History and Nature Meet at This Dramatic Estuary
By Adele Wickett
Contributor to Travelink Publishing
China Beach Retreat is hidden from the street, nestled down near the salt-marsh, looking south over the wide mouth of the Columbia River.
We arrived at sunset, armed with the gate-opener and house key given to us at The Shelburne Inn just up the road. As we coasted down the winding driveway, an enormous vista of river, hills, and sky opened before us. Silhouetted water birds poked around in the marshy flats by the river's edge.
A back-door entrance led us into the kitchen of this 1907 home, where an ornate cast-iron cookstove is living out its retirement as a buffet for hot beverages. A round wooden table rests in the window bay. Fiesta ware dishes brighten the well-equipped kitchen.
But the real stunner met us through the next doorway. The whole front of the house has been glassed in to feature that amazing view from the living/dining room. This is the bay where Captain Robert Gray anchored the Columbia in 1792. His ship was the first to cross the treacherous bar at the river's mouth, and Gray named the river after his sturdy trading vessel.
There's more history here, too. Lewis and Clark bushwhacked through this property in 1805 as they closed in on their ultimate goal: the Pacific Ocean. The party offered a whooping cheer at the sight of the surging waves just around the headland.
We were more inclined to offer whooping cheers at the sight of the collected antiques and oriental art that fill this unique retreat. A deeply-carved wooden screen separates the dining and living areas. Asian chests, carvings, and tables catch the eye. Our room featured another opulent screen, stained glass, paintings, and pottery.
China Beach Retreat was created by David Campiche and Laurie Anderson, the hospitable duo who own The Shelburne Country Inn three miles away in Seaview.
Judging by the repeat visitors who've signed the guest book, the place draws you back and back. The downstairs bedroom has its own sitting area. The two upstairs rooms have their beds on raised platforms so guests can look out over the river without getting up!
We spent the evening visiting with another couple who were staying at the Retreat. With a gas fireplace, and a stock of CDs to play, we curled up on the overstuffed couch and chairs. A spotting scope perched before the floor-to-ceiling windows was strong enough that we could actually see the craters on the moon.
Morning may find the innkeeper tiptoeing into the kitchen to start the coffee and leave a newspaper as an early morning welcome before guests head over to The Shelburne Country Inn for a breakfast of kings. There are five new menu choices there every day, featuring local products and home-grown herbs.
As great as it would be just to stay at the Retreat (there is a kayak available, and a firepit for outdoor meals), don't miss all the activities to be found in the neighbourhood. Fort Canby State Park, just down the road, is one of the most popular parks in Washington State. It features the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, located high on Cape Disappointment where the mighty Columbia meets the Pacific. In the summer you can tour North Head Lighthouse, and even in winter a walk to the lighthouse brings you to an unparalleled bluff-top ocean view.
There are miles of wide sandy beaches to explore and art galleries, antique, second-hand stores and kite merchants pop up along the Long Beach Peninsula. Bring your binoculars for some really great bird watching. There's golf, too, museums, festivals, good restaurants, and a heritage village. If that isn't enough, it's a short drive over the bridge to Astoria, Oregon for even more.
If You Go:
China Beach Bed and Breakfast and Retreat
Hosts: David Campiche and Laurie Anderson
222 Captain Robert Gray Drive
Ilwaco, Washington 98624
Phone: (360) 642-5660 or (360) 642-2442
Web site: www.chinabeachretreat.com
How to get to China Beach Retreat: First check in at The Shelburne Country Inn in Seaview, Washingon (4415 Pacific Way). You'll be given a gate opener and door key for China Beach Retreat.
From the north: Take exit number 104 from Interstate 5 to Highway 8 west.
At Montesano, go west on Highway 107 for eight miles and join Highway 101 going south.
This will take you directly to Seaview.
Turn right at Pacific Way, and look for Shelburne Inn a couple of blocks down on your left.
From the south: Take exit number 36 from Interstate 5 and go west on Highway 4 until it meets Highway 101.
Turn left and proceed to Seaview.
To China Beach Retreat: Follow Highway 103) south about 2 miles to the first traffic light in Ilwaco.
Go one block and turn left onto 2nd SW, which becomes Robert Gray Drive.
Watch for the China Beach sign on your left.
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