The U.S. West Coast, typically defined as the Pacific shores of California, Oregon, and Washington, has not only some of the best, most scenic beaches in the country but in the entire world. Whether it’s swimming, surfing, wildlife viewing, or just wandering the shores that you like, there’s a beach out there for you. Here are the 12 best from north to south, on into California.
1. Rialto Beach, Washington
Olympic National Park protects and preserves one of the most biodiverse regions in the country, from glaciated terrain to rain forests to seacoast. At Rialto Beach, you can admire sea stacks offshore and the polished driftwood that washes up. During low tide, explore tidal pools teeming with marine life, such as starfish and sea anemones.
2. Long Beach, Washington
With 28 miles of coastline, Long Beach certainly has a name that fits. A lighthouse overlooks the shores, and along the sandy expanses, you can pursue a number of activities that include kite flying, fishing, horseback riding, and digging for clams and oysters.
3. Cape Disappointment, Washington
The only disappointing thing about the beach here is that it’s not suitable for swimming due to the rough waters that have earned this area the nickname “Graveyard of the Pacific.” Still, you can gasp at waves pounding against cliffs, go digging for clams, or just enjoy the wild beauty.
4. Fort Stevens, Oregon
What’s not to like about a beach with a shipwreck on it? At this state park, you can walk right up to what’s left of the Peter Iredale, built in 1890 and one of the many casualties claimed by the Graveyard of the Pacific.
5. Cannon Beach, Oregon
You’ve probably seen this beach even if you haven’t been to it; it’s one of the most photographed beaches in the world. The most iconic landmark is Haystack Rock, which soars 235’ above the ocean waters.
6. Newport, Oregon
When you visit the beach at Newport, you may feel as though you’ve stepped through a portal to the New England coast due to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse overlooking the rocky shores. This is the lighthouse featured in the horror film The Ring. At low tide, be sure to explore tide pools for starfish, urchins, and more.
7. Glass Beach, California
This is one of the most unusual beaches you’ll ever see. Until the early 1900s, this beach was a dumping ground. Eventually, the state closed it, and a cleanup ensued. Now, Mother Nature has made treasure from trash, as the beach is covered with smooth, colorful pieces of sea glass.
8. Baker Beach, California
Crashing waves and views of the Marin Headlands make this beach enriching enough. Add to it the famous and spectacular Golden Gate Bridge towering beyond it, and you’ll see why this beach is one not to miss.
9. Pfeiffer Beach, California
It’s hard to say what’s best about this magnificent Big Sur gem. Maybe it’s the redwoods that shelter it. Or it could be all the sea stacks, including a beautiful sea arch. Then there’s McWay Falls crashing onto the sands at the ocean’s edge. And under your feet are purple-tinted sands.
10. Morro Bay, California
Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic plug, dominates the scene here since it rises 581’ above its surroundings. A causeway connects the mainland to Morro Rock, allowing people to get close to it without having to brave the tides and currents.
11. Laguna Beach, California
This legendary beach southeast of Los Angeles is a frequent mention on lists of the country’s best beaches. Tide pools, sea caves, and isolated stretches of beach all beckon, and the namesake city has great dining and lodging and supports a vibrant art community as well.
12. La Jolla Beach, California
Seals, sea lions, sea caves accessible only by kayak or by foot at low tide, bluffs soaring above the sands– it’s no wonder that La Jolla draws so many visitors, both locals and tourists alike. Among the many great beaches around San Diego, it’s a standout.
Best Gulf Coast Beaches You Need to Visit
The Gulf of Mexico is famous for its warm, gentle water and white sand beaches. Families and frolickers alike flock to more than 450 miles of Gulf Shore beaches from Ft Morgan to Marco Island. Road trips to coastal Alabama and the Panhandle have been a staple for family vacations for decades, and budget airlines have blown the top off Florida’s Southwest Gulf Coast.
With all these options, you might have a hard time choosing the perfect beach vacation, but we have you covered with the best of the best beaches on the Gulf Coast.
Best U.S. Beaches for Collecting Shells
Shell collecting is a popular beach activity that’s fun and easy to do. For some, it’s a way to take home a pretty souvenir, and for others, it’s a dedicated hobby. Some even build a business around it, collecting perfect specimens of beautiful and exotic shells and cleaning and preparing them for sale. While you can find shells at any beach, some are particularly known for their high-quality “shelling.” Which ones are the best in the U.S.?
Best Beach Vacations for Families, Couples, and Solo Travelers
Americans are obsessed with beach vacations. More Americans choose beach vacations over any other kind of getaway, whether to a beach resort on a tropical island or camping at a nearby state park.
According to Statista, beach vacations are the most popular type of getaway for U.S. adults. Just over half (52%) of respondents stated it was their favorite type of vacation.
Whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or as a family with kids, there are beach locations in the United States that will fit your agenda perfectly. Pack your beach bags and get ready to go!
Robert Sihler is an educator, freelance writer, and rock climbing guide and instructor living with his family in Driftwood, Texas. In his spare time, he enjoys reading fiction, streaming films, completing crossword puzzles, and rock climbing. When he goes on vacation, he likes to visit the mountains of the West and climb remote, obscure peaks that have seen few or no prior ascents.