There’s something special about Pacific Northwest coastal towns, where the air is salty and brisk and the setting is dotted with turquoise netting, buoys and crab pots. There’s a particular desirable aesthetic and atmosphere to these charming little gems — and Westport offers everything you’d expect — and more.
My husband, Mike, and I were raised in the Pacific Northwest — but this was our first time to Westport. We packed our Jeep with clam tubes; new rubber boots; shellfish licenses and our very excited 3-year-old, Noah, and hit the road for a long weekend at the ocean. When you hit Olympia, the exit “to the ocean beaches” through the Black Hills to Aberdeen is one of the prettiest Washington drives. Mist perpetually hangs low throughout tall pines, and pastures sprawl around every bend.
Aberdeen is a good place to fuel up on Starbucks and to stop at a grocery store for weekend essentials like ice-cream bars, popcorn and sandwich fixings. There is one grocery store in Westport and smaller shops there as well.
We arrived at a beach-house rental with floor-to-ceiling windows and a chef’s kitchen, which we were excited about because we had plans to make some amazing seafood. It was dark when we arrived, but the sound of the Pacific roaring was beautiful.
The next morning we headed to the Westport Marina, where fleets of crabbing boats and ships had masts by the hundreds, jabbing at the sky. So much delights the senses here — from weather-worn signs and stacks of crab pots, to the sounds of barking sea lions and the smell of salty sea air tickling your nose.
The Maritime Museum is a minute away from the marina and worth a visit. You can learn a lot about the area and see a rare lighthouse lens and a whale skeleton. You also can head to the 117-year-old Westport Lighthouse and get a workout walking up the winding staircase to the top if it is open for tours when you go. It’s the tallest lighthouse in the state and the third tallest on the coast. It used to be about 400 feet from the ocean’s edge at high tide, but over time the tides have changed and so did the land, and it’s now 3,000 feet away from the ocean. It’s a real-deal science lesson.
Westport is small and charming with cute mom ‘n’ pop shops and restaurants, ice cream, seafood and other spots beckoning visitors to try something homemade. For lunch it was Bennett’s Fish Shack for beer-battered cod and chips.
Westport’s Mike Coverdale, owner along with wife Liz of Westport Beach Escapes and known around town as “Westport Mike,” acted as our tour guide for the day and introduced us to the folks at Seafood Connection, where we got fresh oysters, giant Dungeness crab and Petrale sole. But this seafood adventure was just getting started.
That evening we headed to the beach to dig for razor clams. The sun was setting and clammers with lanterns were like stars far as the eye could see. We got the hang of it pretty quickly, and within an hour — along with Coverdale — we were at our limit (15 clams each). Even Noah got into the action, ditching his pail and shovel for a tube and net. We headed back to clean 45 razor clams and get warm.
On Sunday, it was time for the seafood feast! On the menu were delicate fried clams, briny oysters with bright lemon aioli, and a gorgeous bouillabaisse with Petrale sole and little butter clams. The Dungeness crabs were simply cracked and dipped in butter. Brunch was perfection. Sometimes it’s a blast to cook on vacation, and this house with a fully stocked kitchen provided the perfect setting for cooking with gusto.
As we left, the sun was setting, and the sky was painted orange-pink and purple. What a wonderful end to a delightful weekend in Westport — you should go, too.
When You Go
Luxury homes, condos and more are available for rent.
Check with the Washington State Fish and Wildlife for rules, regulations, tips and schedules.
Buy Fresh Seafood
Seafood Connection, Float 8, Westport Marina.
Fresh Crab Feast
Serves 2 to 4
- 2 or 3 large cooked
- Dungeness crabs
- 1 stick of melted butter
- 1 bottle prepared cocktail sauce
- 1 sliced lemon
1 newspaper, a set of nutcrackers and small scissors for everyone eating crab and a bowl for discarded shells.
How to Do it
Spread the newspaper over the table. Set a small bowl of melted butter and cocktail sauce at each place setting. Lay out the scissors and nutcrackers. Put the cleaned crabs in the center of the table, and eat!
How to clean a crab
To clean cooked crabs, lift the top shell off by (use your muscles) placing fingers under the back lip of the shell. Clean out the inner cavity. Break the crab into two halves.
Lemon Dill Aioli
- 1 cup good prepared mayonnaise
- Juice and zest of ½ a lemon
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill
- ½ clove fresh crushed garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
Mix and enjoy. Keeps up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Buttermilk Fried Oysters and Razor Clams
Serves 4 // Prep: 10 min. // Active time: 25 minutes
Total time: 30 to 40 minutes
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 pound fresh small oysters
- 1 pound fresh razor clams sliced in strips (if available)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup superfine cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 cups light-tasting oil suitable for shallow frying, like grapeseed or canola
Pour buttermilk over the clams and oysters in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients to form a dredge. Place oil in a frying pan and heat oil until shimmering hot over medium heat. Dredge the oyster or clam that has been sitting in the buttermilk into the flour mixture. Coat evenly, shake off excess flour and lay oysters/clams in the hot oil. Repeat this process until you have about 7 to 10 pieces in the oil. Do not overcrowd your pan. Turn after 2 to 3 minutes or once you’ve achieved a golden brown crust, and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Lay finished oysters/clams on a plate lined with paper towels. It should take no more than 5 to 6 minutes to cook each batch. Sprinkle finished oysters/clams with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Tip: Overcooking clams makes them chewy.
Serves: 4-6 // Prep time: 10 minutes // Inactive time: 60 minutes
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 3 heads of garlic smashed
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- One 28 ounce can crushed unsalted tomato
- 3 cups of your favorite white wine
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 pound Petrale sole or any white fish
- 1 pound steamer clams
- 1 pound prawns
- Lemon and parsley for garnish
In a large pot sweat the onions and garlic in the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the spices and continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes. Add tomatoes, wine and stock and simmer covered for one hour. About 10 minutes until it’s ready to be served, add the steamer clams. After 3 minutes add the pieces of white fish and prawns. Cook covered and occasional stir gently for another 3 to 4 minutes until your clams have opened and the shrimp and fish are opaque. Serve in big soup bowls with lemon wedges, fresh herbs and hunks of crusty bread for dipping.