Washington state is one of our favorite destinations in the US and we've spent some happy times touring the coastal areas specifically. I know most people think of Oregon when they think of the coast of the great Northwest but really, Washington has its own gorgeous coasts which are well worth a visit, especially if you're starting out from Seattle.
Possibly the most prominent feature of the region is the Olympic Peninsula. The unique combination of the majestic Olympic mountain range and the lush temperate rainforests makes Olympic National Park a fantastic destination in its own right. I've included a couple of the park's beaches on this list, but if you've never visited there before, do check out my full guide for visiting Olympic National Park.
And now, let's take a look at the list itself.
My 11 recommendations for Washington Coastline
The coastline of Washington state is abundant with opportunities for adventure and relaxation. Both on land and sea, explorers have 157 miles worth of terrain to take in and appreciate. A blend of modern attractions and historical, natural beauty make the landscape of the Washington coastline a sight to behold.
Visitors flock to the coast in the summertime for whale-watching and other adventures on the water. Year-round, people come from miles around to witness the wide array of wildlife, especially the population of migratory birds. There is so much to do along the 12th-longest coastline in the United States.
For a beach getaway without the development of many other tourist hotspots, the Washington coast is an incredible place to be. Read on to learn about 11 attractions and destinations that should have a place on your itinerary.
1. The Astoria-Megler Bridge
Also known as the Astoria Bridge or the Columbia River Bridge, this continuous truss expands over the mouth of the Columbia River. The bridge connects Astoria, Oregon and Megler, Washington and was completed in 1966. It was also the final addition to US Route 101 that runs between Olympia, Washington and Los Angeles, California.
It's a fantastic place to start your Washington Coast road trip!
The bridge was constructed as an alternative to often troublesome ferry services, which began between the two cities in 1926. Originally dubbed the “bridge to nowhere,” some residents were skeptical over the bridge’s usefulness. Their skepticism was proven unfounded, as the Astoria-Megler Bridge quickly became a popular avenue of travel.
Each October, this bridge is the site of the Great Columbia Crossing. The annual event includes a foot race and awards ceremony. The Great Columbia Crossing attracts thousands of visitors each year!
2. 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.
When we were there, the sky was steel gray, as is often the case in that part of the US. Remember, Forks - hometown of all things vampire - is only a short drive away. So, don't expect a clear blue sky and enjoy the dramatic scenery.
Because both beaches are supervised by the National Parks Service, there are rules that must be followed for your safety and the environment. Click here to learn what you need to know before visiting these scenic Washington coastline beaches. If you're traveling with kids, always check out the tide tables and see if you can incorporate some tide pooling. Our kids loved that, and still do as teenagers!
3. Cape Flattery Trail
At the tip of the state, there's a small town called Neah Bay. Go there and you'll find the beautiful trail named Cape Flattery. This 1.2-mile expanse of cultivated wilderness is a popular hiking and exploration spot along the Washington coast. It is preserved and well cared for by the Makah Indian Nation and is considered a nature sanctuary. Keep your eyes open for wildlife including migratory birds, whales, and sea lions. You can actually see whales from the shore. I know because we have!
Open forests and boardwalks make the trail accessible to explorers of all varieties – there’s something for everyone to appreciate! There are plenty of impressive views from different areas on the trail, all of which are sure to take your breath away.
Those who preserve this trail ask that visitors stay on the designated trail. This area receives many guests and staying on the trail helps to preserve the natural surrounding beauty.
4. Salt Creek Recreation Area
Before this 196-acre area became Salt Creek Recreation Area, it was a military base during the Second World War. The base was purchased by the Federal General Services Administration immediately after the war, but there are still some remnants of the park’s military background. On these grounds, you will see old WW2-era structures still standing erect between the numerous camping spots.
The breathtaking vistas and views of the mountains from Salt Creek Recreation Area are the dominating features of the park. However, there is a specified recreation area where you may indulge in leisurely activities other than hiking and bird-watching. This is another great tide pooling spot - but again, check the tide tables first.
