Photos courtesy of Kurt Winner


Breakfast at the Inn at Harbour Village

Most think of the vast southern Washington beaches as a place for a family vacation. Lots of commotion and smiles of course, but it can also be a place for a relaxing stay, with some planning. A few months ago my cowgirl pals Nancy, Barb, and Iris spirited me away for a surprise birthday horseback ride and stay at the beach. It was the best birthday ever. You, too, can have a wonderful beach adventure, avoiding the crowds, if you keep a few things in mind.

Here are some tips: Stay in a place that favors adults and away from the raucous beach scene. One such accommodation is set on the rise above the compact fishing village of Ilwaco. The Inn at Harbour Village (360 642-0087, 120 Williams St) is only a few miles from the sandy stretch of Long Beach and yet a world away in charm and appointments. Innkeepers Peter and Janis Bale make certain you are comfortable at this shingled Cape Cod style bed and breakfast inn. Each well decorated room is private with private bath. A remodeled 1928 Presbyterian Church, the inn still has a chapel and reception area. And here’s one for your over-the-top file: Why not ask if you can be married here or have a private vow renewal ceremony? (

Stay during the week or in the shoulder season. Granted, in summer, even during the week, the beach towns are flush with tourists, but it’s still not as bad as Friday to Sunday. Some accommodations do post rates lower during the week, Monday through Thursday nights. And staying during shoulder season (Spring and Autumn) can’t guarantee sunny weather but will guarantee it’s wallet forgiving.

Enjoy a grown-up event. The Port of Ilwaco features an Art Walk every second Thursday of each month from 5PM to 8PM. You can walk down from the inn, or one of the other unique places to stay in the town, to the 800-slip port. Wander the row of art galleries, wine bars, and restaurants, visit with the artists and enjoy a glass of wine and enjoy the music at The Raven and Finch wine bar. Locals and tourist alike enjoy this relaxed evening harbor-side. (

Picnic en plein air. Pack a picnic to eat beach or harbor-side. You can find supplies at one of the markets along Pacific Hwy or opt for a crab cocktail. At OleBob’s (oly-bobs) Seafood Market, Sue and Jenny Hagerup, or one of their staff, will bang and shake out all of that scrumptious sweet Dungeness crab for you and slather it with their cocktail sauce. Ask for lemon wedges and a fork and proceed to the picnic table on port frontage and dive in. You can order ahead and they will pack it on ice for you. Bring your cooler on this trip – you are going to want to take some sturgeon, oysters, Albacore, salmon, or crab home with you. (

Make Reservations. There are many inspired menus with the freshest seafood available in the peninsula area. The Shelburne Inn (, Pelicano Restaurant (, The Depot ( and 42nd Street Café ( are a few favorites. But, if you’re James Beard or President Clinton, fans of the legendary and long since closed Ark restaurant, you will make reservations at Jimella’s Fish Market & Café (360 665-4847, 21712 Pacific Way). Chefs Jimella Lucas and Nanci Main are back in a big way with their small cafe. Jimella’s oysters are incomparable. Plump, succulent orbs pulled right from the nearby Willapa Bay are pan-fried and served with a simple tartar sauce to dance on your tongue. If you’re lucky, Sturgeon Szechuan will be offered. As all of the Ark’s fans would tell you, this entrée, deglazed with sake and finished with a sublime sherry teriyaki sauce is not to be missed. It’s bliss when paired with a bottle from their thoughtful Washington and Oregon wine selection. Pastry chef and hostess extraordinaire, Nanci makes enticing desserts that will end your evening on a sweet note.

girls on horse

The girls enjoy a birthday ride on the beach

Avoid kitsch and take home a beautiful memento. Jake the Alligator Man at Marsh’s Free Museum (409 S. Pacific Avenue) on the main drag attracts the curious to spend on souvenirs. But if you want to bring home well-priced jewelry, paintings, photography, or blown glass, galleries in the Port of Ilwaco or Campiche Studios ( in Long Beach are a good bet. Professional photographer, Nancy Campiche, has assembled a collection of fine wares at all price points. The Chinook Observer (205 Bolstad Ave East, Suite 2, Long Beach) offers inexpensive, limited edition prints of local sights by local artists. (

Visit a ghost town. Oysterville is an 80-acre National Historic District on beautiful Willapa Bay. Structures along the tree shaded street are 19th century: eight houses, a church, and the Oysterville Cannery are on the National Register of Historic Places. Although considered a ghost town, people live here and it has the oldest continuously operating post office in Washington. Stop in at Oysterville Sea Farms and purchase fresh fish, oysters, cranberry catsup and baked goods. (

Ride the wild surf. Well actually next to it. Back Country Wilderness Outfitters’ Haug family run a great company that offers wagon, carriage tours, horseback rides, and a dinner horseback ride called the Ribeye Ride. The Ribeye Ride begins at their beachside corral where they size you up with the steed that will be your partner for the next few hours. I learned that horses on the beach have a long history here as work animals. They were used to drag logs and sometimes free boats via long pulley ropes from sand bars. Your guide takes you down to (Black) Beards Hollow where you tie up and settle into a grilled-to-order, aged, hand-cut steak and potato with all the fixin’s, including dessert, on this secluded section of beach. The scenery is breathtaking and if you love horses, this is the outfit to ride with. Tell J.P. I sent you and I‘ll be back to ride on my next Birthday! 409 Sid Snyder Dr in Long Beach. Reservations recommended. 360 642-2576 or 360 783-11107 ( or

Get into nature. The area has many opportunities to get out and experience the mild, cool summers here. The hiking trails at Leadbetter Point State Park on the northern tip of the Peninsula either lead to the Pacific Ocean or along Willapa Bay. You may see Trumpeter swans, black bear, and Peregrine falcons. Bald Eagles are spotted on Willapa Bay. Heron, cormorants, kingfishers, Caspian tern and pelicans prefer the Columbia River Estuary east of Ilwaco. Cape Disappointment State Park is off U.S. Route 101. You can camp, surf fish, fly a kite, bird watch, climb up into a light house, sleep in a lighthouse keeper’s quarters, and hike and bike the six trails of varying lengths. In summer there is a continuing series of concerts at the park’s own “Waikiki Beach.” No canoes, surfboards, or bikinis at this Waikiki Beach! (

North Head

North Head, Washington Peninsula

Get to the point. The new, sparkling Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in the park has excellent displays. Cliff-side, it’s the views of the mighty Columbia River as it forcefully meets the Pacific Ocean that are the spectacular draw. It’s those expansive views to the ocean, views that leave you in silence, marveling at the sea birds returning to nests on the rocks below. And perhaps in that moment you realize you want nothing more than to be connected to nature and to be grateful for your life, your best friends, and your best horse. Tourism info can be found at Breathtaking views reward your walk to the lighthouse at North Head.

Here is a recipe from Chefs Nanci Main and Jimella Lucas’ “The Best of the Ark” cookbook just for you:

Oysters Rockefeller á la Ark
(Used with Permission)

Blanch 5 cups fresh spinach tightly packed. Chop in food processor.
Sauté 1 tsp minced garlic and 1 tsp minced shallots in 1/4 cup clarified butter.
Add 1/4 cup chopped mushrooms, then spinach. Squeeze 1/2 lemon over mixture. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp flour into liquid. Deglaze with 2 Tbs anisette. Add 2 Tbs heavy cream. Cook until sauce comes together.
Place 24 oysters in half shells.
Top with 1 to 2 Tbs spinach mixture. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 4 to 5 minutes at 425 degrees. Serves 6.

copyright by Michelle M. Winner, MMW Media

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