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Stormwatching at the Coast: Tips and Hints

Winds howl outside at 55 miles per hour – fast enough to tip over a toddler. Waves explode on the beach, each one more spectacular than the last. The lights flicker, but stay on. Your family is inside, dry and happy, playing “Apples to Apples” with a warm drink (Hot chocolate? Hot cider? Hot toddy  — just for grown-ups) in hand.

During this season of storms and seas, some upscale resorts even offer a “stormwatcher’s package,” like this one at the Wickannish Inn in Tofino. But you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy the wild weather at the coast.

Here are tips for enjoying stormwatching in the Pacific Northwest and BC:

The best months for stormwatching, generally, are November-March. Low season for travel in the Pacific Northwest, so you should benefit from lower room rates. This year’s winter season will be more powerful than in many other years, according to weather forecasters.

Watch or read the weather forecast and book when it looks like a weekend storm’s a-brewin’. A “storm” on the Beaufort Wind Scale includes very high waves (20-30 feet) with overhanging crests, a white sea with foam and lowered visibility. Winds reach 55-63 miles per hour. Either choose a destination with lots of rocky shore (Depoe Bay, Westport, West Vancouver Island) for wave-meets-cliff explosions or sandy beach (Cannon Beach, Newport, Long Beach, Ocean Shores) for a milder experience.

Reserve a room with double-pane windows and an ocean-front view. No partial views, no peek-a-boo views. Just listening to the wind howl isn’t as interesting as watching the waves crash on shore.

Bring cozy-day essentials: books, blankets and board games. Make bets with your kids on which wave is the biggest, and let them take pics from the hotel room. Talk about or watch a video on how waves work. Trust me, nature’s rage captures a kid’s attention immensely. And sort of puts that whole post-naptime tantrum in perspective.

During a storm, when the wind is strong enough to make walking difficult, stay away from sea cliffs (ulp!) and don’t walk outside. Wind and sneaker waves can sweep you out to sea, and branches or driftwood can make a surprise, airborne appearance. Bring waterproof jackets for the whole family, if you must venture out for dinner or groceries. But remember that more than 30 people lost their lives to storm-watching in Oregon, in the past 20 years.

Even after the storm’s passed, remember that large waves can still approach. Check the tide times and don’t get trapped on outcroppings, as always. However, many say that the best beachcombing is right after a storm – all those knickknacks got kicked out of the sea.

The storm may knock out electricity, as it did during the Great Coastal Gale of 2007. It’s not a big deal, and unlikely. Still, it may make sense to keep extra water, snacks and flashlights on hand.

Do you have a favorite storm-watching spot in Washington, Oregon or BC? Any favorite board games or tips for storm-watching with kids?

Families Travel! Jennifer visits the Long Beach Peninsula

Tony and Jennifer Fuentes of Portland, Oregon went with their children (Mila, 8 and Gael, 3) to the Long Beach Peninsula of Washington, about 90 minutes west of Oregon. It’s right on the Pacific Ocean – a perfect way for shopowner Jennifer (she runs the excellent Milagros Boutique in Portland) and family to relax.

Jennifer often returns to the Long Beach Peninsula to stay in a beach rental; she loves the area. It’s not quite as well-known as the Oregon Coast, but it offers amazing foodie finds and small-town coast fun. Let’s find out this frequent-visitor’s favorites and tips for a Long Beach family vacation.

Q.  Did you find a family-friendly hotel in Long Beach, Washington?

We stayed in a vacation rental. In our experience, if you are staying more than a couple of nights, the cost difference between a hotel and a rental is pretty small (and can be made up with the savings of eating in). Mainly, we like to be able to relax and not worry about disturbing neighbors — family life is naturally noisy and more so with the excitement of being at the beach. It is also nice to be able to stretch out and feel more at home.

Q. Why do you like to go to the Long Beach peninsula with kids?

The Long Beach Peninsula’s seemingly endless sandy beach makes it easy to find a personal slice of paradise. Ilwaco is a lively working marina with fish fresh off the boat and a surprising number of art galleries.

Ilwaco waterfront and boats near restaurants

Ilwaco waterfront and boats -- facing a boardwalk of upscale, kid-friendly restaurants

Cape Disappointment has wonderful views and hikes. The Willapa Bay Wildlife Refuge gets you close to nature of all kinds  – we have seen black bears, deer, bald eagles, and blue herons among other fauna. Strolling the historic streets of Oysterville is a unique experience. Finally, the city of Long Beach is chock full of tourist diversions of all kinds.

Q: Do you have any favorite family restaurants in or around Long Beach? Favorite menu items?

The family favorite is Bailey’s Bakery and Café in Nahcotta.  This little bakery cafe serves up wonderful pastries and delish sandwiches and soups.  They have a kid’s menu and Mila refers to their grilled cheese sandwich (made on house baked bread of course) as “heavenly”. The portabello sandwich is a hit with the adults as are their revolving soups and fresh scones in the morning.

Bailey's Bakery in Nahcotta, Washington State on the Long Beach Peninsula

Bailey's Bakery and Cafe in Nahcotta, Washington State

You can eat in or, as we prefer, eat outside and take in the view of the bay. One thing to remember about Bailey’s is that they are cash only and the closest ATM is about a mile away in Ocean Park.

