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A quaint Washington town you’ve probably never heard of

The Victorian ambiance of the Tokeland Hotel. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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The cute little town of Tokeland sits on the north end of Willapa Bay and the southwestern coast of Washington state. The pristine bay is a wonder to behold and has miles of undeveloped shoreline. There are two reasons to visit Tokeland: Nelson's Crab and The Tokeland Hotel. Both of these local treasures are worth the trek from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and make for a fun day trip with your family or friends. This is the type of place you learn about from the locals. My friend Kim Early said, "When you want good crab, you need to go to Tokeland. I've been going since I was a little girl."

Make sure you bring your cooler when you visit Nelson's Crab. When you have a hankering for some Dungeness crab, this is the place to purchase it. It is back in season in December. Nelson Crab and Oyster is a third-generation family-owned business established in 1934. It was the first cannery to can crab on the west coast. The cannery sits on a spit at the north end of the Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The company's products are wild seafood from the Pacific Northwest including Dungeness crab, wild salmon, and Albacore tuna. The pure, natural, wild seafood is sold fresh, frozen or canned with no preservatives or chemicals.

The shop used to be adjacent to the cannery but has now moved to the Tokeland Marina and is unlike any seafood shop you've ever been in. Located in a beautiful restored building, the seafood counter is clean and smells fresh with a variety of seafood for sale. The smoked salmon dip and seafood cocktails make a great snack with a cup of coffee, also sold at the counter. If you've ever wanted to try the famed Willapa Bay oysters, you can purchase a single oyster shot. And of course, there is the crab, the whole reason for the trip. Plan time to tour the shop, it features local artisans and photos from the early days of the cannery. Owner Kristi Nelson is a wealth of knowledge about the history of the area. Canned seafood is also available for purchase and the Nelson tuna is so good. Prices are very reasonable for high quality seafood and are why people are willing to make the drive.

Before heading home, make sure to stop for lunch at the historic Tokeland Hotel, which is the oldest hotel in Washington state. Husband and wife, Heather Earnhardt and Zac Young purchased the hotel back in April, and are slowly bringing it back to its glory days. They live in the hotel with their children, and this business is a labor of love. Heather is a well-known Seattle chef and owner of The Wandering Goose. Her food is an exceptional mix of Southern and Pacific Northwest dishes. It is drawing visitors to Tokeland for her food. Add the comfortable Victorian ambiance of the hotel and it makes for a great lunch. The lobby and restaurant have cozy places to sit and relax, so make sure to allow time to explore all the interesting photos and antiques. Don't leave without purchasing a copy of Heather's cookbook, as you will want to try and recreate some of her dishes at home.

Tokeland is an easy hour-and-a-half drive from JBLM. Once you reach the town of Raymond, you will take Highway 105, which is a very scenic drive along Willapa Bay. When you reach Tokeland, it is one main street with all the commercial locations easy to find.

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