When planning your Pacific Northwest Road Trip, there is no shortage of pins to poke on the map. Jagged coastlines, jade forests, and quaint, friendly towns are scattered along the route. Pop culture has made towns like Astoria and Cannon Beach obvious tourism hot spots. But hidden pearls, rich with luster, are waiting to be discovered off the northwest Hwy 101. We’ll tell you 8 reasons why you should stop in Long Beach Peninsula on your next PNW road trip.
To start, it’s an easy journey to get here.
The PNW Road Trip to Long Beach Peninsula (from Seattle or Portland)
The road trip to Long Beach Peninsula is an easy one from either Seattle or Portland. From the Emerald City, you get on the I-5 and point it South. From the City of Roses, US-26 will deliver you. Take either and in an easy 2.5 hours, you’re there. Unless, of course, you decide to choose your own adventure along the way.
There are tons of cool and historic spots for those that want to pop off. Side-track in Tacoma along the damp banks of the Puget Sound. Or cruise independent book and record shops for vintage treasures in Olympia.
Stop or no stop, your PNW road trip becomes more magical when you are completely devoted to the US-101. That iconic northwest backdrop envelopes the highway. Layers of trees are separated by wisps of mist, and you’ll catch yourself squinting for Bigfoot in the forest. Soon enough, you slide easily into the villages of Long Beach Peninsula.
What is Long Beach Peninsula?
Long Beach Peninsula remains one of the last uncharted, undiscovered, unpretentious gems of the hidden coast. It’s been that way for all its time. In fact, a handful of landmarks are named for foiled attempts of early explorers. The passionate shores of Cape Disappointment and Dismal Nitch were monikered by frustrated discoverers, whose advances were repeatedly thwarted.
And despite its own name, Long Beach Peninsula refers to more than the 28-mile unbroken stretch of beach. It is actually a patchwork blanket of small villages, each with their own subtle pattern. Stitched together almost seamlessly, they form one rugged, beautiful image also known as Pacific County. If you are a visitor, your drive through the distinctions is an invisible thread. They lean easily into each other, like friends in flannel, swaying happily over a pint. Once here, you’ll understand why Long Beach Peninsula should be a stop on your PNW road trip.
1. The Great PNW Outdoors
One of the best things about a Pacific Northwest road trip is getting away from the hustle and bustle. There’s something so special about this area of the world. The dense tree coverage that is constantly anointed with rain; forms a verdant sanctuary that is almost gospel. The salty washing of the shoreline with cleansing waves purifies your soul. You can feel the peace settle into the marrow of your bones as you travel here. When you’re visiting Long Beach Peninsula, the great outdoors will call to you.
Cape Disappointment State Park
No PNW road trip would be complete without a stop here. This more than 2,000-acre state park is the natural crescendo of the shoreline in the Long Beach Peninsula. Featuring dramatic 200-foot cliffs, accessible beaches, and miles of hiking trails, it is an explorer’s paradise. Its ferocious coastline is also quickly becoming a photographer’s muse. On King Tide days, it is not unusual to see the narrow outlets dense with the long lens of professional cameras.
Take in the panoramic ocean views from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Unearth a hidden military bunker as it’s being reclaimed by the forest. Or hike to one of the two lighthouses. Every square inch of the park is a moment.
Cruise Pacific Ave and make your way to the beach via Seaview, Ocean Park, or Long Beach. Billed as the world’s longest, continuous beach, it is unlike any you’ve ever seen. Stretching for 28 miles, it is hauntingly beautiful.
Moody waves slap against the sand and when the tide is out, they seem far beyond reach. But don’t let your guard down. The coastline is feral and fierce, and signs warn against sneaker waves.
Walks along on the nearly empty beaches can quiet the voices in your head. And when the tempestuous PNW sky hovers low over the whitecaps, the line between ocean and heaven blurs.
When the moon is new or full, it calls the King Tides to the shore. The water swells and consumes the beaches. The surplus of ocean adds to the frenzy along the rocks. Currents collide and a spectacle of gigantic, slamming waves are born along the cliffs. Onlookers are wowed and dwarfed by the vision. People come from miles around just to catch a glimpse of nature’s fury.
2. The Pacific Northwest Menu
One of the best ways to discover a new place is through your pie hole. You can’t really learn the essence of the land until it saturates your taste buds. On your PNW road trip through Long Beach Peninsula, you’ll be taken on a culinary adventure.
Ingredients are straightforward and fresh. And there’s no need for pretentious fanfare. Because the area is so fertile with aphrodisiac seafood and ripe produce, they arrive in your mouth with no middleman. Herbs are snipped from the garden outside. Oysters are from plucked from fattening beds downriver. Craft beer is poured from the taps of the brewers. You experience food at its source, curated by kitchen artisans.
