Area History

History is as thick as sea mist, almost palpable as one stands on the lush western edge of the continent, here, at China Beach Retreat, just as the Corps of Discovery did on that blustery November day in 1805. 

“Ocian in view! O! the joy.” Captain William Clark proudly parlayed his now infamous words. The explorers, who included the Black slave York and a sixteen-year old Shoshoni woman named Sacagawea, countered with a rousing cheer.

Native Americans came first, camping closest to the source of the salmon runs. From this beach–like so many others that punctuate the estuary at the Columbia River mouth–they camped and thrived. Life was relatively easy in those years before the first Europeans, before the “Bostons” pressed their culture upon the western shores. The fish, clams and berries were in abundance. Campfires and cedar longhouses fit naturally into the temperate climate. The Chinook were the greatest traders along the width and breath of the Pacific Coast. The great salmon is named for them. So was the common trade language. Five miles across the wide river from Astoria, the charming small town of Chinook continues to honor their name. Time has altered that landscape into a shallow salt marsh, teeming with waterfowl.

The salmon is a powerful swimmer, intelligent and when harvested, sumptuous of taste. In the late summer and fall, the silver-backed fish is abundant. In view of the house at China Beach, charter boats still push toward the deep royal waters where the salmon wait.Robert Gray anchored his good ship, the Columbia Rediviva, just a mile from here. The year was 1792. Recorded history tells us that Gray was the first European to cross the ferocious Columbia River bar, but the first explorers to eye this part of the Pacific Coast may have been Chinese monks in 458. Journals of one monk, Hwui Shan, claimed that the group left China in a small boat and sailed the North American coast from the Aleutian Islands to Mexico.

Once outside the tenacious grasp of the Pacific Ocean, Gray and his crew marveled at the abundance. Word of the rich fishing and timber stands spread like wildfire. So did smallpox, nearly eradicating the Chinook tribe. The towns of Ilwaco, Oysterville and Chinook sprang up. The pioneers came in droves. A narrow-gauge railroad rolled through the new tourist town of Long Beach on its way to Ocean Park, further north up the picturesque sandy peninsula. Tourism had arrived. Today it flourishes like the milky ocean combers that roll endlessly over the limitless sands.

The vista and the history of China Beach Retreat are yours to share. If you catch site of an eagle circling high above the estuary, you can imagine the vista that was hers for the taking in the last millennium. Here and now, marvel at the magical spot called China Beach Retreat. Today, it’s yours for the asking.

In set. Troll boats and gillnetters plied the swift waters. This necessitated more workers in the canneries. A barracks was erected for the numerous Chinese immigrants who arrived to work here. They grew their vegetables on a garden plot, just beside the present-day house. Ever since that time, the locals have referred to this spot as “China Beach.” After 1900, a Finn named Oja bought the property and built the first private home. He anchored his troll boat in the front yard. In front of the house the channel was thirty-six feet deep and swift. Time has altered that landscape into a shallow salt marsh, teeming with waterfowl.


Lewis & Clark

“Tucked down and away from the road, this guest house offers a stunning- and historic-retreat at the edge of Baker Bay [photos]. With a view from the shore over tide-lands toward Sand Island, it offers a view much like the one that greeted Lewis & Clark as they walked to and from Cape Disappointment during their days on the North shore of the Columbia. China Beach Retreat has three bedrooms with sumptuous private baths, stunning handcrafted headboards, original art and vista windows that make for an idyllic getaway.”

The Lewis & Clark Expedition:

A Traveler’s Companion for Oregon and Washington

By Stuart and Kathy Watson

The culmination of the greatest expedition in American history ended at a picturesque headland dubiously named Cape Disappointment. That November morning was wet and blustery. The year was 1805. Yards ahead of the explorers huge breakers were dashing the fishing rocks. The surf was tempestuous. The party had at last arrived at the Pacific. The explorers were dumbstruck by the beauty and power of the surging bottle-green waves. The men offered a whooping cheer. To the heels of their moccasin feet, they felt proud.

That vista is as breathtaking today as it was on that winter afternoon nearly 200 years ago. Standing in the yard at China Beach, a visitor can imagine the agony and glory of that 4000-mile trek, and the landscape of those first years of the nineteenth century. The vista continues to invigorate, to empower the viewer’s imagination. Massive Sitka Spruce jut from the shoreline. The wildfowl are migrating. Their cacophonies gladden the heart.

The Corps of Discovery traversed the beach here at China Beach; skirted the igneous outcroppings and old growth forests. The skies were overcast and the shoreline a meld of viridian and sorrel green. At Cape Disappointment State Park they cut through the sandy isthmus. Climbing on the fishing rocks below a current-day museum built to proclaim their achievement (The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center), the men most certainly felt the weight of their accomplishment. In separate diary entries, the officers would acknowledge the vision of the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. In their own words the observers would confirm his directive and vision. Our mission is complete, they state to their leader. To paraphrase the offerings of those scribes: ‘We have traversed the American continent and now stand before the Pacific Ocean.’ There can be no doubt that the same sense of awe touched the lives of the 16-year old Shoshone woman, Sacagawea, and the black slave of William Clark, York.

The Corps would camp for eighteen days on the Washington side of the Columbia River in present day Pacific County. Not all their campsites have been developed for tourism, but they can be ferreted out by historian and visitor alike. Station Camp was transformed after the 2005 bicentennial. The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is but a five minute drive from China Beach Retreat. From there, the sense of history is palpable. As in 1805, the vista is spellbinding. Just across the Megler bridge over the mouth of the Columbia river, Fort Clatsop remains the gem of Oregon’s historical restoration. Hundreds of thousands of visitors have visited the fort.

The famous sculptress, Maya Lin designed a monument to the Corps nearby. In honor of the commemoration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the construction of the Discovery Trail was begun in 2002. It stretches 8.5 miles from Ilwaco to North Long Beach. Most of the trail is paved, and makes for idyllic bicycle riding, running or walking.

Four thousand miles from St. Louis, Missouri to a quiet sandy beach at the mouth of the Columbia River – this is the odyssey of the Corps of Discovery and the conclusion of Thomas Jefferson’s western vision. Lewis and Clark resided in what is now Pacific County for 18 days. Here at China Beach Retreat a modern pioneer can imagine that same sense of pride and achievement; can stand awestruck by the natural beauty of the landscape.


222 Robert Gray Drive

Ilwaco, WA 98624

P: (360) 777-3312


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