The dark, rain-sodden days of November and the rest of the gloomy winter months are coming up fast. If you can’t escape to somewhere sunny, you may as well embrace the foul weather and take a storm-watching vacation.
Winter storms bring pounding waves and howling winds to the open Pacific coast of Washington, British Columbia and Oregon. Bundle up and walk the beaches, be awed by nature’s force as the waves crash, then take refuge in beachfront lodgings and keep watching the winter storms in cozy comfort. A financial plus: You can enjoy luxury for less at upscale inns since winter room rates can be half the summer price.
Here are three of my favorite oceanside places for a stormy getaway in the Pacific Northwest and B.C.
La Push, Wash.
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The place: La Push is a weather-beaten Indian reservation village on Washington’s rugged Olympic Peninsula coast. A sturdy breakwater protects the fishing boats on one side of the village, but the Pacific waves tumble onto its First Beach.
Nightlife? None. Restaurants? One (maybe). So just hunker down in a cabin, walk the beaches, watch the waves explode into towering spray on sea stacks.
Where to stay: The tribe’s Quileute Oceanside Resort is the only place to stay in La Push and it’s right on First Beach. Walk out the door to sand and massive, silvery driftwood.
Go for the best rooms, what are called the luxury or deluxe units; cheaper rooms can be drab. These newer one-bedroom units (there are also studios and two-bedrooms) are spacious and comfortable, with big picture windows, including by the bathroom’s Jacuzzi tub so you can soak while gazing at the ocean. But you have to want to get away from everything. There’s no TV, no phone, no Wi-Fi in the rooms.
Starting Nov. 1 and running through March 2015, the Oceanside’s stormwatching package offers a third free night (Monday through Thursday nights, not on weekends or holidays). Sample rates: A one-bedroom luxury cabin is $164 a night in the off-peak winter season which began Oct. 1 and runs until late May (vs. $239 in peak season). quileuteoceanside.com
A stormy walk (or two): Stroll First Beach, the almost mile-long crescent of sand (bisected by a creek), right in front of the cabins. If the ocean’s not too wild, wetsuit-clad surfers often play in the waves.
Drive five minutes to the trailhead for Second Beach, within the adjacent Olympic National Park (nps.gov/olym). It’s a gentle, lovely 2/3-mile-long trail to a wilderness beach. Go at low tide and you can walk on the beach for almost a mile. At high tide the beach disappears.
Where to eat: The often struggling River’s Edge Restaurant in La Push reopened in June. It’s now tribally run and plans to remain open through the winter. Your other dining choices: Some mostly forgettable restaurants near and in Forks. But why drive a dozen miles on a dark and stormy night? Take food, cook in your cabin. The Lonesome Creek store next to the resort sells basic groceries.
Other places to stay: Other places I’ve stayed on the Washington coast that are good for stormwatching are Kalaloch Lodge, on the beach within Olympic National Park, and the Inn at Discovery Coast on the Long Beach Peninsula.
Kalaloch has cabins on a low bluff above the ocean and excellent beach walks. Fall rates start at $109, although few cabins are available at that low rate (cabins cost double that in summer). thekalalochlodge.com
The Inn at Discovery Coast is a small, oceanfront, boutique-style hotel at Long Beach. Get an upper-floor room and loll in bed with a peaceful view of dunes and ocean. Rooms start at $169 midweek in November.innatdiscoverycoast.com
More info: Quileute Nation, quileutenation.org
The place: On the west coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island you can luxuriate amid forest and beach wilderness near the little town of Tofino. Swanky oceanfront hotels and restaurants are scattered along the oceanfront next to Canada’s Pacific Rim National Park, which preserves miles of sandy, driftwood-piled beaches and rocky coves.
Tofino once was a no-frills fishing/logging village and hippie/environmentalist hideaway. It still has those vibes, but these days it’s more of a laid-back little outdoors-tourism hub, dotted with galleries and craft shops and kayak-tour companies.
