Tokeland, Washington sits on a small peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean. For chef and cookbook author Heather Earnhardt, the pace of life in this tiny town — located about 15 minutes from Westport and a half-hour from Aberdeen — is perfect.
“I wanted to be in the country and have my kids be able to ride their bikes or go throw a crab pot off or walk across the beach to the ocean […]and I wanted to get back to my roots of where I’m from, North Carolina, and to be in the country again,” said Earnhardt.
In 2020, Earnhardt closed her beloved Capitol Hill restaurant, The Wandering Goose. Now, she and her husband, Zac Young, are full-time Tokeland residents and owners of the historic Tokeland Hotel.
“When I first walked in the doors, I could see this beautiful old building. It had this magical feeling about it. I felt like it just needed a facelift. It needed to shine, and it wasn’t shining anymore,” said Earnhardt . “So, we brought in chandeliers, a whole bunch of antiques, furs, the Persian carpets, all new mattresses and just made it where, when you walk in, you’re like, ‘this place is pretty cool.'”
Built in 1885, the Tokeland Hotel is the oldest hotel in Washington. While Earnhardt and Young have certainly updated the hotel, some features from that time remain. Bathrooms are shared, and the building isn’t insulated. Heather describes it as spending the night in a fancy and charming old barn.
“You can smell the coffee in the morning. You can hear the cooks in the kitchen preparing breakfast. You can smell bacon, sausage, pancakes, all that stuff. Then at night, it turns into this magical place with tons of candles and dim lighting,” said Earnhardt.
The centerpiece of the revitalized property is, fittingly, The Wandering Goose. The restaurant has been reborn at the Tokeland Hotel with the same ethos of the original: simple food made with high-quality ingredients and plenty of southern hospitality.
“I think it’s a bigger extension of what The Wandering Goose was in Seattle. In Seattle, we just had fried chicken Friday dinners, so dinner was just one night a week. Here, we’re open seven days a week. So, it’s like a bigger, better version of The Wandering Goose in Seattle,” said Earnhardt.
The menu features an array of local seafood, along with Earnhardt’s signature dishes like fried chicken and shrimp and grits. Unsurprisingly, the restaurant has been so well received, Earnhardt tells me she has regulars who drive from as far away as Olympia, as well as guests who travel from Seattle and Portland.
While many come for a meal, there are plenty of places to explore around the hotel grounds.
“There’s the goats. We have peacocks and turkeys and a whole bunch of chickens. Then the pigs are on the other side there,” said Young as we walked around the property.
More than 100 heritage breed chickens provide eggs for the restaurant, while heirloom vegetables and edible flowers grow nearby in a beautiful garden. Young is a contractor, so he has done the majority of the work on the property himself. He and Earnhardt have plans for even more additions.
“I feel like this is a ten-year project, and we’ve been in it for four-and-a-half years,” said Earnhardt. “We want to keep the integrity of the original hotel there. So, basically, we’re just maintaining it for future generations. We have wood-fired cedar hot tubs that are coming, and we’re building cabins out back.”
Young is also working on updating the historic tavern near the main hotel to give guests another area to spend time on the property and has plans to build an outdoor wood-fired kitchen.
Behind the hotel, a walking path leads right to the edge of the water.
“That’s where all the oysters we serve in the restaurant come from, Willapa Bay,” Young tells me. “They’re the best oysters, too.”
It’s a stunning spot to enjoy a sunset, smell the salt water, or simply slow down for a moment and enjoy being surrounded by so much natural beauty.
“I want people to be able to come through the door, leave all the city life behind… and just embrace the stillness and quietness and peacefulness that Tokeland offers,” said Earnhardt. “Look at the stars at night. There’s no lights here, so you can see the Milky Way. It’s pretty spectacular.”
Learn more about Tokeland Hotel and The Wandering Goose.