Washington's oldest hotel offers a peaceful escape — and delicious food


There's a saying you get told a lot as a mother. The days are long, but the years are short. And while I generally find it to be true (especially with small kids), the past 12 months have felt particularly long.

After a routine mammogram last May, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent the following months undergoing treatments and multiple surgeries. In March, the majority of it was behind me. With a clean bill of health and the brain fog of chemo slowly dissipating, I decided a small celebration was in order.

As a longtime fan of former Seattle chef Heather Earnhardt's fried chicken and anything quirky, I cajoled my best friend into a getaway to Tokeland for a weekend where we could just hang out, laugh and eat some really good food at Washington's oldest hotel.

It's located on the southwestern edge of the state, and I think we fell in love with Tokeland immediately upon arrival — and we weren't the only ones.

What to see near Washington's oldest hotel

Founded in 1899 as the Kindred Hotel, the secluded Tokeland Hotel offers a cozy, beachy escape from city life and boasts some delicious food.

The first time Earnhardt and her partner Zac Young stayed at the Tokeland Hotel, Earnhardt knew she was going to one day buy it.

Neither of them was from the area — just in town because Young's father lived nearby and was watching their children — so the couple decided to "go stay at that old hotel."

"No one was here," Young says. "It was dark and [the owner] just left the keys. It was quite a unique experience."

When Young's dad found out the hotel was for sale in 2018, Earnhardt and Young jumped at the chance to buy it. Earnhardt had run the popular Capitol Hill restaurant Wandering Goose since 2012; Young is a general contractor. They had a vision for the hotel and, now, six years later, have breathed new life into a place that opened just a decade after Washington was declared a state.

While the area surrounding Tokeland has grown, the town where the hotel sits remains mostly unchanged: remote, blissfully isolating and rugged in a way a small beach town is.

Visiting today, the hotel looks identical to old photos taken in the early 1900s. The sprawling, green two-story house still has single-pane windows loose enough in the frames that the linen curtains sometimes can sway in a stiff breeze even when closed. (Earnhardt fondly calls it "a fancy barn.")

The inside is stuffed with distinctive décor. There's thick Persian carpets underfoot and worn leather couches begging you to sink into them. The dining room is anchored by a massive wildflower chandelier created by Angela Johnson from nearby Evergreen Flower Farm. Intricate sculptures by Robin and John Gumaelius and driftwood art from Jeffro Uitto adorn the space. There are also nods to past proprietors, including woven baskets echoing founder Lizzie Kindred's basket collection, which were donated to the University of Washington, and taxidermy in the fireplace room, just like when Katherine and Scott White owned it.

In the lobby, guests can buy bags of these incredible Torres Iberian ham potato chips, bags of grits, slabs of Earnhardt's spiced pineapple banana hummingbird cake and bottles of wine, plus cozy blankets, candles and copies of her cookbook, "Big Food Big Love." All things that remind you to slow down and enjoy life.

"People ask us what to do, and it's like, do nothing. There's museums and hiking and kayaking and there's so much to do, but also we've had guests come and they don't leave until they leave to check out," Earnhardt says.

There's a congenial atmosphere among guests — perhaps a byproduct of the shared bathrooms and the multitude of animals roaming around (cats, dogs, actual wandering geese and chickens) — that reminds people to not take themselves so seriously.

"Ninety-nine percent of the people love all the animals, and then you might get the person who doesn't want a cat on their bed," Earnhardt says. "But people are sleeping with their doors open. It's a very casual, rustic hotel."

While the hotel is now always bustling with both guests and diners, there were periods during the past century when the hotel was mostly quiet.

Early days

By the time Young and Earnhardt took over six years ago, the hotel had more ghosts than patrons.

That's not a joke. If you write to the general email address for the hotel, an auto-reply comes back with some answers to frequently asked questions, including, "Which rooms are haunted?"

Over the years, guests have reported encounters with ghost cats, boys and disparate voices. Earnhardt says some people have refused to stay in room 7, even though there hasn't been any ghostly activity in a while.

Perhaps they've all found other places to haunt, with how downright peaceful the Tokeland's vibes are now.

Before ghosts roamed the halls, the Tokeland was a hot spot for people traveling from Seattle and Portland by two steamer ships, Reliable and Shamrock (large replica flags with those names are nailed to the walls inside the hotel to this day).

Lizzie Kindred and her husband, William, opened the Kindred Hotel in 1899, eventually running it with their daughters Maude and Elizabeth and expanding the property to include a golf course, dairy and oyster farm.

"We found articles about how people would come here in the summer and stay a couple months. They would say the food was amazing," Young says.

Although Maude Kindred died in 1933, her recipe booklets have survived.

"They were serving Southern food in the 1800s and it's come full circle," Young says.

Deliciously blissful isolation

Our dinnertime was a mix of hotel guests and locals rubbing elbows over hearty platters of fried chicken ($38), chicken-fried pork chops with creamy mashed potatoes ($36) and towering wedge salads topped with crisp candied bacon ($20).

The first evening we booked an appointment for the giant, wood-fired hot tub ($50/hour), which sits just a stone's throw from the hotel. We settled into the massive tub at dusk, marveling at the swooping bats and the way the setting sun lit the grassy slough (once the golf course),  turning everything a rich golden hue.

After our soak, we relaxed in the Adirondack chairs lining the front walk, giggling at Gus, a footstool-shaped yellow Labrador, as he lumbered through the dining room looking for scraps, and sighing over how good the food was and how we had missed Wandering Goose in Seattle.

"I didn't realize what a big following the Wandering Goose had until I came out here. It was really humbling to see just how much that place meant to people," Earnhardt says.

Breakfast was just as lovely as dinner. There's coffee set up for guests around 7 a.m., with breakfast beginning at 8 a.m. Of course there are big, fluffy biscuits (as good as they were when served at the Wandering Goose in Seattle, $5) as well as bowls of Greek yogurt topped with granola and fruit ($18), eggs Benedict ($24-$26), French toast ($22) and a Japanese chicken omelet with housemade kimchi ($25).

After breakfast, we set out on a walk through the slough and ended up walking the mile-long road down to Nelson Crab and the old Tokeland pier.

We drove 25 minutes north to Westport, but after spending a few hours window shopping and jostling through the crowds that were taking advantage of the unseasonably warm March weather, we decided to head back south, searching for solitude.

After grabbing some snacks at the Beachcomber Grocery & Deli, we hit Grayland Beach State Park, parking on the beach and sitting on our tailgate, scrambling to eat peanut butter cups before they melted in the sun. The ocean mist created rainbows as we walked for what felt like miles, looking for sand dollars and commenting on just how good it felt to have a little sun on our faces rather than being head down on our phones, mindlessly scrolling.

Young also says he rarely sees people on their phones or tablets in the hotel, often opting instead for board games and stargazing.

"People are coming to get away from that, whether they know it or not. The space lends itself to disconnect in a natural way. People meet others because quarters are tight and you're running into each other," Earnhardt adds.

Young is also known to give late night tours in the summer — walking people around the property and pointing out the plans they have to reopen Capt's Tavern, clubhouse for the old golf course; the work they've done on Penelope's Cabin, a two-bedroom cottage with its own hot tub across the street from the hotel; and even tours of driftwood artist Uitto's studio.

Even without a tour, a stay at Tokeland is total bliss. There's no pressure to see the sights or do anything but just live in the moment, grateful for another day.

Learn more: https://www.tokelandhotel.com/ 


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