Washington state's wild, windy, and winsome beaches have been carved for centuries by the steady thrum of the Pacific against the ancient headlands. That means locals and visitors alike can enjoy a mix of sand, stone and sea stacks pressed against thick swaths of rainforest that look much as they have since before European settlers disturbed the indigenous Hoh, Makah, Quileute and Quinault nations.

Whether you're interested in beachcombing, sunbathing, surfing, kayaking, or whale watching there's a little something for everyone. From beaches in the Seattle city limits perfect for families to day trips up the Olympic Peninsula to weekend getaways to the archipelago of islands ringing the Washington coast, there's a little something for everyone. But to help you narrow it down, these are thirteen of the best beaches in the Evergreen State.

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WA19134-00...WASHINGTON - Carving of a Grey Whale located along the waterfront Discovery Trail in the tourist town of Long Beach.
Carving of a Grey Whale located along the waterfront Discovery Trail in the tourist town of Long Beach. Alamy Stock Photo

1. Long Beach

The name's hardly original, but of the half-dozen or so Long Beaches in the US, the Washington version – a 28-mile-long sand spit that lies directly north of the Columbia River estuary – is the longest. It invites long leisurely strolls and kite flying, especially on a sunny day, even if you'll have to share the sand with cars and trucks (motorists are allowed to drive on Washington beaches). Note that surf swimming here is dangerous due to strong waves and quickly changing tides.

The towns along the peninsula are classic seaside settlements; Long Beach and Seaview blur together to form the main commercial zone, with amusement arcades, cheap motels and trinket shops along Highway 103, while adorable Oysterville and Nahcotta stretch further north and Ilwaco hugs the water north of Cape Disappointment, with its hiking trails and scenic lighthouses. Primary beach access points in Long Beach are off 10th St SW and Bolstad Ave; a 0.25-mile boardwalk links the two entryways. In Seaview, take 38th Place, just south of Highway 101. Cars and trucks aren't allowed on these busy beaches in summer, but the beach north of Bolstad Ave to Ocean Park is open to vehicles year-round.

A Young Man Carries His Surfboard Down The Beach; La Push Washington United States Of America
A young man carries his surfboard along La Push Beach © Helene Cyr/Getty Images

2. La Push

La Push, 12 miles west of Forks on Highway 110, is a small fishing village at the mouth of the Quillayute River and home of the Quileute tribe, some of the peninsula's oldest inhabitants and (to many tribal people's chagrin) the inspiration for the werewolves in the Twilight series. The Quileute people run commercial salmon fishing operations from their reservation, which includes La Push and its surrounds.

Beloved for its raw, untamed beaches, La Push is popular with surfers and sea kayakers, who love to ride the dramatic Pacific waves, especially in January, and whale-watchers in spring. Outside of this, the settlement is revered primarily for its remoteness and isolation (despite the Twilight hunters who continue to visit). One of the best beaches in the region is Second Beach.

Morning reflections at Ruby Beach ©Diane Fetzner/Shutterstock

3. Ruby Beach

The Olympic National Forest is full of wild, craggy beauty and lush, quiet rainforests, not to mention a 73-mile stretch of wilderness along the coast. Be sure to stop at Ruby Beach, where a short 0.2-mile path leads down to a large expanse of windswept shore embellished by polished black stones and wantonly strewn tree trunks. It's less than a hundred miles from Seattle, just 45 from the Hoh Rainforest, and is accessible from Highway 101. Remarkable for its red-tinged sand and pebbles, Ruby Beach offers views of Destruction Island and its lighthouse. 

WA03733-00....WASHINGTON - Surfers at Westhaven State Park in Westport.
Surfers at Westhaven State Park in Westport. Alamy Stock Photo

4. Westport 

Guarding the entrance to Grays Harbor, stormy Westport is famous for its deep-sea fishing, rugged surfing and isolated beachcombing possibilities. Once the largest whaling port on the west coast and the largest charter-fishing center in the Northwest, the town has suffered since restrictions were placed on salmon fishing in the last couple of decades. But the ever-popular chartered fishing trips and whale-watching expeditions are still on offer, along with new condos and golf courses.

If charter fishing sounds a bit ambitious, the marina and boardwalk are fun to stroll along; you can admire the Olympic peaks across the water, watch a blob of seals vie for position on one of the docks, or throw a crab pot into the water and fish for dinner.

Leadbetter Point Beach
A beach at Leadbetter Point near Long Beach, Washington. Getty Images/iStockphoto

5. Leadbetter Point State Natural Area

This 807-acre natural area, 3 miles north of Oysterville, is a kind of buffer between the straggling developments of Long Beach Peninsula and a section of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge on the northernmost tip of the peninsula. There are four trails ranging from 1.1 miles to 2.9 miles leading along the bayside wetlands or the coastal dune forest, or out to the wild ocean beach. Leadbetter Point is a prime spot for watching shorebirds, including adorable (and threatened) snowy plover chicks from March to September. Be careful during those months not to intrude on their nests.

Cape Disappointment. ©Matt Munro/Lonely Planet

6. Cape Disappointment State Park

Unlike the rest of the Long Beach Peninsula, Ilwaco is hemmed in by rocky hills. West of town, on a rugged promontory above the mouth of the Columbia River in Cape Disappointment State Park, are the remains of Fort Canby, a Civil War-era bulwark designed to protect river shipping from Confederate interference. Cape Disappointment is also home to wild beaches, sea-smashed cliffs, and 8 miles of forested hiking trails that take in its two towering lighthouses. Lewis and Clark camped near here in November 1805 while searching for a winter camp. Their whole cross-continental journey is faithfully recounted at the fantastic Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center

Up in the Air
Airplane taking off on the sand runway at Copalis Beach © Getty Images

7. Moclips to Copalis Beach

This coastal strip south of the Quinault Indian Reservation is wild and forested, cut only by the small towns of Moclips, Pacific Beach, Seabrook and Copalis. Of these, surreal Seabrook, established in 2004 as a planned vacation hamlet, is the most noteworthy for its kind of creepy faux-Victorian homes and perfectly manicured community areas – it feels like something out of The Stepford Wives or The Truman Show. The surrounding area is perfect for forays into Olympic National Park and enjoying the beautiful hidden beaches.

