebration in late June and stop by their Honesty Stand to stock up on baked goods, produce, eggs, lamb and strawberries.
  • Stop in at the 3 Sisters Family Farm (c. 1910) for all-natural, ethically and sustainably raised beef, pork, lamb and chickens. The beef and lamb are 100% grass-fed, the pork is fed barley raised on the Island and the chickens are cage-free. Visit their market for all products, snacks, local goods and beverages
  • For a great selection of goods from local farmers and artisans, head to the Coupeville Farmers Market for all things delicious. (Saturdays, April – Oct, 10am – 2pm)

Mirroring its sister, Fort Worden, across the way in Jefferson County, the fascinating Fort Casey Historical State Park is a must-add to your Whidbey Island itinerary. Built in the late 1800’s, Fort Casey, in combination with Fort Worden and nearby Fort Flagler (on Marrowstone Island), formed a very important part of the western US coastal defense network. It is easy to spend hours combing through the catacomb of bunkers and darkened corridors. (Don’t forget to bring a flashlight!) It is also easy to check out both Fort Casey and Fort Worden on a long afternoon. Just hop aboard the nearby Port Townsend/Coupeville ferry and you’re on your way! (Reservations are recommended for this ferry crossing.)

In addition to the military aspect of the park, be sure to pay a visit to the Admiralty Head Lighthouse and learn about the area’s importance to seafaring traffic through the years. There is also great camping, boating and saltwater fishing accessible from within the park and several excellent picnic areas to enjoy. If you’re more interested in checking out historic lodging and grounds, the Fort Casey Inn, located just down the road from the park, is absolutely beautiful.

Heading south on SR-20 towards Fort Casey State Park, the road becomes SR-525 when you hit the turn-off for Fort Casey. (SR-20 continues to and ends at Fort Casey State Park) Continuing south on SR-525 will shortly bring you to the completely charming Greenbank area. The drive is beautiful, showcasing beautiful forested and coastal scenery; a fine area to hit up for a weekend drive. In addition to the wonderful drive, there are several excellent spots to hit up in the Greenbank area. A few of my favorites:

  • It would be entirely enjoyable and advisable to spend an afternoon at historic Greenbank Farm. Beautiful gardens, trails, sweeping farmland, two galleries and glorious picnic ops await you on your next visit. Throw in a stop at the onsite Greenbank Farm Wine Shop and delicious Whidbey Pies Café and you might be there longer than the afternoon. The farm was actually a major stop on the Ragnar race trail and I can’t tell you just how much I enjoyed that giant piece of loganberry pie… WOW! (Mon-Fri, 11am – 6pm, Sat/Sun at 10:30am)

  • The beautiful Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, located just south of Greenbank Farm on SR-525 is a lovely and colorful way to while away an afternoon. The Rhododendrons, Washington’s state flower, are glorious and plentiful when in bloom. (I keep looking at the name and seeing Meerkat Gardens, which would also be awesome. Just sayin’.)
  • Great wine, beautiful scenery and a relaxing atmosphere can be found at Holmes Harbor Cellars in the Honeymoon Bay area. (Check website for hours) They are also part of the Whidbey Island Wine & Spirits Trail and annual Red Wine & Chocolate Tour.
  • Don’t miss a stop into this tiny gem of a store. The Greenbank Pantry and Deli is chock full of delicious meats and cheeses as well as local specialty items, a deli counter, baked goods and more. Their Prosciutto Mozz sandwich was SO delicious! They also carry delicious bread from the Little Red Hen Bakery in Coupeville. (Closed Sunday)

A beautiful side-route in the Greenbank area can be found via South Smuggler’s Cove Road along the west side of the island. There’s a wonderful view over to Marrowstone Island in Jefferson County and glorious peeks into hidden coves and shoreline. We drove through this area as part of the Ragnar route and while I was glad to not have to run uphill through the area, I was more than happy to enjoy the scenery from my tired spot in the van. South Whidbey State Park is a nice place to stop along the way if you’d like to hike amongst some very large, old trees. There is sadly no camping due to tree disease, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying their beauty. One of the cedars is 500-years old!

Continuing south on SR-525 will bring you to the tiny town of Freeland. For as tiny a town as Freeland is, it is impressive how many cool antique and thrift stores they feature. The same could be said for cool spots to stop and grab a delicious beverage! Throw in a tasty meal and perhaps a stay at the local vegan B&B and you could have a most excellent adventure. A few places to check out on your next Freeland adventure:

  • If you’re up for a truly epic thrift store outing, don’t miss a stop at Senior Thrift, located just off SR-525. It’s remarkable what they’ve packed inside that building! Mutiny Bay Antiques and Red Rooster Antique Mall are both chock full of excellent finds and the Habitat for Humanity Store has amazing bargains to cover your home project needs and more. (Also in Oak Harbor)
  • For a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner, head to the local staple, Freeland Café & Lounge. Big breakfasts (All day!), tasty burgers, delicious seafood and more have been gracing their tables since 1977.
  • Rocket Taco serves delicious traditional and “deluxe” tacos with all the accoutrements along with tasty margaritas in their cozy Freeland spot. They also have Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème and Key Lime pie IN A JAR. YUM! (Closed Monday. Also located in Seattle on Capitol Hill!)
  • Take time to wet your whistle at one of Freeland’s fine beverage establishments. Blooms Winery & 5115 Bistro (Closed Tues/Wed, 11am – 8pm otherwise, Fri – 9pm) and Mutiny Bay Distillery (Mon, Thurs-Sat, 11am – 5pm, Sun – Noon – 5pm, Closed Tues/Wed) both offer wonderful wine and spirits – and the 5115 Bistro at Blooms is delicious. Nearby Dancing Fish Vineyards also has lodging should you want to have that extra glass of wine while enjoying a bit of live music. (Thurs, Sat, Sun, Mon – 11am – 6pm, Fri – 11am – 8pm, Tasting room closes at 5pm – Music in bar, 5:30-7:30)
  • Set on 70-acres of beautiful farmland, the Someday Farm Vegan B&B features lodging, walking trails and plenty of farm animals to commune amongst. (They ask you don’t bring animal products with you on your visit to the farm.)
  • Not too far from Freeland is the spectacular, 72-acre Earth Sanctuary. Designed by Chuck Pettis, the sanctuary features stone circles and sculptures, wetlands, a labyrinth, medicine wheels and more. They are presently working on an innovative 500-year Plan to restore the area to its original ecological and environmental best. (Open during daylight hours)
  • Just a little further south in the Mutiny Bay area off SR-525, the Double Bluff Beach & Off-leash Area features a lovely 4-mile round-trip walk along an extensive sandy beach for you and your pooch. There are few things more joyful than watching a dog experience the beach for the first time.

