Highway 101 is nearly 1,550 miles long, populated with cities and landmarks most people from around the world know of — whether or not they’ve ever actually been to them.
The highway does a good job of connecting all these places, making exploring the coastline of the western U.S. attainable in a single road trip. It cuts through Downtown Los Angeles, rises north of the San Francisco Bay on the Golden Gate Bridge, weaves through the Northern California wine regions and redwood forests and continues up through Oregon and Washington, tracing their rocky coastline eventually ending not far from Seattle.
But, there are towns and landmarks along the many miles of the Western expanse people don’t know of. These are the towns and communities Highway 101 doesn’t invade, making them quiet in nature, yet still home to many along the coast. And I’d argue that these are the same places that make the West Coast a little more special than just a red bridge and skyscrapers on the beach.
They’re places like Oysterville, Washington.
Piles of shells and history
When driving into Oysterville, you are met with piles of oyster shells — immediately explaining its namesake and the reason for settlement in the area. Before European settlement, the Chinook enjoyed the abundance of oysters on this peninsula located in the Pacific Northwest.
In April of 1854, R.H. Espy and I.A. Clark paddled up Willapa Bay to discover this same abundance of oysters, and soon settled on the northern end of the Long Beach Peninsula. Early settlers of the peninsula participated in the oyster trade centered in San Francisco — thus establishing Oysterville.
Today, Oysterville is a National Historic District, home to a total of eight houses, a cannery, schoolhouse and a church; all of which were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many of these quaint homes, the church and the schoolhouse were built. As I drove up Territory Road, one of Oysterville’s only roads, these historic sites line the one-lane road.
Storybook homes and gray skies
I was particularly drawn to the homes on my right, facing the water. Not only were the sleepy homes decorated with carefully crafted gardens and hanging potted plants from the wooden decks, but they were set against a frosty blue bay. Out front, some homes left behind just a few wooden lawn chairs on the grassy lawns — probably meant for sunrises and afternoon naps on Washington’s few sunny days. But even with foggy skies above, the homes were vistas, adding nothing but charm to a scene that belonged in a storybook.
Farther down the road is the church and schoolhouse. Built in 1892, with white walls and a red steeple, is the Oysterville Church. Next door is the one-room schoolhouse. Although many of Oysterville’s landmarks are no longer active, they are still owned and maintained by private owners and residents, continuing Oysterville’s history as a community space for people to gather to enjoy the bay next door, the history of the unique community and the fresh oysters.
Fresh oysters and mossy hikes
At the northern end of the community is Oysterville Sea Farms, a local shop with a long history of selling fresh oysters, as well as specialty foods and drinks for both visitors and locals. Originally the building that houses Oysterville Sea Farms was a cannery for the Northern Oyster Company, founded in the 1930s and operated until 1967. Outside the store is a wooden deck granting vast views of the bay and the long-tracing forested peninsula.
Although I visited Oysterville in the dead of winter and the chilly air made me long for the warmer temperatures and sunny days that would be best enjoyed on this deck, the smell of fresh oysters inside the shop and the salty, foggy air just outside gave this community a charm unique to the Pacific Northwest.
Not far north of Oysterville is Leadbetter Point State Park, a Washington State Park on the upper part of the Long Beach Peninsula. Bordered by Willapa Bay and the Pacific Ocean, the park includes seven walking trails that cut through emerald and mossy forests and end on sandy coasts both bayside and seaside. For a day trip to Oysterville, hiking one or some of these trails is a great way to enjoy more of the quiet peninsula in Washington’s southwest corner.
Highway 101 can be an overwhelming passage through changing landscapes, cultures, cities, towns, communities and cuisines, but along the coast are many spots that allow you to escape the tourist traps. They are spots like Oysterville, Washington, that remain a testament to the diverse history of the West Coast and provide a look into a life outside of the big cities and tourist destinations.
Contact Emily Denny at [email protected] .