If ever a town had an apt name, it’s Western Washington’s South Bend. It is, indeed, that little bend in the road as you travel south along Highway 101 after Raymond and well north of anything else for a while.
In fact, if you’re heading south after Raymond take note. South Bend is likely your last stop for anything until you reach Astoria or Long Beach.
But South Bend does not get its name from the curve of the highway through town.
It comes from the bend in the Willapa River just downstream from Raymond and just before the river empties into one of the largest estuaries in our country and home to the world famous Willapa Bay oysters, along with eagles, hawks and egrets plus deer and elk.
According to the city’s history, South Bend was founded by lumber baron brothers Valentine and John Riddell in 1869. Then it was an ideal spot from which to harvest the abundant local forest and float the lumber down river to the Riddell owned sawmill for processing. By 1890 the city was established, thanks to the bustling citizenship, and boasted its own newspaper, a chamber of commerce and democratically elected civic leadership.
Typical of much boom and bust in the development of early West Coast towns, South Bend was seduced by the prospect of a terminus station for the Pacific Northwest railway. Thus, much investment poured into the city and so, too, did hope and competition from neighboring towns. The railroad did make it to South Bend, but it’s destination as a terminus never quite took hold.
Since its inception, South Bend has been part of Washington’s Pacific County and its residents fought hard with another small town on the Willapa Harbor, Oysterville (near Long Beach) for the county seat. South Bend won and since 1892 the city has been home to the county’s courthouse.
From its position atop the hill overlooking South Bend you can imagine the many early settlers who came to the area with big dreams. A walk in the gorgeously maintained yard of the Courthouse is worth the stop for those on a quest to photograph Western Washington’s most scenic vistas.
But the main street also offers a variety of stop-worthy places. Whether staying in the area or just passing through, there’s some can’t-miss parts of South Bend that will make you glad you stopped to look around.
Hidden against the riverfront is a little café and patio called Elixir Espresso and Fare (1015 Robert Bush Drive) that offers that right mix of midday mocha and light bites. If you arrive on a drizzly spring day, enjoy the hippy-dippy indoors with its array of locally made honey, candles and knitted wear. If you make it there on a sunny day, you can step outside to their secret patio that overlooks the river — and the grazing cattle across the way — for a true break from reality. Good luck pulling yourself away from this little zen-like spot. It’s all a part of Pacific 101 which is an all-purpose café/restaurant/pub/club but it’s the café that truly stands out as the best spot to stop when coming through town.
Wandering about the town’s main strip, you’ll find a wealth of antique grazing opportunities of your own at the many little antique malls in the area. A block up from the Elixir on Alder Street, you’ll discover an antique store that offers a true collection of unique items.
The store is neither well-advertised nor likely to show up on your Google Search, but once in South Bend, you’ll see the signs on Alder Street for antiques, follow them. That unnamed store probably holds some of the best antiques in the area. Not to say that the others aren’t worth stopping in, but this one is a find for true treasure hunters.
Speaking of unique treasures, if you love chocolate then Jayden’s German Store (608 Robert Bush Drive) is a can’t-miss. No kidding, as you drive through town, it would be difficult to miss their bright red store with promises of chocolate. They deliver, and a visit to their store makes a trip to South Bend a sweet experience.
Finally, no stop in South Bend is complete without getting your own batch of Willapa Bay oysters. East Point Fish and Chips (313 Robert Bush Drive) has both their traditional fish store, and their fish and chips trailer. They offer the kind of roadside fried oysters and chips you crave when you’re coming through a town like South Bend, fresh from the bay and fried on the spot. If you’re not looking for anything battered, their smoked oysters are just as nummy for an afternoon snack.
No matter what your fancy is, discovering your own gems in South Bend isn’t too hard to do. Considering the many options you have, you’ll likely spend more time in South Bend than you planned. It will be worth your time to stop and take a look around.