Country Roads
Country roads stretching out for miles…

Nearing the end of my trek across the island, I landed in the lovely town of Langley, known affectionately as The Village by the Sea. Long an important location for trade, resources and artistic endeavors on the island, it remains a mainstay of activity today. If you are heading to the island from the Seattle/Mukilteo area, it is also the first larger town you’ll come to after disembarking in nearby Clinton.

Forged largely of the will and determination of young immigrant, Jacob Anthes, Langley began development in the 1890s and became an incorporated town in 1913. The town continued to grow (including the rabbit population due to a 4-H fair display going amok) and has thoroughly established itself as a vital link from the mainland to Whidbey Island. To learn more about the history of Langley and its founding father, stop by the South Whidbey Historical Museum, housed in a logger’s bunkhouse constructed by Jacob Anthes in 1902. (Interesting note: Jacob Anthes was founder of the unique Whidbey Telecom, still in business and one of the only US telecom companies to have always been privately owned and operated. They were also the first telecom company west of the Rockies to offer Internet services via phone in 1994. All hail the Internets!)

Langley is an excellent and easily accessible get-away from the fast-paced mainland, just 40-minutes away. There are many wonderful things to see and do in the Langley area as well as many delicious restaurants to try. On my recent trip to Langley, I arrived in the evening, so dinner was tops on my to-do list. I happened upon the iconic Bayview Cash Store building (c. 1924) and was very drawn in by the scene. I’m SO glad I stopped as it’s a veritable treasure trove of shops, restaurants and art. A few of the places to check out on your visit:

  • On my recent visit, I was very in the mood for fresh seafood and good beer. The Taproom at Bayview Corner deftly filled both needs and beyond. The delicious crab cakes were accompanied by a very unique and tasty jicama slaw which I’ll fully admit to attempting to recreate at home. Delicious! It should also be noted their tap list is great. They even had my all-time favorite Belgian-style (By way of Quebec’s Unibroue) beer, Maudite on tap. Dreeeeaaaaamy…

  • The charming Farmer & the Vine features a large wine selection as well as small plates and live music.
  • Not only do they serve delicious doughnuts, Whidbey Doughnuts also offers all-day breakfast and tasty sandwiches – including a Monte Cristo. (Note: I’m ever-vigilant and always on the lookout for a good Monte Cristo. Because they are DELICIOUS.) (Sunday thru Wednesday, 6am – 3pm, Thursday thru Saturday, 6am – 8pm)
  • Every July through September, the Island Shakespeare Festival keeps the island entertained with the Bard’s prolific words. The festival headquarters are housed inside the Bayview Cash Store. Pop in and learn about the festival as well as enjoy the revolving art displays inside the main lobby and stairwell areas, hosted by onsite Front Room Gallery.

  • Sharing a parking lot with the Bayview Cash Store is the Bayview Farm & Garden and Flowerhouse Garden Café. The shop, gardens and café, along with the wonderful old farm buildings and community hall make for the quintessential island farm scene. (Café open 8am – 4pm, Garden Store open 9am – 6pm, Mon-Sat, 5pm on Sunday)

  • Situated just past Bayview Farm & Garden lies the excellent Orchard Kitchen. Not only do they serve locally-sourced, seasonal menus featuring their onsite farm, they also host regular cooking classes in their kitchen. Cool! (Open Thurs – Sat in fall/winter and Thurs – Sun in spring/summer)
  • In addition to being a general hub of awesomeness, the Bayview Cash Store also hosts regular street dances during the summer as well as the Bayview Farmers Market on Spring/Summer Saturdays. (April 25 – Oct 16, 10am – 2pm, 2020. Keep an eye out for special Holiday Market hours during the winter months.)

In addition to the great beverage options available at the Bayview Cash Store, there are many other places in the Langley area to enjoy a tasty libation or great cup of coffee. A few of the great spots to check out while you’re visiting the Village by the Sea:

