Weekend Wanderings: Birch Bay

Birch Bay Sunset. Photo by Alec Pesola

We had planned to spend the weekend before Thanksgiving on Lopez Island with my family, who had been scheduled to fly in from Minnesota. As many of us have done this year, and especially this fall, we made the tough decision to cancel the trip to reduce our risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19.

After spending way too many hours combing through vacation rentals up and down the Pacific Northwest, we settled on a cute little cabin located in Birch Bay, Washington. Honestly, we had spent so much time stress scrolling through vacation rental listings that we were relieved to have finally booked something. The photos looked nice, we are usually happy anywhere near the water, and the drive wasn’t too bad—just a little under two hours from Seattle.

A day before we were scheduled to leave, I shook off my winter/Covid/2020 blues and researched some places to eat and things to do in the area. I quickly realized that we had discovered a new place in Washington full of hidden gems. Below is our itinerary for the trip, including our favorite restaurants and breweries we visited in Bellingham on our way, and in Birch Bay:

Day One

With check-in starting at 4:00 pm and the drive only being two hours, we woke up slowly on Saturday morning, one of my favorite ways to start a trip. I knew I wanted to stop in Bellingham on the way, so we left Seattle around noon. Our first stop in Bellingham was Structures Brewing. I previously tried one of their beers at Teku Tavern in Seattle and when I found out they were located in Bellingham, I knew we had to stop by. I can confidently say that any beer you choose at Structures will be delicious. We picked up a four-pack of their Juice on Juice IPA, the West Coast IPA, and the Extra Pale Ale.

Otherlands Beer before opening this summer. To accomodate Covid-19 restrictions, they now have a heated, covered outdoor patio where guests can enjoy their full beer and food menu. Photo credit: Otherlands Beer

The staff at Structures recommended we visit Otherlands Beer, a small brewery and cafe that opened in Bellingham in June 2020, so we stopped there next. For a $10 deposit you can get any of their draft beers in a small or large growler, which are both uniquely shaped, reusable brown bottles. We paid the deposit fully knowing we wouldn’t be able to stop on the way back, but the bottle is worth the $10 and I look forward to filling it with my husband’s homebrew! We got it filled with the Explorer’s Club Extra, a hoppy saison perfect for these crisp, sunny days. 

Ready to check-in, we left Otherlands with a trunk full of delicious beer and made the short drive from Bellingham to Birch Bay. I immediately felt myself relax when we turned onto Birch Bay Drive and the quaint beach town and tranquil waters of the bay came into view.

Since it was the middle of November, the area was much quieter than it typically is, which was exactly what we were looking for. We booked this cabin on VRBO because it offered a gorgeous view of the bay, while being tucked off the main road for some extra privacy. I cannot recommend this cute little cabin in Birch Bay enough! We were able to enjoy indoor and outdoor fires, the kitchen had everything we needed to cook a good meal, and it was centrally located to everything we wanted to see while in Birch Bay.

Outdoor seating at the Drayton Harbor Oyster Company. Photo credit: Drayton Harbor Oyster Co.

For dinner, we drove into Blaine to visit Drayton Harbor Oyster Company. Located on Peace Portal Drive on a strip of main street decorated with lights for the holidays, they offer ready-to-eat food from their restaurant, and a variety of fresh seafood options to take home from their market. For dinner, we ordered Drayton’s Po’Boy with cod, the Drayton Street Tacos with shrimp, and a dozen freshly shucked oysters to go. I was so impressed they could do shucked oysters to go; they made it home safely, tucked into ice in a disposable aluminum tray. All of the food was delicious, but with Oyster New Year kicking off and the bivalves at their freshest, the oysters were the stand out.

For dinner the next night, we stopped by the attached market and ordered a pound of freshly caught clams and mussels, a pound of scallops, and some smoked salmon. As Midwest transplants and passionate seafood lovers, we had to stop ourselves from ordering more. The market also has a variety of fresh fish and live Dungeness crab for sale. 

The beach in Birch Bay is covered in driftwood. Photo credit: Alec Pesola

Day Two

Each morning of our trip, we started the day with a coffee and a slow stroll along the beach. Birch Bay has one of the most dramatic tides in the state, with the shoreline shifting up to 200 feet throughout the day. I had dreams of clamming while in Birch Bay, as low tide reveals a wide mudflat with a treasure trove of clams and other shellfish that can be harvested in season. However, as you might imagine, the mud flats are messy and require a much taller boot than my Chelsea rain boots could provide. Luckily I was able to enjoy plenty of fresh seafood from clammers who had the right gear! 

Two dozen fresh clams and mussels from the market at Drayton Harbor Oyster Co. Photo credit: Alec Pesola

Walking along the bay, we saw beautiful views of the Canadian Gulf Islands (dreaming of the day we can visit Canada again!), as well as Lummi Island and the Olympic Mountains to our south. If you enjoy hiking, Birch Bay is just one hour from the heart of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The days were a bit rainy when we visited, but we enjoyed spending our time watching the hundreds of birds in the bay enjoy the dramatic tide changes, and when we weren’t doing that, I was snuggled next to the indoor fireplace reading a book while listening to the rain on the roof—seriously my idea of heaven!

A seagull perches on a piece of driftwood on a rainy day in Birch Bay, WA. Photo credit: Alec Pesola

Day Three

While we opted to stay through Monday, the short drive and easy access of Birch Bay make this a great location for a quick two-day weekend getaway. Additionally, many of the vacation rentals come with wifi, so you may also choose to extend your trip and work remotely.

We had heard of a nano brewery that just opened in Birch Bay in August (did I mention we are beer fans?) so we made plans to stop by on our last day. Unfortunately we were not able to hang out and sip beers with the brewers like we would have liked to (thanks, Covid), but we enjoyed the time we were able to spend chatting with the team. Beach Cat Brewing is a space focused on community and collaboration, and that was immediately evident when we were greeted by the owner and assistant brewer. We excitedly chatted about their recent beer releases, how their logo was designed by the owner’s friend in high school and the tap handles were also made by a friend, and the most recent beer, a collaboration with Twin Sisters Brewing Company, was named after his daughter Melanie, born just 6 weeks ago. It was such a treat to get to see this brewery at the beginning stages and connect with the creators behind it. We picked up a four-pack of the Tortoiseshell Hazy IPA and the Nostromo Dry-Hopped Pilsner, a collaboration beer with Urban Family Brewing. Both were delicious!

The finishing touches being done at Beach Cat Brewing in June 2020. Photo credit: Beach Cat Brewing

For dinner on our last night, we ordered takeout from CJ’s Beach House, another recommendation from our VRBO host. We tried the Boston Clam Chowder, Drunken Beer Battered Prawn Tacos, and their Famous Fish and Chips. The clam chowder was my favorite as it paired perfectly with the dark stormy night we were having. 

Consider Birch Bay for your next getaway! It offers the perfect escape during these winter months that’s just a short drive away, as you can have a good time whether the sun is out or the rain is falling.