Amenities of the park include a basketball court, horseshoe pit, picnicking shelter and a playground that’s perfect for young guests. There is no shortage of activities and exploration opportunities for you and your family to enjoy at Salt Creek Recreation Area.
5. Port Angeles Ferry to Victoria
The Black Ball Ferry Line operates year-round passenger service to Victoria from Port Angeles. The 90-minute passage provides a great opportunity for visitors to kick back, relax and enjoy the sights as they go to or from Port Angeles.
You do need a passport to cross over to Canada but it's a fantastic little day tour. We did that and spent the day in Victoria, just walking around and visiting the Royal BC Museum. The kids loved the ferry crossing too!
The first departure of the day is a bright and early 8:20 am, though there are typically other departure times available as well. Holidays may affect the ferry schedule, so make sure to check their online schedule posted here.
Fares for the ferry are as follows:
- Children 4 and under – Free of charge
- Children ages 5-11 - $9.25
- Adults and children over 12 - $18.50
- Passenger with a vehicle - $65.50
- Passenger with a motorcycle - $37
Fares may be paid in Canadian or US currency. It is strongly encouraged to make reservations with the ferry if you know ahead of time that you will be using it.
6. Dungeness Bay
If the word “Dungeness” sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’ve heard of Dungeness crab. This is where these crabs get their name from, a small Washington community located just north of Sequim.
The highlight of our visit to this place was waking the Spit. The Dungeness Spit is a unique 6.8-mile long strip of sand that you can walk on, with the ocean on both sides. It's the longest sand spit in the US and makes for a very special hike. We loved it so much, that we actually visited twice already. The trail begins through a section of the woods, and then gets literally "on the water".
The second time we were there, we ran into "a bit of a weather" which created impressive waves that only added to the experience.
Another feature of Dungeness Bay is their lighthouse tour. This free tour can be accessed via hike or kayak and gives visitors a first-hand view of the area’s 150-year-old lighthouse. You can even pay to be a lighthouse keeper in this historic lighthouse! Click here to find out how.
7. 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.
There are at least ten of these lavender farms to visit, and they are all worth a stop. Click here to see a list of family-friendly lavender farms that you may enjoy. You can tour these farms and participate in the frequently-held events that they bring to the public.
8. Point Defiance State Park
If you’re looking for a park experience outside of the national parks that provides a more urban experience, Point Defiance Park in Tacoma is the place to be. Across an impressive 760 acres, guests may view a number of wildly popular attractions, including:
- A zoo and aquarium
- A rose garden
- A boathouse
- An off-leash dog park
- An old-growth forest
These attractions bring three million guests per year. Not all of the wildlife is kept in a zoo, either. Guests will often see seasonal wildlife activity occurring around them.
Point Defiance offers gorgeous views of the Puget Sound, combined with options for a pleasant day out in the park. We actually did it all, including visiting the very lovely zoo. I can whole-heartedly recommend Point Defiance for families with smaller children.
Visit the official park website to learn just how much Point Defiance Park has to offer. And if you have some more time in the Tacoma area, check out this post - 11 Top Things To Do In Tacoma, Washington
Water, mountains, forests, parks and a thriving urban life make Seattle a great destination for visitors of all preferences. This city has a population of over 720,000 residents and sees millions of guests each year. Seattle is urban enough that you may be asking yourself whether it should be included in this list. I just think that as the major city of Puget Sound - and thus the Washington State coastline - it deserves a spot.
And I'm not about to list everything there is to do in Seattle here. Instead of asking, “What is there to do in Seattle?” one should ask, “What can’t you do in Seattle?” The city is rife with opportunity for fun and exploration! From family events set against the beautiful natural backdrop of this coastal city to world-class shopping, there are activities for everyone to enjoy.
Check out the Visit Seattle website to learn more about Seattle and what it has to offer you.
10. Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park is the most-visited state park in all of Washington – and for a lot of good reasons. This is a unique setup where a narrow pass between two of the Sound's islands is connected via a relatively short bridge.