  • If you’re a fan of berries, don’t miss a visit to the lovely Whidbey Island Distillery and its 9-acre estate located just off SR-525. Try their famous liqueurs, particularly the blackberry and be sure to sample their great Rye. (Open daily, 11am – 5pm)
  • In addition to a lovely glass of wine in their tasting room, Comforts of Whidbey Winery also features lodging in their 6-room Bed & Breakfast. Set atop the tasting room with views of the vineyards and Puget Sound, it’s completely justified to include “comforts” in the name. (Thurs/Fri – 1-6pm, Sat – 11am – 6pm, Sun – Noon – 6pm)
  • Stop in for wine and a cabaret show at Ott & Hunter Wines in the heart of downtown Langley with great views of the water. If they don’t already, I deeply hope they feature “Cabernet & Cabaret” evenings. It seems only fair… (Sun-Thurs – 1-8pm, Fri/Sat – 12-10pm, closed Wed)
  • If you’re visiting Langley on the weekend, stop in at Spoiled Dog Winery for a glass of delicious Pinot Noir in their tasting room and enjoy the idyllic surrounds of their estate. (Sat/Sun, Noon-5pm, outside food and non-alcoholic beverage welcome in the outdoor seating area.)
  • Located in the heart of downtown with a great view, Village Wine Shop & Tasting Room offers tastings, a well-stocked selection in their wine shop and regular events. (Wed – Sun, 11am – 6pm)
  • Also found in the lovely downtown area, Double Bluff Brewing features several of their tasty beers in their tap room and cozy outdoor seating area. Kid and dog friendly, outside food welcome. (Mon-Thurs, 3pm – 8pm, Fri/Sat, 2pm – 8pm, Sunday – 2pm – 7pm)
  • For the caffeine lovers in the bunch, Whidbey Island has no shortage of great options. Head to Useless Bay Coffee in the downtown area or Mukilteo Coffee Roasters located near Whidbey Airpark for a delicious cup o’ joe and tasty eats.

Mukilteo Coffee
Excellent coffee from Mukilteo Coffee Roasters!

It is very easy to find a delicious meal in Langley. The downtown area holds the key to many a tasty night (or day) out with a good variety of options from which to choose. Some of the excellent spots to hit up on your visit to the Village by the Sea:

  • Set in a quaint location in the downtown area, The Braeburn features locally sourced ingredients and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict (w/crab!) are fabulous and the atmosphere, welcoming and relaxed.
  • Featuring an outdoor kitchen in the back and a beautiful view, Portico Latin Bistro serves cuisine inspired by Mexico, South America and the Caribbean as well as delicious sangria and a great wine list. (Closed Mon/Tues)
  • A good friend and fellow foodie regularly visits Langley and highly recommends the French-inspired Prima Bistro. I haven’t been able to visit as of this writing, but it is high on my list for the next visit. The menu looks amazing and there’s the matter of an Absinthe service they offer… Yes, please!
  • Fresh oysters, clams, mussels, crabs and MORE can be enjoyed at the downtown Saltwater Oyster Bar. Add in delicious clam chowder, oyster po’ boys and hand-cut and battered fish and chips… Yowsa!! Oh, and their ‘Whale Tale Mary’ with its house Mary mix, jumbo shrimp, oyster and salmon jerky? I’M IN!!
  • If you’d like to meet the purveyors of the delicious local goods you’ve enjoyed during your Langley outings, stop by the seasonal Langley Farmers Market located in the downtown area on Frick Lane. (Thursdays, May – August, 2pm – 6pm) If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, pay a visit to the incredibly cool South Whidbey Tilth Market for all things organic. (May – October, 11am – 2pm)
  • I personally believe it is hard to dispute the deliciousness of ice cream and the importance it plays in happy living. Sprinklz, located in the downtown area, serves the key to said happy living as well scores major bonus points with their arcade area. (If you happen to be heading for the ferry, don’t miss their sister location in neighboring Clinton.)

Arcade hot tip: Continue your downtown arcade crawl at the amazing Machine Shop. Featuring vintage pinball and arcade machines as well as the new hotness, the Machine Shop is a step back into your gloriously misspent youth. (Translation: I spent way too many quarters on arcade machines in my glory days… But whatever.) They also feature live music, comedy and other entertaining events on weekends.

Langley has long been known for its eclectic and broad Arts scene. The stunning beauty of the area makes it completely understandable and the artistic inspiration, endless. Even if you’re simply taking photos with your phone, the Langley and greater Whidbey Island area is captivating. Here are just a few of the ways you can explore your artistic side on your next Langley visit:

  • Entertaining the cinema-goers of Whidbey Island since 1937, the Clyde Theatre is still going strong. Regularly showing first-run features as well as hosting special film and community events, the Clyde continues to be beacon of the island Arts scene.
  • Stop in at Museo when in downtown Langley and enjoy their beautiful displays. All manner of fine art from regionally and nationally known local artists can be found on display in this lovely gallery.
  • Enjoy beautifully crafted jewelry, rugs, textiles and more from around the world at the eclectically curated Music for the Eyes in downtown Langley. The owners regularly travel around the world to bring back unique treasures for their shop.
  • If you fancy yourself a prolific solver of crimes, head to the 36th annual Mystery Weekend in February. (Feb 22-23, 2020) On Saturday morning, a crime scene and murder are announced and it’s your job to discover clues in stores, around town and from costumed townsfolk. The “crime” is solved on Sunday afternoon and prizes are announced!
  • If you love Jazz, particularly the catchy jangle of Django Reinhardt, don’t miss the annual Djangofest Northwest every September at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds. (Organized by the excellent Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) In addition to a celebration of Jazz, there are concerts and workshops of all variety. Fully immerse yourself in the scene and camp at the fairgrounds while enjoying great food and ongoing jam sessions. (Sept 23-27, 2020)
  • Everyone loves a great county fair and Whidbey Island certainly represents. Head to the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds in July for the annual Whidbey Island Fair. Food, farm animals, displays, rides and more greet you in this charming, island fairground. (July 16-19, 2020) Don’t miss the annual Country Christmas event every year around Thanksgiving!

To make the most of your Langley visit, there are several great lodging options and ways to enjoy the beautiful island setting. It is of course entirely possible to make an excellent day trip of Whidbey Island and I’ve done it many times. However, having the luxury of waking up on this very welcoming island is a truly wonderful thing. In addition to the scores of excellent Airbnb and VRBO listings for island lodging, consider adding these great spots to your list:

  • While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit, the Inn at Langley is high on my dream-stay bucket list. Upscale lodging, spa services and locally-sourced tasting menus which include table visits from the chef make this a pretty special place to experience. A reliable foodie friend told me it was “the best place he and his wife had ever stayed…” I completely trust him, but I’m looking forward to investigating the delicious scene myself…
  • Just a short stroll from the downtown core and located directly on the water, the Boatyard Inn is a wonderful escape from city life. Located next to the South Whidbey Harbor/Marina, it’s a great spot to drop in your kayak or moor up your boat. Enjoy a glass of wine and the stunning water views from your private deck. Sigh… For kayak rentals as well as info about guided tours and more, stop in at nearby Whidbey Island Kayaking for details. (Opens seasonally in March)
  • If you feel like pitching a tent or swankin’ out in your RV while in the Langley area, head to the nearby Whidbey Island Fairgrounds campground area. The fairgrounds are within walking distance of the downtown core and provide ample room and campsite amenities to make for a comfortable stay.

Ferry
The Clinton ferry arriving in Mukilteo

I hate to admit it, but I don’t often stop in the small town of Clinton. It’s not fair, but I’ve gotten too accustomed to breezing through Clinton on my way off or onto the ferry. (Granted, sometimes there isn’t much breezing, per se, if I happen to be stuck in a long ferry line.) However, even if it’s only because you’ll be spending a bit of extra time waiting for the ferry, Clinton has some great spots to check out and is well worth exploring. And you can’t beat that shoreline view! I’ve officially promised myself to spend more time getting to know the Clinton area…

Pro tip: Sunday afternoons and early evenings can be fairly busy for the ferry. Plan your travel schedule accordingly.

There are many wonderful places to grab a bite and enjoy the view. On your next stop in Clinton, be sure to consider these great locations:

  • Bringing the tradition of the Scottish Isles and Highlands to Whidbey Island, Cadee Distillery & Tasting Room produces several delicious whiskies out of its Clinton distillery. They recommend calling ahead to visit the tasting room. I very much enjoy their Cascadia Rye Whiskey – very tasty! Located very close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525.
  • Visit the Cultus Bay Distillery on the southern tip of Whidbey Island, just south of the ferry terminal. The tasting room is open daily from 11am – 4pm, but it’s recommended to call ahead to tour/taste. If you happen to miss them, they also set up at the seasonal Bayview Farmers Market on Saturdays. They offer several varieties of spirits, but their Irish Poitin whiskey is particularly interesting.
  • Located just a little north of Cultus Bay Distillery, is Ogres Brewing. (Taproom – Thurs – Sat, 3-7pm – Also featuring gaming and music events) Stop in and enjoy some Ogress Blonde on tap or head over to the very unique, island institution Bailey’s Corner Store and enjoy a pint at the onsite beer garden.
  • Specializing in an international mix of noodle dishes such as Pad See Ew (my favorite!), Mac-n-Cheese and German Späetzle, Island Nosh is a great spot to grab a meal and tasty beverage. Located close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525. (Winter hours: Mon-Tues, 3:30 – 8pm, Wed-Fri, Noon – 8pm)
  • Set in a building constructed in 1900 and operating as Cozy’s Roadhouse since 1932, this classic Whidbey Island restaurant offers great pub-style food featuring local and NW ingredients. Open daily at 11am and located just off SR-525 near the ferry terminal.
  • If you’re thinking of making Clinton a jumping-off spot for your Whidbey Island adventures, consider a stay at The Quintessa. This large estate overlooking the water features rooms in the main house as well as a lovely cabin. It is also possible to rent the entire estate for larger gatherings.

As I drive onto the welcoming decks of the ferry to Mukilteo, I bring this chapter of my ongoing Island County adventures to a close. There is a special feeling experienced only in the island communities of Washington State that will always bring me back. The amazing combination of history, people, forest, ocean and the Arts is intoxicating and I can’t imagine ever tiring of it. Regardless of wherever I am in the state – or in the world – Island County will always be a place to which I will continue to return and enjoy. And one of these days, I’ll return to its shores… on my boat! (#FutureBoatOwner)

Happy New Year – and GO EAT THE STATE!

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Check out my Island County playlist on SPOTIFY

  • Here and Whole – Joan Shelly (from Cost of the Cold b/w Here and Whole)
  • This Sky – The Derek Trucks Band (from Songlines)
  • The Last Drive – Michel Bisceglia (from Bluebird)
  • The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress – Radka Toneff (from Some Time Ago (A Collection of Her Finest Moments))
  • Around and Around – Mountain Man (from Sings John Denver)
  • Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding – Jesse Winchester (from Love Filling Station)
  • The Carnival of the Animals, R.125: The Swan – Camille Saint-Saëns, Lucille Clifton, Bill Murray, Jan Vogler (from New Worlds)
  • On A Marché Sur la Lune – Anthony Strong (from Me and My Radio)
  • The Fear – Los Lobos (from The Fear)
  • I Forgive It All – Mudcrutch (from 2)
  • Short Trip Home – Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, Sam Bush, Joshua Bell (from The Essential Joshua Bell)
  • Putty Boy Strut – Anat Cohen, Jason Lindner, Joe Martin, Daniel Freedman (from Luminosa)
  • Unconditional Waltz – Calexico (from The Thread that Keeps Us – Deluxe Edition)
  • The Fox – Laura Veirs (from Hello I Must Be Going)
  • Can’t Find My Way Home – Blind Faith (from Blind Faith)
  • Everyone Knows – Mipso (from Old Time Reverie)
  • It’s Hard to Be Humble – Willie Nelson w/Lukas Nelson & Micah Nelson (from Ride Me Back Home)
  • As – Becca Stevens (from Regina)
  • Roll On – The Little Willies (from The Little Willies)
  • Sailing – Christopher Cross (from Christopher Cross)
  • Beautiful That Way – Noa (from Beautiful That Way)
  • I Don’t Worry About A Thing – Most Allison (from I Don’t Worry About A Thing)
  • All Some Kind of A Dream – Josh Ritter (from All Some Kind of A Dream)
  • Tempelhof – Yann Tiersen (from All)
  • Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time – Gene Austin (from The Best of Gene Austin)
  • An Old Guitar and An Old Refrain – Roger Wolfe Kahn (from Collection: 1925 – 1932)
  • Sweet Little Mystery – John Martyn (from Grace & Danger)
  • Buckets of Rain – Bob Dylan (from Blood on the Tracks)

