Home to the world’s longest beach and “Jake the Alligator Man,” a visit here is both wacky and wonderful!
The Long Beach Peninsula - including the towns of Long Beach, Seaview and Ilwaco among others - packs in several favorite seaside attractions, all in one area. You’ve got the kitschy, small-scale amusement park for the little ones. Mom and Dad will appreciate the fresh seafood, local breweries, and quaint cafes. And everyone can enjoy the 30 miles of uninterrupted beach - perfect for kite flying and sandcastle building.
What to do?
Start your visit with a slow walk down Pacific Avenue in downtown Long Beach, where you’ll find curious junk shops, bumper cars, go carts, kiddie rides, and Marsh's Free Museum.
KidTripster Tip: Bring cash for the machine that dispenses ride tickets. If not, head to the junk shop about a half block away that sells ride tickets behind the counter; you can use your credit card there.
If you've spent any time driving in the Pacific Northwest, you've likely seen those strange bumper stickers that read “Jake The Alligator Man.” Well, Jake lives at Marsh's Free Museum (409 Pacific Ave. S) in Long Beach. Marsh's started out as a restaurant in the Depression Era that would accept random knick-knacks instead of cash from hungry and broke travelers in exchange for a meal. Over time, the folks at Marsh’s had quite a collection of oddities. Now it's a “museum,” and yes, a bit of a tourist trap, but one with undeniable charm. Tucked away in the back of the store, “Jake The Alligator Man” defies an easy description, so go see him for yourself. The store is packed with other trinkets, as well. Trust me, your kids will love it!
KidTripster Tip: Make sure to bring change for the coin-pressing machine at Marsh’s. Also, bring your sense of humor!
Every weekend during the summer, downtown Long Beach throws a family-friendly boardwalk party. Our daughter got to see Cha-Cha the Clown at the downtown gazebo, which she loved. My wife and I loved the opportunity to sit for a half hour and recharge with our child completely occupied. And if the funny clown wasn't cool enough, the fire department was giving rides in one of the ladder trucks. Kiddo heaven! Downtown Long Beach also has several spots for goofy pictures perfect for Facebook or Instagram. Picture yourself standing next to the World's Largest Clam Pan or a giant squirting razor clam. Where else can you do that?
At one of the entrances to the beach from downtown, a sign boasts that you’re about to set foot on “the world's longest beach.” I’ll take their word for it. One thing that you may have to get used to is vehicles driving on the beach. It was a bit of a shock to this Oregon family. We’re not used to engine noise and tire tracks in the sand, and it was an extra concern when hitting the beach with our 3-year old. But even so, this stretch of beach is so vast that there are plenty of sections far away from vehicles. You can still build sandcastles that likely won’t get run over.
KidTripster Tip: If you want to avoid the cars, choose beach access that's far away from vehicle entry points.
Know that dipping your toes in the ocean here is not a good idea; signs warn not to play in the waves or swim. The currents up and down the peninsula are dangerous and unpredictable; plenty of people have been caught in riptides. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you know that it’s entirely possible to have fun at the beach without going in the water; for others, it may be a new concept. Embrace it… and look to the sky. Bald eagles are a common sight along the peninsula as are impressive kites. In fact, Long Beach is a premier place to fly a kite. We stumbled upon some serious kite fliers on the beach during our first day in town. Our daughter squealed with glee when she saw the giant kites flying overhead. After the beach, head over to the World Kite Museum (303 Sid Snyder Dr., Long Beach). Your kids even can make their own kites! Cost: Youth $3; Adult $5.
For a truly Northwest coastal experience, go razor clam digging. Even if you don't like eating clams, digging still can be tons of fun, especially for kids! If your kid is like mine, anything that involves digging in the sand and looking at strange creatures will be a hit. Just make sure that it's razor clam season (typically October to May) and that you have a permit; you can buy it online. To get started, watch this how-to video from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The Discovery Trail is an 8.3-mile-long interpretive trail that meanders through the dunes parallel to the beach. It's perfect for a stroll, bike ride or morning run. The trail itself has enough twists, turns, and small hills to keep it interesting without being too physically challenging. The vast majority of it is paved, though there’s one boardwalk section built over wetlands. It runs from The Breakers Hotel in Long Beach south to Ilwaco with an off-shoot that takes you to North Head Lighthouse.
KidTripster Tip: If you're staying at either The Breakers or Adrift Hotel, you can borrow bikes to ride on the trail. If you need kid-sized bikes or trailers, bring your own.
Also check out Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, just a few miles south of downtown Long Beach. The walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse offers incredible views of where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. The original lighthouse keepers' houses are still intact. In fact, they're now vacation rentals! That's right, you can sleep where the keepers did in the 1800s. Imagine waking up in the middle of a gorgeous state park with incredible cape views. The park has four buildings open to guests with a two-night minimum during the peak season.
KidTripster Tip: Have a chat with the park volunteer who hangs out in the parking lot. The fellow there when we visited had been visiting Cape Disappointment for 50 years before becoming a volunteer. He was a friendly guy who knew a ton about the park and about the Oregon-Washington coast in general.
Where to eat?
I had no idea that the Long Beach Peninsula offered such high-quality dining. My family met restaurant owners and chefs who have lived all over the world and chose to settle on the peninsula for the community feel, access to fresh seafood, and serene coastal surroundings.
