Winter in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is considered off-season for some pretty good reasons. It’s gray. It’s rainy. It’s cold. The days are incredibly short—and dark. We arrived in Long Beach Peninsula in December to discover there’s no daylight before 8am, and it gets dark at 4pm.
So why were we there? Also for some good reasons.
We’re house sitters, and homeowners typically leave their homes during off-season to spend those less-pleasant-weather weeks and months elsewhere. Hence, opportunities arise for us when the weather turns and residents vacation.
But, since tourists also vanish during the off-seasons, it makes it easier and more enjoyable to visit an area’s prime attractions and places of interest without the height-of-season traffic.
And finally, being somewhere where it isn’t inviting outside encourages us to stay in and get some work done. It also makes us feel less guilty about not taking advantage of sight seeing. (Well, yeah, the Pacific Ocean is just a block away, but the rain is blowing sideways, so I’ll pass on that beach stroll today.)
Winter Day Trips in the Pacific Northwest
Of course, not every day is gray, rainy, or cold. A sunny day, or even one when it’s not raining, is a sign to get up and go. So, although we usually like to plan our explorations for the weekend, we learned to take our cues from Mother Nature and be ready to go whenever a suitable day came along.
One day we lucked out. It was Sunday and sunny. Time to take a trip down the Oregon Coast! Being on the peninsula, our trip began with the drive across the 4-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge bridge, always a visual treat regardless of weather. This day was clear, and we were able to see many boats and ships transversing the Columbia River.
Heading south off the bridge, we drove to our first stop, Seaside. As the name suggests, this is a touristy beach town, and since it was a lovely day, it was crowded despite being off-season. But those infrequent warm, sunny days in January spur the same dauntless enthusiasm as the first nice spring day. We found a parking spot and savored a good cup of coffee and some seriously delicious donuts at Dundee’s before heading down the main drag toward the beach.
CANNON BEACH, OR
After having a friendly chat with some other tourists also taking photos of the view and landmarks, we continued south toward Cannon Beach. Although the sun had disappeared behind the clouds and the air became much cooler, the famous view of the rock formation was worthy of an extended beach walk.
DRIVING THE OREGON COAST
After about an hour, we continued south to enjoy magnificent views of the Oregon Coast. The temperature kept dropping, but not enough to keep us in the car. We pulled into several lookouts, once to eat the lunch I had packed and once just to gape. We turned to head home as darkness approached, but were buoyed by the notion that we’d be returning to these these spots and more when we took our leisurely drive down the Pacific Coast Highway later in spring.
Another day, another landmark. This area if full of historical and interesting sights to explore.
In keeping with our “If not now, when?” philosophy (and also because we could grow old waiting for the sun to shine at this time of year in the PNW), we visited The Column in Astoria, OR one day when the rain stopped. It was 165 steps up the tower, windy and cold at the top, but you can’t beat the views, even on a gray, overcast day.
Driving cross-country, we discovered almost every town has a historic district. Sometimes it’s blocks long and wide, and other times it’s a street or two. Here’s some of what we found in Historic Oysterville.
DRIVING AIMLESSLY UP THE WASHINGTON COAST
“What happens if we drive north along the Washington coast, instead of our usual route of heading south to explore Oregon?” I asked Joe one morning when we wanted to get out, but didn’t know where to go.
We decided to find out. Sometimes you find the best and most overlooked gems on such an outing. This was not one of those times for me.
Although the trip began with a lovely scenic drive along Willapa Bay, the road curves inland and there’s not much to see or places to stop for potty breaks or coffee. I think we got as far as Raymond before turning around. That’s my take.
Of course Joe sees something of beauty and interest everywhere, so here are two of his takes from the day.
CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT, LONG BEACH PENINSULA, WA
An interesting state park with two lighthouses, many trails, and great scenic lookouts, Cape Disappointment doesn’t seem live up to its name. Of course, the name has historic significance. In 1788, English fur trader John Meares mistakenly thought he had reached a bay instead of the mouth of the great river he was seeking. So, he gave the northern side of the entrance to the river the name Cape Disappointment. His error was corrected several years later by American Robert Gray, who then named the river after his ship, Columbia Rediviva. We went to the park several times, visiting in clear and stormy weather and always found something new to discover.
CHINOOK, SEAVIEW, OCEAN PARK, NAHCOTTA, ILWACO, WA
Off-season limits the things to do on the peninsula, other than hiking trails and fishing. But, I’m a writer, so it I didn’t mind the extra time to stay home and work on this blog or my book. Our view wasn’t too bad, either, and it was only a few blocks to the beach, so nothing to complain about here.
Nothing deters Joe, however. Not only did he go out daily for his trip to the gym, most afternoons he tried to catch sunset light at one of the peninsula’s many water views or just plain interesting stuff that only he sees. Here are some of those highlights. You can see more photo artistry images like these at Gemignani Photo Artistry or his website.