Though it's only about 5 miles across the mouth of Willapa Bay to the northern tip of the Long Beach Peninsula, it's about 85 miles around to the town of Long Beach by road. Along the way you skirt the shores of Willapa Bay. There aren't too many towns on this bay, which is why this is one of the least polluted estuaries in the country and is a great place to raise oysters. Punctuating the miles of unspoiled scenery are oyster docks and processing plants.
As you pass through the town of Raymond, keep an eye out for the 200 steel-plate sculptures that comprise the Raymond Wildlife-Heritage Sculpture Corridor. The majority of these sculptures are silhouettes that can be seen along U.S. 101 in the most unexpected places. Included are sculptures of Native Americans, modern sea kayakers, bicyclists, and dozens of wild animals. Also here in Raymond, you'll find the Willapa Seaport Museum, 310 Alder St. (tel. 360/942-4149), a fascinating little museum dedicated to all things nautical. This is the best-designed museum on the coast and is well worth a visit. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 4pm; admission is $3 for adults, $2 for seniors and children.
Next door to the Willapa Seaport Museum, the Northwest Carriage Museum, 314 Alder St. (tel. 360/942-4150; www.nwcarriagemuseum.org), is home to a large collection of immaculately restored antique carriages. On display is a wicker carriage, a hearse, and a carriage that was used in Gone With the Wind. For the most part, these are luxury carriages once owned by the wealthy. The museum is open Wednesday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm (Apr-Sept, it's also open Sun noon-4pm). Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for children ages 6 to 18, and free for children 5 and under.
By some accounts, one out of every six oysters consumed in the United States comes from Willapa Bay, and in the town of South Bend, oystering reaches its zenith. If you just must have some oysters while in town, have a meal at River View Dining or drop by East Point Seafood, U.S. 101, South Bend (tel. 888/317-8459 or 360/875-5419; www.eastpointseafood.com), at the north end of town.
South Bend's other claim to fame is its county courthouse. Back in 1893 it took a possibly rigged vote and an armed force to wrest the title of county seat from Oysterville, across the bay on the Long Beach Peninsula. Construction of the new courthouse began 18 years later, and upon completion, the imposing structure was dubbed a "gilded palace of extravagance." The majestic courthouse, quite out of place in such a quiet backwater, stands on a hill overlooking town. The copper dome is lined inside with stained glass, and murals decorate interior walls. It's definitely worth a look.
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