Where to Stay in Ocean Shores, Washington: The Sands

Note: I went to the Sands independently and received nothing from them for my stay or for this article. I didn’t tell them I run a travel blog, and they don’t know I’m writing this. I receive no payment from them or any other place that I endorse.

The Sands is a Great Budget Stay in Ocean Shores, Washington

Well, I’ve tried nearly every hotel in Ocean Shores now, and I do believe I’ve found my favorite budget stay.

Going by cost-to-quality ratio, the Sands was my favorite lodging experience in town, and I’ve visited Ocean Shores more times than I can count. For just $89 dollars a night (95 after tax), in the middle of June, I got a room with a killer view and bird songs filling the air (more on the birds in just a bit).

Their rates are even lower in the off season, making this a terrific destination for an impromptu weekend getaway or overnight trip. This will definitely be my go-to place for future quick-trips.

There for the Beach, Not the Room

I’ve seen one reviewer online call the Sands’ rooms “dated,” but I didn’t get that impression. They have few frills, I guess, but I go to the beach for the beach, not to sit in my room, so that didn’t matter much to me. The room was clean and the bed was comfortable, the bathroom tidy and the shower nice with good hot water.

On this particular trip (ironically enough, considering the generalized statement I made about myself above), I actually did spend quite a bit of time in my room watching the birds in the bushes and the waves rolling over the beach beyond. The accommodations suited me perfectly for that.

This was my view as I contemplated the mysteries of life…and enjoyed a beer.

There are two beach access points within short walking distance from the hotel, so you can make a circular trip of the beach without retracing your steps at all. Ocean Shores, by the way, has a sandy beach, which is not always easy to find in Washington, where the coasts are usually rugged and rocky.

Some other hotels in Ocean Shores sit right on the sand. This seems appealing, but the drawback to this is that the beach goers are always within earshot. The Sands has a buffer of grasses and bushes that makes the hotel itself feel like an isolated little oasis. I liked having that stretch of greenery there more than I’ve enjoyed being right on the sands.

Many Amenities: My Favorites are the Birds

My favorite part about the Sands is the birds. Handmade bird houses are located all over the grounds, so there are birds everywhere. Their singing creates a supremely peaceful setting.

The hotel also has a volleyball pit in the back and a sun deck with chairs called the Dolphin Cove. There’s an indoor pool and a recreation room above the office, a couple Jacuzzi tubs and a dry sauna. I didn’t partake of any of these amenities, but I gave them a gander and they looked nice to me. Personally, I didn’t need any of those things. I was happy with the bird songs and the ocean so close by.

When I travel, I usually spend very little time in my room except to sleep. If I do sit in the room, it’s just to read or enjoy the silence. So, for me, the basic accommodations were terrific.

There is No Wi-Fi Except in the Recreation Room

I’m making this its own section because it’s a point that is bound to bother some people. The rooms do not have wi-fi. To access wi-fi, you have to go to the recreation area above the office.

Personally, for me, this was a good thing. I like unplugging now and then. Honestly, I wish they didn’t even have a television. Disconnecting, far as I’m concerned, is relaxing and good for the mental health.

I understand this is a position that not everyone will take, of course, so I’m making certain to make this fact known loud and clear in my blog. I don’t want to influence you on anything that you won’t enjoy.

In that light, I should also add that the service at the Sands is perfectly good, but maybe not as warm or eager-to-please as you’ll find at some higher-end hotels. This, too, is something I frankly don’t care about, but am mentioning because I’ve seen some reviewers elsewhere criticize the Sands in this regard.

The gentleman at the front desk on the day I arrived was professional and polite. He made sure to get me the best view he could get at the best price.

The woman who was there on the day I checked out, meanwhile, was very helpful. We had a good chat and she filled me in some upcoming events and the likelihood of vacancies in late August. She introduced herself as Stacy. She was friendly, informative, and pleasant to deal with.

