Today I am just going to ramble for a few minutes. I spent the morning writing from various exercise prompts, nothing really finished or worth posting. So instead let me tell you: California doesn’t own the beach.
You heard me. Last Wednesday I was done with work by lunchtime, and Angie was post-call. Ordinarily I would reserve that precious time to write, or work on grad school applications, or garden and do chores around the house. Or all of the above. But it was ninety degrees in Western Washington and I was feeling inspired.
I came home, whipped up some lunch, and told Angie to pack a beach bag: we were driving out to the coast.
Our friends Natalie and Will had been to the Washington coast before, but we hadn’t. Not unless you count the shores of Puget Sound—but it’s just not the same. The nearest beach town, Ocean Shores, was a little over an hour and a half away. Why, in two-and-a-half years since moving to Washington, hadn’t I been?
I pictured something wold and rugged, rock strewn definitely. Freezing cold water, surely, but with gorgeous scenery to make up the difference in temperature.
Let me tell you, I’m picky about my beaches. I grew up in Orange County, California. The land of beaches. Known as much for its beaches as for its conservative politics, upscale suburbs, and Disneyland. I know a good beach when I see one. I was setting my bar pretty low for Washington, which strike me as a very beachy state.
Based on an earlier recommendation from Will and Natalie, we set our iPhone navigation maps toward Copalis (Ko-PAY-liss, I think) Beach. Head south on I-5 to Olympia, then take Highway 101 north (heading west, technically), past Montesano, Aberdeen (hometown of Kurt Cobain), and Hoquiam. There’s a split: Hoquiam sits at the mouth of the Chehalis (shuh-HAY-liss) river that dumps into Grays Harbor. Ocean Shores is on a sliver of a peninsula jutting south from there, Copalis Beach to the north. I had heard of Ocean Shores (what I had heard I couldn’t really recall), but we decided to head north based on our friends’ recommendation and the added likelihood that a small dot of a town would have a more secluded beach.
Well, we hit Chehalis and in the same breath passed it. There was a general store, I think, at a turnoff to a state park. We turned down the side road to the state park, but the sign said “DEAD END – NO BEACH ACCESS”. So we parked in the lot at the rest stop area and recalculated our route. In fact, I was lucky to have reception that far out. This would be one of those times I was really glad to have an iPhone: I tapped on the Google voice search button and said “best beaches Washington.” And up popped a couple articles on just that. Pacific Beach was mentioned in several of the articles. One reviewer for the Seattle Times called it THE best beach in Washington. A bit like calling something “the best oatmeal in the world” I thought, but a glance at the map showed us that we were only about fifteen minutes away from Pacific Beach. So that’s where we would go.
It’s a beautiful road, if you ever get the chance to go, but as you turn north from Hoquiam along 109 the road does tease you without mercy. It hugs the coast, but always just inland, behind never-ending rows of pines dotted by the occasional farmhouse, coastal cottage, or random condo development. You know the ocean is there, just past these obstructions. You can smell it. You can see the open sky to the left. And between those trees, between those condos, around certain bends, the ocean would reveal herself to us in peepshow glimpses. It revved us up like children heading to a carnival. It whipped us into a frenzy like soccer fans watching their team approach the goal box.We were grinning hard.
We passed a new condo development, then came through the itty-bitty town of Pacific Beach—really just a modest smattering of cottages, driftwood souvenir stands and vacation rentals, with a couple small shops, more or less contained in a small grid.
There was a state park right there, with RVs camped out in between the parking lot and the beach. We parked in the day-use lot, just in front of the welcome kiosk/bulletin board warning us about the danger of rip currents. There were only a couple other cars. It was four o’clock and ninety degrees out, without a cloud in the sky.
We made our way through the narrow sandy-grassy-duney rise that separated the lot from the beach, and I grinned with my whole face when I saw the beach. Seriously, I think my mouth opened wider than my skull. It was nostalgia (for the beaches I grew up with) combined with something new—an awesome place. The kind that doesn’t announce itself loudly. The kind of place that the locals know about—maybe even all of Washington—but nobody was climbing over each other to get here. Sure, it was a weekday, and hours from the nearest city. But I still couldn’t believe how empty it was. Especially given it’s size: see photo above.
Pacific Beach is a silky-smooth beach of gray-blonde sand that at low tide is probably two hundred yards wide (from grassy dune to water), all of it soft underfoot and flat. And the beach stretches south to north further than I could see. Maybe three miles in one stretch, from one creek to the next. In all, that part of the Washington coast has probably thirty miles of unadulterated sandy coastline.
Granted, this is the beginning of real “summer,” and the weather is nice like this only for maybe four months out of the year, from late June through much of October. But who’s complaining?
I took my flip-flops off and strode the roughly quarter-mile out to the waterline. Angie is from Minnesota, and not as accustomed to wading in the sand, so she went more cautiously, and took some photos with her camera.
The only drawback to such a wide, flat beach is that most of it is fairly wet sand. We put down towels and blankets a good fifty yards from the water. But it was fine: I plopped down my things and took of my shirt and ran on the firm packed sand toward the ocean. When I splashed in, the shallow wavelets felt warm. The saltwater spray tasted mild. I pushed further in, and felt the water getting chillier. It took a minute for my feet to adjust to the temp, but it was by no means freezing. Just a little hopping around as I acclimated, is all.
The flip side of such a shallow beach is that you can wade out a pretty long way without having the waves hit you. The water barely comes up over my waist another fifty yards in. And the waves crest another twenty yards further. The sand is like silt under your feet, it feels so good.
Angie waded part way out with me, but then got skittish. Beaches just aren’t in her blood. I had practically forgotten they were in mine. Talk about a fish to water… it was like exercising some long-forgotten limb, an extra fin maybe. Angie was nervous and asked me not to go deeper, but I waved her concern away with utter confidence. Really, it’s a pretty easy beach. In fact, if you did want to do real swimming or surfing or boogie boarding, you might have a hard time of it. It’s a great beach for just wading, sitting in the water and watching the breakers lap against your chest, or maybe playing fetch (we lacked the requisite dog).
So Angie went back to warm up by the towels, and I frolicked in the waves.
Later, as I came ashore, I made another discovery (my whole childhood was coming back to me!): this sand was perfect for making drip castles. not just any kind of sand castle, drip castles are the kind made by scooping a handful of wet sand and water and guiding it between your fingers as it dribbles down and forms Gaudi-esque spires. The water drains away instantly and you are left with brilliant towers of gently plopped sand.
I beckoned Angie, who indulged me. She came over, and I instructed her, just as my mom had instructed me when I was this many years old.
I dug a moat, allowing it to fill with water so we could both easily grab a handful of dribbly sand. We started at different ends, and when we were finished we had a giant Disney castle of sand. Amazing what a little bit of grown-up finesse and control will do. Angie got bored of this activity long before I did. I stayed until the first ripples of water licked the sides of our castle, forcing me to construct an enormous storm-wall around the perimeter as the tide came in.
It was ultimately useless, my castle succumbed to the forces of nature, and I was off drying myself off and getting some sun, watching lazily as couples and families strolled past with kites or wiener dogs.
Anyway: that’s it for my beach story for now. I might come back to it, who knows.
I just wanted to share this awesome little piece of Washington with you.