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Wild, Wild Westport

by Kate Calamusa
Westport Feature
Photo by Paulina Kozokov

[King of the Beach]

There’s nothing quite like standing on top of the Observation Tower at Westport Marina to watch a king tide roll in from the Pacific. These seasonally occurring tides, which sometimes coincide with winter winds for added extra oomph, put on a real show as an influx of surf hits the break wall, sending seawater high in the air. The ocean roars with a vengeance, the sea spray kisses your face with the flying salt—it’s all something to behold and the tower provides a front-row seat to the action, while still being relatively protected. This month, you can take in the biggest tides of the season on January 11th, 12th, and 13th, around mid-day, with the January 12th tide expected to be the largest swell of the year at a whopping 10.9 feet. Elsewhere you can still experience winter’s often raw power among the sand dunes at Westhaven State Park nearby, where “wind leaning” is known to be a bit of a recreational sport; layer up, dig in your heels, and try to stay upright in the blow!

Westport Lighthouse
Photo by Ethan Grey

[Light the Way]

Time to get your steps in, 135 of them to be exact: That’s how many stairs you’ll climb to reach the top of the Grays Harbor Lighthouse, which stretches towards the sky to an impressive height of 107 feet, making it the state’s tallest. Completed in 1898, the historic lighthouse recently celebrated its 125th anniversary year and still boasts a wealth of original features and details. The walls at the base of the octagonal structure are four feet thick, tapering off to an 18-inch width as you climbthe original, self-supporting staircase. Forged of cast-iron crafted by a San Francisco-based boiler works manufacturer, this stunning circular case also features artistic landing brackets that are worth an inspection when you need a breather along the way. At the lantern room level, you’ll also find the original clamshell-shaped Fresnel lens built in Paris circa 1895, a rarity in lighthouses nowadays, and at the very top, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with 360-degree views of the ocean and area beaches. Do note: The lighthouse is only open Fridays through Sundays in the winter, so plan accordingly; visitors who can provide proof of valid admission to the nearby affiliated Westport Maritime Museum can receive $1 off the very inexpensive $5 fee.

[Finders, Keepers]

The beachcombing doesn’t get much better than on these sandy shores, which stretch for miles. Not only do those aforementioned king tides bring in all sorts of flotsam and jetsam to be discovered, but treasure hunters might also be able to spy one of the thousand Japanese fishing floats up for grabs during the annual #Wildfloats hunt. Beginning this month and going through Memorial Day weekend, a flotilla of floats will be released on area beaches by local “float fairies” for beachcombers to uncover and take home as keepsakes. Put on by the Westport South Beach Historical Society, the beloved annual event draws locals and visitors alike to South Beach in pursuit of the beautiful floats dropped in the drink in batches that then come ashore with the tide. The glass floats can often be found right on the sand or lurking amongst the pieces of driftwood that dot the shoreline. The orbs—which were mostly sourced from tsunami clean-up in Japan—are true working floats made from recycled sake bottles and thus found in a range of gorgeous green hues. If you are looking for tips, stop by the Westport Maritime Museum (more details in the next section!) to check out the collection of South Beach-combed floats as well as unique collector floats before setting out on the hunt.

[Museums of Curiosities]

The Westport Maritime Museum, located across five different former U.S. Coast Guard station buildings near the Westport Marina, is a classic haunt for maritime enthusiasts and it’s little wonder why. Chock full of exhibits that explore the history of South Beach, the aforementioned Grays Harbor Lighthouse, Pacific Northwest divisions of the U.S. Coast Guard, area shipwrecks, rescue operations, and local whaling and fishing industries, the museum also highlights natural history elements like beach erosion, marine mammals, and even a knot-tying display. (As a tip, the incredibly knowledgeable staffers are always ready to help, even beyond museum-related questions, whether you need directions or a restaurant recommendation.) Twelve miles north you’ll find another favorite: the International Mermaid Museum, a decidedly quirky outpost that aims to educate about ocean ecology, all wrapped up with a side of mermaid mythology. There’s as much to peruse outside as in, as the museum boasts an impressive display of outdoor sculptures from local artists and is located on the same grounds as the award-winning Westport Winery Garden Resort. Museum guests are welcome to wander the 15 acres of gardens there or enjoy a bite to eat at the Seagrass Grill. Finally, for another look at one of Washington’s interesting industries, pop into the historic Cranberry Museum. Originally built in 1933, the museum building houses an array of cranberry products and provisions. You’ll also find a few historic Furford Pickers, a harvesting device invented here in 1957 and still utilized in cranberry production today.

[Sea Fare]

If you are in town to take in a king tide, you’d be remiss not to dine at The King Tide, a family-owned bakery and pub located near the marina that offers down-home, stick-to-your-ribs style fare like grilled cheese and tomato soup, chicken pot pie, meatloaf, and jambalaya, in addition to nightly dinner specials. (Weekenders rejoice: The Saturday lasagna and Sunday evening pot roasts are real standouts.) On the same block, you’ll find Merino’s Seafood, a longtime standby for locally caught seafood and canned provisions like smoked salmon and albacore tuna; take those home for later after you lunch on some of the marketplace’s truly stellar fish n’ chips, a Dungeness crab melt, or really go for it with a helping of hearty chowder poutine. For a unique fusion of Hawaiian meets Pacific Northwest meets Southern barbecue cuisine, pop over to Aloha Alabama on the next block, where you can savor bright and fresh poke bowls, crispy fish tacos, or pulled pork platters, all under one very charming roof.

Westport Feature Image
Photo by Zac Gudakov

[Catch a Wave]

The surfing community is all in on Westport. One of the more reliable spots in the state to catch a wave, there is not one, not two, but three main surf breaks all located in the area, they are known as the Jetty, the Cove, and the Groins. The Jetty, located at Westhaven State Park, is often the most happening as the beach faces due west and picks up more swell than the other two spots. Locals and advanced surfers can often be spied taking off from the so-called “First Peak,” a wave that bounces off the jetty with reliability; beginners would do well to contact the local BigFoot Surf School that offers classes and lessons for newbies in this spot as well. (The state park also recently renovated the bathrooms and showers located in the parking area; a nice feature after a chilly ride.) Around the corner from the Jetty is a crescent-shaped stretch of sand and seemingly quiet bay known as the Cove. During the summer, this is a great spot for stand-up paddle boarding, and in winter and spring, swells are large enough to carry waves into the bay and all the way to shore. Then, located past the marina at the northern end of Westport is the break nicknamed the Groins. These series of five rock jetties were built to protect the marina from the constant swells that enter Grays Harbor. Here, quality rides await those willing to climb over the rocks and paddle out. Both the Cove and Groins are best suited to more experienced surfers, but those with hours under their belts especially enjoy winter surfing here, as cold fronts can create waves in the double overhead range, providing true tests for the intrepid and bold.

>> For more travel ideas, activities, dining options, and lodging recommendations, visit the city of Westport’s tourism website: experiencewestport.com.

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