The Top Ten Beaches of the Pacific Northwest

From sea stacks to orca whales, secluded beaches to popular surf spots, we bring you the best the coast of the great Pacific Northwest has to offer.
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Deception Pass, Whidbey Island, Washington at twilight
Twilight masks the wide array of scenery—from rock cliffs to giant trees—that characterizes Whidbey Island, Washington.  (Alex L. Fradkin/Stockbyte/Getty)

Improbable sea stacks and spectacular sunsets, rugged cliffs that shelter serene coves, and abundant marine life, including orca whales, Steller sea lions, and tide pools packed with sea stars, hermit crabs, and brilliantly-colored anemones, intermix on the Pacific Northwest coast. From Cape Flattery, on Washington's northwest tip, to McVay Rock State Recreation Site in southwest Oregon, just shy of the California border, this stretch of shore is one of the world's best-kept secrets.

All 363 miles of the Oregon coastline are protected as public property (private property only extends to the end of vegetation), whereas Washington beaches are both private and public land. Washington's Olympic National Park boasts a narrow corridor of pristine beaches that traces the coastline. Many of its beaches are part of Indian reservations, a fact which lends them a remote charm found nowhere else. Further south, the 26-mile Long Beach Peninsula features endless sand and quaint, coastal fishing villages. Check the tide schedule and bring a shovel and pail for clamming, a traditional Washington Coast pastime.

The Oregon Coast combines dense, old-growth forests, rugged cliffs, and rolling sand dunes. Generally more accessible than those up north, Oregon beaches feature plenty of recreational opportunities, from kayak and surfboard rentals to The Newport Aquarium, one of the world's best aquariums. Lighthouses, many open to the public, dot the coastline and afford spectacular views of exploding waves and cavorting seals. In Oregon, beach camping is free, but only out of sight of houses and not adjacent to state parks.

In both states, feast on plate-loads of local fare, from Dungeness crab to Quilcene oysters, and sample some of the region's award-winning Pinots and Chardonnays. Highway 101 snakes its way along the coast from Port Angeles, Washington, through Oregon, but don't plan on getting anywhere fast, as two-lane roads are the norm. Mid-July through mid-August is the height of the tourist season, but as summer wanes to fall, you'll find fewer cars on the roads and even fewer people on the beaches. No matter the season, here's my list of the best ten beaches that Washington and Oregon have to offer, from ten to one.

10. Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island, Washington
This is Washington's most visited park for good reason. The 4,134-acre park, about nine miles north of Oak Harbor, is an outdoor Disneyland of scenery and marine life. Rock cliffs swoop down into the water, where waves crash against them, covering them with spray and foam. Bald eagles make the park their home, and are frequently seen riding the thermals in the deep blue sky. In addition to breath-catching views, the giant trees in the old-growth forests provide shelter for picnickers and excellent shade on hot days. There are three miles of bike trails, six miles of dedicated horse trails, and 38 miles of hiking trails. Arguably, the best park feature is Rosario Beach, a dive park in a protected cove. The water's fairly shallow (at most 40 feet), and has plenty of room for beginners and advanced divers. In addition to a frequently spotted giant Pacific octopus and a handful of curious seals, there are colorful nudibranchs, purple sea urchins, and plenty of hermit crabs.
Washington Beach Vacation Guide

9. Westport Beach, Washington
This beach is one of the closest Pacific Ocean beaches to Seattle and a favorite of local surfers. Not only does this area have a distinct family-friendly atmosphere, there are plenty of reasonably-priced hotel rooms and vacation rentals available. The beach is a wide, long stretch of sand that's great for strolling. Pick up a colorful kite at one of the local shops and take advantage of the ocean breezes. Experienced surfers flock to this beach and, with its sandy bottom and gradual slope, it's also great for beginners and a blast for boogie boarders. Westport has two surf shops that rent boards and wetsuits. Razor clams are plentiful here, and digging them is an art that doesn't take too much time to master. Bring along a shovel and pail, plan to get up at dawn, and partake in a local pastime. Rent a bike and ride the empty backroads to the miles of cranberry bogs along the shore, or start at the dock by the Viewing Tower and pedal along the 2.2-mile trail that leads to the lighthouse. A good bet on a cold day is building a beach fire with the abundant drift wood and settling in with a bottle of local vintage and some fresh catch of the day—the area is famous for its tasty crab, tuna, salmon, prawns, and oysters.
Washington Beach Vacation Guide

Published: 25 Jul 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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