A road trip to the Long Beach Peninsula takes you through forests and wetlands to Washington’s southwest-most tip, with a long history of working fleets and family seaside vacations. The narrow, I-shaped vertical peninsula juts into the Pacific just across the border from Oregon and offers affordable family fun and sandy beaches, equally lovely for spring/summer sun and winter storm watching.

Typically, the fastest route is by taking I-5 to US-101, which turns into State Route 8, then picking up SR107 in Montesano to south US-101. After hitting US-101, you’ll start noticing the word “slough” commonly crop up as road names — the word means a place of deep mud or swamp — as part of the Pacific’s backwater system.

Watch for tide flats shaping mud into otherworldly formations and schoolbus-sized heaps of oyster shells. Stop for a latte and bathroom break at Alder + Co, a surprising little shop with various personal care and home goods from local vendors. Just outside, the Northwest Carriage Museum is a chance to check out how you might’ve made the journey 150 years ago — very, very slowly.

Visit Willapa National Wildlife Refuge to hike for miles through a complex, diverse ecosystem experience and see what untouched coastal Washington might’ve looked like a century ago. Due to the mix of habitats provided, more than 200 animal species eat, sleep and dwell in the refuge, including threatened and endangered animals such as snowy plover, marbled murrelets and brown pelican.

The Art Trail takes visitors along a wooden boardwalk with University of Washington student artwork illustrating Cutthroat Creek’s waterway and the animals living nearby. The Refuge’s other trails include a network of converted logging roads (Long Island Trails), the salt marshes and beautiful bay views of Leadbetter Point Trail, and the wildlife viewing blind along Tarlatt Slough Trail, where you might spot swallows, raptors, elk and perhaps even a black bear.

At the southernmost tip, the tiny fishing village of Ilwaco packs plenty of reasons to visit its petite borders. Walk along the picturesque 800-slip marina, where art galleries and shops face fishing vessels, family boats, and small yachts. While there, stop in for a fish-centric meal (or an overnight stay) at the family-friendly Salt Hotel and Pub or upscale Waterline Pub within the adult-only At the Helm hotel.

Then, drive up to Cape Disappointment State Park for amazing Instagram shots of the North Head and Cape Disappointment Lighthouses, the latter built in 1856 and the Northwest’s oldest lighthouse. Enjoy sweeping views of the Pacific coastline and the spooky ruins of the former Fort Canby. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center’s interesting layout has visitors accompany Lewis and Clark from their departure from Missouri’s Camp DuBois to Washington coast arrival, chronologically. Plenty of interactive exhibits bring the voyage to life, including hands-on experimentation with a chronometer and Fresnel lens, outtakes from the duo’s journal, and short films.

Take Pacific Way north. In some spots, you might spot walkers and cyclists on the flat, wide Discovery Trail running from the Port of Ilwaco to Long Beach. The 8 1/2 mile trail passes art installations, ancient Sitka spruce grove, wetlands, tidelands and dunes.

The cities of Seaview and Long Beach blend into one another. Seaview hosts a variety of Victorian-era homes, a still-standing testament to a 19th-century developer’s dreams. The original early-20th century depot is now The Depot, offering killer breakfast beignets and reservation-only dinners. Washington’s oldest continuously operating hotel, the Shelburne Inn, is also based in Seaview — and still serves up hotel rooms, fine dining and cocktails.

A minute or so north, the town of Long Beach is the peninsula’s commercial hub, with the most visitor accommodations, restaurants, and entertainment options. Stays run the gamut from multistory contemporary hotels and motels, condos, RV spaces and camper-trailer lots and tiny updated 1930s beach bungalows.

Most shops and restaurants cluster along and near Pacific Avenue. Popular local sports bar Lost Roo serves chowders, salad, burgers and fish within a sunny building. Dylan’s Cottage Bakery and Delicatessen offer dozens of early-morning pastries and doughnuts and midday soups and sandwiches. The Pickled Fish presents windowfront Pacific views along with meals.

However, Long Beach’s old-timey family-fun atmosphere tends to be what draws crowds. Catch a film at the Neptune Theatre, go on a guided horseback ride, or play mini-golf or race siblings with the Fun Beach Fun Center’s Go-Karts. The spacious, updated Funland’s Family Fun Center may be one of the cleanest arcades in Washington — triggers and handles are notably non-sticky whether you’re riding a virtual motorcycle or aiming at a giant-size version of Space Invaders 8-foot-tall screen. The variety and decent pricing make it a good option for kids — or even date night.

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Because of the town’s layout, Long Beach’s boardwalk isn’t populated with shops but instead extends for a half-mile through grass-covered dunes. It’s a quieter approach to beach life, yet still set back from the open ocean and an excellent place for storm-watching. Just beyond, the flat sands of Long Beach welcome kite fliers, sunbathers, and even a few trucks. It’s worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the numerous coastal hazards — this is the wild Washington coast. It’s unwise to swim in the ocean, tunnel into dunes, or drive on the beach unless you’re experienced or have four-wheel drive.

Marsh’s Free Museum is Long Beach’s most well-known attraction for generations of Washingtonians. It’s like Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on 19th-century miracle pills. Walk the building’s interior perimeter and stare up at the ceiling to encounter Dr. Scott’s Electric Corset, a wall of early home implements (ladies’ curling irons, bean slicers, cabbage cutters), slightly risqué 5-cent viewing boxes, and questionable cryptozoology (stuffed jackalopes, swamp apes, Jake the Alligator man). The shop’s interior is packed with beach tchotchkes that may head home with you.

Other museums more in line with actual museums include the World Kite Museum, which features 1500 kites from 26 countries and a high-flying gift shop, and the Cranberry Museum and Gift Shop, which explores the history and legacy of the peninsula’s tart fruit.

That currently-unripe fruit grows on vines in cranberry bogs outside the museum or might be spotted as you head north along Pacific Avenue and pass through the countryside. Crowds thin out on roads and beaches as you continue north, past the towns of Oceanside, Klipsan Beach, Ocean Park, and ending at Leadbetter Point State Park. If you’d hoped for a quieter, more isolated experience than you might find anywhere else along the Pacific coastline, you’ve found it.  

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