The Washington Coast is a pretty quiet coast with just a few legit beach towns to its name. You might look at a map and see towns dotting the whole way up and assume there are hotels and development and boardwalks galore, but you would be super duper wrong. Other than the few towns mostly on the southern stretch of the coast, most of what you’ll find is forest, wild vegetation, undeveloped coastline, and cliffs.
And just as a general note about the Washington Coast – this is the Pacific Northwest. If you haven’t visited our beaches before, don’t expect to be relaxing on the sand in your bikini anytime soon. I mean, you can. If you want. But even in the summer, there can be cold wind coming off the water (great for kite flying, though!) and most of the year, it’s a total coin flip as to whether you’ll have warm, sunny weather or if you’ll be getting pelted with sideways rain.
So this is your official guide to what’s worth visiting on the Washington Coast! Read on to learn which dots on the map are actually towns as well as a bit about what you’ll find in said towns.
Ocean Shores is probably the best-known town on the Washington Coast. It’s easy to get to from most Western Washington cities at about three hours from Seattle, two hours from Tacoma, and about an hour from Olympia. While it’s not a resort metropolis by any means, Ocean Shores has everything you need for a fun beach vacation, including plenty of waterfront hotels to choose from at a variety of price points.
Go higher end with the WorldMark Mariner Village, or stay in one of the many chain hotels along the water like Shilo Inn or Best Western for an affordable and well-located beach vacation. The beaches are wide open and offer long stretches of sand to stroll, fly a kite on, or build a sandcastle. Cars are allowed on the beach in the hotel zone. You’ll also often spot teams of horses near beach access roads (like Chance A La Mer) and taking a horseback ride along the shore is just good times.
Ocean Shores does not have a boardwalk (which is a shame), and instead shops dot the way along Ocean Shores Boulevard and Point Brown Avenue. You’ll find all the seashore stores you’d expect to find, from kite stores to sweet shops selling salt water taffy. While you can technically walk between your hotel and the shops, there are sometimes not sidewalks and the town doesn’t have an especially pedestrian feel. Head to the far southern part of town to explore the Coastal Interpretive Center or the North Jetty (this is my favorite area of town).
Just across the bay and to the south of Ocean Shores is Westport, which is a bit smaller than Ocean Shores and yet has a vibe all its own to offer. For one, if you’re looking to try some deep sea fishing, then this is the beach town for you as most of the charters leave out of the Westport Marina. Or if deep sea fishing is a bit much, you can also go razor clamming or crabbing.
There are also plenty of things to do on land. Of course, you can go to the beach to kick back and relax, play, or fly a kite. Like Ocean Shores, cars are allowed on the beach, but only on the southern portion. There are plenty of shops to explore, as well as the small Westport Aquarium and the Westport Maritime Museum. Westport also offers great proximity to a few things to do that are totally unique to the region, like seeing cranberry bogs up close and personal in nearby Grayland. Westport also has a few state parks worth exploring in Westport Light State Park (complete with a lighthouse) and Twin Harbors State Park.
About 15 minutes north of Ocean Shores is Seabrook, which is technically not a town and more a planned community that functions as a town. You’ll find a small grocery store, restaurants and cafes, shops and beach access. However, word to the wise, you’ll have to make your way down an impressive set of steps to get to the beach. Despite the stairs, the beach is gorgeous with a backdrop of cliffs and evergreens as a result.
Seabrook is my favorite on the Washington Coast as it’s absolutely adorable AND it’s walkable. The quaint streets all have sidewalks and a few trails wind their way through the surrounding forests, some lead down to the beach. If you’ve got kids, make sure to find the Gnome Trail as it’s dotted with tiny houses and mushrooms that are sure to charm any active imagination into thinking it’s filled with gnomes and fairies.
If you stay in Seabrook, part of what creates the quaint and cozy charm is the lack of hotels. Instead, the town is filled with homes and vacation homes, some of which are located on town streets and some of which (I probably can’t afford them) command some pretty striking views of the ocean.
Just like its name suggestions, Long Beach is…long. Endless stretches of sand greet you here and the town has a boardwalk! (Can you tell I’m partial to boardwalks? I feel like beach towns all need to have one). However, the boardwalk in Long Beach isn’t lined with shops or hotels, but instead takes you on a journey through sea grass and dunes. Make no mistake, though, as Long Beach has plenty of hotels, shops, restaurants, galleries, and more to explore too.
If you prefer to bond with nature, you can do that on a bike on the Discovery Trail, on a boat by fishing or crabbing, or on the beach with a clam gum. Bonus – Long Beach is home to two lighthouses: the North Head Lighthouse and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, and lighthouses are always great for amazing photos.
If you like history or cultural experiences, there are a few neato ones here too – the World Kite Museum, Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Northwest Carriage Museum, Lewis and Clark historical sites, Fort Columbia Historic State Park (if you dig on military history), and the tiny little historic village of Oysterville.
Beyond those four towns, the rest of the Washington Coast is pretty much townless. And yet, you will hear people mention going out to Pacific Beach or Moclips or Ruby Beach. These sound like towns, but don’t be deceived. While Pacific Beach is indeed a town, it’s tiny. Teeny teeny tiny. And if what you want is a speedbump of a town and wide-open ocean access, then this is a great spot to find that. Likewise, Moclips is also very small. You’ll find small hotels and RV resorts along the coast between Long Beach and Taholah, but that’s about it. If you drive father north, those dots on the map are even smaller, but a few offer really stellar scenery with giant monolithic boulders off shore like Ruby Beach, Second Beach, and La Push.