12 Amazing Experiences on the Long Beach Peninsula

Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula is all about exploration—whether it’s 28 miles of sandy beach, world-class cuisine or Pacific Northwest history.
Washington State Vacation
Washington State Vacation

There are plenty of things to do around every corner, but here are some favorites.

1. Savor fresh seafood.

“Dine at the source” is more than a saying on the Long Beach Peninsula, it’s a way of life. Enjoy the freshest Willapa Bay oysters, Dungeness crab, Chinook salmon and albacore tuna found in the Pacific Northwest. Many of the region’s seafood markets, such as Ole Bob’s Galley and Cafe in Ilwaco or Oysterville Sea Farms, feature their harvesting grounds as a backdrop to the business, so you can see your seafood being unloaded off the boat.

And local chefs relish the profusion as much as diners—find exquisite cuisine at award-winning restaurants like The Depot, [pickled fish], and 42nd Street Café & Bistro. Celebrate the region’s bounty with events like the Wild Mushroom Celebration, Jazz & Oysters and the Cranberrian Fair.

2. Immerse yourself in the beach life.

With 28 miles of sandy shoreline, how will you experience the nation’s longest beach? Options abound: Ride a fatbike into the horizon, mosey on horseback, build sandcastles like the pros at Sandsations, fly the kite you built at the World Kite Museum—the list goes on. Or you could opt for the slower pace: Spread a blanket on the sand, light a beach bonfire and savor a picnic dinner as the blazing sun melts into the Pacific. The peninsula is dotted with six public beach approaches, so choose a stretch of sand and stake a claim!

3. Find family-friendly fun on the coast.

Remember the beach towns of your youth, where dessert was salt water taffy and bumper cars were the closest you came to a commute? That place still exists, and it’s called the Long Beach Peninsula. Enjoy old-school pinball, laser tag and more at FUNLAND Family Entertainment Center in downtown Long Beach. Leave the digital devices at home and get back to old-fashioned family fun.

4. View two functioning lighthouses at Cape Disappointment State Park.

History is on full display in Cape Disappointment State Park in Ilwaco, where two century-old working lighthouses continue to guide mariners toward shore. The 161-year-old Cape Disappointment Lighthouse guides sailors into the mouth of the Columbia River from the south, while the 119-year-old North Head Lighthouse illuminates the way for ships approaching from the north. Short hikes lead to both lighthouses, which offer spectacular views of the state park and greater peninsula. The name “Cape Disappointment” was bestowed upon the area by English explorer John Meares after he failed to find the Columbia River in 1788. Modern-day visitors, however, find the park’s old-growth forests, ocean beaches and recreational opportunities quite delightful.

5. Celebrate a cherished tradition at the historic Razor Clam Festival.

The historic black-and-white photos say it all—the giant frying pan, the audience spilling out of the pictures’ frames, the clam fritters’ hot steam. The Long Beach Razor Clam Festival was the peninsula’s original community celebration, and after a decades-long hiatus it returned in 2013. The Razor Clam Festival features quintessential Pacific Northwest family fun, including clam-digging lessons, live music, chowder and fritter cook-offs and more. Find more festivals and events on the Long Beach Peninsula.

6. Experience southwestern Washington history.

An impressive history warrants impressive museums. Pacific County has both, and neither disappointment. Museums dot the area, and each one details early slices of Pacific Northwest life. The Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in Ilwaco preserves the legacy of the lower Columbia River and southwestern Washington, while the Willapa Bay Interpretive Center at the Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta details the 150-plus-year history of area oystermen and their families. The World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame in Long Beach boasts a collection of kites from more than two dozen countries, and the Cranberry Museum & Demonstration Farm focuses on the heritage of one of the peninsula’s most important and largest crops.