West Beach
A beautiful coastal view from West Beach at Deception Pass State Park

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Check out more I Ate the State adventures:

I Ate the State – Special Edition: Victoria B.C.

Welcome to Canada, our lovely neighbor to the north. Sweeping mountain ranges, rugged coastlines, raw wilderness and a lot of snow make Canada a veritable wonderland of adventure. Living in Washington, I feel incredibly lucky to be just a quick drive away from the border and have taken advantage of this convenience many times over the years. One of North America’s premier cosmopolitan cities, Vancouver B.C. is but a *two-hour drive from Seattle and one of the most amazing places to ski in the world, Whistler-Blackcomb, is a couple of hours beyond Vancouver. (*Depending on border waits) As neighbors, we have so much in common and so many similarities to keep us close. However, whenever I cross the border and the traffic signs suddenly go metric – or I pull into the gas station and the prices are by liter (or litre, in Canada) – I feel as if I’ve been magically transported to the other side of the world.

Canada is a powerhouse all on its own – and a sprawling one, at that. It is the second largest country in the world by total area (land and water) and the fourth largest country in the world by land alone. I will never forget the first time I drove past Vancouver B.C. towards Whistler. Well-accustomed to the lofty mountain ranges and open spaces of Washington, I was still not prepared for the epic majesty of the Coast Mountains and the spectacular Sea-to-Sky Highway (BC Highway 99) which guides you closely along Pacific Ocean inlets and into the vast wilds of the Canadian wilderness. I was simply put, slack-jawed and amazed. The first time I saw the monolithic face of The Stawamus Chief (second-largest granite monolith in the world) or the soaring panorama of endless peaks from atop Blackcomb are visions which shall live forever glorious in my mind’s eye.

Blackcomb
Endless mountain peaks as seen from the top of Blackcomb, above Whistler Village

For this particular Canadian adventure, we kept it closer to the shoreline and fairly close to home. My Scotophile friends, Kristen, Tori and I were in need of whisky, bagpipes and kilts – and maybe a bit of haggis and the tossing of heavy objects. In short, we wanted to find a good Highland games event to attend. There are several great Highland games during the summer in Washington State, but given Canada’s close ties to England, Ireland and Scotland, there are many to be found in Canada as well. Since Victoria, B.C. is just a quick ferry ride away and they’ve been hosting a Highland games for the past 156 years, we figured it would be a great spot to fulfill all of our Scottish dreams. (And my pal Kristen and I are still financially recovering from our recent adventures to the actual Highlands of Scotland)

Combine the welcoming, good nature of Canada with the beautiful wilds of the Pacific Northwest and the pomp and grandeur of Britain and you come close to concocting the unique setting that is Victoria, B.C.  Situated on the southern tip of Vancouver Island and named for Queen Victoria, Victoria is not only an amazing place to visit, it is also the capital of the province of British Columbia. Many important goings-on take place in this quaint city along with the regular flow of tourism.

Parliament
The stately front of the British Columbia Parliament Building in downtown Victoria B.C.

As it is an island, there will be some sort of boat or plane involved in your trek to the area. We hopped the Black Ball Ferry Line (MV Coho) out of Port Angeles in Clallam County and sailed into Victoria’s Inner Harbour. To get to the ferry from the Seattle area, we took the Edmonds to Kingston ferry and headed to Port Angeles via the Hood Canal Bridge. There are several other ways to get to Victoria, but an important thing to note for any route into Canada is the need for a valid passport, passport card, Enhanced Washington State driver’s license/ID or NEXUS card.

Additional routes to Victoria include:

  • Head to the Waterfront in downtown Seattle and sail to Victoria via the passenger-only Victoria Clipper. The journey is a little under three hours and it’s likely you’ll see marine life along the way. They also offer a bevy of hotel, car and sightseeing package deals which are very worth checking out. On a recent trip, just as we were getting close to the Victoria harbor, a pod of orcas was swimming not too far off the port side. To add to the majesty, there was a rainbow perfectly situated over the harbor as we pulled into dock. WOW!
  • If you’re up for a gorgeous bird’s-eye view of the Puget Sound, hop aboard a seaplane flight with Kenmore Air. Many friends have made the journey, but it is still on my travel bucket-list. SOON!
  • If you’re coming from mainland B.C., head through Vancouver and cross to Victoria on the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay (The ferry accommodates both foot passengers and vehicles) The crossing time to Swartz Bay is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
  • You can also utilize the Washington State Ferry out of Anacortes in Skagit County. (The ferry accommodates both foot passengers and vehicles) They offer a 3-hour cruise to Sidney B.C. which is a 20-minute drive outside of Victoria. (Pro Tip: If you are driving, reservations are strongly recommended.)

