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.
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
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 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:
- The Depot – gourmet food with a home-cooked feel
- Pickled Fish – stunning beach views and hip food
- The Shelburne Inn – one of the fanciest meals I’ve eaten in a while, with an amazing wine selection
- North Jetty Brewing Company – great beer, and they usually have a taco truck parked in the lot next door
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.
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.
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.
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.
[success]Planning a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway? Check out these other resources:
- The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide
- Unmissable Road Trip Stops on the Olympic Peninsula
- What to Do in Portland, Oregon – My Favorite Experiences
- A Guide to Santa Barbara, the American Riviera
- One Day in L.A.: A Guide to Visiting Los Angeles [/success]