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Spotlight: Grays Harbor/Long Beach/Ocean Park

Experience northwest nirvana in three charming slices of Washington State

South of the Olympic Peninsula, Washington’s Pacific Coast is rich in low-key cities and waterways that are ripe for fun and exploration. Small town charm meets maritime adventure in these gems of the West.

Start your adventure at Grays Harbor, where you’ll find a slice of northwestern nirvana that’s home to a lush northern rainforest. Here, ribbons of Pacific Ocean beachfront encircle a large, spade-shaped estuarine bay on the northwest coast of the state.

Home to seven inland bodies of water, portions of the Quinault Rainforest and more than 50 miles of pristine ocean shoreline, the Grays Harbor area is a boon for anyone with a thirst for the great outdoors. You can paddle the coast by kayak in the morning, fetch some fresh fish for lunch in the middle of the day and then hike a rugged mountain trail in the afternoon. Or if big outdoor adventure isn’t quite your pace, you can simply hop from waterfront town to waterfront town, exploring an endless supply of boutique shops and cozy mom-and-pop cafes. The choice is yours.

The three small cities of Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Cosmopolis constitute the economic hub of Grays Harbor. The trio is clustered around the eastern shores of Grays Harbor, where the Chehalis River, Hoquiam River and Wishkah River spill into the bay.

Miso Beno

Miso Beno

More Than Nirvana

In Aberdeen, visitors are greeted by a sign that says, “Come as you Are,” the first of many references to famed alternative-rock band Nirvana’s lead singer/guitarist, Kurt Cobain. The infamous grunge rocker grew up in Aberdeen, and it was here that the first glimmers of fame for Nirvana began to attract national attention.

Swing by the Aberdeen Museum of History—housed in an historic armory building dating to the early 1920s—for a thorough exploration of city and regional history. The collections are eclectic, to say the least, ranging from Cobain’s couch to a fully restored blacksmith shop to an original Model T Ford.

The Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority is also housed in Aberdeen, and is home to the Lady Washington, a 90-ton tall-ship replica of the same sloop sailboat commissioned for explorer Robert Gray in 1787. The original Lady Washington was the first American vessel to navigate the west coast of North America. Today, the replica is as stunning as it is educational, and a guided walk on its deck is a rare opportunity to travel back in time.

From Aberdeen, head for the nearby town of Hoquiam, located a few miles to the west near the shores of a small harbor peninsula. Stroll the historic downtown core and spend an afternoon plundering the town’s abundance of eclectic boutiques and antique shops. Between Wednesday and Saturday at any point in the year, the Grays Harbor Farmers Market and Craft Fair will likely be in full swing.

Joe Mabel

Joe Mabel

Love for Long Beach

About an hour’s drive south on U.S. Route 101, the Long Beach peninsula is Washington’s most commercial stretch of coast. Flanking 28 miles of beach, dunes and forests, a scattering of seaside towns cater to holiday makers of every generation, with resorts, motels, amusement parks, trinket shops, museums, galleries, lighthouses, restaurants and a lively festival calendar. When the sun finally shines, active Washingtonians take to the beaches for kite flying, horseback riding, fishing, razor clam digging and beachcombing.

The wild and rugged Long Beach coastline may not lend itself to gentle swimming, but swathes of open sands blasted by gusty winds create perfect conditions for kite flyers; and with a handful of kite stores in Long Beach, it’s easy to partake in the ritual.

One of the few beaches on the west coast where you can ride horseback on the sand, Long Beach fulfills every equestrian’s desire to gallop full throttle along the shore.

Head north along the peninsula for the low-key community of Ocean Park, which is worth a stroll for its handful of evocative structures and homes that speak to the town’s origin as a station on the narrow gauge railroad: Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company.

Housed in the Taylor Hotel building—one of the oldest buildings in the region, built in 1887—Adelaide’s café/bookstore is a local institution, beloved for its excellent coffee, pastries and breakfast sandwiches. One of the oldest businesses in Washington State, Jack’s Country Store, founded in 1885, oozes frontier charm with its parquet floors, rolling ladders, stained glass and beautiful oak display cases. An inventory of more than 200,000 items, include fresh fish and seafood (don’t miss the smoked oysters from the in-house smokehouse) kitchen gadgets, retro children’s toys and hardware supplies.

For More Information

Grays Harbor Tourism
Long Beach Peninsula
Washington State Tourism