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Celebrating People, Places & the Good Life in SW Washington State
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Discovering Main Street: In Appreciation of Small Towns

Foster Church has it right. The Pulitzer Prize winner has published a new book of essays Discovering Main Street – Travel Adventures in Small Towns of The Northwest (Oregon State Press, 2010). I love it when he writes about visiting small towns in the introduction:

Usually we pass through them on the road to someplace else…Enjoying a small town is more than seeing the sights. Just as important is absorbing the culture of the place: having breakfast in a cafe, dropping in on local meetings, attending a rodeo, an ice cream social, a high school sporting event or a little theater production.

We all have choices. We can visit the places where tourists flock or we can explore the burgs that are ignored by the masses. It is our gain when we pull off the main highway. The richness of visiting a community that is bypassed for flashier locations is immense. The surprises, the conversations, the friendly people, the sincere interest in YOU not how much you might spend, create far more meaning and memories in my opinion.

Foster Church has written about more than 50 such communities in his book. Most are in Oregon, not surprising because he was a reporter for The Oregonian for years. But five are located in southern Washington State – Ilwaco, South Bend, White Salmon, Lyle and Dayton.

Of these small towns, ZEST has posted about Ilwaco (think cranberries, museums and bookstores) and South Bend. Future trips are planned to White Salmon and Lyle. Dayton is a little outside the ZEST geographic area but certainly worth a visit.

So what does Foster say about our Washington communities? Some favorite comments of mine:

Ilwaco – From his book: “Water is all around and the culture of water is everywhere—at the Ilwaco Marina, in the two lighthouses that beam warnings from the edge of Cape Disappointment State Park, in the oysters taken from the bay , the fish harvested from the ocean and in the river that surges past the town.”

Ilwaco is a favorite place of mine. Watching the marina from a harbor restaurant or bar as a storm blows is a fine pastime. Perusing the stacks at Time Enough Books where yellow lab, Harper Lee lounges, is a great afternoon. Picking up a fresh cooked whole crab at OleBob’s. Wandering through the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum. This is a town that no one should breeze through without exploring.

A small corner of the scenic Ilwaco Marina

South Bend – Foster actually writes as much about Bay Center as South Bend but the whole area is a great place to explore. He writes “You have to accept a gray-green world to live on Willapa Bay. You should also have a taste for oysters. Raw or fried, an oyster can make up for a lot of gray.”

It’s true, oysters are the stars of the area. We found that the Chester Tavern, which has been raved about in the New York Times, and River View Dining provided life-altering oyster dinners for us. We will never think about the bivalves in the same way again. They were that good.

Barbequed oysters at River View Dining in South Bend.

I would love to read Foster’s take on other SW Washington communities like Ocean Park, Longview, Centralia and Chehalis, Cathlamet, Camas, Stevenson and other small towns. All provide fertile ground for exploration.

Towns change quickly. Cafes and bars come and go. Some businesses close, others open. But starting with Discovering Main Street is an excellent way to get going, if not about specific sites, perhaps about cultivating an attitude of discovery. Your experience will be different than Foster’s or than mine. That’s just fine. These small, often overlooked towns, will make their own impressions on you, one community, one shopkeeper, one meal at a time.

December 12, 2010   2 Comments

Adventures on Washington State’s Cranberry Coast, Part I

I love cranberries.  With about 30 percent of West Coast cranberry farms located along the Southwest Washington coast, it makes perfect sense that we have The Cranberry Coast to visit.

I thought this area could be easily explored in one trip. I was wrong. There is a LOT happening in this part of the state. This is Part I.

Thursday Afternoon and Evening
We leave Vancouver on a one of those frying, triple-digit July days. As we pull out of Chehalis on SR6, after our ritual stop at the Dairy Barn for milkshakes, the Wachovia clock reads 100 degrees. By the time we get to Raymond in Pacific County, less than an hour from I-5, we are down to a cool, marine 67 degrees. The Cranberry Coast is looking good already.

The Elegant Russell House

4 p.m. An Elegant Bed and Breakfast in “The Oyster Capital of the World” Our host Beverley warmly welcomes us at the historic Russell House Bed and Breakfast in South Bend. Russell House is a stunning 1891 Victorian home, built by John Russell as a 25th anniversary gift for his wife, overlooking South Bend and the Willapa River. Beverley has graciously agreed to store our tent camper and kayaks in the backyard while we are exploring the area. We settle in to the Bay Room with its turret window seat and spectacular view of the river.

6:30 p.m. Well-worn tavern, good beer, succulent oysters. Beverley recommends two diners in town for great oysters. We start with dinner at Chester Club and Oyster Bar, which more than one person points out has been written about in The New York Times. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us. A few older guys are hanging out at the bar, occasionally wandering out to smoke and greet a very popular dog in a pickup. When I taste my first oyster, I slap the table. It’s that good. Lightly battered and fried but not greasy. And it’s matched perfectly with Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale. I hope The New York Times was very, very kind to this bar. They deserve it.

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September 4, 2009   4 Comments