In order to make the most of our few days in Victoria, we had made reservations for the first sailing out of Port Angeles. The morning was crisp and the water smooth; the makings of a beautiful journey! Once aboard, we got the lay of the vintage ship and staked out a few seats with a view out over the bow. (The MV Coho has been in operation since 1959 and they’ve largely kept the vintage décor.) Since it was early and I’d only gotten a few hours of sleep, caffeine was high on the list of things to do. We found our way to the cafeteria, which is adjacent to the tiny, but well-stocked gift shop, and loaded up on breakfast goodies and strong coffee.  There’s something great to be said about warming your hands with a steaming cup of coffee while looking out over the bow of a ship.  Ahhhh….

After fully perusing the ship and refueling with caffeine, we hit up the on-board Tour Desk to find out about special deals for various tours in the Victoria area. It’s definitely worth checking out and not only will you save a few dollars, but you’ll be able to skip the sometimes long ticket lines at the given attraction. We opted for tickets to Butchart Gardens, the Butterfly Gardens and the Royal B.C. Museum. We were all set for our first two days of touring and we hadn’t even docked yet!

As we sailed into Victoria’s Inner Harbour, we were met with the beautiful skyline of downtown Victoria. The vibrant Causeway Marina, the glorious Parliament Building and the stunning Empress Hotel were all there to greet us. The scene was bustling with boats coming and going, tourists renting scooters and tour buses shuttling visitors off to neighboring attractions. (There are many bus tours available through the MV Coho and Victoria Clipper tour desks) The area near the stately Steamship Grill & Bar (the old Heritage Steamship Terminal building, c. 1924) is a great pick-up/drop-off point with many excursions taking off from the general vicinity. Not too far from the Inner Harbour, especially if you happen to be entering the area via cruise ship, is Fisherman’s Wharf. Colorful float homes, restaurants, shops, live music and more make this another great waterfront area to explore.

As we’d arrived fairly early on a Thursday morning, we had time to fit in some of the more popular tourist destinations. Since we were only visiting for a few days and it was the very busy Victoria Day 3-day weekend, we wanted to get ahead of the crowds. (Victoria Day celebrates Queen Victoria’s birthday and is the unofficial start of summer in Canada. It falls on the last Monday in May, preceding the 25th.)

After switching my GPS over to accommodate the metric system and Canadian byways, we struck out towards the spectacular Butchart Gardens, located about 30 minutes outside of Victoria. It was a grey morning and threatening rain, but we maintained our hope for things to clear up. That said, we’re from the Pacific Northwest and are typically prepared for any type of weather. Most of the time…

Butchart Gardens
Hello there, Butchart Gardens!

To say that the Butchart Gardens are a marvel in horticultural design would be an absurd understatement. They are an amazing display of design, cultivation, whimsy, passion and vision. Originally masterminded by Jennie Butchart beginning in the early 1900s, utilizing the old limestone quarry in her backyard, it has grown (literally) into an absolute national treasure. After being gifted The Gardens in 1939, Jennie’s grandson, Ian Ross has continued to enhance and expand the garden experience into what greets modern-day visitors.

Once we’d gotten past our initial ooo’s and ahhh’s, we formed a strategy to help us both enjoy and see all of the grounds during our brief stay. There is so much to take in and so many garden themes and landscapes to enjoy – we didn’t want to miss anything! As we wound around beautifully manicured trails and flower-filled alcoves, we popped out at the fantastical view overlooking the famous Sunken Gardens. Words can’t fully express the breathtakingly beautiful scene, so please enjoy some pictures!

To be honest, I would’ve probably been fine having only seen the Sunken Gardens. My mind was swimming in a glorious flower explosion and I couldn’t imagine anything could compare. However, since I knew, based on long-ago visits, the rest of the grounds absolutely could compare, off we went to the next amazing scene. (I do wish we could’ve been there on a summer Saturday night to see the excellent fireworks show from the Sunken Gardens, but that will have to wait for another visit.)

Over the course of the next couple of hours, we visited Italy, Japan, the Mediterranean and England, not to mention the beauty of the native Pacific Northwest landscape which brings it all together. It seemed around each corner was a new, mind-boggling panorama to leave us speechless. Again, since words fail me when attempting to fully describe the beauty, here are a few more pictures!

After all of our gallivanting around the flowers, it’s fair to say we’d become a little peckish. Since there are several dining spots on the garden grounds, it wasn’t hard to find something to fulfill our needs. We’d considered afternoon tea at The Dining Room, but since it’s a more leisurely affair, we opted for a less formal and more expedited lunch at the Blue Poppy Restaurant. It was just what we needed and soon enough, we were back to exploring the grounds and finishing it off with a stop into their lovely gift shop. (Because of course we did! Several dainty tea cups were chanting my name and I’d be a monster to not heed their call…) There are also several quick snack spots dotted around grounds for on-the-go occasions. Coffee and ice cream accompaniments for your flower viewing pleasure!

After getting our fill of flowers and teacups, we drove back up the road a few miles to get our fill of butterflies and wine. (As one does…) Since Kristen and Tori were more excited about the Butterfly Gardens and I was more excited about doing some wine tasting, we decided to divide and conquer. Conveniently, since the beautiful vineyards of Church & State Wines were basically next door to the Butterfly Gardens, it all worked out quite nicely. I hear-tell Kristen and Tori very much enjoyed communing with the butterflies. I, too, enjoyed my communing…

Church & State Wine sits overlooking their vineyard and rolling grounds. The main tasting room and restaurant is spacious and there is an outdoor, covered seating area with a great view of the vineyards. Since it was a Thursday afternoon, they weren’t super crowded and I easily found a seat at the tasting bar. Upon learning more about their wine from the well-informed Sommelier, I sampled a few and enjoyed a lovely locally-sourced cheese selection alongside. I very much enjoyed their Trebella and Viognier and opted to bring home a couple bottles of the Trebella. (One of which actually made it home – We enjoyed one that evening at our Airbnb) I guess I’ll have to return to pick up a few more bottles. Oh no!!