It usually doesn’t even occur to me to remark on the front desk reception, because it’s a non-issue to me. I just don’t really care. Since I’m trying to be as helpful to you folks as I can, however, I ought to mention it. I only stayed there once, so I can’t debunk the negative receptions I’ve seen in some reviews. But, I can say, that in my experience everyone was friendly and efficient.

They weren’t gushing with hospitality as I’ve seen in some hotels, I guess, but were friendly and good at their jobs, which is all I would ask for.

Location, Location, Location

Ocean Shores has plenty of good hotels, both high-end, budget, and in-between. If you’re looking for a high-end place, then the Sands might not be for you (I’ll be writing about the high-end places I think would be for you later).

What the Sands does offer is a terrific location at a very fair rate. To get an ocean view for less than a hundred bucks in June is not easy. I’d say it’s damn near impossible, really. Their prices, far as I can tell, are even lower in the off season.

Ocean Shores is a pretty small town, so the restaurant strip is never too far from you, no matter where you stay. Neither is the grocery store or gas station.

I’m not being endorsed in any way by the Sands. I’m just relating my honest, personal experience, which can be summed up thusly: The Sands is a nice little hotel with a killer location and bird songs filling the air, and I will be going back there, regularly, for sure.

I’ve not found a hotel so close to the beach for such a low price anywhere in Washington state.

Forks, Washington: Cycle of the Vampire

I came home from deployment to find that women had overrun the town of Forks, Washington. This was some time around 2008. I’d been going to Forks for years for the hiking and camping in the area, and had always known it as a gritty, hungover little lumberjack burg (no offense intended, Forks, I LOVE gritty, hungover lumberjack burgs). So it was truly surreal to find it suddenly overrun by well-dressed women and teeny boppers. It was like finding out that the area had been infected by a very classy form of zombie virus.

What I came to discover was that, while I as deployed overseas, a little movie named Twilight was released, and this little movie had been somewhat popular among Americans of a female persuasion. Furthermore, this movie had been set in a fictional version of the town of Forks, apparently because it sees less sunlight than any other town in the continental United States. This sunless factoid is of import because Twilight, in case you hadn’t heard, is about vampires that glitter in sunlight (and glittering is bad because it gives away that they aren’t regular people).

I learned all these facts from a group of 30-something ladies that I met at a bar that night. I’d drunk in that establishment many times in the past, and the only company I ever had there was 10 or so big dudes in jeans and flannel shirts. On this night, however, there seemed to be about 10,000 women crammed into this place. The air was absolutely pungent with the scents of perfumes, lotions, and body washes. It smelled like a garden full of synthetic roses.

These ladies were a blast, and they filled me in on Edward, Twilight, and the whole Forks craze. We, along with a couple hundred other women, shut the bar down.

Those days, however, are now done. At least for now. I visited Forks again last week when I was camping at Klahoya Campground, and the place has returned to its meditative silence. All the Twilight shops were shut down. The streets were devoid of female packs. It was back to the Forks I’d come to know and love, and that is one of the reasons I decided to write this, because Forks has more to offer than vampires or werewolves.

Forks is a great midway point to several of my favorite Washington locations. It’s half an hour from Ruby Beach and La Push, my two favorite beaches in the state, and it’s a bit more than half an hour from Lake Crescent, which is also where the trail head is for mean, mean old Mount Storm King.

The Olympic Suites Inn is also one of the best-kept secrets in the area. The Lake Crescent and Kalaloch Lodges are generally sold out far in advance during the summer, and the campgrounds can be even harder to find space in, but I’ve almost always been able to get a room at the Olympic Suites. They’re fair-priced and large accommodations (though the walls are a bit thin).

Pacific Pizza has some good pizza, and even better ice cream.

Forks has a certain charm of its own, even without the vampire-chasing ladies. It’s not a tourist haven and I don’t mean to paint it as such, but it does have a down-home sort of appeal. The people there work hard and have a no-nonsense, direct attitude that stands in sharp contrast to Seattle—they may not tell you what you want to hear, but you can be reasonably certain that whatever they tell you is honest.

The vampires have run their cycle…for now, at least. But who knows where things will go from here? The undead, just like billion-dollar movie franchises, have a way of resurrecting themselves at the most unexpected times.

