In order to write a review of the Tokeland Hotel, a gem that hugs a tiny spit of sandy land surrounded by Shoalwater Bay on the Washington Coast, it is first important to point out that my filter for any lodging location is first and foremost about the heart. I look for a feeling of home that comes from the joy of carefully curated aesthetic, combined with thoughtful touches of comfort that go beyond trendy modern furniture and tile bathrooms. In fact, while the Tokeland Hotel offers no en-suite bathrooms, the charm oozing from the vertical planks of old growth fir lining the upstairs hallway entices her guests to depart from conventional hotel attitudes to a magical, sometimes haunted world of genuine, caring hospitality.
Entering the hotel feels like dropping in on a favorite neighbor to say hello — you never know who will be home or what’s baking in the oven. The open space is part hotel lobby, with plush leather sofas that hold court under a giant carved canoe, and part restaurant, tables scattered in various places all six feet away from one another. An alchemy exists that works to give the feeling of a family home, bustling with action of servers tending tables and a kitchen alive with culinary energy. When I arrive, Heather and Zac — visionary proprietors — weave out of the kitchen to say hello. Even in our new socially distanced greeting protocol their welcoming generosity is felt through and through and we catch up on the events of the world since my last visit in March. The hotel was closed during the height of the COVID shelter in place orders, which provided an opportunity for a lot of updates to the old building and the addition of some fun out-buildings that include sunflowers in a fenced garden, chickens, goats and a few pot bellied pigs.
This is my fourth visit to the oldest hotel in Washington State, with a fascinating pioneer history serving as an overnight stop for weary travelers taking boats between Portland and Seattle. While now the drive between the two cities on Interstate 5 takes roughly three hours, back then it was a multi-day venture, involving boats, ferries, stage coaches and a healthy slice of determination. The hotel shot up on land owned by the Kindred family of homesteaders in order to offer weary travelers a bit of comfort — about halfway along the route. As is the case with anything of this 1850’s vintage, folklore developed around ghosts and today two rooms on the website are described as “haunted.”
My stay at the Tokeland Hotel will be in room #2 which is only haunted by a great night’s sleep. I appreciate that this old-world hotel sells specific rooms rather than assigning one at check-in.
Waking up in the morning is a delight normally reserved for frolicking on a mountainside meadow with wildflowers aglow. In fact, a gentle pink magnolia is featured on the wall above my head, etched with watercolor style paint by a local Seattle artist. The sweet smell of the white sheets matches the soft texture that feels wonderful on the skin. The corner room faces north and west and the floor-length lace curtains allow a soft light to permeate through the two multi-paned windows into the space around my queen bed. A breeze blows outside that circulates a perfect cool flow of air in the room from the slightly opened window. I could stay in bed all day!
The Tokeland Hotel is one of my favorite places on the Washington Coast
Being from the Pacific Northwest, I’ve spent my life enjoying the broad sandy beaches and crisp salty air omnipresent from Southern Oregon to the San Juan Islands. I just can’t get enough of the ocean and the variety of rock stacks, traversing cliff side trails and collections of sea treasures displayed over the fine sand and tide pools that dot the map. Of course day trips from the busier areas around Portland and Seattle are easy enough, but I prefer an overnight to truly take in high and low tide and the cycles of each day. I wrote an article about my favorite places to stay on the Washington Coast awhile back, which included the Tokeland Hotel. The map below outlines directions to this fantastic area of the Evergreen State as well as some points of interest. Plan for the drive to last about 3:30 hours from either Portland or Seattle.
Tokeland Hotel — which rooms are the best?
The second floor of the hotel contains 18 rooms, all priced the same (year-round) based on the bedroom configuration. Despite what the map on the website says all but room #9 offer updated and very comfortable queen sized beds. With a few exceptions, most of the rooms are pet-friendly, and there is a room with two twin beds for families and a few with two queen beds (#10 & #11.) At the time of this writing masks are required in all the public areas including the second floor hallways.
