It’s 6 a.m. when my parents pull me out of bed. It is dark and cold. I put on my bathing suit, then jeans, shoes and a sweatshirt.
I staggered staggered to the car and climbed into the backseat. We hike for miles to Pacific Way and then to the approach to Ocean Park Beach. There is more traffic on the beach than on the highway. We follow the taillights.
We hear the waves and see points of light that must be people carrying lanterns and flashlights, heading towards the ocean, which we can’t see yet. As the cars and crowds thin out, we park, get out with shovels and buckets, and head for the water. Then dawn breaks and suddenly everything is visible – the ocean, the cars parked near the dunes and the people along the beach.
There are sure signs that the clams are hiding under our toes as we stomp through the wet sand along the curving waves. Then it’s a fast, quick digging on the knees, the hand reaching into the hole, sometimes reaching for the elbow, sometimes caught in an incoming thrust.
It was my pre-dawn childhood ritual in Ocean Park, Washington, when I chased knives. It was part of summer life on the Long Beach Peninsula.
What to do
Ocean Park is on the less crowded northern end of the Long Beach Peninsula, where it’s a little easier to get away from the crowds. This part of the peninsula is home to Ocean Park, Nahcotta, Oysterville, Surfside and Klipsan Beach, all of which are worth a visit.
You can still dig clams with clam guns. For restoration and preservation reasons, the seasons are limited, but it’s worth researching sport fishing rules, dates, and tides to get those delicious clams.
There’s always the beautiful, long, flat beach to run, play, fly kites… or try your hand at surf fishing.
If you want some solitude, you can usually find it at Leadbetter Point State Park and the Leadbetter Unit of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge at the far end of the peninsula. Several loop trails wind through dense coastal forest to dunes and open shores of the Pacific Ocean and Willapa Bay. Hines Marsh, accessible from the Martha Jordan Birding Trail, is great for birdwatchers in the spring and fall when migratory species cruise off the Pacific Flyway. Watch for bird chicks, deer and black bears.
Due to the sensitive bird and animal habitat, dogs are not permitted on the northern trails, but they are permitted on a leash in the southern sections of the park. Be warned though, the trails can be flooded from October to April. Willapa Bay Water Trail is also part of the park, so bring your kayak, paddle board, or canoe. Just make sure you are warned of the weather, wind and tides.
The historic town of Oysterville is a picturesque village of gracious 19th century homes with extensive gardens. For views of Willapa Bay, wait until you reach the north end of the village and head to Oysterville Sea Farms for the full vista.
At night, head to a beach approach for stargazing. Since the northern end of the peninsula is less populated, the skies offer great sunrises, sunsets, and stargazing.
For sports other than sightseeing, there’s fishing at Loomis Lake, golf at Surfside Golf Course, and tennis and pickleball at Lighthouse Oceanside Resort. If you need camping or cabin gear, fishing gear, hardware, tools, groceries, or fuel, Jack’s Country Store is an option in downtown Ocean Park.
You can also find many treasures and works of art near downtown, including the Eric Wiegardt Studio Gallery, Bay Avenue Gallery, Forgotten Treasures Antiques & Collectibles, and the Long Beach Peninsula Trading Post.
Where to eat
Ocean Park is worth a visit for soups and sandwiches at the Great Day Cafe or fresh steamed clams, chowder and oysters at Oysterville Sea Farms.
Downtown, you’ll find the Kiss of Mist Espresso drive-thru. Nearby you can buy sweets and coffee at the Adelaide Coffee House & Yarn Shop. Built in 1887 as the Taylor Hotel (Adélaïde Taylor was the owner), it is one of the oldest buildings on the peninsula and once served as a refuge for shipwrecked sailors. It’s now a haven for knitters and those who want grab-and-go items like bagels for breakfast or lunch.
Streetside Pizza offers takeout. Or try one of the internationally-influenced newcomers, like Italian-inspired homemade pastas and starters at MyCovio, Hawaiian takeout at Tu Tu’s Lunch Wagon, or pub grub and Irish standards at the family pub. Crown Alley Irish Pub to the south on Pacific Way.
Other tasty dishes can be found at other Ocean Park hubs like Sara’s Rusty Spur Bar & Grill, Anita’s Cafe, Berry Patch Restaurant, and Okie’s Thriftway Market. The Peninsula Senior Activity Center is also a bustling center for meals and activities.
Where to stay
The Lighthouse Oceanfront Resort offers cottages and two-story units facing the ocean, a pool, and indoor tennis courts. Shakti Cove Cottages are cozy, nestled in a shaded courtyard with a path leading to the beach. Klipsan Beach Cottages are also cozy, with landscaped grounds, a communal fire pit, grill, picnic area, and beach access. The Worldmark Surfside Inn is another choice and offers impressive views.
Editor’s Note: This article originally stated that Oysterville was formerly known as Shoalwater. The article has since been updated to not include this information, as it was incorrect.