Our Fall getaway to Grayland, WA: A cranberry harvest festival, a crusty old beach town, delicious oysters, and a pumpkin patch.
We wanted a relaxing and fun fall getaway in October, 2013. Our last trip to the Washington coast was Ocean Shores, which left much to be desired (in our opinion). We opted for the lesser-visited Grayland, a tiny beach town just south of Westport.
I looked on the map and found an old hotel on the beach (the closest one to the actual beach that I could see) called the Walsh Motel. There wasn’t much about it on Tripadvisor yet, and their website didn’t have a ton of photos. The price was right at $95 a night for a room with a kitchen, fireplace, ocean view and king sized bed, so we went for it. We expected old and outdated, but were hoping for charm. The website doesn’t take reservations, so we called and did it the old fashioned way. The man on the phone was super friendly and suggested room 26, that was one of the best ones. We booked it.
The Walsh Motel has two kinds of accommodations–the beach front hotel part, which is non smoking, no pets, and no kids (great find for the childfree set!) and cabins that are not beachfront that allow smoking, pets, and kids. From the few reviews we read, the cabins are a very cheap, family friendly way to go…..but are pretty old and run down.
We left Seattle in the afternoon on a Friday, and traffic wasn’t too bad, it was around a 3 hour drive. We arrived in Grayland starving and ready to go get some dinner. Check in was easy, we pulled into the Walsh Motel office and a friendly, laid-back woman checked us in (I’m guessing the co-owner, it seems like a couple owns it and lives in the house attached to the office). We pre-paid, were given a key and directions to the hotel at the end of the drive, and went to check in.
The room was older for sure, as expected. It was very clean, however and a bundle of wood was included for the fireplace. The kitchen had just about everything we needed, although we brought a few pans and utensils just in case.
We quickly unloaded our car and then drove down the road to Bennett’s Restaurant for dinner. It was completely packed with a wait at the door. The staff was doing a great job, and while it took us a little while for the host to get us on the list they kept track of who was next very well. Unfortunately there were a lot of rude customers and we felt bad for the staff. We’ve worked in restaurants in a tourist town, and we sympathize. The host brought drinks to anyone who wanted them. We had some wine while we waited, which was nice.
We were finally seated around 8:30, and ordered some food. They have a lot of seafood options, and I decided to go for the captain’s platter of fried clam strips, fish, and shrimp. It came with a salad, sauteed vegetables, bread, and a baked potato. Paddy had a steak which came with the same sides. It was a little pricey, but all really good and at that point, we were famished. I had to take some of my captain’s platter with us, it was so huge.
After dinner we went back to the room and attempted a fire in the fireplace. There was only a small stack of newspaper, and no kindling. We couldn’t get it going. We made a note to buy some fire starter sticks the next day.
The TV was small, and kind of in an awkward spot at the side of the bed. We tried moving it, but it didn’t work out. There was a small dresser near it, however and we moved that to the foot of the bed and put our laptop on it to watch a spooky movie. It worked out fine.
We’ve always kind of dreamed about buying an old hotel or resort and making it over. Since the owners were about our age, I’m guessing that is what they are doing. We looked at the room and thought about what we would do with it if it was our place.
The first thing we’d do is put new mattresses, the mattress was pretty old and creaky and my back wasn’t so happy by the time we left. I’d also get rid of the 1980’s polyester floral hotel bedspreads and trade them in for down comforters and duvet covers. Huge upgrade right there. Some flat screen TVs and DVD players would be a good addition, and after that–just some cosmetic upgrades. My mind gets all craftsy….adirondack chairs on the deck? An end table made from driftwood? Fishing nets and bouys strung over the deck railing? Maybe someday we’ll buy a small resort and re-vamp it.
The next morning we slept in a bit, and then I baked off some homemade cheddar biscuits using the ingredients and recipes we brought. Paddy made a chicken sausage gravy and scrambled eggs and we had breakfast with an ocean view.
One of our reasons for choosing Grayland this particular weekend in October was the Grayland Cranberry Harvest Festival. Washington State grows so many cranberries on the coast (Ocean Spray is located here) and I have never in my life seen a cranberry bog or where they come from. We also happen to love all things cranberry, and I have recently become a novice canner and wanted to get some cranberries to can homemade cranberry sauce for the holidays.
Our first stop was the community hall in Grayland, where the “festival” was going on. It was a small town community festival, with cranberry products being sold–bath products, baked goods, jams and jellies, etc. There were some people setting up food stands outside for later.
They were also offering bog tours for $7.50 per person. The tours left several times during the day in a small school bus to a bog down the road. We were wondering if we could see a bog on our own, without a long tour. We left and drove down the road, seeing the school bus tour group getting an explanation of the cranberry picking machine that was invented by a farmer in Grayland in the 1930’s. We quickly realized that every block was a bog, and you can walk right up to them and take a look at the berries yourself. It was pretty interesting.
