Join a Seattle family for a getaway to Seabrook, an ambitiously conceived community on the Washington coast. Along with careful design and communal spaces, it has one big asset nobody can miss: the ocean.
SEABROOK, Grays Harbor County — Less than an hour after arriving at our vacation rental, our 4-year-old, Ruby, was racing across the sand toward the surf.
“Maybe we should try to keep her clothes dry … ” suggested my husband, just as the water soaked her dress to her waist. She was seemingly unbothered by the cool temperatures. The beach is the beach.
Seabrook bills itself as “a new beach town” on Washington’s coast. It’s really a carefully designed subdivision with big ambitions — and a way to have a picturesque family beach vacation with the greatest of ease.
I spent a few days there with my husband, Nate, along with Ruby and our 5-month-old son, Owen. We eked in on the offseason rates (which ended June 22) and rented one of the smallest, farthest-from-the-beach cottages. For $350 for two nights, we found ourselves in a cute and warm two-bedroom house a 10-minute walk from the ocean.
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We have a preschooler and a baby, so we’re used to packing a lot of stuff around. So it was a true vacation to find our cottage, “Beach Music,” equipped with everything: beach towels, a kite, games and puzzles, a well-stocked kitchen, a big TV and an apparently unstainable couch.
For three days, we did not buckle a single carseat while we explored Seabrook’s streets by bicycle.
Developer Casey Roloff started Seabrook in 2005 using the design principles of New Urbanism, depicted famously in the 1998 movie “The Truman Show.” Homes are set close together and neighborhoods are designed with an emphasis on communal space. The town is intentionally quaint; each cedar-shake sided home has an adorable name (the Sandpiper, Beachy Keen, Sea La Vie) and most come with two beach-cruiser bicycles, the preferred mode of transportation.
“If you can make people feel silly about getting in their cars, you know, we’re way ahead,” said Roloff, a Vancouver, Wash., native who lives in Seabrook with his wife and four daughters.
Each home is privately owned, about half used as vacation getaways that are rented out when owners aren’t using them. The first homes were sold mostly to out-of-state buyers, but Washington residents are increasingly buying in.
Roloff’s company manages the rentals, and they have strict guidelines for the homes. Our cottage was brand new and looked like a Pottery Barn catalog.
Sharing a bonfire
We briefly bemoaned the minimal outdoor seating — until we noticed a large, communal picnic table and fire pit in the park across the street. After a dinner of burgers and roasted potatoes, we gathered with our temporary neighbors to toast marshmallows while the kids played in the grass. It was sticky, and social, and as easy as sitting in our own living room.
In the morning, the fire pit had been cleaned, the firewood replenished, by overnight maintenance crews.
Besides about 190 homes (and many others still under construction) the development includes a small food market, a pub/restaurant, bike-rental tent, a paint-your-own pottery studio, a spa, a photo studio, and a boutique for dogs. Plans call for a main street and, eventually, a school. An indoor pool is under construction. But Roloff says the fact that Seabrook has done so well with virtually no amenities besides the beach shows how much the Washington coast needed a cute beach town.
“There’s great old towns, but we also need to build new towns,” he said, “because if we aren’t building new towns, we’re building sprawl.”
He built Seabrook, he said, to save you a trip to Cannon Beach. While not yet Cannon Beach, the development is a success. Roloff bought 300 acres starting in 2001 for $3 million. According to Roloff, Seabrook’s revenue grew 35 percent in 2009, and an additional 34 percent in 2010. It’s on pace to do better this year.
With all Roloff’s focus on creating a “sense of place,” the danger is creating a fake place — a weird, perfect Disneyland-type haven. But when I asked some families around our fire-pit if they thought the place seemed “a little too precious,” they gave me a confused look. Admittedly, any sense of creepiness fades with your second or third s’more.
Once we got settled into our cabin, we spent most of our three-day vacation at the beach, anyway.
Seabrook’s access to flat, sandy beach is across the two-lane highway from most of the development, and down a long staircase. Alternately, you can walk down a wooded trail to get there. Per state law, no cars are allowed on this portion of the beach between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and creeks on either side of the property make it difficult to access by car the rest of the year.
Besides playing in the water, Ruby built a giant sand castle decorated with feathers and clamshells. Unplugged and unfettered, we walked up and down the sand with Owen in a backpack and laughed at Nate’s attempts to demonstrate a handstand.
Other families hauled their bikes down and rode along the packed sand for miles. There were sand-toys to borrow at the cottage-rental office.
“It’s our favorite thing in the world,” said Mary Jane Power, of Silverdale, who has been coming to Seabrook annually with her sister’s family for several years. For weeks beforehand, she said, her kids are so excited they speak of little else. She loves that she feels safe letting them roam about the community on their bikes, catching frogs and playing games.
“It’s just the ambience,” she said, walking along one of Seabrook’s clamshell pathways with a cup of coffee. “You feel like you’re at home.”
Kids and squirt guns
With almost everyone using bikes for transportation, the streets are vacated for kids’ squirt-gun wars. A central park shows some wear, with badminton nets but no rackets and shuffleboard courts that are now occupied by broken lawn-bowling sets. We also spent some time at an out-of-the-way playground for little kids — and found it deserted both times we visited. Homeowners pay about $160 a month in homeowner’s dues to maintain the parks and public spaces.
Instead of discouraging rentals, Seabrook’s designers made a point to accommodate them, and that’s what Roloff considers key to the success of his “town.” There are usually people there.
Seabrook takes pains not to be a resort. Businesses are owned by individuals. Within five years, Roloff anticipates about 20 small shops. There are currently seven.
Ruby and I spent a cold morning painting a cupcake-shaped jewelry box at the Colours pottery-painting studio, a $15 activity that kept us busy and gave her something to bring home.
Dinner at the development’s only restaurant, Mill 109, was good. There’s something comfortable about being able to have a pint of Manny’s and fish tacos, then ride home on your beach cruiser.
“A new beach town”? I guess I could start calling it that.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org