Smack in the middle of summer ― when the days stretch long ― you may find yourself longing for a few days away. Maybe you want to feel squishy sand between your toes, teach your kids to fly a kite and lick ice cream just as it threatens to melt down your arm.
But at the height of tourist season, planning a beach getaway in the Northwest can leave you needing a vacation from planning your vacation. So we’ve put together an insider’s guide to places on Washington’s Pacific Coast that are perfect destinations for late-summer beach fun.
On the Olympic Peninsula, verdant rain forest and wild beaches beckon nature-loving families. In the middle of Washington’s coast lies a stretch of beach known for the tastiest razor clams and the most serene beach walks. And on the Long Beach Peninsula, you can top off a morning of flying kites with an afternoon horseback ride and then a dinner of local oysters. Read on to choose your own adventure:
- Olympic National Park and the Hoh Rain Forest
- Copalis Beach to Moclips
- Long Beach Peninsula
- All Booked Up: Last-Minute Beach Getaway Planning Tips
- Beach Day Trips Along the Washington State Coast
Go where it’s Green: Olympic National Park and the Hoh Rain Forest
Explore with your little ones an enchanted forest full of mystery and intrigue, where moss-draped cedars are tall enough to pierce the sky.
The mysterious aura and near-constant drizzle of Washington’s Hoh Rain Forest explain why it was chosen as the primary setting for the popular Twilight novels.
Vampire tourism has abated somewhat, but the lush rain forest and wild, rocky beaches are still very much here, waiting to be explored.
DO . . .
In this wild corner of Washington, it’s all about communing with nature. Make sure the whole family has rain gear and waterproof shoes handy; about 170 inches of rain falls here each year. (Also check out nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit.)
Hike to tide pools. Near the tribal town of La Push, there are three beaches: First, Second and Third. First Beach is crowded, and Third Beach requires a lengthy hike. Second Beach is just right. Warm up your legs on the .7-mile hike through beautiful woods down to Second Beach. Much of this trail is made up of lengths of boardwalk or constructed trail steps, and there are a few puddles to navigate on rainy days. Assist small children while climbing over the oodles of driftwood to reach the broad stretch of sand. When the tide is high, there won’t be much beach to enjoy, but low tide pulls back the curtain on purple and orange ochre sea stars, spiky sea urchins and giant anemones.
Walk among giants. Take a few steps from your car at the Olympic National Park Hoh Visitors Center and look up ― you might spot a herd of elk congregating under a cathedral of trees. Moss-draped hemlock, monstrous Sitka spruce and towering red cedars line self-guided nature trails here. For a longer adventure, head up the flat and well-maintained Hoh River Trail toward Five Mile Island. Hike for a mile or two, admiring the towering giants all around you, then turn around and retrace your steps back to the visitors center. Entrance fee: $20 per vehicle (good for seven consecutive days at any Olympic National Park entrance). 360-565-3130
Soak up minerals. The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is just 40 miles from Forks, but a soak in the bubbling hot springs here will transport you even farther away. While the setting is rustic, the four hot spring pools and three wading pools are well maintained and kept scrupulously clean. Admission is $13.50 for adults, $10 for children 4–12 and free for kids 3 and younger. There is also a $20-per-vehicle entrance fee (good for seven consecutive days at any Olympic National Park entrance). 866-476-5382
SLEEP . . .
Olympic Suites Inn, Forks. Nothing fancy here, but the spacious apartment-like suites make this affordable motel a nice home base for exploring the rain forest and coast. There’s ample room to spread out hiking gear, dry rain-soaked clothes and cook dinner. Pets welcome. 800-262-3433; olympicsuitesinn.com
Three Rivers Resort, Forks. Rent a cozy cabin, with a full kitchen, a short drive away from the beaches at La Push. The resort cafe serves tasty burgers, crispy fries, pizza and the like. Cabins sleep between two and six guests. Pets welcome for a fee. 360-374-5300; threriversresortandguideservice.com
Rent a real log cabin. For the ultimate family getaway, book the Rialto Beach House, which sleeps seven. Though not on the beach, this impressive log cabin sits on a quiet, wooded lot on the Quileute River. Three-night minimum, 360-460-5483; rialtobeachhouse.com
Pitch a tent. For a small fee, you can stake out a little swatch of rain forest to sleep in. Olympic National Park’s Hoh Campground boasts 88 sites along the river and features family campfire programs in the summer. An alternate park campground is Mora, set along the Quillayute River with 94 sites. All campsites are first-come, first-served. nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm
EAT . . .
