Go Razor Clamming on Washington’s Awesome Long Beach Peninsula

Head north for wet, sandy beaches and sweet, buttery clams.

By Kelly Clarke May 19, 2016 Published in the June 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Families flock to Long Beach during razor clam season (don't be shy - seasoned clammers are often happy to share digging tips with first-timers)

Few food experiences match the joy of jamming a PVC tube down into the sand and finding a wiggly, seawater-spurting razor clam in a cylinder of grit. Spring mornings at low tide, thousands of hungry locals dig for these edible buried treasures along Long Beach’s 28-mile coastline. “When razor clamming is on, everybody heads to the beach. Later, you feast,” says Dan Ayres, Washington’s coastal shellfish manager. “It’s an event, not just a harvest.”

From fall through mid-May, clammers throng the peninsula to dig their limit of 15 razors per day: locals wedging a short, metal clamming shovel into the sand like an extended arm, working alongside tourist families clad in rain gear and whooping with delight. Long Beach is so well known for these palm-size bivalves that it hosts a Razor Clam Festival each April. Oregon also has razors at northern beaches like those near Gearhart. But stricter policies in Washington—which allow digs on just a few weekend mornings or evenings—mean Long Beach boasts a larger clam population and more bountiful digs.

Clamming is surprisingly simple: head out an hour before low tide, look for a quarter-size divot or doughnut shape near the water line, and get digging. (Carefully, so as not to crack the clam’s brittle shell.) Cleaning Pacific Coast razors—too big to eat without removing their sand-clogged digestive systems—requires more work than smaller littleneck clams and mussels. But one bite of fatty, fresh clam, either panko-fried or sautéed with garlic butter, makes it worth the effort.

“Razor clamming is a little like childbirth,” a longtime clammer told me during a recent dig. “It’s a bit of a pain during, but you soon forget all the trouble and end up happily doing it again sooner or later.”

While You're There

EXPLORE  A quick motor up the peninsula to Oysterville Sea Farms yields desolately stunning views of Willapa Bay’s tidal flats. Staffers harvest oysters in beds yards from the outfit’s super-fresh market while you shuck your own craggy beauts on the wooden deck—or grab ice-filled bags of shellfish to grill/slurp at your leisure. willabay.com

EAT  In harbor town Ilwaco, indie-style Salt Pub & Hotel and surf shop charms with sea-blue walls, cork floors, and a pretty view of the working port. The pub serves better than expected grub, with diminutive oyster sliders and an oddly excellent bacon-wrapped, Dungeness-topped hot dog. salt-hotel.com

STAY  The Long Beach Peninsula is dotted with hotels and condos. Another option: yurts at Cape Disappointment State Park. These 14 dwellings look like woodsy circus tents: skylights, bunk beds, decks and fire pits. Clamming a bust? Call Serious Pizza, the park’s tidy grill and store, for wood-fired pie delivery. washington.goingtocamp.com

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Gear Up

Score a Willapa Marine PVC razor clam gun at Dennis Company, an outdoors outfitter right on Long Beach’s main drag. $12.99, denniscompany.com

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