Of course, we do some cooking for ourselves as well. We usually hit Okie’s Thriftway or Jack’s Country Store in Ocean Park for provisions since we are tend to stay on the north end of the peninsula. We also literally drive up Sandridge Road, which is the main drag on the bay side, and buy farm fresh eggs at one of the road side stands – generally $2.50 for a dozen lovely free range beauties! And fresh local oysters or clams await you at the Sea Farm in Oysterville.

For organic and local options, there is the Green Angel Gardens Farm Store on Sandridge Road as well as the THC Organic Market in Long Beach. THC also offers up some tasty smoothies.

By the way, a place that is wonderful but not conducive to a family dining trip for us at this point, is Jimella’s Seafood Market & Café in Klipsan Beach. It’s not inexpensive, dinner entrees are in the high $20 range, but it is truly worth it.

Jimella's on the Long Beach Peninsula

Jimella's restaurant interior -- fancy, but not too fancy!

Q: What kinds of things do you like to do in Long Beach with kids?

We are drawn to the outdoors in the area. The kids love to dig, dig, dig in the sand as well as fly kites on the beach and chase the waves. Which is great because it is always free and fun!

We always enjoy kayaking on Willapa Bay. The bay is sheltered from the coastal winds, so even a windy day on the beach will only be lightly felt on the bay. The tides are not so strong that you are fighting the current and the boat traffic is very light so there you are rarely dealing with wakes.  We love to paddle over to Long Island in the middle of the bay, follow its coastline and even land there to enjoy a packed lunch and some exploring.

If you launch from the Port of Peninsula (just north of Nahcotta) or the boat ramp across from the Willapa Bay Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, you don’t need to worry about the tides in the bay (from other launches in the bay, you want to avoid low tide).

Mila is a huge horse fan. Although we didn’t do it this trip, last time we were in the area we took a ride on the beach with Back Country Wilderness Outfitters. Mila had her own steed, Jen and Gael doubled up on a draft horse named Dugan for a gentle one-hour ride on the sand.

Mila riding a horse (Photo courtesy of the Fuentes family)

Hiking at Leadbetter Point State Park is very family friendly and the scenery is often breathtaking. The unique mix of tidelands and forest that characterize this area really comes to life at this north end park and the neighboring section of wildlife refuge. Hiking at Cape Disappointment State Park and strolling (or biking) the Discovery Trail in Long Beach is also a delight.

This trip, we were there for a holiday weekend and took advantage of the many local events. The Saturday Market and Fireworks in Ilwaco, a fun community parade in Ocean Park and a local BBQ. There is no shortage of activities happening on any weekend, especially in the summer.

What do you do on rainy days in Long Beach, Washington?

Kid-friendly museum in Long Beach, Washington -- Marsh's Free Museum

Oddities at Marsh's Free Museum. Can you find the tapeworm?

There is no end to options:

  • Enjoy the bizarre? Browse around Marsh’s Free Museum in Long Beach. Jake the Alligator Man (half man! half alligator!) is the main attraction but their collection of antique penny arcade games is something to see as well.
  • Spend some time discovering the world of kites and make some kites of your own at the World Kite Museum in Long Beach. We saw fighting kites from India and Afghanistan, hand painted kites from Japan, classic dime store kites from the US, musical kites from Thailand and much more on our visit there plus they had a kite making station for the kids.
  • Check out a working Cranberry farm and learn more than you ever thought possible about Cranberries at the Cranberry Museum on Pioneer Road in Long Beach.
  • Chill with a locally roasted cup of coffee at Long Beach Coffee Roasters.
  • Go to the wonderful Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment State Park.
  • Get an interactive view of local history at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in Ilwaco (Admission is free on Thursdays!)
  • And yes, you can also hit the arcades and souvenir shops in Long Beach or do some browsing and shopping at the Port of Ilwaco Marina. We love Time Enough Books at the Marina. It has a nice selection of children’s books and a play area for the kids.
Cape Disappointment State Park view ocean on the Long Beach Peninsula

Looking toward Oregon from Cape Disappointment State Park

Q: Anything else you’d add about Long Beach as a great family vacation destination?

If you enjoy a promenade-style beach experience, main street in Long Beach has it all – arcades, bumper cars, a go cart track, fudge, ice cream parlors, bike and moped rentals, and so on. If you want to see a slice of peaceful coastal living, Oysterville awaits. You can visit farms and fisheries, see arts and crafts, enjoy some good food, hike, bike, paddle, and much more. A stop at the Long Beach Visitor Center for a full spread of information and getting tips on community events that are happening is always worth the time. The staff is always very helpful with ideas.

Of course, although there seems to be no end to activity options, you are allowed to just relax! Put down a beach blanket and just lie there; let the crash of the waves soothe your thoughts. Just sitting and experiencing the grace of nature around you really should be a part of any trip to the peninsula.