Located a few minutes away from Church and State Wines is De Vine Wines & Spirits. They’re not only a winery and vineyard, but also a distillery! I was hoping to visit on this trip, but the afternoon had gotten away from us and it was time to locate our Airbnb. No worries – I’ll be back soon!

After we pulled ourselves away from the butterflies and viognier (sounds like a Hallmark movie), we plotted our course to the Airbnb. It turned out to be the lower-half of a cute home in a Victoria suburb with a private entrance in the back. Sweet! The hosts were a very kind family who had just begun to open their home to Airbnb guests. If you have a car, staying at an Airbnb a little outside of town can save a good chunk of change. We were about 20-minutes away from downtown Victoria and the drive into town was main thoroughfare most of the way. Additionally, we were more centrally located for visiting the surrounding towns. Win-win!

Once we’d settled in at the Airbnb, we took a little bit of time to relax and recharge for a night on the town. (But not too late a night as I’d been up and driving since 4am. We were all a bit tired, suffice to say.) Since we were in town for the Highland games, we decided to look for something along the lines of Shepherd’s Pie and Guinness Stew for dinner… Yes, please! And if I could find a place with a good Scotch egg, all the better!

Enter Irish Times, a traditional Irish pub in the heart of downtown Victoria. Both Kristen and I had been there before and knew they could fulfill at least two of our culinary needs. But did they win the trifecta with an entry of the Scotch egg? Why, YES – yes, they did! If you’ve never had a Scotch egg and you happen to see it on a menu – order it! It’s a soft-boiled egg rolled in crumbled sausage, breaded and fried. How can you go wrong?? Ohhh, delicious Scotch egg, how I love thee so… The only thing I found vaguely off about our Irish Times experience was their inclusion of ice in the cider pints. Why?? I’ve seen it a couple of other times on past Victoria visits. I need to get to the bottom of these icy cider shenanigans…

After our delicious dinner, we were completely full and positively spent. We didn’t have much left to give, but we figured it best to at least walk off a few of the calories we’d just consumed. (Hello there, Scotch egg…) We hit up the fantastic Munro’s Books and found a few great books and generally wandered around the area for a little while. We didn’t have it in us to make it over to nearby Russell Books, but that’s also a great spot for the bookworm. Next time!

If you’re like us and always on the hunt for good pub food and a well-pulled pint, Victoria has so much to offer. It’s like walking down a street in London or Edinburgh – great pubs everywhere! A few of the places we didn’t get to on this visit, but have enjoyed on past stays:

  • The Churchill, located in the downtown area, hosts a modern pub menu and a rather large taps list. Cozy, low-key atmosphere and ‘lots of good beer – Sounds good!
  • The Sticky Wicket is located in downtown and features a modern pub menu, a good drink selection, a games room and hotel lodging.
  • Garrick’s Head Pub has been serving hungry and thirsty Canadians since 1867. They serve classics like shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash, but they also feature a more modern side with nods to Pacific Northwest favorites and seafood. They also have a pretty impressive taps selection.
  • Whether it’s poutine, fish & chips or perhaps a duck burger, Swan’s Brewery & Pub has you covered. They also feature an onsite brewery, a liquor store and a hotel. All the things!
  • Spinnakers is Canada’s oldest craft brewpub and a great place to relax out of the downtown hub. They’re located across the Johnson Street Bridge, past Chinatown and also feature guest house lodging. And they have a tea-infused beer – so terribly British!
  • If you happen to be heading back from Butchart Gardens, Todd Creek Craft Cider is a lovely cidery located not too far off of Highway 17.
  • Should you want to venture further north on Vancouver Island, Merridale Cidery & Distillery is about a 45-minute drive out of town. Located in the tiny town of Cobble Hill, they feature cider, spirits and a restaurant and if you get too tired to drive back to Victoria, they have yurts! Keep an eye out for their new location coming to the Victoria Dockside area.

And for a few great festival and tour options to compliment your pub quests:

  • Great Canadian Beer Festival – Check out Canada’s oldest/longest running Brewfest! Happening every Labour Day (First Monday in September in Canada) 90+ craft breweries, cideries and food trucks. Yes, please!
  • West Coast Brewery Tours offers 3-hour tours of many of the local breweries. (Brewery tour lists often changes from day to day – collect them all!) They also offer tours of local distilleries, wineries cideries and food options. What a great way to spend the afternoon!
  • Canadian Craft Tours offer fabulous food, wine, beer, distillery tours and more! Operating out of both British Columbia and Alberta, they cover a lot of amazing territory and delicious treats.

I’m fairly certain none of us had any issues with insomnia that night. After we made it back to the Airbnb, we all promptly retired to our rooms and if Kristen and Tori were anything like me, they were out within minutes of hitting the pillow. Even though we were on vacation, we’d planned a pretty packed itinerary and needed to get up early the next day to fit it all in. There are so many amazing things to see and do in Victoria! Dreams of morning coffee and afternoon tea filled my head as I drifted off to a well-earned sleep…

The next morning came much earlier than felt reasonable, but our itinerary was raring to go. We’d planned to get in some early morning hiking outside of town and what better way to fuel our morning adventure than with some Canadian morning fuel. Enter the Canadian breakfast of champions, Tim Hortons! (Dear Tim Hortons, Please open stores on the US west coast. Thank you! Your Pal, Dayna)

Donuts, great coffee, breakfast sandwiches, donuts, tea, pastries, donuts, donuts, DONUTS!! They’re now also serving delicious Cold Stone Creamery ice cream. You can’t go wrong at Tim Horton’s. I stop at the Squamish location on every Whistler trip and pretty much any other time I see one. That morning, we all enjoyed tasty breakfast sandwiches and I’m fairly certain a few donuts were also involved. Did I mention they have great donuts?