This region probably won’t win any foodie awards, so pack a stocked cooler and make use of your cabin kitchen or camp stove. A few local eateries will hit the spot for casual dining. Try the Three Rivers Resort near La Push (see above) for burgers. In the town of Forks, Pacific Pizza makes a decent pizza pie, and the Forks Coffee Shop serves up diner food with a side of logger ambiance.
Visit the North Beach: Copalis Beach to Moclips
Head to the hidden stretch of Washington’s coast known as the “North Beach” for sandcastles and solitude.
Pack up the beach chairs and flip-flops, but leave that to-do list at home. The sand stretches for miles in this infrequently visited coastal treasure known as the “North Beach.” From the town of Ocean Shores, head north on State Route 109, hugging the coastline for 30 miles through tiny towns like Seabrook, Pacific Beach and Moclips before the road peters out at the mouth of the Quinault River. Like Ocean Shores, cars are permitted to drive right on the beach in some spots, though the density of cars on these beaches is far lighter. Some lodgings have private beach access; others are within walking distance to a public beach.
DO . . .
Indulge in lazy, sunny days on the sand, then let the sound of the ocean lull you to sleep at night. Mobile phone service is spotty on this stretch of the coast, making it even easier to truly unplug.
Build castles in the sand. The largest public beach access here is the 364-acre Griffiths-Priday Ocean State Park, a prime spot for building sandcastles, riding bikes and beachcombing. Hike along the natural Copalis Beach Spit (four miles round trip), where low dunes beckon to those looking for a peaceful respite. Bring your own buckets and shovels for building castles, or purchase sand tools in nearby Pacific Beach at Hi Flyers Kites & Things, where you can also pick up a kite to fly and a delicious Mexican mocha. Washington State Discover Pass required.
Commune with wildlife. Soaring bald eagles and ospreys fish for their dinner, scoters bob along in the surf, and large flocks of feeding shorebirds meander to and fro. Watch the sandpipers probe into the sand with their beaks, like needles on a sewing machine, as they search for tasty treats, such as small crabs.
Visit the Museum of the North Beach. The North Beach has a rich past as a bustling logging area, fishing grounds for the native Quinault tribe and the end of the line for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Imagine, Moclips once hosted 5,000 tourists each weekend. Make a stop at this funky museum to see the fascinating trove of artifacts and historical photos, and to chat with one of the volunteer docents.
Dig for clams. The meaty Pacific razor clam lives on intertidal coastal beaches. Clamming is fun for all ages; all you need is a clam shovel or tube, a bucket to put your clams in and your clamming license. Kids will especially enjoy the task of finding the “clam shows,” or characteristic dimples or doughnuts in the sand that indicate a submerged razor clam. (Note: Digging for these clams is regulated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and permitted only on designated weekend mornings, usually from October through April.)
SLEEP . . .
Seabrook Vacation Rentals, Seabrook. The concept of an all-new beach town may seem a little contrived, but after a visit to Seabrook, built in 2004, you’ll be hooked. Amenities for families are numerous: an indoor pool house, pottery studio, cruiser bikes to ride, pocket playgrounds, outdoor fire pits and miles of beach to roam. Oh, and the brand-new beach cottages you sleep in are pretty sweet, too. There are more than 200 homes in all, and different cottage configurations can sleep from two to 20. Rates vary. 360-276-0099; seabrookwa.com
Iron Springs Resort, Copalis Beach. This recently remodeled resort dates back to the 1940s as a place for families to unwind, fish and wander beautiful beaches. When the True family bought and remodeled the collection of 28 cabins they had vacationed in for decades, they prioritized sustainability and preserving the resort’s charms. The remodeled cabins reopened in 2011, and the result is stunning. Each cabin has a full kitchen, wood-burning fireplace and deck. The onsite general store stocks basic groceries and supplies. Dogs are welcome. 360-276-4230; ironspringsresort.com
Pitch a tent at Pacific Beach State Park. This 10-acre camping park has 2,300 feet of wide-open ocean shoreline. The park’s campground is open and treeless, offering tent campers little privacy from one another, but makes up for it with the swell beachfront location. Reserve at parks.wa.gov.