What to do in Westport, Washington with kids

When you enter Westport, Washington, you’re greeted with this sign:

And that may sum it up. There’s a lighthouse, but kids under 40 inches tall aren’t allowed to climb the narrow, steep stairs. The under-construction aquarium offers only two tanks. The whale watching options can’t compete with well-developed tourism in Washington State’s San Juan Islands. The museum is OK (the fresnel light is impressive) but needs an infusion of funding for the kids’ area. The town’s streets don’t boast cute bookstores or toy shops. Most restaurants are iffy — lots of grease and meat for high prices.

But still, if you wrote it off, you’d miss moments like this:

When the sun cleans out the grey Washington skies and lays out a blue blanket above you.

You’d miss the chance to run through dunes of sand-colored grass.

You’d miss meeting the gregarious owner at Little Richard’s Doughnuts (2557 Westhaven Dr.), who handed off a bag of free doughnuts to us at the end of the day (We tipped very well). You’d miss eating coconut-topped, chocolate and old-fashioned o’s.

Westport may require you to bring your own food and find your own fun. But for creative visitors, that’s not too difficult to do. Westport is full of promise and potential — I’d love to see the empty storefronts full once more.

Where we stayed: This part is important, because you may find yourself hunkering down. We stayed in a very clean and up-to-date, kid-friendly condo at Vacations By the Sea — at a prime location right on the beach dunes. The two-bedroom condo offered a large kitchen, two bathrooms and two sets of bunkbeds. Outside, there’s a pool, hot tub, small playground and mini putt-putt. Highly recommended.

Find more secret spots and stops at DeliciousBaby’s Photo Friday. Read more about Westport at this post on Wandermom’s blog — Family Weekend Getaways: Westport Washington.

Westport Family Vacation

Beachy Keen! 5 NW Spring Break Spots

kid-friendly cannon beach

Sure, some families are heading to Mexico, Hawaii and Florida for spring break. But you don’t have to fly thousands of miles to get your sand fix. Save time and money by checking out one of the five sweet Northwest beaches.

Okay, you won’t find 80-degree temps or swim-ready water — not in the spring, at least — but the following destinations offer cool prices to match the chilly days.

cannon beach with kids

1. Family-friendly Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Why go? Cannon Beach in the off-season offers mellow charm, mild weather and no summer-crowd insanity. But the infrastructure is ready year-round, whether you want to buy a kite, nosh on Haystack cookies or browse for books.

Go tidepool-peeping for anemones and barnacles. Or take it easy –while the kids create sand McMansions, watch the still-gorgeous sunsets from your Pacific-front hotel — at one-third to one-half the price of a summer stay.

Sites to explore: Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce and Our Cannon Beach

astoria museum with kids

2. Kid-friendly Astoria, Oregon

Why go? If forecasters are calling for rain, Astoria’s Victorian-era architecture and art-rich community is a sure bet. Enjoy great kid-friendly breweries and bakeries, an indoor water recreation center and downtown Astoria’s toy store and comic shop.

After visiting Columbia River Maritime Museum, make a splash at the Astoria Aquatic Center. Not far out of town, visit the atmospheric Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark spent their first dreary winter. Then retreat to your heated hotel and praise modern conveniences.

Sites to explore: Astoria and Warrenton Chamber of Commerce and Astoria Oregon

kid-friendly long beach washington lighthouse

3. Kid-friendly Long Beach, Washington State.

Why go? On Southwest Washington’s tip, Long Beach hosts funky curios like Jake the Alligator Man, chainsaw-carved logs and beachfront houses with eccentric decor. Personally, I love the house with hundreds of buoys displayed out front.

But beyond the video games, go-karts and beach trappings (and kids love all of it), you’ll also find an amazing foodie community’s restaurants in Long Beach and neighboring towns of Ilwaco, Seaview and Nahcotta. And gentle hikes through Cape Disappointment State Park provide see-forever views of the Pacific Ocean before you come upon a stately lighthouse.

Sites to explore: Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau and Bailey’s Bakery and Cafe, which serves up some of the best baked goods I’ve ever enjoyed.

4. Kid-friendly Newport, Oregon.

Why go? The furthest south (a little over 120 miles from Portland), Newport embodies that taffy-in-your-teeth memory of childhood beach vacations. Fly kites, ride bikes on the beach, tread water in the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s underwater tunnel, or go whale-watching in the early spring.

The Oregon Coast is famous for great crabbing and clamming, plus warm, California-sent breezes. Although spring brings iffy weather, nothing could  ruin that fresh batch of caramel corn and bubblegum-flavored taffy.

Sites to explore: Newport Oregon (Don’t miss that free child’s admission on the “Special Deals & Promos” page) and the Oregon Coast Visitors Association

kid-friendly westport donuts

5. Westport, Wash.

Why go? Westport’s rocky shoreline is about as far as you can get from the silky sands of Mexico or Cannon Beach’s art galleries. But that’s part of the fun — this is old-world Washington, rugged and unrefined.

Pick through sea-smoothed rocks for a favorite, walk down Westport’s tourist-tacky marina, and down a cup of hot clam chowder at Merino’s Seafood. In winter and spring, watch storms create spectacular, crashing walls of water.

Sites to explore: Westport Washington

What’s your favorite taffy flavor?