Anyone can make a basic one and set it to flight, provided there’s a bit of wind.
These colorful creations that soar and dance in the sky seem to evoke a childhood-like joy in people no matter what their age. And they can provide hours of low-cost amusement.
Even watching others fly kites is entertaining. At the recent Washington State International Kite Festival in Long Beach, kite enthusiasts abounded, from novices to famed fliers and kite designers.
They took part in kite building workshops, flying lessons and friendly competitions, as well as in an abundance of other hands-on activities during the weeklong summer festival.
Long Beach, deemed the "Kite Capital of the U.S.," is known for its numerous kite shops, resident kite flyers and the World Kite Museum & Hall of Fame.
The area also boasts miles of pristine sandy beaches, beautiful national and state parks, historic lighthouses, a wildlife refuge and a coastal bike and pedestrian trail, making it the ideal playground for outdoor aficionados.
The popular kite festival, which began in 1981 as a humble gathering of nine and one kite team, has grown over the years into one of the largest festivals of its kind in North America.
It attracts visitors from around the world who share a passion for kite flying. Among its many highlights are fighter kite competitions, kite ballet performances, fireworks, exhibitions and mass ascensions of hundreds of kites in the air at one time.
Each year, featured flyers are selected to add a unique blend of art and ingenuity to the week’s colorful skies.
This year, Bas Vreeswijk, from the Netherlands, and Karl Longbottom, from the United Kingdom, brought their special talents to the festival.
Vreeswijk displayed his bold and beautiful applique designs and aerial kite photography and Longbottom, an engineer by trade, showed off the superb quality, precision, balance and flying characteristics of his array of kites.
For those unversed in the world of kites, such as myself, a stop at the World Kite Museum is helpful. Here you’ll learn about the art, science and history of kites with exhibits that include kites from around the world, from bygone eras and from the present and future where the kite is a "green" source of power.
There are videos of kite fighting, stamps with kites on them from 37 different countries, kites that saved lives in WWII, a display on the development of technical uses for kites and more. At the festival, you’ll see spectacular kite trains — dozens of kites joined together and released one at a time into the sky. These can be traditional diamond shaped, rectangular with a round hole in the middle, shield shapes or in the semblance of birds such as parrots, swallows and hawks.
There are also arches, a series of kites anchored to the ground on each end that create billowing arch-like formations.
Numerous events draw hundreds of spectators. Rokkaku Battles, where Japanese style battle kites fight against one another in the air with the objective being to knock out the competition, are definite crowd pleasers.
On the other end of the spectrum is Kite Ballet. Participants in this activity fly their kites to music and are judged by the variety and difficulty of maneuvers executed, along with the choreography and flow. This activity can also involve teams of fliers working in unison.
The ante is upped in Mystery Ballet, where fliers do not know what song they will be flying to until the music starts.
Hot Tricks, another fan favorite, gives participants the opportunity to strut their stuff when it comes to displaying the newest stunts on the leading edge of the sport of kite flying. There are intricate spins, flips, floats and turns — maneuvers that you would not think possible with a kite – and the wow factor is extreme. The atmosphere at the festival is one of excitement, anticipation and sheer fun, with all ages getting into the action. The only downside is a crick in your neck, developed by a constant eye upwards. You’ll be mesmerized by the rainbow of colors, the different shapes and sizes and the sheer volume of kites that fill the sky.
County fair type booths line both sides of the beach approach, with assorted kite-related paraphernalia and crafts for sale, along with the usual festival fare. The best food, however, is found elsewhere.
And I don’t mean the proverbial fish and chips and chowder that most coastal towns offer.
For a truly memorable dining experience that would make even the most discerning foodie impressed, make your way to The Depot or The Shelburne Inn. The former was an actual depot building, constructed in the early 1900s by a subsidiary of Union Pacific, the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company. It was used up until 1930, when the railroad discontinued operation. Husband-wife team Michael Lalewicz and Nancy Gorshe opened The Depot nine years ago. Michael, a master chef, presides over the kitchen while Nancy, with her executive background, manages the place, setting a warm, hospitable tone to the casually appointed dining room.
When asked to describe his cooking, Chef Michael says, "It’s eclectic cuisine with a complex simplicity."
