The Long Beach Peninsula is well-known for many things: one of the longest public beaches in the world, an oceanfront boardwalk, two 19th century lighthouses, ridiculously fresh seafood (such as Willapa Bay oysters) and growing cranberries. In fact, one of the area’s unofficial nicknames is the Cranberry Coast, so when my family and I visited last fall during harvest time, we made sure to experience all things cranberry.
A 28-mile long and 1.5-mile wide spit of land located on Washington’s southwestern coast, the Long Beach Peninsula begins on the Washington side of the Astoria–Megler Bridge, across the Columbia River from Astoria, where the river’s rushing waters meets the salt-laden Pacific Ocean.
Our first stop was the annual Cranberrian Fair at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in the town of Ilwaco, which is located at the south end of the peninsula. Each year the fair celebrates the harvest with handmade crafts, cranberry-related vendors and local foods, including their ever-popular cranberry-peach pies. One of the local vendors that really stood out, Starvation Alley Cranberry Farms, offered free samples of their 100% organic, unsweetened, cold-pressed cranberry juice, made from local fruit.
My husband Erik, our five-year-old son Finn and I also enjoyed watching a blacksmith demonstration and touring the Nahcotta, a c. 1889 narrow gauge train car built by the Pullman Palace Car Company. The Nahcotta is only open to visitors during the Cranberrian Fair in October and the Clamshell Railroad Days in July.
When we were done at the museum, we hopped the Cranberry Trolley to the Cranberry Museum, where we toured a wet cranberry bog and explored the region’s rich berry-growing history through informational displays, photos and artifacts. We learned that as one of America’s native fruits, cranberries grow very well on the peninsula, thanks to the sand ridges, deep peat bogs and cool climate. In fact, approximately one-third of the nation’s cranberry crop is produced by Washington State, with most that are grown on the peninsula destined for juice.
Ready to get our hands on our own ruby-red gems, we headed to Cranguyma Farms. A 1,200-acre working cranberry, blueberry and holly farm, Cranguyma is located just outside the center of Long Beach, the peninsula’s main beach/agricultural town. Early October, the farm opens its dry, u-pick cranberry bog to visitors.
The bog is located just before the farm’s u-pick shed, about 150 feet through the entrance. (You can’t miss the big green “Cranberries” sign.) The farm is open for u-picking 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and admission is free. Cranberries are $0.50/pound and payment is usually through an honor system, so be sure to bring cash.
With our buckets in hand (available in the shed) Erik, Finn and I entered the bog, which stretched before us like a pink-tinted football field. Soon we were crouched down, hunting for the ripe, healthy berries amidst the shrub’s slender, wiry stems and small evergreen leaves. Before too long, our buckets are filled and we’re heading home, cranberry recipes dancing in my head.
For more info on visiting the Long Beach Peninsula, visit funbeach.com.