Where to stay: How’s your budget? If money’s no object, the Wickaninnish Inn is the place to splurge. The woodsy, deluxe lodge is right on Chesterman Beach, a few miles south of Tofino. Its tranquil, muted-palette and high thread-count rooms have lovely ocean views so you can watch the waves in uber-comfort if you don’t want to be out in the storm. What are called Winter Storm Season rates start at $300 midweek (for a room without the premier ocean view) vs. $500 in summer. wickinn.com
A much more budget-friendly place is Ocean Village Resort, a cluster of compact, old-fashioned cabins on MacKenzie Beach. If you can’t get one of the oceanfront cabins, go for the top-floor studio units of the duplex cabins (all have kitchenettes). Upper studios begin at $119 in the offseason (Oct. 1 to March 11). There’s also a 15 percent “Storm Watching Special” discount on three-night stays, weeknights. oceanvillageresort.com.
A stormy walk (or two): Chesterman Beach is one of the nicest beach walks in the Tofino area, 1.7 miles of white sand plus an islet, with rich tide pools, that you can walk out to at low tide. The beach is edged with houses, most discreetly tucked amid trees, with Wickaninnish Inn presiding at the north end (with a bar, cafe or restaurant where you can warm up after your walk).
Wilderness beach walks abound in Pacific Rim National Park (pc.gc.ca), including at the aptly named Long Beach, a 10-mile stretch of white sand and storm-tossed piles of driftwood edged by brooding forest
Where to eat: Ready to splurge? The oceanfront Pointe restaurant in the Wickaninnish Inn has excellent local seafood (and much more). In the town of Tofino, I like the locavore Shelter restaurant. And if you’re in Tofino on Nov. 14-16 you can eat all sorts of oysters, take oyster farm tours and more at Tofino’s weekend-long Oyster Festival, oystergala.com.
More info: Tofino tourism office, tourismtofino.com
Haystack Rock is the town’s icon, a 235-foot monolith that juts out of the sand at the water’s edge. Waves pound the wide-open Cannon Beach, unprotected by any islets, in winter. And the wind really can snatch your breath away during a fierce storm.
If you’re in town Nov. 7-9, join in the Stormy Weather Arts Festival. Galleries will host exhibits; artists will show their painting, sculpting and other techniques; plus there’s music, theater and an auction (details at cannonbeach.org, go to “events”).
Where to stay: Schooner’s Cove Inn is right on the beach, a two-minute walk from the heart of town. Many units have a separate bedroom, living room with sofa bed, kitchenette, and small deck with big sliding glass doors and in-your-face views of the beach and waves. View rooms are available in the offseason starting at about $116 a night, a special winter rate (less than half the July rate). schoonerscove.com
The Waves is a collection of lodgings in the heart of town. I like what’s called the Flagship building that sits right on the edge of the beach. An oceanfront studio room, with kitchenette and deck, is $179 a night (for a November weeknight). Get a high-floor room for the best views. thewavescannonbeach.com
A stormy walk (or two): Haystack Rock is a magnet for walkers. If the tide’s low enough, you can see tide pools at its base, brimming with seastars, anemones and other sea creatures. Tread gently; this is a federally protected marine area. Still got energy? You can keep walking, and walking, along the beach south past Haystack Rock.
For easygoing, big-view walks along a seaside bluff and pocket beaches, drive to Ecola State Park three miles north of town. Offshore rocks and teardrop coves make this an enticing park. However, the popular Ecola Point view deck and trail are closed because of landslides. oregonstateparks.org
Where to eat: A confession. When I stayed at Schooner’s Cove and The Waves, both rooms had cooking facilities. Friends and I bought and cooked yummy food and holed up by the gas fireplace with a bottle of wine while rain and wind lashed the windows. So I’m not up to date on restaurants in Cannon Beach. (Got a restaurant you like? Add a recommendation in the comments section of this story at seattletimes.com/travel).
More info: Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, cannonbeach.org