Somewhere, Edward waits in the eaves…


The Terrible, Mysterious Suspended Bike of the Ruston Waterfront

The Terrible, Mysterious Suspended Bike of the Ruston Waterfront: Weird Melodramatic Poetry Version in Honor of William Blake

Oh, mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront, who made thee?

Who shaped thy strange handlebars?

Who bound up thy body in wood and left thee, as though in flight, suspended over the Sound?

Where did you come from, you weird artifact?

From the depths of someone’s imagination? Or from some place darker? Are you drawing us toward madness, or bliss? And is there a difference, mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront walk?

Oh, your strange character has confounded me for generations…generations before my own birth. You hearken back to pre-birth memories, so strange and beautiful and terrible you are.

A surrealist’s dream of lost childhood, or childhood found? Or just an accident with no meaning at all?

Are those wooden posts crosses? The spirit of Dali shivers with delight.

I await you.

In my dreams.

In my nightmares.

Strange, suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront…do you love or fear at all?

The Terrible, Mysterious Suspended Suspended Bike of the Ruson Waterfront: Less Melodramatic and Non-Poetic Version

It turns out I’m not the only person whose fascination has been captured by the mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront.

Grit City, an excellent Tacoma publication, has done more serious gumshoeing on this topic.

Teaser from that Grit City piece: “Here’s what we know: The bike is a Sears Tote-Cycle and is actually fairly old; probably from the ‘60s. The Tote-Cycle was one of the precursors to today’s foldable bikes.”

I’ll write no more, as I’d just be stealing their content, something the Northwest Nomad will never do (and I’ll fight any man who claims otherwise).

Granny’s Cafe near Port Angeles, Washington: One of the Best Places to Eat on the 101 Loop

Granny's Cafe and Indian Valley Motel signs.Every time I’m in the Port Angeles area, as I was last week to hike Mount Storm King, I stop at Granny’s.

About 10 minutes or so east of the Storm King Ranger Station, and about 20 minutes west of downtown Port Angeles, sits this little cafe just off the highway. It looks a bit modest (or maybe “humble” is the word) there with its dirt parking lot and old-timey facade, but this place is one of the best kept secrets on the 101 loop.

Granny’s has a website that gives the skinny on most the details of their establishment, so I won’t rehash that here. What I WILL do is say that Granny’s has some of the best burgers and milk shakes that you’ll find in the state of Washington.

Beyond that, though, the place just has a good vibe. It’s one of those things that’s difficult or impossible to quantify, but Exterior of Granny's Cafe.something about it just feels right. Those who have discovered this little 101 gem know exactly what I mean. More than once on my travels in the area I’ve met people who asked, “Have you ever been to Granny’s?” And when I say yes there’s this mutual nod and a smile, like I’ve met someone who belongs the same secret club as me.

This makes me want to reference to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and say, “Granny’s is a good cafe,” but that may be too obscure to make much sense to anyone. (I’m keeping it in, though, because this is my blog, damn it, and Art is one of my favorite books of all times.)

Granny’s even has a little petting zoo and pigeon coop in back for the kids. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of staying at the Indian Valley Motel adjoining the restaurant, but I shall do so soon and return to my home here to share with ye all what I find. I fully expect it will be terrific.

That’s about all for now. Like I said, just a brief little highway sketch about this awesome place. Go there. Get a shake. Get a burger. Sit down and soak in those good Granny’s vibes. When you’re done drop me a line and let me know how it was. I’d love to hear about it. We’ll both be members of the Granny’s Club, after all.

Mean, Mean Mount Storm King: Path to Stunning Views Littered With Bodies of the Broken and Dejected

Mount Storm King is a Cruel and Vengeful King

Cliffs seen from the top of Mount Storm King.There are few easily accessible hikes I’ve ever seen turn away more would-be climbers than Mount Storm King does. I met the victims, walking wounded, several times on my way down the mountain.

“Are we almost to the top?” these strangers asked between labored gasps. They tried to smile, but the desperate glint in their eyes indicated something other than humor.

