While pop-up campers were representative of my childhood, I’ve always had a fondness for vintage travel trailers from the 1950s. No surprise, given my love of all things retro. Think shiny silver Airstreams that looked very Space-Agey back then, or my ultimate dream machine, a Volkswagen Camper Bus. So when a friend of ours told us about a place on the Washington coast where you can stay in fully appointed vintage trailers, we knew we had to check it out. This past weekend gave us the perfect excuse: it was both my birthday and the Astoria Crab, Seafood & Wine Festival. We made reservations a couple of months ago, and set out Friday afternoon after work.
We arrived in Astoria, Oregon around 6:30. Surprisingly, it was a gorgeous evening, with brilliant sunshine and a pristine blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. I say “surprisingly” because Astoria is notoriously cloudy and damp. But it’s a beautiful harborside city with a rich maritime history located at the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and Columbia River. It’s also the site of several popular movies including The Goonies, Kindergarten Cop, and Short Circuit. Quaint Victorian-style homes dot the steep hillsides overlooking the water and the impressive 4.2-mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge that connects Oregon and Washington. I love the place, and hope to live there someday. We slid into a booth at the Silver Salmon Grille and ordered a couple of drinks and appetizers. The steamer clams were the best we’d ever had! It was the beginning of a very seafoody weekend.
After killing time in Astoria, we crossed the bridge into Washington, and arrived at the Sou’wester Lodge around 8:30. Some articles refer to the place as a “spiritual convergence zone,” and I’d say that’s not far off the mark. It felt like we had stepped back in time; the rustic lodge (built in 1892) with its brightly colored string of lights overlooked a group of vintage trailers plucked straight out of the 50s, all tucked between a stand of towering fir trees within walking distance of the ocean. The proprietor was an older woman who was clearly an ex-hippie. She showed us around the lodge and then walked us over to our trailer, a 1953 Zelmar cruiser. The trailer was well-maintained and right up my alley, with polished wood and kitschy curtains throughout. It included a cozy bedroom, a table with bench seating, sink, stove, microwave, refrigerator (more like a classic icebox), and a living room with a low-slung couch. We even had a 13″ color TV/VCR combo and a library of VHS tapes to borrow for free. Very cool. We kicked back with some adult beverages and then walked over to a dive bar next door called Rod’s Lamplighter, where we had some more drinks, played pool, listened to karaoke, and chatted with the locals. Everybody was friendly, and the tater tots were delicious. We didn’t get back to the trailer until close to 1 AM, and didn’t get to bed for almost an hour.
The next morning we recovered in classic Mark & Tara style: we lounged around with Bloody Marys while watching 10 Things I Hate About You on the VCR. After showering (that was an experience in the cramped confines of the trailer bathroom), we headed over to Astoria for the festival. I’d been there a couple of times before, most recently in 2008, and always enjoyed it. Sure enough, it was a lot of fun, and a popular draw: the place was packed. We wandered around, sampling wine and beer and eating – you guessed it – seafood. Oyster shooters, crab and shrimp toast, pan fried oysters, seafood gumbo, all of it fresh and wonderful. We spent a few hours there, wandered around Astoria some more, and then drove back to Washington, where we hit the beach. By this time the skies had clouded over, the wind was raging, and the heavens opened up with a driving, drenching rain. We weren’t actually “on” the beach ourselves, per se, but in my car, driving up and down the sand, protected from the elements. That’s one of the best things about the Long Beach Peninsula: you can drive right out to the water’s edge. Afterwards we drove back into town and grabbed some ingredients for dinner. Back in our trailer, rain pounded on the roof and the wind clawed at the windows with the eager determination of a house cat demanding entry, but we were warm and dry. Tara cooked us a dinner of garlic chive pasta with asparagus tips and bay shrimp, and we watched a couple more VHS movies (St. Elmo’s Fire and Sister Act) before crawling into bed early. We were both exhausted after a late night and busy day.
Sunday we lounged in bed reading our Kindles for awhile and enjoying the sound of the rain pelting the roof. I pointed out that 24 hours later we’d be back in our cubicles toiling away for Corporate America, a depressing thought that we tried to push aside. Reluctantly we packed up and checked out, making a detour back to the beach before leaving. By now the rain had stopped and the sun was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. We were actually able to walk on the sand this time. Then we began the long drive home, stopping in Astoria for breakfast at Pig ‘n Pancake on the way. It was a white-knuckle drive, with lots of heavy rain and even some hail thrown in for good measure, but we made it back unscathed, arriving home mid-afternoon. After a quick trip to the grocery store we went to my parents’ house for a birthday dinner. They had watched Audrey for the weekend, in order to give Tara and I a much-needed relaxing weekend.
My verdict? Best birthday ever! We’ll definitely return to the Sou’wester Lodge. Err…the “spiritual convergence zone.”