Offbeat beach towns offer spirited personalities, small communities

craig.sailor@thenewstribune.comFebruary 21, 2014 

The bar at Mill 109 in the small community of Seabrook, north of Ocean Shores, attracts a mixed crowd: Tourists, residents, construction workers fresh off the job. And on this particular Friday night, a pony-tailed gentleman wearing a bow tie.

The crowd, as I came to discover, was emblematic of Washington’s north coast. It’s a long stretch of road and sand that attracts millionaires and penny-pinchers, partiers and those longing to part from hectic urban lives.

For a recent weekend trip, I made my base in Pacific Beach, a small town of beach homes and a naval resort. I began my tour just north of Ocean Shores.

 

OCEAN CITY STATE PARK

 

This 170-acre camping park goes from the wild and windy Pacific to calm inland waterways in less than half a mile. It has varied terrain of beach, dunes and dense thickets of trees.

Where: Ocean City State Park, 148 State Route 115, Ocean Shores.

Park hours: 6 a.m.-dusk in summer, 8 a.m.-dusk in winter.

Admission: Entry fee or Discover Pass required.

 

OCEAN CITY

 

Ocean City is little more than a bend in the road on state Route 109.

At that bend is the Ocean City Market Place, owned by Ivan and Ramona Hess. There’s a small tchotchke store on site, but the vast majority of the property is a chain-saw carving gallery.

“Bears,” Ivan said when asked what his most popular item is. “Everybody buys a bear. There’s got to be millions of them out there.”

But there’s more than just bears for sale. Two large Bigfoots flanked either side of the collection. “Everybody’s just started to get into them,” Ivan said, eyeing the wooden Sasquatches. No, he hadn’t seen one in real life but, “I’d like to. There isn’t much going on around here.”

The Hesses don’t carve themselves. Instead they invite chain-saw artists to take up residencies at their site.

On the day of my visit, the day before the Super Bowl, I found Tony Robinson carving a slightly less-than-life-size sculpture of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. With surgical skill, Robinson brought Wilson to wooden life. Nearby, a variety of Sasquatches took different poses.

“I carve all sorts of Bigfoots,” Robinson said. “Hawk-Squatch, Beer-Squatch, Hitchhiker-Squatch … .” He has to carve from imagination. He, too, has yet to see a real one.

 

CLAMMING

 

My visit coincided with two back-to-back nights of clamming season. In winter, the beaches of the north coast can be so deserted that even the sneakiest tsunami would claim few victims. But when clamming is going on, it’s almost as if Coney Island has relocated to the Pacific.

Following the tracks of other cars, I steered mine out onto the sand at Roosevelt Beach, just south of Seabrook. Crowds of people, as far as the eye could see north and south, were digging for razor clams. As the sun set, lanterns were turned on. Some clammers put flashing strobes on their cars to locate them on the long stretches of beach.

More information: The state Department of Fish and Wildlife sets clamming times. Go to tinyurl.com/WaRazorClams to get the lowdown.

 

SEABROOK AND MILL 109

 

When it got too late to shoot photos and too likely that I would drive into a sand trap, I headed to Seabrook for dinner. Seabrook, just south of Pacific Beach, is a 10-year-old picturesque small town that was planned from the very first survey stake. It’s an example of new urbanism. The motto here might be, “A quaint place for everything and everything quaint in its place.”

Many of the homes in the development, a recent Sunset magazine “idea town,” are in a rental pool. A market, pet store, boutique, bike rental and do-it-yourself pottery store line the small commercial district. At one end is the town’s only restaurant, Mill 109.

I couldn’t leave without having a plate of fresh Roosevelt Beach razor clams ($21), no digging required. The large, lightly breaded and pan-fried clams were succulent and meaty. Dinner entrees (steak, Cornish game hen, salmon and others) run from $16 to $26. Burgers, salads and fish and chips also are on the menu.

Seabrook: 360-276-0099, seabrookwa.com

Mill 109: 360-276-4884, mill109.com

 

PACIFIC BEACH

 

Pacific Beach is a laid-back town of beach cottages and a couple of motels. The south end is taken up by Pacific Beach State Park, a 10-acre camping park right on the ocean. It seems to be a favorite with clammers who had the park packed on my visit. The park provides great ocean access as well as a quick walk to downtown Pacific Beach.