What we did was simply to stop in a pullout, enjoy the scenery and go down the steps to the beaches themselves. If you have more time, you can go fishing, swimming, exploration of the many coves and basking in the glory of old-growth forests are just some of the opportunities available to visitors.
During the winter, there is still much fun to be had at Deception Pass. When the landscape becomes covered in snow, winter sports enthusiasts come to this park in droves. Snowboarding, sledding, skiing and more are always on the itinerary when things start to get cold!
There are so many things to do at Deception Pass! Click this link to see for yourself just how much fun there is to be had at this one-of-a-kind state park.
11. Orcas Island and Moran State Park
Ending this list with one place that we haven't really visited yet. Though we have crossed over from Vancouver Island to Seattle, so had a nice view of Orcas Island from on board the ferry.
This is an island, so requires a ferry ride. In the northwestern corner of Washington resides Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands. Visitors may visit the 57-square-mile island via ferry for a day of rest, relaxation and natural exploration. There are numerous features of the island to enjoy, including:
- The Orcas Island Historical Museum
- Camp Orkila, Four Winds Westward Ho camp, and Camp Indralaya
- The Lambiel Museum
- Kayak trips, guided or unguided
- Whale-watching expeditions
- Horseback riding
Orcas Island is also home to Moran State Park, a treasure trove of nature-based activities. Moran State Park is the fourth-largest state park in Washington. The views of the three mountain ranges surrounding the area make this park one of the most scenic locations on the entire Washington coast.
Planning a Road Trip Along the Washington State Coastline
So, how to go about planning a road trip that incorporates all of the above? For one thing, allow for enough time. Just how long depends on how long you'd like to spend in each destination.
Here's a suggested itinerary for a round trip to and from Seattle.
Visiting Tacoma and Point Defiance Park. If you're traveling with kids, this would be an additional full day. Otherwise, visit for the views of the Sound and keep driving south on the I-5, all the way to Oregon. Cross the Columbia River and drive along the southern bank all the way to Astoria.
This is where you would really start your tour of the Washington Coastline, so it's a good place to spend the night. If you have an extra day, Astoria is well-worth exploring. One of our favorite towns in Oregon, actually.
(And if you have a couple of extra days here, check out my suggestion for a day trip along the Columbia Gorge too!)
Head out north and cross the spectacular Astoria-Megler bridge. Then continue driving along the coast on the 101. The road will take you to Quinault, where you can stop for a couple of hours to visit this section of Olympic National Park and hike the forest.
Depending on how much time you have, visit either Ruby beach or Rialto beach, or possibly both. Stay at Forks for the night.
Visit Neah Bay and hike the Cape Flattery trail. Then continue towards Port Angeles. If you're looking for a nice recreational afternoon with kids, stop at Salt Creek Recreation Area. Alternatively, you can take the afternoon to visit Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park and stay the night at Port Angeles.
This is where you can incorporate an additional day visiting Victoria, Canada by taking the Ferry. Otherwise, drive on to Dungeness Bay and hike at least part of the spit. If the season is right, add a visit to a Lavender field in Sequim. Otherwise, take the ferry from Port Townsend to Port Casey. It's a nice short ferry ride which you don't need to book in advance. If you're in a rush, you can drive through Deception Pass and make it all the way back to Seattle today. Otherwise, you can stay the night near Oak Harbor and take some time to explore the islands the following day.
Days 5-6 (Extra)
If you wish to visit Orcas Island as well, book your ferry ride from Anacortez and spend a couple of days there before returning to Seattle.
Finally, this is what it looks like on the map (without the ferry rides).-
So, there you have it! I hope you'll take this awesome road trip along the Washington State Coastline and if so, return to let me know what you thought. As always, I love comments and questions, so please don't hesitate to leave me one!
And if you're still in the market for a great road trip in the West Coast, you may also like my post about the ultimate Crater Lake Road Trip. And wherever you're going, make sure to check out these 37 tips for a great road trip experience!
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Thank you, Kim.
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