Tim Hortons
Dear Tim Hortons, I love you. Sincerely, Dayna.

With bellies full of coffee and donuts, we made our way north on Highway 17 towards Island View Beach Regional Park. Only 20 minutes out of town, it’s a great place to stroll along the beach and take in the views of Haro Strait, James Island and our own San Juan Island and Mt. Baker. It was a somewhat hazy morning, but things were starting to clear a little as we walked along the water and enjoyed the scene. The park also offers RV and tent camping should you want to get closer to nature and still be close to the city. It was a lovely way to work off a few of those donut calories…

I’d also hoped to visit Coles Bay Regional Park that morning as it’s only about a 20-minute drive from Island View Beach and affords a great view of the water on the Saanich Inlet side of the peninsula. As it’s also located on Inverness Road, I thought it seemed rather appropriate given the purpose of our Victoria visit! But alas, we realized we’d have to cut a few things off the itinerary in order to make it to the places for which we’d already purchased tickets. (The small drawback to purchasing in advance – you need to actually make it to the places to get your money’s worth. Heh.)

As Vancouver Island is a wonderland of outdoor opportunities, I still have many places on my bucket list left to visit. Here are but a few of the spots I’m hoping to soon check off my list:

  • The West Coast Trail is at the top of my ‘Canadian Hikes’ bucket list. It’s an epic 47-mile coastal trail used by the First Nations for hundreds of years before any explorers arrived. From their website: Hikers climb more than 100 ladders with a heavy pack, trudge through deep mud, wade through mountain-fed rivers in fast-flowing hip-deep waters, and push through whatever weather the wild West Coast delivers — often driving wind and rain. YES!! I’m IN!!! (Note: A reservation is needed to make this trek.)
  • Check out Jordan Falls Regional Park for beautiful trails through cedar-filled rainforest. The trails lead down to beaches along the Strait of Juan de Fuca with views of the Olympic Peninsula. Don’t miss the gorgeous Sandcut Beach Waterfalls which fall directly onto the pebbled beach. Camping available.
  • Goldstream Provincial Park is located close to Victoria, but offers all the deep-forest features. BIG trees, hiking trails, waterfalls and camping – All just a 30-minute drive from downtown!
  • The Coast Trail and Aylard Farm area offers both an epic weekend backpacking adventure along with accessible picnic areas for daytrip relaxing. Great views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, including Coast Salish First Nation ancient Petroglyphs found at Alldridge Point.
  • The Juan de Fuca Provincial Trail is yet another epic Vancouver Island trail. Roughly 27-miles along the west coast of the island, it provides great shoreline access and stunning views. China Beach and Mystic Beach are two of the areas I’m really looking forward to checking out.
  • One part of Vancouver Island I’m very excited to investigate is the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park and Central Walbran Valley. Beautiful rainforest and some of the world’s largest spruce trees make it one of the more stunning spots on the island – and the grandest, old-growth rainforest in Canada. Also in the area is the Gonzales Hill Observatory at Walbran Park. A perfect spot to check out the night skies.
  • For beautiful rainforest trails close to town, head to Francis King Regional Park. The Centennial Trail basically circles around the park and hooks up with the High Ridge Trail. It begins at the Nature Centre, which is open on weekends until 4pm.

Beautiful shrubbery
Beautiful shrubbery of Vancouver Island

Since we’d worked off a bit of our Tim Horton’s donut feast, it seemed reasonable to consider where we’d be eating lunch; Or at least some sort of tasty snack and maybe a pint of… Cider! Since I’d put nearby Sea Cider on my list of hopefuls for the trip, we struck out to see what kind of sustenance they could provide.

Open daily from 11am to 4pm, Sea Cider, located in the Saanichton community (situated on the Sannich Peninsula), is a quick 25-minute drive from downtown Victoria. The tasting room offers both indoor and outdoor deck seating and is a lovely place to spend a sunny afternoon. They offer tasty small plates as complement to their delicious ciders and I was particularly impressed with their Rum Runner cider. (Of which I’ve been hoarding at home. One of these days I’m going to give in… Or return for more!)

Other spots in the Saanichton and North Saanich area for tasty food and beverage:

  • On the way to Sea Cider, Victoria Caledonian Distillery and Twa Dogs Brewery offers all the best in beer AND whisky! Run by native Scotsman, Graeme Macaloney, he brings a wee bit of the tasty Highlands to Victoria. Slàinte mhath! (Open daily. Check website for hours.)
  • Symphony Vineyard, located in the Saanichton area, features delicious wine in a beautiful setting. (Open Saturdays and Sundays from 11am – 5pm.)
  • Located in North Saanich on the Saanich Peninsula, about 16 miles north of Victoria, Muse Winery / Deep Cove Winery offers delicious boutique wines in a beautiful setting. (Open Friday thru Sunday, 12-5pm)
  • Also located in North Saanich, the Roost Bistro & Farm Bakery has a bit of all things good. Great wine, a tasty bistro menu, a farm-style bakery and beautiful grounds. Additionally, they offer several cool tours around the grounds. (Open daily. Check out the website for hours.)

After enjoying our reasonable fill of delicious cider, we were ready to take on some hard-core, downtown Victoria sightseeing. As we’d already purchased tickets for the Royal B.C. Museum, it was first on our list. Along with their stellar, permanent collections, the museum was featuring an exhibit of ancient Mayan artifacts and we were excited to check it out.