This Italian kitchen is pioneered by a celebrated 6’8” Dutch chef. The charred romaine salad with fresh crab meat and chanterelles will make you weep. The cioppino washes your throat in a warm tomato sauce, rich with local clams and fish. And don’t even get us started on the tiramisu.
Alder + Co.
Come for the rich Wild Pines Coffee. Stay for the plate-licking avocado toast named after a Chihuahua. (His name is Eddie. He’s blonde and bi-coastal, preferring to spend his winters in Florida.) On the way out, snap a photo with their stunning pampas grass angel wings installation.
Dylan’s Cottage Bakery
This from-scratch bakery and deli has been serving the town’s sweet treats since 1908. Now named after a very special little angel who passed away, Dylan Harrell, this beloved institution is a heart-warming sugar rush. Their donuts are pillowy, their bread a cloud. While you wait for your order, gaze on the collection of vintage cookie jars lining the wall.
3. Seafood on your PNW Road Trip
Though technically a food, the seafood of Long Beach Peninsula deserves its own spotlight. Thalassic jewels from the sea are mined from the briny waters that frame the land. Whether served on a half-shell or in a stew, these ocean prizes are some of the best you’ve eaten.
It’s been said that one in every four oysters consumed in the world come from these icy waters. Plump and seductive, the flavor of the sea will linger on your tongue long after you swallow. You can easily go on an oyster tour around the county, as multiple outlets boast the best. From Goose Point to Willapa Bay, these shelled beauties will have you saying “Aw, shucks!”.
There’s a chowder competition heating up in town. And your mouth will be the winner. Various chowder houses are vying for top chowder bragging rights. The simple sailor soup is served in fine dining and casual restaurants all along the peninsula.
You know it’s something special when there’s a whole festival devoted to it. The clam claim to fame is strong in Pacific County. Every year Long Beach Peninsula hosts the annual Razor Clam Festival. Join in and dig for your supper.
The laid-back, inspiring vibe in the Pacific Northwest is drawing artists to settle here. The burgeoning artist community is thriving.
Galleries found a home up and down Long Beach Peninsula. Fine art mixes with local charm. Find a special new piece – and hear a story – at Don Nisbett’s Art Gallery and Studio.
The private studios open their doors throughout the year for studio tours. Discover art at the source and hear from the artist on what goes into their pieces.
Art around town
Art isn’t confined to traditional galleries. Local coffee shops like BOLD combined artisanal espresso with over 40 artists.
5. PNW Road Trip Treasure Hunting
This is not the place for big box mass production. Shopping in Long Beach Peninsula is truly shopping local.
A charming, modern curiosity shop, you’ll find one-of-a-kind jewelry and décor here. Handmade earrings or license plate birdhouses are nestled amongst leather notebooks and novelty socks.
Long Beach Hobo Junction
When you see the purple house rimmed with neon and hundreds of crab buoys, you know you’ve arrived. An eclectic mass of vintage and handmade treasures, this place is a must-see. Take a photo with one of the many welded robots made from scrap metal.
Ship Wrecords and Moor
Tucked in Ilwaco, this serious record store is a vinyl junkie’s treasure box. Hundreds of pristine pressings are stacked, waiting to be bought and played. Find retro stereo equipment here as well for a full-circle sound experience.
Wildlife has been abundant on these lands since before anyone was here to observe it. The waters are a garden of ocean life. The sky is a canopy of birds. Long Beach Peninsula is a magnet for bird watchers and nature lovers alike.
Willapa National Wildlife Refuge
With over 17,000 acres of tidelands, the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is teeming with activity. More than 200 different species call it home. Beavers, elk, and spawning salmon reside here.
Feathery fowl abound. Bald eagles, horned owls, loons, herons, and more flock to the area. The forest and wetlands provide safety and food for more than three hundred bird species.
Whale Watching off the Long Beach Peninsula
Migration along the coast makes for wonderful whale watching. Catch the journey of 20,000 Pacific Gray Whales in winter months, as they move toward warmer climates. Or be lucky enough to see mamas and calves in late spring.
7. Dog Friendly
Domesticated four-legged friends are welcome too! Long Beach Peninsula is heavily dog friendly. From hotels to restaurants to the beaches, your furry pals are part of the mix. We understand that Fido is family so be sure to bring him with you!
8. The People
These are family villages. Shops, breweries, and restaurants are run by families or friends from high school. In true small-town fashion, everyone knows their neighbors. If you chat with the locals (which we highly recommend that you do!) you’ll experience fabric of the generations. And the stories of why they call Pacific County their home will move you. There is a legacy behind every name or face. We don’t want to tell you every tale; go hear them for yourself.
We could talk for hours about why Long Beach Peninsula is a jewel of the hidden coast. But come discover your own reasons why it should be on your next PNW road trip. Once here, we know it will stitch itself into your heart too.
By: Danelle Dodds
Danelle is an international traveler, road tripper, writer, and artist. She firmly believes in testing the limits of word count, mileage, and AYCE sushi.