Washington State Capital

A Guide to Wandering the Washington Coast – 6 Stops Worth Making

You’ve heard the quote “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware,” right? Jewish theologist Martin Buber said this back in 1955, and it became a mantra for travelers eager to explore beyond what was listed on their itinerary.

I feel like the opposite is also true: all destinations have secret journeys of which the traveler is unaware. We arrive at a destination, and we have no idea how much we will discover in that place.

This is exactly how I feel about Washington, after having lived and traveled around the state for four years. Each time I set out with a destination in mind, I discovered so much more than I ever intended to find.

Exploring the Washington Coast

In particular, there is a stretch of the famous highway 101 that travels through small towns along the Washington coast. Whether you’re setting out from Seattle to explore the state, driving up from the Oregon Coast, or continuing your Pacific Coast Highway road trip, these are spots worth stopping for a night – or at least a meal – if you have the time.

You may not be able to visit all of these towns in one road trip, but if you’re based in the area, they’re definitely worth planning a weekend trip.

Six Great Destinations on the Washington Coast

Washington Coast Map Placeholder
Washington Coast Map

Note: This does *not* include stops on the Olympic Peninsula. I have a separate post for that! Click here to read about my favorite places to rest on a road trip around the Olympic Peninsula.

Long Beach, Washington

Long Beach Peninsula

Long Beach Peninsula is arguably one of my favorite destinations in Washington, and that’s a very competitive list. I’ve traveled there repeatedly and spent several weekends exploring and eating my way through the small towns on the peninsula, particularly Long Beach and Seaview. The area is home to some surprisingly delicious restaurants, considering it’s 2.5 hours from Portland and 3.5 hours from Seattle.

Some of the great restaurants on Long Beach Peninsula include:

If you need a refueling stop, Long Beach Peninsula is a great spot. It’s bordered on the east by Willapa Bay, which grows nearly 10% of all oysters in the U.S.; fresh oysters are never hard to find.

Long Beach is also home to the longest beach in the USA, at 28 miles long. Each summer, the communities along the peninsula host the International Kite Festival, which draws kites and kite performers from around the world to come fly in the excellent, consistent onshore winds from the Pacific ocean.

There are also great opportunities for sunsets on a clear day (~120 of them per year) and amazing beachcombing. You’ll be surprised what washes up from the ocean! (The photo below shows a veleela, which lives in giant colonies in the ocean and have a fantastic blue color.)

Long Beach Peninsula merits an overnight stop, at least – I advocate for a weekend so you can spend time exploring the area. My guide to Long Beach has some great hotel recommendations, too.

Kayaking in Raymond, Washington

Raymond, A Surprising Inland Waterway

As part of one trip to Long Beach, I stayed in Raymond, Washington. Since there’s no bridge between Long Beach Peninsula and the town of Dexter-by-the-Sea on the north shore of Willapa Bay, you have to drive around. On the map, Raymond is an inland town, but Highway 101 passes right through as it snakes around the headwaters of the Willapa River.

Raymond is a fun ‘little’ town for lunch, an afternoon, or an overnight. You can choose to enjoy fresh Willapa Bay Oysters atRiver View Dining in nearby South Bend, go kayaking on the Willapa River with Willapa Paddle Adventures, and stay at the Pitchwood Ale House (read my review of a night at the Pitchwood Ale House). You’ll wake up rested, full of the energy that small towns always seem to give, and ready to continue exploring Western Washington.

The Beach near Grayland, Washington

Grayland and Westport

Grayland isn’t exactly a city, or even a town, per se. Instead, Grayland is defined as a census-designated place which fewer than 1000 people call home. Those 1,000 or so people have great coastal views though, so there are plenty of pullouts along Washington Highway 105 where you can walk in the sand and dip your toes in the Pacific.

Farther north along the same highway is Westport, Washington. Here too you can get a good sense for life on the Pacific Coast. You can climb the stairwell at Gray’s Harbor Lighthouse or up the Westport Lookout Tower. Both will give you beautiful views of the coastline and the tumultuous Pacific Ocean.

Westport is a good destination for an overnight, too. You can head to the Westport Aquarium to see different local Pacific species, visit the Maritime Museum to learn more about the maritime history of the area, and go clam digging or crabbing.

Aberdeen, Home of Nirvana

Aberdeen, to be honest, didn’t have much claim to fame before the 1990s. Home to several lumber manufacturing plants, most people cruised right through Aberdeen on their way to the Pacific coast of the Olympic Peninsula.

Then, in the 1990s, a band called Nirvana burst onto the scene, putting Seattle on the world’s music map. The lead singer, Kurt Cobain, guaranteed his own infamy – and that of his band – when he committed suicide in 1994. For the two decades since, Nirvana fans have made the pilgrimage to Aberdeen to see the house where Cobain grew up.

The Cobain house in Aberdeen is at 1210 E 1st St, and right next door you can see a memorial to Cobain in Kurt Cobain Memorial Park. It’s a must stop for grunge music fans, even if just passing through

Photos by NWMLS and Amy Meredith via Flickr, respectively.

State Capitol in Olympia, Washington

Olympia, The Capital

Olympia is regularly overlooked when people visit the Pacific Northwest, almost everyone visits Seattle, and a few are willing to explore out to Tacoma.

In Olympia, the Washington State Capital is by far the most beautiful and engaging attraction. You can plan a visit yourself, or book a guided tour; the Department of Washington has a surprisingly helpful website to help you plan your trip.

Olympia also has a good children’s museum, the Hand’s On Children’s Museum, and a few oddball attractions outside town, including the mysterious Mima Mounds. All in all, Olympia is full of surprises.

Which of these destinations are you adding to your next Washington road trip?

  • Looks beautiful. I love the seaside – especially when it’s a bit more secluded and free from sun-worshippers. And my first thought when I saw that photo of the kites was how beautiful they were against the big sky. Sorry you’re so afraid of them! Weird the things that scare us…

    • Katie, thanks so much for the comment! I don’t know where it came from–probably being a small child and flying kites in storms out over Chesapeake Bay. They were beautiful–just a bit anxiety provoking too! 🙂

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  • Bookmarked! This just makes me wanna go there like, as early as now! My husband David and I are planning to do a “US Tour” before we leave this country and start travelin’ like crazy. And yes, this is bucket-listed already! 😀

    -Gerome of G&D Blog
    http://www.gdblog.net

    • Glad to hear it! I hope you can visit soon & it lives up to your expectations 🙂

  • Stephanie Parrell

    Wow! I had no idea that Washington has such nice scenery and coastlines. The trees and beaches are beautiful!

    • It really does! Thanks so much for reading!

  • Thanks for posting! I’m actually now thinking of doing something for the Easter weekend in 2018 and looking for something in the US. Was thinking Vegas and a canyon or upstate new york but this sounds even better!

    • If you’ve never been to Seattle, I can’t recommend it enough!

  • I’ve traveled to almost every state in the US but have never made it to Washington. It’s on my Bucket List though. Thanks for the peep show.

    • I hope you can visit soon – it’s a fantastic one to visit!

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