I would answer with something like, “You’re pretty close,” but then, compelled by a humanistic urge to Truth, would add, “but the trail only gets harder. A lot harder.”

Sometimes they would laugh, thinking that surely I jested. How could the trail possibly continue to go straight upwards any longer without reaching the sun itself?

“It’s rough-going,” I would say. Then I would reach deep into my motivational bag of tricks. “But the view from the top is my favorite view in the state” (this statement is true, by the way).

Some of them would continue on, and some would even make it to the top. Others would simply sit there, waiting for me to pass out of sight so that they could shamefully surrender to Storm King’s cruelty. These I occasionally ran across in the parking lot below, shuffling along shamefacedly and trying to evade my harshly judgmental gaze (I assume this is what they’re doing, anyway).

The trail is not long, only 1.9 miles, but that brevity is deceptive. The trail starts steep and it stays that way. I don’t recall any stretches of the trail that give even a temporary level-graded respite.

Do I say any of this to deter anyone? Of course not. The kind of people who do the King are the kind of person who will be intrigued at the promise of cruelty and despair. These words are sweet talk to the breed of people who will make this climb. Are you feeling seduced right now? Feeling hot?

Step inside my office, then, my friend. The King awaits.

Where to Find the Storm King Trail Head

The Storm King trail head branches off of the very popular (and much easier than Storm King) Marymere Falls trail, which itself begins at the Storm King Ranger Station. I’ve pinned this location below for your convenience (I do strive to be a good guide…please, please tell me I’m good).

The Final Trial of Storm King, and Then Those Views

There are a couple places to stop off for nice views on the way to the top of Storm King. The views are striking enough that I personally think they make the climb worth it, even if a person doesn’t make it all the way to the top.

View of Lake Crescent from an outlook about a quarter mile down the trail from the top of Storm King.
View from one of the outlooks reached about a quarter of a mile from the top of Storm King. I say “quarter mile” with no little hesitance, because I’m estimating this purely off the feel of the hike and my own internal guesswork. If any readers have better intel on the actual distance of this point from the top, please do let me know.

In a way, there are two “ends” to the Storm King trail. The first provides stunning views and awards imaginary medals for toughness and courage to all who make it.

Trail to Mount Storm with Lake Crescent in the background.

The “second end” of Storm King takes another level of irrational persistence. To make this final run, you’ll have to climb up a very steep slope of loose dirt, pulling yourself up with a rope. Allow me to stress here that I’m not saying the rope is there as a novelty or as a convenience. The rope is necessary to get up the loose-footed rise, and you will be relying largely on upper body strength.

Beyond this is another such climb. When I hiked this a few years ago,there was a rope there as well, and I believe there should STILL be a rope there. As of the date of this writing, however, that second rope is gone.

Going up these two sections is a bit tough, but nothing too crazy. Where things get a slight bit hairy is when you have to go back down. Falling down either of these two steep sections carries a legitimate risk of serious injury, and possibly death (in some nightmare scenario where the momentum carries a person clear off the side of the mountain).

But, those brave adventurers who make it to the end shall be treated visually thusly:

There’s Birds in Them Thar Trees

Gray finch perched in a tree on Mount Storm King.Up at the top of the mountain, you’ll find plenty of these grey jays cruising around and looking for handouts.

They’re an athletic bunch of birds to watch…and to envy the ease with which they maneuver through the territory you just sacrificed a piece of your soul to reach.

Like All Things Worth Doing, the Suck is the Best Reward

Like a ruptured quadriceps or a torn calf muscle, Mount Storm King is an event you’ll never forget. The views are amazing; they are probably my favorite views in the state, in fact. But, what really makes Storm King terrific is how much suck it manages to pack into a mere 1.9 miles of trail.

It’s the kind of hike you laugh about years later, fondly recalling that time you asked your hiking partner to kill you so that you wouldn’t have to go on…that time your hiking partner responded, “Only if you kill me first.”

This is the good stuff. Take on the King. He is harsh and he is cruel, but he rewards those who persevere to the end.