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. Ten must-explore small towns along the coast of Washington State are where you’ll find all these treasures.
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.
During the past year, with international travel at a standstill, I have spent the time enjoying Washington State and Oregon — my home for the past few decades. The coast is one of my happiest places, and these are my 10 favorite Washington State coastal towns not to miss.
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.
Pro Tip: Anyone 15 and over needs a fishing license. Here is the link for further information. Many of the charter vessels also have the licenses 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. Check this link for a printable park brochure.
Pro Tips: You will need either a daily parking pass for $10 or the $30 annual Discover Pass at all Washington State Parks. Check this link for information and to purchase. The Discovery Trail, described as “the nicest trail on the West Coast,” links Ilwaco and Long Beach. Enjoy hiking or biking in the beautiful coastal scenery and walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. There are multiple access points along the eight-mile trail. Here is a link to the Discovery Trail Map.
Editor’s Note: Like lighthouses? See five coastal Washington lighthouses where you can spend the night here.
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.
I’ve enjoyed the Adrift Hotel, located just down from the Kite Museum and a two-minute walk to the boardwalk. They even have free bike rentals.
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!
Sandridge Road continues north to Oysterville, the historic town built on the Willapa Bay oyster beds’ riches.
Park your vehicle and stroll the main street. The entire town is listed on the National Historic Register. Many of the buildings and homes have signs that tell their histories.
Just outside of Oysterville, head to the northern tip of the peninsula and Leadbeater State Park. It is a favorite spot for birders to sight baby snowy plovers. Fishing, hiking, and clamming are also popular.
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.
Our favorite dining spot in Aberdeen is Breakwater Seafood and Chowder, located just off the main road. The food is delicious and the staff are delightful.
From Aberdeen, take the 105 to Westport, where you’ll enjoy an 18-mile long beach known for surfing, fishing, clam digging, crabbing, beachcombing, and the Grays Harbor Lighthouse.
At 107 feet, Grays Harbor Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Washington State. Climb the cast-iron staircase up the 135 steps to the lantern room for the guided tour. The original Fresnel lens is still housed here. Reservations are required.
Spend time along the marina — stop at the harbor to purchase the freshest seafood from the docks’ fishermen and women.
Plan for lunch or dinner at the Blue Buoy Restaurant across from Float 6 at the marina. It is a popular spot for locals. We enjoyed the tuna melt and fish and chips and recommend both.
Enjoy time along the jetty, where the area is popular for surfing. The jetty is known as the Westport South Jetty (the north jetty is about a mile across in Ocean Shores).
7. Ocean Shores
From Aberdeen, follow highways 109 and 115 to Ocean Shores.
Visit the Coastal Interpretive Center to learn more about the Pacific Coast’s history, geography, birds, and animals. There are both indoor and outdoor exhibits. One of my favorite exhibits is the fallen and restored bald eagle nest. Did you know that the nests weigh up to one ton and measure up to 13 feet across and 8 feet deep? Amazing! There are picnic benches where you can enjoy lunch or refreshments.
Get into nature with a clamming expedition. The beaches north of Ocean Shores are known for the abundance of delicious razor clams. Grab your boots and a shovel.
Pro Tip: Anyone age 15 and over needs a shellfish license. Here is the link for further information.
Damon Point, at the area’s southern tip, is another good site for birdwatching. Look for bald eagles and snowy plovers.
The jetty at the southern tip of Ocean Shores is known as the Ocean Shores North Jetty. Spend a few hours strolling the broad sandy beach, looking for tidepools, and maybe kite flying. Bring a picnic and listen to the surf pounding on the rocks.
Pro Tip: Remember beach safety. Never turn your back to the ocean. Stay away from logs on the beach. The logs can soak up water and become very dangerous if rolled.
8. Port Angeles
The unique location of Port Angeles combines the beauty of the mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca’s coastline. Port Angeles is the gateway to Olympic National Park, where you can explore over 900,000 acres of scenic wilderness.
Learn about local history by following the Port Angeles Mural Trail. Here is a link to a map.
The ferry linking Port Angeles to Victoria, Canada, departs from the waterfront. Both passenger and vehicle services are offered.
Sequim (pronounced Skwim) is popular partly because of its sunny, dry climate. Amid northern Washington’s rainy winters, Sequim has its own micro-climate.
Explore the beauty and fragrance of the lavender fields. Sequim is recognized as the Lavender Capital of North America. Many of the farms are open year-round. There are annual events including Sequim Lavender Weekend and Tour de Lavender.
Sequim Bay State Park is part of the Olympic Discovery Trail. The state park features year-round camping and is popular with boating enthusiasts. Stop at the bridge where you have a great vantage point for the salmon swimming by in the stream below.
Pro Tip: The Discover Pass is also required here.
10. Port Townsend
Port Townsend is known as one of Washington’s Victorian Towns. Stroll through the downtown to marvel at the many Victorian businesses and homes. The entire downtown is designated as a National Historic District.
Admire the totem pole at the northeast end of the waterfront. It is a gift from the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe. Head over to the Northwest Maritime Center, which celebrates the maritime history and wooden boat culture of Port Townsend. Numerous classes are offered for all ages.
Spend a few hours exploring Fort Worden State Park; the fort was part of the coastal defense system during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wander the bunkers, climb Artillery Hill, and explore the restored Victorian homes along Officers’ Row.
Pro Tip: The Discover Pass is also required here.
Now is a great time to start planning your trip to the coastal towns of Washington State. With all the activities available, choose the ones that most excite you. I am sure you will want to come back several times.
Editor’s Note: For additional inspiration, consider Jo-Anne’s picks for 31 Fantastic Experiences At Five Historic Forts In The Pacific Northwest.