After we marveled at the cranberries (Paddy sampled one raw, he doesn’t recommend it), we continued driving up a big hill out of curiosity about the area. We found a plot of land that was recently cleared for building with a fantastic view of the bogs, which made for a great photo opportunity.
After taking in the view, we drove back to the main road and continued south to Tokeland. On the way, we pulled into the Nelson Crab Company to check out the seafood selection for dinner that night. We didn’t purchase any seafood but we did buy two lbs of cranberries for canning.
It being October and all, the month with the best holiday of the year, we followed a friend’s suggestion of visiting the supposedly haunted Tokeland Hotel. There are stories of ghost sightings, dinner plates in the restaurant spinning in the air on their own, and a supposed murder of a prostitute that occurred in room number 7 in the early 1900’s, which is related to the haunting.
We walked in, expecting to be greeted or shown a menu, but no staff members were at the front desk or paid us any mind. We wandered around the creepy living room with a skeleton lounging in a chair, and took a look at the antiques on display. No one came out to talk to us, so we left.
Near the hotel was a house with one of the most magnificent driftwood sculptures of a horse I’ve ever seen, and some little shacks selling seafood.
Next, we continued out tour back north past Grayland to the neighboring town of Westport. Paddy and I had been to Westport before years ago, and I have to say I do like it better than Ocean Shores. There is some meager attempts at tourism in the town, with a tiny aquarium and a few boardwalk souvenir and saltwater taffy shops. Overall though, it is a crusty old fishing town that time forgot. It has lots of local color without the big hotels and family fun time obnoxiousness of Ocean Shores. It is what it is, without apology. And we kind of love it that way.
We stopped at the local grocery store in Westport (there isn’t one in Grayland) and picked up some ingredients for dinner that night. On the way back towards Grayland, we made a stop at the Cranberry Road Winery. They produce two types of cranberry wine–a regular cranberry wine and a cranberry cinnamon wine. Both were very good and we bought a bottle of the cinnamon wine to enjoy with our families at Christmas. They do sell the wine in stores in Seattle as well.
After wine tasting, we took one last detour to Brady’s Oysters to pick up some oysters for oyster stew. Brady’s Oysters is a little family-owned roadside oyster farm and cannery, just outside of Grayland. We purchased some fresh oysters and smoked oysters for dinner, and a can of smoked oysters to take home. If you like oysters and seafood, Brady’s is definitely worth a stop.
We were hungry and felt like relaxing awhile. so I re-heated my dinner leftovers in the oven and made us some bloody marys.
We read books for a little while (I was reading the original Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in honor of my favorite holiday of the year). After a little rest and some damn fine bloody marys, we went out for a walk on the beach.
They don’t call it Grayland for nothing. In the winter the gray sky, sand, and ocean all meld together into one big black and white photograph of a landscape. It is beautiful in it’s own humble way.
Grayland is also a great spot for clamming, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’ve never tried it, but a friend of mine has all the gear and loves digging for razor clams on the coast in the winter. The season is winter only, and you have to get an inexpensive permit. The Walsh Motel has an outdoor shellfish cleaning sink for guest use as well. I think we may have to come back and try it sometime.
In the evening, Paddy made some oyster stew from a recipe that he modified a bit. We used smoked oysters and regular, and it turned out really good. (**Tip: a little beer in oyster stew really brings out the flavor as well). The sun came out a bit and I went back to the beach to catch a few sunset photos.
We sat and ate our oyster stew and watched the brilliant fall sunset from the window. It was a perfect cozy fall evening.
We had remembered the fire starter sticks for the fire, and we got one going no problem. We set the laptop up on the dresser at the end of the bed again and watched a bunch of episodes of American Horror Story with only the firelight. It was a spooky good time.
In the morning we ate some leftover biscuits and gravy, packed up, left Grayland and drove half an hour east to Aberdeen, WA. We’d been through Aberdeen many times but never drove by Kurt Cobain’s childhood home, so we thought we’d stop off for a quick view. There it was, 1210 E First Street. Not much else to report.
We continued east about 15 minutes to Montesano and made a stop at the Shaffner Farms Pumpkin Patch to pick up pumpkins for our annual pumpkin carving party the following weekend. I’m a sucker for all that cutsey poo fall stuff like pumpkins and cider. Paddy is a good sport about it.
It was a spooky foggy fall morning, perfect setting for pumpkin picking. We were some of the first visitors to arrive, and we were loaded onto a tractor and driven a short ways out to the pumpkin field to find our pumpkins.
After pumpkins were selectively chosen, we were trekked back to the farm where other vegetables, gourds, and pumpkin carving accessories were for sale. We purchased our pumpkins and hot cider and got back on the road back to Seattle.
Overall, we had a really good time in Grayland. There’s not a lot of stuff to do there, but we would go back. It’s not as nice as Cannon Beach, Oregon, but it’s also way less expensive. If you like cranberries, fresh seafood, beaches, and relaxing, it’s a good Northwest getaway. Grayland and Westport still retain their local, crusty old beach town character, and we’re all about that.