By Carolyn White
Residents and visitors to Thurston County are fortunate to be able to day-trip to the Pacific Ocean and the beaches of Grays Harbor County. Along the way, there are many sights and attractions to enjoy in pursuit of those fresh ocean breezes.
In May, ThurstsonTalk.com featured “Day Trip to the Beach – It’s Not the Destination, but the Journey,” which detailed some of the great places to visit en route to the Pacific Ocean from the Olympia area. This article ventured as far as Elma, the terminus of WA 8.
Continuing west from Elma, you are now motoring on US 12. Along the way, the twin cooling towers of the now-defunct Satsop Nuclear Power plant loom over the southern horizon. Conceived in the early 70’s, the plant ran over-budget and the project was abandoned in 1983. Now, the 75% completed towers are part of the Satsop Business Park, home to several light-industrial businesses. It’s worth a side trip to photograph these structures. Although they are both fenced off, you can peek inside them as the bases are not solid. Satsop Business Park, now part of the Grays Harbor Port Authority offers public tours throughout the summer. One-half mile west of Elma, take the Satsop Business Park exit and follow the signs for about five miles.
Twenty miles west of Elma, US 12 terminates in Aberdeen, home port of the tall ships Hawaiian Chieftain and Lady Washington. Aberdeen’s rich maritime traditions are showcased at the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, located 712 Hagara St. The spar shop, which crafts wooden masts and spars for classic sailing ships as well as movie sets and props, contributes to the nautical flavor of the seaport. Several movies featuring historical sailing vessels — such as Pirates of the Caribbean — showcase the craftsmanship of Aberdeen’s spar makers. During the year, the seaport offers many educational and recreational activities. Ever wanted to sail on a tall ship? If one of the tall ships is in port, sign up for a themed sail or take an onboard tour.
Besides the seafaring community, Aberdeen displays other aspects of its interesting history at the Aberdeen Museum of History. In February 2014, the museum unveiled a statue of Kurt Cobain of the musical group Nirvana fame. Cobain, born in Hoquiam, lived his formative years in Aberdeen. Check out a walking tour of Cobain’s Aberdeen.
At Aberdeen, it’s decision time. Headed out to the coast today, you have two options —journey to Ocean Shores, taking US 101 and WA 109 out to the wide open beaches? Travel via WA 105 to Westport, home of Washington’s largest fishing fleet?
It depends on the experience you want. The beaches at Ocean Shores are wide-open with public access — great for clamming and kite flying as well as driving on the beach.
Ocean Shore’s laid-back atmosphere and beach access provide a pallet to create a DIY adventure. Opportunities for clamming and experiencing the yummy seafood at Mike’s in Ocean Shores are tempting. En route, stop by the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge and learn more about this shore bird habitat. While at Ocean Shores, play on the beach at the Oyhut Wildlife Recreation Area.
If you opt to take WA 105 west, Westport Winery, about half-way en route to Westport, serves up activities for all members of the family, including Fido. Besides a world-class selection of wines available in their tasting room, Westport Winery features a farm-to-fork menu in their dining room occasionally served with live entertainment. Your pet pooch can romp in the dog park adjacent to the parking lot. Kids of all ages enjoy navigating the grape maze or wandering through the sculpture and botanical gardens. If you are not in a big rush to reach the coast, play a game of miniature golf or check out their calendar of events.
Continuing west along WA105, vast expanses of oyster beds peep from the water. These are the farms of Brady’s Oysters, a four-generation family-owned and operated business located immediately west of the Elk River Bridge. Schedule your trip around Brady’s Clean Water Oyster Feed, slated for the second Saturday in September.
If you want to try your hand at catching your own dinner, travel about 10 minutes to the Westport Marina, home to a fleet of charter fishing boats. In season, salmon fishing is permitted in the boat basin. If you visit Float 4 in the boat basin during the fall and winter months, you can see the salmon fingerlings being reared in the pens. These salmon are released in the early spring and eventually return here to their birthplace to spawn.
Like fresh crab? Bring your crab ring or rent one and crab off the floats. Other varieties of fishing abound in the area. Check the local regulations for species and season.
Now that you’ve reached the Pacific Ocean, the journey has just begun. In Westport, there are many sites to see and annual events to attend, such as Pirate Daze. If you feel physically adventurous, climb to the top of Washington’s tallest light house. If you want a less challenging view of the Pacific Ocean, visit the observation tower at Westport Marina for spectacular views of the surf and Grays Harbor.
Or, find a beach, kick off your shoes, dig your toes in the sand, listen to the roar of the surf and inhale that fresh salt air!