Start your day at the comfortable 42nd Street Cafe & Bistro (4201 Pacific Way, Seaview). The eggs Benedict here is as good as you’ll find anywhere! And order a Blood Mary. They make them spicy and delicious with yummy, pickled veggies. My wife and I agreed that it was one of our best decisions of the day.
For a hip breakfast with beach views from atop the Adrift Hotel, head to Pickled Fish (409 Sid Snyder Dr., Long Beach). Sipping coffee, listening to rock band Built To Spill on the house sound system, and watching the waves roll in made this fan of 90s Northwest indie rock smile. And I can’t stress this enough - the deviled eggs are the best that I’ve ever tasted! I was still thinking about them two weeks after our visit!
KidTripster Tip: Gratuity is not expected here. There's a 20% service charge on all checks, and they pay their servers a higher hourly wage plus benefits. (What a concept!) Of course, if you want to leave a tip because your service was just that good, they won't refuse it.
The only things better than the view at SALT Hotel and Pub (147 Howerton Ave., Ilwaco) are the expertly-prepared lunch and friendly service. Our pulled pork nachos and smoked tuna melt paired nicely with a local beer from North Jetty Brewing. SALT’s owner, Jules, knows a lot of great off-the-beaten-path places to check out all over the peninsula. He's a busy man but very friendly, so if you happen to catch him in the pub, don’t miss the opportunity to bend his ear.
North Jetty Brewing's beer is sold at restaurants all over the peninsula, and there's a reason for that: it makes a really good beer. So why not go to the source? The Tap Room (4200 Pacific Way, Seaview) is located in a cool building that looks like a barn. Come in for a pint or get one of the generous samplers. There’s a pretty good selection of games for the kids to enjoy, while you enjoy your brew.
KidTripster Tip: Go to the North Jetty Brewery and Tap Room on Sundays after 3 p.m. and get free BBQ samples! One of their associates, who's a friendly and charming peninsula local, cooks up a different type of BBQ dish every week to sample. Bonus BBQ snacks are a beautiful thing!
For fine dining with a relaxed feel, I highly recommend The Depot (1208 38th Pl., Seaview). Nancy, who runs the front of the house, loves this coastal community. She shared some interesting stories about how the history of the restaurant's building is connected with the region's history. As much as we enjoyed our conversation, we enjoyed the food even more! The blue cheese butter that I had on my steak was incredible! And what seafood fan wouldn't love a few steamer clams in the clam chowder? For dessert, leave room for the vanilla flan or salted caramel brownie.
KidTripster Tip: This is not required by any means, but we called ahead and let them know that we'd be bringing a toddler with us for dinner. The staff was more than happy to accommodate. When we arrived, they had a spot for us on the beautiful back patio, away from the packed dining room. Reservations are suggested.
For a more casual dinner, consider Lost Roo (1700 Pacific Ave. S, Long Beach). Right off the bat, my daughter loved this place because it has a giant kangaroo greeting you as you walk in the door. My wife immediately loved it because we explained to our waiter that we had a fussy kid who may not be the best dinner companion, and he found us a secluded table far away from the other more civilized dinner patrons. I’m not kidding when I say that I dreamt about the balsamic drizzle on the feta bruschetta that night! And the spicy ahi tuna tower was seriously amazing. My daughter opted for peanut butter and jelly with apple slices. Kids!
After dinner, or anytime really, stop in for some ice cream at Scoopers (101 Pacific Ave. N) right off the beach in downtown Long Beach. The sign boasts 48 flavors, so it’s sure to have your favorite.
KidTripster Tip: Have your kids try the Playdough flavor. Their lips and tongues will turn a brilliant color of blue!
Photo courtesy: SALT Hotel & Pub
Where to stay?
Before we had kids, where we stayed at the coast didn't really matter. We just needed a place to sleep and shower. But with a child kid, we need a little more. The Breakers (210 26th St. NW, Long Beach) has it all… and then some.
First off, we didn't stay in a room but instead two side-by-side rooms, which gave us two bedrooms, two kitchens, two bathrooms, three televisions, a living room, and a breakfast bar. So when my daughter needed a nap, my wife and I didn’t have to tip toe around the bed.
My 3-year old loved the playground right outside our unit. There's a covered picnic table area and beach volleyball court nearby, too. And to make up for not being able to swim in the ocean, you’ve got a heated, indoor pool and outdoor hot tub.
The Discovery Trail starts (or ends, depending on which way you're going) at The Breakers. The hotel offers adult-sized bikes to ride on the trail. From the hotel, the beach is a bit of a trek over the dunes but not too far.
If space isn’t such a big issue, you also may want to consider the Adrift Hotel & Spa (409 Sid Snyder Dr., Long Beach), a beachfront hotel with a hipster vibe that will especially appeal to families with older kids.
Photo courtesy: The Breakers/Robert McKinley
The Long Beach Peninsula is a 2-1/2-hour drive from Portland or a 3-1/2-hour drive from Seattle.
Writer Nate Baker lives in Oregon City, Oregon, with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. After having a kid, Nate and his wife figured that they should stop watching so much TV and start planning some childhood memories for their daughter!