Rooms #2 to #9 face the parking area and gardens, with #2 having the added feature of two corner windows. I enjoy the full-length windows these rooms all offer. In general, depending on the time of year, these spaces receive afternoon sun. I really enjoyed my recent stay in Room #2 (as mentioned above) and think it’s my new favorite (vying closely with Room #1.)
The rooms on the opposite side of the hallway (#12-17) once had full length windows that were partly obscured when the dining room below was expanded. The spaces are still charming and they received lovely morning sun — but less overall light.
I’ve stayed in rooms #11, #18 and #1 and loved them all. They face the bay and receive the soft morning light. Room #10 would also fall into this category. Room #1 is the best, mostly because of the corner windows facing the bay and slightly more seclusion from other neighbors. There can be sounds from the nearby stairs and bathroom, but the view makes up for that.
Now a few words about the bathrooms, which are not en-suite. There are four common-use bathrooms — two with clawfoot bathtubs on the eastern end (facing the bay) and two standing showers on the western end (facing the road). I suggest bringing a pair of slippers or flip-flops for easy use traversing to and fro. With a little flexibility, these spaces work to provide the necessary services, complete with luxurious towels, boutique style soaps and 19th century gold framed mirrors with tiny bronze placards that say, “You’re Beautiful.”
Tokeland Hotel — restaurant, service and amenities
This spirited lodge is a fantastic restaurant with a charming hotel and not the other way around. People come from miles around to enjoy the mouth-watering cuisine inspired by Heather Earnhardt’s southern roots. (Seattle residents might be reminded of her cozy Capitol Hill spot The Wandering Goose, which, just down the street from my home, is love at first bite.) From baked goods to a wide variety of local and seasonal seafood, this spot offers the best food on the Washington Coast, without even any doubt. You can feel the spirit of the Hotel with each and every interaction with the friendly, mask-wearing staff.
The Hoppin’ John is my favorite all time breakfast menu item, with the symphony of tastes from sea island peas to zingy chow chow over rice and textured greens. Any style of eggs top the dish and the homemade hot sauce is the clash of the cymbals. Delicious! Other favorites served all day are Zac’s Burger, with a wonderful version of spicy mayo (they call it comeback) on a soft melt-in-your-mouth bun, the daily fish specials, and of course all the array of local and fresh seafood, prepared any way but usually fried. Yum. The wedge salad is another favorite of mine — I’m always surprised at how perfectly chilled the chunk of iceberg remains, providing the crunch that brings delight in every bite.
For dessert try anything on the menu, as all the sweets serve up decadent life — they are worth the splurge. I can’t get away from this place without grabbing a few giant cookies to go — usually the chocolate chip with sea salt and dried cherry oatmeal.
The grounds have whimsical touches like stringed lights that swoop over a series of wood picnic tables out front, leading to a corn hole lane with croquet options. A raised patch of earth hosts a large fire pit that is welcome even in the warmer Summer months once the sun sets and the coastal fog roar surrounds the Shoalwater Bay. Plush, black and white plaid blankets are available for cozying up outside and there are a few adirondack chairs on the back porch for reading a book in the morning light.
Bikes are strategically placed in the entry garden area for cruising around the narrow spit of land surrounded by Shoalwater Bay — or perhaps a wander down to the Shoalwater Bay Casino, easily accessible by bike. Walk the peaceful grassy grounds in front of the hotel that had a previous life, over a hundred years ago, as a nine-hole golf course. A few of the signs remain, but now it feels more like a scene from an oil painting of Ireland.
My favorite amenity is the dark and cozy fireplace room. Just next to the main lobby and restaurant, this alcove houses an oversized fireplace complete with the trophy of a Roosevelt Elk, turning his head as if to glare at the very alive tweety bird in a white wire cage, singing and sometimes more enthusiastic yelling during the day. While the Summer season allows more outside time and longer days with light, this room holds space for warmth, generosity, timeless chats and feeling of home in the wetter, darker months. Sip a manhattan while reading a book on the couch facing the roaring fire or play cards on the table closer to the collection of intricate kerosene lanterns that line the shelves above copious amounts of books in an antique hutch.
