LONG BEACH, Wash. » You could always count on Long Beach, on the Washington coast, for being an old-school beach town. And it’s all still there: the go-cart track. The kitschy Marsh’s Free Museum, home to plaster-cast Jake the Alligator Man. Saltwater taffy in 50 flavors. But on this sandy peninsula just north of the Columbia River jetty, the ocean breeze is shifting. A new generation is bringing a younger vibe to the beach. You’ll find it in some of the renovated hotels and restaurants, an artisan bakery, the new North Jetty craft brewery, even a decades-old cranberry farm now run by the new guard who’ve made it the state’s first certified-organic cranberry operation.
IT’S THE BERRIES
Jared Oakes, 34, grew up next door to the cranberry farm he now manages with his wife, Jessica Tantisook, 28, a transplant from Nashville, Tenn. Oakes said the cranberry industry traditionally has used lots of pesticides to fight insects, such as the intimidatingly named black-headed fireworm, and herbicides to fight bog-loving weeds.
"People said you can’t grow any other way," he said. But as the couple, accompanied by their Australian cattle dog, Yarrow, and pound mutt, Rudder, showed me around a patch of 60-year-old vines adorned with berries like dark-red pearls, they told of using spring flooding to drown pest eggs. Nearby, a helper laboriously weeded by hand.
They named their operation Starvation Alley Farms, after the historic nickname for the road edging the farm where hardworking migrant farmers lived during the Great Depression.
After starting as novices four years ago, the couple soon needed to squeeze more income from their faltering operation. Marketing pure, pucker-inducing cranberry juice — not the sweetened juice cocktail most people know from their supermarket — was their answer.
"We were using a home juicer at first," recalled Tantisook, who earned an MBA with an emphasis in sustainable food systems. "It was a disaster, with really dark juice staining everything. Pulp was all over the place."
But catching the craft-cocktail wave as it swept the Northwest literally saved the farm.
"It was huge," Oakes said. A good number of cocktails use cranberry juice, and Seattle bars quickly embraced an organic, top-quality, pretty-much-local product.
Visitors to Long Beach can buy Starvation Alley juice at the farm’s store/office just off the Bolstad Avenue beach approach and at several other outlets on the peninsula (you can also find it at the Ballard Farmers Market).
Or sample it in a craft cocktail at Pickled Fish, the oceanfront restaurant atop Long Beach’s Adrift Hotel, a hip and eco-pure lodging co-owned by Oakes’ sister, Tiffany Turner.
The Adrift, where I stayed, opened two years ago after Turner and her husband, Brady Turner, both 35, bought and stripped to its bones the former Edgewater Hotel, on the Sid Snyder Drive beach approach.
The renovated hotel features modern, minimalist decor using reclaimed products. It caters to an active, outdoorsy crowd with amenities such as free cruiser bikes to ride on the beachfront Discovery Trail.
I liked the fall special, offered through November: room discounts along with a free beach bonfire kit, complete with a bottle of wine and all the fixings for s’mores — including Theo chocolate. My wife and I picked up hot dogs to roast and called it dinner our first night (use the promotional code "FALLBONFIRE").
"I’ve grown into the belief that business for good can change the world," Tiffany Turner said of her hotel, where every room comes with a recycling bin (800-561-2456, adrifthotel.com).
How has the old-school business community greeted that ethic?
"When we first started, it was, ‘Aw, those crazy kids!’ But now people are starting to pay attention," Turner said.
A mile and a half down the beach, the mantle has been passed at another area hostelry, Seaview’s venerable Sou’wester Lodge, built in 1892. From 1980, Len and Miriam Atkins owned and managed it with a bohemian flair for more than 30 years until they were both in their 80s. Portlander Thandi Rosenbaum took over in 2012.
Rosenbaum, 41, shares a background with the Atkinses, who came via Israel from South Africa (Thandi means "love" in Zulu). An artist who formerly worked with Portland’s Laika stop-motion animation studio (known for "ParaNorman" and other films), she sees her role as steward of the lodge, which includes a fleet of vintage travel trailers available for guests.
She is bringing change not so much in character as in new roofs.
She has also recently added a pristine sauna/spa complex, and spotlights an artists-in-residence program with special weekly rates for artists who come in winter.