Couple standing on boulders on shoreline of ocean
Couple standing together on boulders on shoreline of ocean looking out © Getty Images

8. Ocean Shores

Washington state's most popular coastal resort is a manufactured beach haven known as Ocean Shores, constructed in the 1960s on a scenic stretch of shoreline that had been a cattle ranch for the previous 30 years. While the settlement boasts its fair share of clichéd resort activities, including golf, dune-buggy riding and gambling at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino, the area is far from spoiled, with kite flying, canoeing (there are around 26 miles of interconnecting canals) and razor clamming (digging in the sand for razor clams) also enduringly popular.

West Seattle Alki Point Lighthouse
West Seattle Alki Point Lighthouse © SEASTOCK/Getty Images

9. Alki Beach Park

Slowing down the rhythm a couple of notches on a weekend summer's afternoon on Alki Beach. For a certain type of Seattleite, West Seattle beckons like a proverbial Coney Island, and Alki Beach is the fair. Stretching from Duwamish Head to the Alki Point Lighthouse, a 2.5-mile paved span parallel to the beach is a magnet for rollerbladers, cyclists, and skateboarders.

When the sun's out, Alki Beach and its adjacent promenade become Seattle's communal backyard and a fabulous spot to hunker down with a beer and enjoy people-watching. There are plenty of nearby breweries and eateries with views of the water.

The main part of West Seattle's favorite beach is sandy – ideal for sandcastle building and all of those other age-old seaside pleasures. There are good tide pools further west around the lighthouse, too. To streamline your day out, make like a local and opt to catch the West Seattle Water Taxi from its dock near the Seattle Ferry Terminal in downtown so you don't have to fuss with parking.

USA, Washington, San Juan Islands, Lopez Island, Watmough Head
The view from Watmough Head on Lopez Island ©Purestock/Alamy Stock Photo

10. Watmough Head, San Juan Islands

A laid-back and peaceful attitude is the archipelago's greatest hallmark in communities where cars are left unlocked and motorists offer salutary waves. Don't come for the Starbucks and casinos (there aren't any); come instead for the fishing, whale-watching, beachcombing, sailing, hiking, cycling, paddling, crabbing, clamming, philosophizing and memorable, psychedelic sunsets. 

For one of the best beaches in the San Juans, head to Lopez Island's Watmough Head. This southeastern extremity holds three trails, the best being the under-a-quarter-mile stroll to Watmough Bay, a stunning arc of pebbly sand framed by a sheer rock cliff on its northern side. Young seals may pop their heads up at you from the water as you stroll the shore.

US Coast Guard oldest Air Station, Air Station Port Angeles in Washington an aerial photo
The US Coast Guard's oldest air station is on Ediz Hook near Port Angeles © Alamy Stock Photo

11. Ediz Hook

One might wonder if Port Angeles suffers from abandonment issues. People come here mainly to leave: whether by ferry to Victoria, Canada, or on excursions into the northern parts of Olympic National Park. But it's worth sticking around for the beach at Ediz Hook. A mostly flat, easy 1-mile trail offers beach access and mountain views on a clear day along this long sand spit looping around the bay in Port Angeles. While the far end of the spit is reserved for the Coast Guard, the public beaches that dot Ediz Hook are prized for views of wildlife like whales and seals, as well as for beachcombing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. 

Lifeguard chair at Lake Washington in Seattle, WA
Lifeguard chair at Madison Park in Seattle, WA with Lake Washington in the background. ©Gregory Olsen/Getty Images

12. Madison Park Beach

Riotously popular in the summer, this Seattle hotspot features a grassy slope for lounging and sunbathing, two tennis courts, a swimming raft floating in the lake, and lifeguards on duty from late June to Labor Day (noon to 7pm Monday to Friday, from 11am Saturday and Sunday). Madison Park has been a lure for townies since the early 20th century, when a trolley route was built from downtown to bus everyone in. 

It is best reached on bus 11 along E Madison St. About a mile before you reach the beach it's worth stopping in tree-lined Madison Valley, aka “Little France,” for buttery croissants and a quiet stroll in the Washington Park Arboretum. 

Quinault Lake rainforest
Lake Quinault is a lake on the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington state. Getty Images/iStockphoto

13. Lake Quinault

Not all of Washington's beaches are on the Pacific Coast, or dotting the lakes and sounds that bound the Seattle metro area. The enchanting Quinault River Valley is one of Olympic National Park's least crowded corners. Clustered around the deep-blue glacial waters of Lake Quinault lie forested peaks, a historic lodge and some of the oldest (and tallest) Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and western red cedar trees in the world. The lake itself offers plenty of activities such as fishing, boating and swimming, while upstream both the north and south branches of the Quinault River harbor a couple of important transpark trails.

Lake Quinault is part of the Quinault Indian Reservation, and fishing is regulated by the tribe; check locally for tribal licenses and regulations. Boat rentals are available from Lake Quinault Lodge. The lodges and resorts ringing the lake will have their own private beaches for guests, too.

You may also like: 

Seattle's perfect little secret: the best things to do in Kirkland, Washington
Twin Peaks' famous waterfall reclaimed by the tribe that holds it sacred
The best day trips from Seattle 

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