I have grown to really love the Washington coast. Oregon may have a reputation for more adorable beach towns, and California has warmer weather, but Washington has miles of wide, sandy beaches adjacent to fairytale rainforests on the Olympic Peninsula.
It’s rainy and cold much of the year, but that only makes calm, warm sunny days more sparkly. Pack your rain jacket and boots (just in case) and embrace all the Washington coast — from Neah Bay at the tip top of the Olympic Peninsula down to Long Beach — has to offer. There are clam digs, bike riding, beach driving, competitive kite flying, chainsaw art, the world’s best fish and chips, bonfires on the beach, and charming shops and restaurants, if you know where to look.
Explore a Beach Town
Admittedly, these are few and far between. Don’t be fooled by names like “Ocean City” (hint: it’s not much of a city). The most adorable beach town on the Washington coast, by far, is the planned community of Seabrook. We’ve done the work of sniffing out which towns are worth stopping for (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!); check out the best places to visit on the Washington coast.
Ride Bikes on the Beach
Long Beach has a boardwalk; Ocean Shores does not, but either way, you’ll have fun riding bikes with the wind at your back and the crash of the surf in your ears. Since biking through sand can be a challenge, consider renting electric bikes in Ocean Shores. You’ll be able to go forever on those things, baby.
Ride Horses on the Beach
If you prefer somebody else’s legs motor you along the shore, there are stables in both Long Beach and Ocean Shores that offer horseback beach rides. Here’s your chance to travel miles along the beach with the wind blowing in your hair from atop a regal steed, just like in the movies.
There are plenty of rivers to fish on the Washington coast as well as perch to be caught in the surf. If you’re looking for sport fishing or deep-sea charters — to catch tuna, say — you’ll want to head to Westport. If you want to try and catch salmon, the Humptulips River, near the Humptulips Salmon Hatchery, is a good place to start; local fishing guides are available to show you around.
If you want to visit a salmon hatchery and learn more about fish in the area, check out the Quinault National Fish Hatchery, which welcomes visitors.
If you’ve dreamed of stunt kite flying, here’s your chance. If there’s one thing the wide, flat, windy, empty beaches of Washington were made for, it’s kite flying. You’ll find excellent kite stores as well as kite flying competitions and festivals in Ocean Shores, Long Beach, Westport and Grayland. Long Beach even has the self-proclaimed World Kite Museum.
Hike Through the Forest
Much of the Washington coast isn’t far from Olympic National Park and the surrounding national forest. If you’re looking to get away from the sun — or the rain — consider a trek through the dense rainforest and its towering trees around Quinault.
On the Long Beach peninsula, you have the hiking trails of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and Cape Disappointment State Park to explore.
An area with a rich history of eating from the ocean will, of course, have excellent seafood. You may not find many five star restaurants around here, but there’s no shortage of excellent fish and chips or clam chowder. If you’re driving the coast, make sure to stop for a meal or a drink at The Green Lantern Pub on Highway 109 at Copalis Beach, two blocks from the beach and an institution in the area for decades.
Dig for Razor Clams
Razor clams are only found on Pacific Northwest beaches, and the very best razor clamming in the whole world is around Ocean Shores and Long Beach. During razor clam season, between October and May, get a license and try your hand at this age-old sport. While it can be cold and wet, I have to admit that chasing a bivalve is way more fun than I imagined it would be. Also note you can only go during approved times at approved beaches so check the Department of Fish and Wildlife website ahead of time.
Go Surfing, or Boogie-Boarding, or Skimboarding
If you have foolhardy adrenaline-seekers who don’t mind cold water, there are ocean sports available on the Washington coast. You can surf in Westport and Ocean Shores. You will require a wetsuit, and ask first at a surf shop about local tides and shark risks.
Skimboarding, for people like me who had never heard of it before last month, is a sport in which a smaller, lighter version of a surfboard is used in a couple of inches of water. The rider runs, tosses the board on the water, and jumps on. So far my kids have just fallen down a bunch of times, but the flat beaches here make this is a perfect place to try skimboarding. Plus, you don’t get your whole body wet, so you don’t have to worry so much about hypothermia.
Experience Chainsaw Art
You probably need a carved wooden bear holding a welcome sign. I know I did! The Pacific Northwest is the chainsaw carving capital of the world, and if you haven’t seen this type of art before, you will be MISSING OUT if you don’t at least check out one of the many chainsaw art collections in the area.
Chainsaw artists from all over gather on the coast to sell their wares, especially during the summer. Even if you don’t have room in your truck for a giant gnome, if you’re visiting during a competition or auction, don’t miss it — it’s a cultural experience.
You’ll be able to find chainsaw art all over the coast, but our favorite spot is at the bend in the road (Highway 109) at Ocean City, north of Ocean Shores. This wood stand sells a collection of pieces from various artists. They also sell firewood and excellent quality cedar furniture. During Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends in the summer, they usually host auctions with a large gathering of artists from all over the state. I highly recommend the auction. Even if you don’t buy anything, the auctioneer and his assistant, complete with yellow rain pants, Mariachi hat, and a golf club for pointing at bidders, will make you wish you had.
Build and Judge Sandcastles
Washington’s coast was built for sandcastles as there are no crowded beaches and no pesky kids stepping on your creations. Even better than building your own sandcastle, however, is viewing the jaw-dropping creations of serious sand artists. You can see these at Ocean Shores’ Sand and Sawdust Festival (held the last weekend of June every year), or at Long Beach’s Sandsations every summer.
Drive on the Beach
I was shocked the first time I realized you could both drive AND build fires on the beaches in Washington (yes, local friends are still laughing at me.) The beaches here are technically part of the highway system — with a speed limit of 25 mph, so watch out! Be careful, especially around people and in fog, of course, but driving the coast this way will give you a new view of things.
There are certain stretches of beach that are closed to cars from mid-April to September, so don’t plan on driving the whole coast this way (um, there’s high tide, too, so use your best judgement.)
Seek out the Odd and Unusual
At Marsh’s Free Museum on Main Street in Long Beach, you can see the mummified remains of Jake the Alligator Man. Long Beach also has a ginormous frying pan in town and claims it’s the world’s largest frying pan, if you like photo ops like that.
However, our personal favorite in this category is Sucher and Sons Star Wars Shop, a store stuffed to the gills with all possible Star Wars-related merchandise. Sucher and Sons is located on the main drag in Aberdeen, 45 minutes from the coast, on the way to Ocean Shores from I-5. When it’s open, there’s usually a life-sized Princess Leia out front, making it hard to miss.