For the future? "We’d like to find a way to pull in local traditions and culture, and we’d like to do that with food," Rosenbaum said. (360-642-2542, souwesterlodge.com)
Brian J. Cantwell, Seattle Times
|IF YOU GO …
A FEEL FOR THE PLACE
Indigenous people of the Chinook tribes populated this coast before Lewis and Clark completed their wanderings in 1805 by trekking up the beach to where Long Beach sits today. At the north end of the dune-hugging Discovery Trail, look for the bronze "Clark’s Tree" sculpture replicating a tree in which the famous captain carved his name.
WHAT LOCALS SAY
There’s plenty of development, but the Long Beach Peninsula still has wildlife.
"We had a bear the other night, right out here by the condos," said Ed Gray, proprietor of Banana Books. "I called (the police), and they asked, ‘Is he aggressive?’ I said, ‘Aggressive, hell, it’s in downtown Long Beach, how aggressive does it have to be?’"
WHAT’S IN A NAME
First platted by Henry Harrison Tinker as "Tinkerville" in 1880, the town was incorporated in 1922 as Long Beach, reflecting the peninsula’s unbroken 28-mile-long sandy shoreline, claimed to be the longest in the United States (or the world, according to an inscription on one beach-entry arch). Locals also claim it to be the longest beach on which cars may drive — something to bear in mind if you’re looking for a safe place for kids to build a sand castle. Some drivers brazenly flout the beach’s 25 mph speed limit; enforcement is rare.
BY THE NUMBERS
Long Beach is 171 miles, or about three hours by car, from Seattle. The town has about 1,350 residents. In the 2010 census, 25 percent of the population was 65 or older; 29 percent was 18 to 44.
3 SHOPS WORTH A STOP
» Head for Banana Books if you run out of reading material on a stormy weekend or if you need a fix of feline attention from one of the shop’s seven cats. "We’re half a cat from hoarding," admits proprietor Ed Gray. (Beware of Bipolar Lily, who can get cantankerous when you stop petting her.) Browse thousands of used books or pick up some custom-crafted earrings by co-owner Mary Johnson. Opens "around noon." 114 Third St. SW; 360-642-7005.
» Is the wind blowing on the beach? When isn’t it? At Wind World Kites you can pick up a flashy little angelfish kite for a few bucks or spring for an eye-popping 15-foot pterosaur ($279). Proprietor Ron Welty has sold kites for more than 30 years, from Key West to Long Beach. 115 Pacific Ave. S; 360-642-KITE.
» Marsh’s Free Museum has taffy as well as any souvenir you could possibly hope for. Besides the plaster-cast Jake the Alligator Man, there’s also a trove of vintage coin-op arcade machines, ranging from the Seeburg Orchestrion (which is not only a player piano, but also features flute, violin, drums, castanets and more, for a buck a play) to the somewhat disturbing "Drunkard’s Dream," a Prohibition-era machine in which a mere quarter brings animated devils and ghouls emerging from miniature beer barrels to frighten a lonely sot. 409 Pacific Ave.; 360-642-2188, marshsfreemuseum.com.
3 PLACES TO EAT
» Streetside Taco opened in July in a quaint cottage on Long Beach’s main drag, and it’s easy to grab a sackful (three for $6) and go sit on a beach log for lunch. Owner David Allen, who moved from California to escape the rat race, prepares ingredients fresh daily with authentic Mexi cali flavors. 609 Pacific Ave. S; 360-244-5949.
» After two years doing a farmers market stand, Madeline Dickerson opened her storefront Pink Poppy Bakery on the main beach approach last fall. It’s more whole-grain than you might expect from a beach bakery, and taste-bud-pleasing (try the maple-oat-pecan cookies and brown-sugar shortbread). 203 Bolstad Ave.; 360-244-2487, pinkpoppybakeryandfarm.us.
» Reserve a table at the popular Pickled Fish and get the peninsula’s best sunset view along with a platter of Willapa Bay oysters, each fresh bivalve crossing the palate like a breath of salty north wind. Atop the Adrift Hotel; 360-642-2344, adrifthotel.com/pickled-fish/pickled-fish1.htm.
A MUSEUM WORTH A VISIT
Curious about how cranberry sauce gets to your table every November? Visit the free Pacific Coast Cranberry Museum and take a self-guided tour of the adjacent cranberry farm where Washington State University conducts research. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily April 1-Dec. 15. 2907 Pioneer Road; 360-642-5553, cranberrymuseum.com.
Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau: 800-451-2542, funbeach.com.