If you begin your meal with the Thai Calamari, you’ll realize instantly that you’re in good hands. The calamari, tender and sweet, are tossed with crispy won tons and Thai peanut cilantro sauce and sit on a bed of fresh spinach and Napa cabbage mix. Entrees in the "landfood" category include such specialties as Frenched Cut Veal Chop with a Jack Daniel glaze, Lamb New Delhi (braised lamb shank in a curry saffron broth) and Peppadew Chicken (lightly smoked chicken breast chargrilled on white cheddar cheese polenta cake topped with sweet African Peppadew BBQ sauce).
Being a seafood connoisseur, I focused on entrees like Peruvian Mango Sea Scallops and Clams Bucatini.
The melt-in-your-mouth scallops had a lively kick, courtesy of the spicy mango puree. And the Clams Bucatini was bursting with flavorful ocean razor and whole Willapa Bay steamer clams.
Though fabulously full, my friend and I just had to sample a few of Chef Michael’s dessert specials. A trio of homemade sorbet, infused with blackberries, raspberries and salmonberries, was incredibly refreshing, while the warm chocolate flourless tart with a hazelnut crust made us swoon.
Over at the Shelburne, fine dining reigns supreme. This historic country inn, which was established in 1896, is an authentic American classic that has been lovingly restored. Each of the 15 guest rooms is uniquely decorated with period antiques, original art and stained glass carefully selected over the years by longtime owners David Campiche and Laurie Anderson. Fresh, local ingredients take center stage in the elegant and intimate dining room.
A plate of heirloom tomatoes with Port Townsend Creamery Truffle Fromage Blanc, accompanied by Laurie’s homemade walnut-olive bread, made a delightful starter, followed by a bowl of Cioppino, chockfull of clams, mussels, salmon and prawns in a velvety smooth saffron broth.
Seared Columbia River Salmon with chanterelles and cauliflower puree took star billing for the main entree.
Other options included Roasted Rockfish, Wild Mushroom Risotto (David is a consummate forager), Beef Tenderloin with a smoked chanterelle ragout and Roasted Duck Breast with potato-nut hash.
Though you may be sated at this point, leave room for the sinfully delicious desserts, but be forewarned, the choices make it difficult to opt for just one.
There’s Lemon Blackberry Crème Brulee, Warm Chocolate Torte, a trio of homemade ice creams that may include such flavors as lavender, caramel and almond and a dreamsicle-like orange or "Eaton Mess," a traditional English dish consisting of vanilla cake, strawberry, whipped cream and house ice cream.
There are numerous places to stay in the Long Beach area, from family-friendly resorts to cozy inns and vacation rentals.
You can even stay at a lighthouse keeper’s residence. Among the many options is the Adrift Hotel, where my friend and I bunked during our getaway.
What used to be the old Edgewater is now a unique, contemporary property furnished with a combination of new, reclaimed and repurposed materials. The result is a modern, minimalist-style hotel with a laid-back environment. There are memory foam mattresses in each bedroom, free organic coffee and infused fruit waters in the lobby, complimentary bikes and a casual eatery and bar.
Pet lovers take note as the second floor is designated "dog-friendly."
The hotel is located oceanside and steps to the beach. It’s also close to town, where shops and cafes abound.
Though kites are what brought my friend and I to Long Beach initially, we discovered all the many other gems the area has to offer through various side trips.
One of the must-dos is Cape Disappointment State Park, where you can hike miles of trails that lead you through multiple ecosystems, from coastal for forests to saltwater marshes and grassy dunes.
You’ll want to make sure you visit both Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, with its panoramic view overlooking the Columbia River bar, as well as picturesque North Head Lighthouse, which is perched on the headland surrounded by the ocean in all its wild glory.
Nearby Ilwaco is the cranberry mecca of the Peninsula, where you can take a tour of a working bog and stop in at the Cranberry Museum to learn about all things cranberry.
For a flash back into the past, head to Oysterville, a National Historic District that feels like a movie back lot version of a 19th century coastal community.
Eight houses, a church, the cannery and a one-room schoolhouse are all on the National Register of Historic Places.
The town also boasts the oldest continuously operating post office in the state. The list goes on.
But, if it all proves too much for you, simply park yourself on the sand and grab some beach time, with or without a kite.
If you go:
Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau: 800-451-2542 or www.funbeach.com
Adrift Hotel : 800-561-2456 or www.adrifthotel.com
The Depot Restaurant: (360) 642-7880 or www.depotrestaurantdining.com
The Shelburne Inn: (360) 642-2442 or www.theshelburneinn.com