Pacific Beach doesn’t have much of a retail core — just a few blocks. The centerpiece is a business called the Wacky Warehouse.

Inside, I found a collection typical to a second-hand store: furniture, used paperbacks, art that should never grace a person’s home again. But to the left was a small stage set up with a combo, another room held a small hardware store, and to the right was a radio station.

Yes, you read that correctly. I found myself standing in what could be the world’s only combination thrift store, hardware store and radio station.

It was then that I recognized the proprietor as the pony-tailed bow-tie wearing gentleman from the night before at Mill 109.

James Preisinger, 58, started the Warehouse in 1997 when he “escaped” Seattle for a quieter life.

“This is the last town on the whole West Coast that hasn’t been yuppified,” Preisinger said.

A few years later he started broadcasting a low-power bootleg radio station from a booth inside the store. Everything went fine until one day when a couple of “white shirts” from the Federal Communications Commission showed up. “They looked really bureaucratic,” he recalls. “I just reached up and unplugged everything.”

The FCC allowed Preisinger to go legit and now the 100-watt radio station broadcasts to anything within a 10-mile radius. KXPB (89.1 FM) runs mostly on automatic with a varied and eccentric playlist, but “there ain’t no rap or hip hop,” he said.

Preisinger calls himself The Rev. Dr. Mr. Wacky when he plays DJ on the radio. He puts out the town’s newspaper, The Wacky World Reporter, when he can and houses the town’s food bank. He also is trying to establish a collection of greenhouses made out of old telephone booths. He has two so far.

Michael Quercia is Preisinger’s partner in the greenhouse venture. She (yes, Michael is a woman) owns a small boutique, Dandy, near the Warehouse.

“I just pick up things I like. And sometimes things I don’t like because I think someone else might like it,” Quercia said in her small and color-filled shop.

Wacky Warehouse: 48 Main St, Pacific Beach, 360-276-4200

Dandy: 44 Main St., Pacific Beach, 360-581-1943

 

MOCLIPS

 

Moclips is the last outpost on the north shore before state Route 109 enters the forests of the Quinault Indian Reservation. At the northern edge of town, along the bank of the Moclips River, is the Hi-Tide Ocean Beach Resort.

The resort has 33 condos, 21 of which are in a rental pool. Each has a deck that looks out to the ocean. Trails snake through woods and to the beach and river. A clam-cleaning shack borders the parking lot. Off-season rates start at $119.

Hi-Tide Ocean Beach Resort: 4890 Railroad Ave., Moclips, 360-276-4142, hi-tide-resort.com

 

MUSEUM OF THE NORTH BEACH

 

My final stop in Moclips was at the area’s only den of history, the Museum of the North Beach. It kind of feels like Grandpa’s attic. All sorts of historical artifacts, photos and ephemera fill the space.

On my visit, three volunteers were ready to lead tours and answer questions. One of them, executive director Kelly Calhoun, told me that a branch of the Northern Pacific Railroad once reached Moclips from Hoquiam. It brought early 1900s tourists to a large hotel on the beach — until a series of storms tore the building apart. The last of the tracks was pulled out in 1985.

An ocean event of a different kind, the 2011 Japanese tsunami, is responsible for some of the artifacts on display. A green pallet with Japanese writing is outside the museum. Inside is a head from a mannequin. Calhoun found it in July 2012 between Pacific Beach and Seabrook.

Museum of the North Beach: 4658 State Route 109, Moclips, 360-276-4441, moclips.org

Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through April 30; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays during the summer.

 

ONE LAST STOP

 

Before I called it a weekend and headed home for the Super Bowl, I stopped in at Emily’s Confections in Pacific Beach. Jim Earp owns and runs the pink-painted place that’s named after his granddaughter. He sells sandwiches, fudge, and baked goods and will make you breakfast or lunch. After he handed me a latte, he brought out a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and insisted I have one, free of charge.

Emily’s Confections: 40 Main St., Pacific Beach, 360-276-4664

 

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541
craig.sailor@thenewstribune.com

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