Point Roberts: 5 sq. miles of America

In less than a week, the Marmite-to-Maple family will be driving down to Oregon for our annual August-long weekend beach getaway. I love love love the Oregon Coast, but I hate hate HATE the drive down. We’ve never waited for less than 3 hours at the border, and always hit traffic at Seattle, no matter what time of day. Just when the gridlock ends and you think you’re making progress, you hit another wall of parked cars and realize you’re only at Tacoma. Last time we drove down (to get Dave!) I swore I would never ever do that drive again. However, we’re not willing to pay to take Dave on a plane, so here I am about to embark on the annual journey from hell. This time, we came up with the brainwave of heading to the US in advance to pay for our $6 visa waivers so that we don’t have to do that part of the wait (usually 2 hours with Dave crying in a kennel) next week. So on Friday night we booked a Zipcar and headed down to Point Roberts, Washington.

Point Roberts, Washington

Point Roberts, Washington

Point Roberts is one of those weird geographical anomalies that happens when countries set boundaries without really thinking everything through. According to Wikipedia, the correct term is ‘pene-exclave‘, but most Vancouverites know it as ‘the peninsula that sticks out past Tsawwassen which is in the US’. It’s a very small, 1300 population, 5 square mile area which happens to lie just below the 49th parallel, so was separated from Canada after the Oregon Treaty in 1846. The bizarre thing about it is that it’s only accessible by land from Canada, not from mainland US. If you want to avoid Canada (and why would you?) you have get a boat to the Washington coast. American children in grade 4 or higher have to drive through Canada and cross two borders to get to school in Blaine, WA. Crazy. Point Roberts is very popular with Canadians looking for cheap gas (prices are 20c a litre cheaper than Canada), an American shipping address and summer vacation cabins. And also for immigrants like us who need a quiet, close Canadian border to get a visa-waiver or  activate work visas or Permanent Residence. My brother got the bus to Tsawwassen and walked across the border and back so he could get his Permanent Residence a few months ago, and waited in line approximately 2 hours less than we did when we went to Blaine. So off we went to do the same on Friday!

Looking back up to the beach to Canada

Looking back up to the beach to Canada

Point Roberts is only about 20 miles south of Downtown Vancouver, so it didn’t take long to get there. When we arrived at the border there was no line, and the officer waived us through into the secondary facility used for those needing to declare items, have their car searched or purchase entry documents (us). Again, there was no line there either, and we left Dave crying in a kennel outside for the 5 short minutes it took to purchase our 90-day tourist cards. I think the officers were pleased to see us, as I’m sure days pass very slowly at this particular border. Once this was done we drove the 2 miles to Lighthouse Marine Park, the beach at the south-western most point of the peninsula. We times it perfectly as the sun was almost setting, which made for some great photos. The beach was very pebbly (you might need more than flip-flops) but had a path running alongside it and great views out to the Gulf Islands and the Washington coast. Signs said that dogs had to be on their leash, but everyone else was letting their dogs run around and it was very quiet so we let Dave off for a bit too to stretch his legs. We didn’t stay long as we wanted to get some food before the sun went down, but it was a really nice spot.

Looking South East to the Gulf Islands

Looking South East to the Gulf Islands

Dining options on Point Roberts are somewhat limited, and we headed to Brewster’s Fine Foods as it had the best Tripadvisor and UrbanSpoon ratings. It’s part grocery store and part restaurant, and we ended up ordering food to go and eating it on the front lawn as we weren’t able to have Dave with us on the patio. We had fish tostadas with an artisan bread basket, and both were delicious. They even brought Dave out some water and cooked chicken which he appreciated! The journey back into Canada was quick and easy with no line-up at all, and we were back home about four hours after we left. I can see the appeal of Point Roberts for vacation cabins as it’s so close to Vancouver, yet really has that small-town American feel (with the cheap gas). I’m sure we’ll be back, definitely to get our visa-waivers in advance of our Christmas cabin trip, and likely before so that James can get his American fix. See you soon, Point Bob!

Sunset from Lighthouse Marine Park

Sunset from Lighthouse Marine Park

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About MarmitetoMaple

I'm originally from the UK and have been working and living the dream in Vancouver, BC, since January 2011. I am a firm believer in travel, good cheese, volunteering and community engagement.

2 responses to “Point Roberts: 5 sq. miles of America”

  1. Tom says :

    Hello – I randomly came across your blog when I was doing research last year on permanent resident paperwork and I really enjoy it because I can definitely relate to a lot of your experiences discovering this beautiful land. I am a native Californian (by way of Oregon) living/working in Victoria and became a PR this past winter (finally!). Anyway, I noticed you are heading down to Oregon (or perhaps you already have?).. Not sure if you’ve ever been to Tillamook, which is south of Seaside, but it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s near where I’m from and there is a wonderful dairy/cheese factory (Tillamook Chese) in town that has homemade ice cream with quite a few flavors and varieties – it’s a must visit for most locals from Oregon 🙂 Additionally, if you haven’t found it yet, I highly recommend the very beautiful ‘Three Capes Scenic Loop’ that starts just south of Tillamook along the coast. It’s a bit of a detour from Highway 101 but it is beautiful and the Cape Meares Lighthouse (at the northern end of the loop) is a must visit. Additionally, if you haven’t been too far south yet, I recommend the drive from Newport, Oregon to Florence, Oregon along 101. There is a specific point where you get to Heceta Head and the lighthouse there. You can rent a room in the old lighthouse keeper’s house there (it is now a bed and breakfast) and the scenery is spectacular, maybe some of the best on the Oregon coast. Good luck!

    • MarmitetoMaple says :

      Hi Tom, thank you so much for your comment and your kind words! We have just come back from our weekend in Cannon Beach and I am definitely very jealous that you grew up in Oregon! This was just a short visit so we stuck to Cannon Beach/Manzanita/Astoria, but on my first trip a couple of years ago we went to the cheese factory (I bought cheese, fudge AND ice-cream!) and also did the Three Capes Scenic Loop. We drove the whole coast from Astoria to Brookings and couldn’t believe how stunning the views were around Florence and below. WOW! Next time we’ll be sure to check out the lighthouse, thank you so much for the tip. Congrats on getting your PR last year too!

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