Speaking of Manhattan, the hotel and restaurant provide an assortment of great cocktails and a fine wine list, but you’ll find no prominent bar on the premises. This makes it really feel like being a guest at a rustic manor. Simply ask any of the staff for a drink menu or your favorite drink (I love the Black Manhattan) and soon enough you’ll be sipping from a depression-era coupe glass or a lowball filled with an oversized cube of ice.
Things to do from a Tokeland Hotel base on the Washington Coast
To understand the Tokeland Hotel is to understand that this is a place with spirit, where connection to quietude and great food emerge as king over whiz-bang attractions and constant entertainment. Still, there is a lot to do in this Shoalwater Bay Area — much of it centered around nature. Explore the variety of wildlife refuges in and around the numerous inlets and watch for birds that can number in the thousands during migratory seasons in Fall and Spring. A drive between Tokeland and Westport offers countless places to pull off the road and wander to beach areas complete with tide pools, powerful surf and vast expanses of sandy beach.
The surf is up around Westport, and on a good day you’ll see boards on top of every kind of car, from a ubiquitous PNW Subaru to Sprinter Vans covered in bumper stickers. Clamming is also a fun activity on the beaches, depending on the season. Kite flying, beachcombing for Japanese glass fishing balls and long walks on the beach are just a few things that pass the time in soul nourishing ways. Westport is a fishing town through and through, with a pirate festival in the summer and healthy supply of dive bars and great seafood shacks — Bennett’s Fish Shack is my favorite, with some of the best crab cakes and fish-n-chips around.
The estuary land around Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay create one of the best environments in the world for producing oysters, and I enjoy a visit to the sleepy town of Raymond and the accoutrements to an economy based on seafood and logging. Check out the maritime museum and other pioneer buildings around the quiet downtown and wander along the refreshing river walk. Just further down the road, South Bend hugs the water with a few great oyster places and other shops and services.
If you go — planning a visit to Tokeland Hotel and Washington Coast
The weather in Tokeland is pretty typical coastal fare, so bring a variety of layers and definitely a waterproof outer shell, as well as boots for clamming and beach water activities and hiking shoes for exploring the estuary life. Surfing of course has requirements for wet or dry suits, depending, because the water temperature ranges from 42 (winter) to 62 degrees (summer). Even in the summer, when the sun sets, a hoodie and jeans/pants are required when outside. The dress in the restaurant is very casual, so leave the tux and evening gowns at home for this one.
The Washington Coast is most popular in the summer because daylight is much longer and weather more pleasant — if sun and warmer temperatures are the goal. However, I love the shoulder seasons in the fall and spring for stormy weather and less people on the beaches and around. In general, the beaches are not crowded even in summer, but… I enjoy tranquility. Winter is very quiet on the coast, and cold enough to warrant a few extra layers — but easier to cuddle up next to the fire as the sound of rain pelts the paned windows of the hotel.
Tokeland makes for a great weekend getaway from Portland or Seattle (see GoogleMap above for driving details.) Overall, a 2-3 night stay is preferred to enjoy a full experience on the property without rushing to pack/unpack. Plus, the extra time is more conducive to sampling the menu items day to day. In another article, I write about a three-day loop around the Olympic Peninsula. This itinerary could easily be expanded to include another night or two in Tokeland, or a further journey down the coast to Astoria and other Oregon beaches, like Cannon Beach. Tokeland is under two hours from both Astoria (to the south) and Lake Quinault Lodge (to the north), making it a great mid-coastal stop along longer Washington Coast itineraries.
Coastal essence — leave feeling refreshed, and well fed
The Washington Coast offers a little nugget of joy for everyone, but the Shoalwater Bay area has something special — a spirit as deep as the mud flats and life giving as the tidal swells twice a day. A visit here offers connection through quiet scenery, friendly people and soul nourishing food. The meaningful connections that only come with a slower, more thoughtful pace are well worth the tradeoff — leaving expectations of loud, modern efficiency, behind. I’ll take a roaring fire over in-room tv any day. Especially here, where the feeling of strong spirit in hospitality seeps into the bones. I’ll keep coming back to the Tokeland Hotel to allow time to connect with pristine nature, walk the beaches, sample the food and sleep in white linen bliss.