A Traveler’s Guide to Coastal Washington

The Washington Pacific Coastline extends from the Columbia River to Cape Flattery at the northern tip. The area known as the South Coast stretches from the mouth of the Columbia River to Westport. Ocean Shores to Cape Flattery is called the North Coast. Washington State also borders the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In this stretch, you will find Port Angeles and Sequim. Along the Washington Coast you can enjoy long sandy beaches, the best surfing in the Pacific Northwest, fishing, clamming, crabbing, and birdwatching. You can also visit a tall sailing ship, the Lady Washington, explore the birthplace of Kurt Kobain, and dine on fabulous seafood. Here are a few cities along the coastline to explore!

1. Ilwaco— Ilwaco is located at the southern tip of the Pacific Coast and the mouth of the Columbia River on Highway 103. Spend time strolling the marina, watching the fishing boats coming in with their bounty from the sea, visiting the shops, and purchasing fresh seafood. There are benches for you to enjoy the sights on the waterfront. Sports fishing is popular, and charter vessels are available.Take time to learn about the history of the area at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum. With over 7,300 square feet of exhibits, learn about the Chinook people, other local families, and the industries of logging, fishing, oystering, and lifesaving over the years.Just to the west of Ilwaco, off Main Street, follow the signs to Cape Disappointment State Park. You will find activities for all interests: hiking, biking, fishing, beachcombing, winter storm watching, year-round camping, whale watching, and kite flying. There are two lighthouses to visit; one commissioned in 1856 is the oldest lighthouse in the state.

2. Long Beach— Just three miles up the road is the delightful town of Long Beach. Here you can stroll the longest beach on the West Coast, fly a kite, visit a renowned kite museum, and enjoy good dining. Visit the World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame. Learn about the history of kites and their importance in recreation, communication, and WWII. Look for the Washington International Kite Festival, the annual festival drawing kite flyers from across the world. Held each August, the festival draws many participants and spectators, so if you plan to attend, book a hotel early.

3. Ocean Park— You can follow two routes to continue north to Ocean Park: Sandridge Road on the east side of the peninsula or highway 103 on the west side. There are several annual festivities in Ocean Park. The Jazz and Oysters celebration is held in August, and in September, look for both the Northwest Garlic Festival and The Rod Run to the End of the World. Stop at Jack’s Country Store, winner of the 2017 King 5 Best General Store in the Northwest. Take time to browse the aisles and marvel at all there is!

4. Aberdeen— Aberdeen is located about 50 miles off Interstate 5 at the eastern end of Grays Harbor. Aberdeen is the home port for Lady Washington, the 20th-century replica that sails along the Pacific Coast. She proudly bears the title of Washington State’s “Tall Ship Ambassador.” Tours are offered when she is in port. Aberdeen also has the distinction of being the hometown of the rock legend Kurt Cobain. Visit the Memorial park which honors him.

The Culture

Washington’s culture is diverse thanks to its relatively recent settlement and role as a major port for Pacific Ocean trade. There are large communities of Asians, Scandinavians, Native Americans, and more recently, Hispanics. Seattle is a genuine melting pot that prides itself on being rough around the edges but sophisticated and cosmopolitan at the same time. Most other towns in Washington center around local industries like agriculture, fishing, or timber. Most folk in this state are easy-going but stubbornly independent. The outdoors plays a big role in most people’s lives, whether recreationally or for work. Washington is also fairly liberal and progressive, having helped to set the trend for new social policies like same-sex marriage and  decriminalization of marijuana.

The Scenery

Rugged, remote, and wild, the Washington Coast exceeds expectations with every mile you head north along U.S. Route 101—from the mouth of the Columbia River to the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Known for its lack of amenities, there are only a few small towns scattered along the way, leaving you alone with the elements, able to experience solitude, serenity, and the intensely gorgeous scenery along the shores of the Evergreen State. The following places will allow any visitor a glimpse into the beauty of the Washington Coast.

1. Cape Disappointment— Located at the northern mouth of the Columbia River, Cape Disappointment offers excellent views of enormous waves slamming against rocks, while a picturesque lighthouse rests above. Cape Disappointment is one of Washington’s State Parks, offering eight miles of hiking trails and a campground complete with yurts, RV and tent sites. Said to be one of the foggiest places in the United States, the cape and its trails are amazing during the winter months, as giant storm surges transform the area into a chaotic and beautiful coastal wonderland.

2. Long Beach— Stretching for 28 miles, Long Beach Washington claims to be the longest beach in the United States and is said to be the second longest drivable beach in the world. With sand dunes and driftwood, museums, kite flying and gorgeous sunsets, Long Beach is the perfect place to go and relax along the Pacific Coast. Surrounded by Wildlife Refuges and State Parks, this remote corner of Washington State will give you privacy and solitude along the cresting waves. Whether you decide to stop at Marsh’s Free Museum and see Jake the Alligator man, or wander the beach in search of agates and petrified wood, Long Beach is worth the drive off of Highway 101.

3. Westport— On the southern side of Grays Harbor, the small town of Westport sits along the coast, protected from the mighty Pacific by a man-made rock jetty. Known for incredible fishing, breathtaking sunsets, and a rich seafaring culture, Westport offers an historical glimpse at life along the Washington Coast. Small shops line the boardwalk, while local parks give you access to miles of walking along the windswept dunes. Most of the year, the fishing out of Westport is incredible, helping anglers land salmon, albacore tuna, and halibut. In the spring, whale watching trips are available to watch the 20,000+ gray whales swim north, less than a mile offshore.

The Weather

The weather is relatively mild in Western Washington. Summer days rarely rise above 79° and winter days are seldom below 45° during the day. Snow is rare, but winter temperatures can easily dip into the 20s and 30s at night. Annual rainfall in the greater Seattle area is about 37 inches. The Pacific Ocean creates a marine layer where clouds are frequent in the winter, spring and fall, but several days of steady rain is the exception rather than the rule. July and August are the driest months in Western Washington; January and February the wettest.

The Attractions

1. Olympic National Park— The Olympic National Park is a must-visit Washington coast attraction. It covers almost a million acres of land spanning from the rainforest all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The Olympic National Park has one of the only temperate rainforests in the northern hemisphere, the Hoh Rainforest. Pronounced “hoe”, this rainforest gets more than 12 feet of rain a year. As a result, you’ll find lush green scenery full of ferns, moss, and other verdant flora. A popular hike for taking it in is the easy Hall of Mosses, clocking in under a mile roundtrip.

2. Forever Twilight in Forks Festival— Visit Forks, Washington during September and be immersed in the world of Twilight! Every year the Forks Chamber of Commerce and volunteers come together to create an unforgettable experience for Twilight lovers. Visit places like the Cullen House, Bella’s House, and even have the chance to meet actors from the saga.

3. Ruby Beach And Rialto Beach— Ruby Beach is the southernmost beach in Washington’s Olympic National Park. It is named for the beautiful, ruby-like crystals that sometimes wash up on shore. Visitors often sing the praises of the beach’s breathtaking views. It is the perfect spot for a seashore picnic, with easy access to the road and excellent parking options. Rialto Beach is another public beach located within Olympic National Park. The coastal views are exceptional, with eye-catching rock formations and sea stacks, but that’s not all the beach has to offer. There is also a coastal forest part of Rialto Beach that offers visitors a one-of-a-kind hiking and sightseeing experience.

4. Lavender Farms In Sequim— The Sequim-Dungeness Valley of the Olympic Peninsula is host to the most incredible lavender farms. Family-owned farms open up their doors to guests, as they are proud of the properties that the unique land here allows for lavender plants.

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