7. Make a sensational catch in the surrounding waters.

Anglers’ dreams come true in the waters surrounding the Long Beach Peninsula. Visit one of the peninsula’s fishing charters to experience the region’s world-class fishing for yourself. The area is renowned for its salmon, tuna and crab, and bottom fish such as halibut are plentiful. The Long Beach Peninsula boasts some of the richest razor clam grounds in the nation, and Pacific County lays claim to the title of “oyster capital of the world.” The Port of Ilwaco, known as “the fishing capital of the West,” can accommodate 800 sport and commercial fishing vessels. Willapa Bay is home to some of the most-productive oyster grounds in the world, and public oyster picking is allowed along the Nahcotta Tidelands, although a shellfish permit is needed. Surfperch is popular among ocean shoreline anglers. Learn more about the area’s parks and ports.

8. Trace the footsteps of Lewis and Clark on the Discovery Trail.

The 8.5-mile Discovery Trail weaves through the beach dunes between Cape Disappointment State Park and Long Beach, following the wending path of early explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, whose overland expedition ended near the peninsula in 1805. The path is ideal for walking, jogging, bicycling and skateboarding, or just about any non-motorized activity. The trail is lined with local art and interpretive signs that chronicle the area’s history and wildlife. To learn more about the Peninsula’s history and flora and fauna, visit the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Cape Disappointment State Park. The center features mural-size timelines, hands-on exhibits and an enclosed glass observation deck overlooking the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.

9. Marvel at “Jake the Alligator Man” at Marsh’s Free Museum.

Discovered in a Florida swamp and relocated to Long Beach in the 1960s (as the story goes), Jake the Alligator Man has developed a cult following, complete with his own yearly celebration, Jake the Alligator Man’s Birthday, which is set for Aug. 4–5, 2017 in downtown Long Beach. The half-man, half-alligator oddity’s 75th birthday is celebrated annually with live music, a car show, a burlesque show and a Bride of Jake contest. Visit Jake’s home, Marsh’s Free Museum, to purchase souvenirs, glimpse Jake or see other taxidermy oddities like the eight-legged lamb. And be sure to bring along a pocket full of quarters to test your passion factor in the Love Chair or have your future predicted by a mechanical fortuneteller!

10. Glimpse breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

Ocean views are never in short supply along the Long Beach Peninsula. Watch the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean in the evening, spot the beam from North Head Lighthouse or walk the North Jetty and feel the power of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the tranquility of the Columbia River on the other. A walk to North Head Lighthouse offers spectacular views of Benson Beach and the Long Beach Peninsula, while a stroll through Leadbetter Point State Park can yield a glimpse of Tokeland across Willapa Bay. The Long Beach Peninsula is the Pacific Northwest’s storm-watching headquarters, and Waikiki Beach in Cape Disappointment State Park offers unparalleled views of wild waves. Stroll the elevated boardwalk along the Discovery Trail in Long Beach between the town’s major beach approaches and enjoy educational signs, historical art and beautiful landscapes.

11. See local art, shop for antiques and take home souvenirs.

The Long Beach Peninsula boasts a robust and talented artistic community. Art galleries flourish in Pacific County, and each one exhibits its own personality. From Marie Powell Gallery and Don Nisbett Art Gallery in Ilwaco to nationally renowned Wiegardt Studio Gallery in Ocean Park, visiting area art studios takes travelers across the peninsula and offers a unique way to see the region. A walk through downtown Long Beach is a necessary trek for any souvenir hunter, and the Long Beach Peninsula Treasure Map—available at the Visitors Bureau—is a must for antique collectors. Stop by Hobo Junction for glass fishing floats and Japanese fishing flags and visit Home at the Beach for all your favorite coastal décor.

12. Spot 1,000-year-old trees and local wildlife on more than 26 miles of hiking trails.

More than 26 miles of trails wind through Pacific County, leading to some of southwest Washington’s most scenic enclaves. Giant Sitka spruce trees tower over the North Head Trail in Cape Disappointment State Park, whimsical art dots the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and wildlife footprints cover the trails of Leadbetter Point State Park.

Need a Place to Stay? Long Beach offers a plethora of hotels, cottages, bed and breakfast, motels, lodges and campgrounds. Find the perfect place to rest your head after a day spent in the great outdoors.

Learn more about the Long Beach Peninsula.

Photos courtesy of Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau