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My Favorite Road Trip: Willapa Loop

Making Time for a Roadside Diversion

In 2019, AAA Washington’s Todd Nemish and his daughter set out in a Prius with a road guide and no fixed itinerary, heading for the Olympic Peninsula. Find out why this became one his favorite road trips.

For Todd Nemish, a great road trip doesn’t necessarily mean a long-distance one. One of his best trips was a brief jaunt with his daughter on the Willapa Loop, which runs around southwest Washington.

“It was just a little adventure,” he says.

Nemish, an operations support and training specialist for AAA Washington’s domestic travel counselors, and his then 17-year-old daughter set out on the road in 2019. The two had a rough idea of what they wanted to see and where they wanted to go, but they kept an open mind for anything along the way. The Tacoma residents hopped into his Prius and jumped on state Route 6 at Chehalis, Washington, heading to South Bend.

They had a Willapa Loop auto tour guide written by AAA’s John King, who offered, along with tips, the etymology of various town and city names. Nemish made sure to read the factoids aloud whenever they found a new locale. For example, when they drove through the town of Pe Ell, they learned that its name was derived from the name of a pioneer settler, Pierre Louis Charles.

“I find these little geographical facts interesting,” Nemish says.

At South Bend, the loop approaches the Pacific Ocean before turning south. They investigated quaint roadside attractions like “The World’s Largest Oyster” in South Bend and “The World’s Largest Frying Pan” in Long Beach. Nemish made sure to take a photo of his daughter standing next to each for scale.

Long Beach also claims to have “The World’s Largest Chop Sticks” and the “World’s Longest Beach.” Plus, in Long Beach sits Marsh’s Free Museum, which is an “epic curiosity shop,” Nemish notes. The duo then headed south down the coast and crossed the Astoria-Megler bridge into Oregon, the longest continuous truss bridge in North America.

They stopped at the Rogue Ales Public House close to the bridge for lunch before heading east via U.S. 30 to Rainier, Oregon, where they crossed the Lewis and Clark Bridge to Longview, and then linked up with Interstate 5 before heading back to Tacoma. Along this long loop, they drove by farms, forests and rolling hills and passed towns with populations of around 20.

“I do like to have a few things in mind that I want to see,” Nemish says. “But I also want to be open to new things. If I see something off to the side of the road, I always want to be open to taking maybe 15 minutes and going there. I want to see the giant ball of twine! I don’t want to be so set in my trip that I can’t make time for a diversion.”

Read the Willapa Loop Auto Tour.

–Written by Jake Uitti
–Top Picture of the Astoria-Megler Bridge is by Othman/Adobe Stock.

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