EAT . . .
While most lodging on this part of the coast includes a kitchen, good groceries are hard to come by. Bring your ingredients from home or make a stop in Aberdeen. Last-minute gourmet ingredients can be found at Lil’s Pantry in Seabrook. Also in Seabrook, Mill 109 Restaurant serves up pastas and steaks, although seating is at a premium. Locals head to Paddie’s Perch in Pacific Beach for homemade pie and steaming bowls of clam chowder.
Play on the longest beach: Long Beach Peninsula
It’s not all go-carts and saltwater taffy in this quintessential beach town. From cranberries to Lewis and Clark, the region’s heritage is everywhere.
The town of Long Beach is a real beach town. Bike rentals, kite shops and funky junk stores line the main drag. Midsummer brings throngs of families in search of fun, and they usually find it. Up the peninsula, the historic town of Oysterville makes for a nice walking tour with a stroller. Include a stop at nearby Cape Disappointment State Park for a dose of nature and history and you’ve got a fantastic family getaway.
DO . . .
Long Beach is a perfect destination for active families because there is so much to see and do. Dangerous riptides in the ocean here make swimming unsafe, so stick to the sand.
Fly a kite. Long Beach holds the world record for having the most kites in the air at one time, and every August, during the International Kite Festival, it tries to break its own record. Buy a kite during a visit to the World Kite Museum or bring your own. The museum has a kids’ table, where your little ones can assemble their very own kite, one that really flies! worldkitemuseum.com
Bike the Discovery Trail. One of the gems of this region, this eight-and-a-half-mile-long, mostly paved path takes you past a massive gray whale skeleton, over windswept dunes and through a lush wetland. funbeach.com
Ride a horse. There’s nothing quite like riding a horse along the beach. Back Country Wilderness Outfitters leads horseback adventures for all ages. longbeachhorserides.com
Hike to lighthouses. Cape Disappointment State Park, where two historic lighthouses guide mariners into the mouth of the Columbia River, is a stunner of a state park. Before the lighthouses, there were numerous shipwrecks, and the coast was known as the “graveyard of the Pacific.” You can also hike on six and a half miles of trails through diverse habitats and breathtaking scenery, and while doing so, stop by the educational Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. Discover Pass required.
SLEEP . . .
Adrift Hotel, Long Beach. This refurbished modern inn is popular with urban families. Its no-frills décor puts utility first, featuring coffee tables made of upcycled pallets and shelving converted from fruit crates. Colorful cruiser bikes are complimentary. Dogs are welcome. adrifthotel.com
Shakti Cove Cottages. Pockets of the Long Beach Peninsula have a relaxed hippie vibe, and Shakti Cove has that aura. Just a few blocks from the heart of Ocean Park, this quiet and rustic getaway has 10 cute cottages that are both kid- and pet-friendly at a nice price. Each cottage has a basic kitchen. Walk just a block to an espresso stand. 360-665-4000; shakticove.com
Camp at Cape Disappointment State Park. The 137 campsites here don’t have water views, but the park’s spectacular beach and lighthouses are nearby. There are yurts and cabins for rent, too. Don’t feel like cooking? A food stand serves wood-fired pizza and ice cream. parks.wa.gov
EAT . . .
Local cuisine rules here. One of the best spots for families is Lost Roo, where parents can enjoy a microbrew and oyster shooters while kids feast on chicken quesadillas. For breakfast, try the smoked salmon scramble, fried oysters or oatmeal at the 42nd Street Café in Seaview. Splurge at The Depot, whose passion for locally sourced ingredients can result in wild mushroom soup and house-made gnocchi.
All Booked Up: Last-Minute Planning Tips
Go midweek. The most popular destinations are often booked to capacity on August weekends. If you’re able to make your getaway early in the week, say Monday through Wednesday, you’ll have more luck snagging that waterfront cabin.
Call for cancellations. Got the weekend free, but everything is booked? Plans change sometimes, and a popular lodging may have a cancellation at the last minute. If you can be flexible, call a few places and ask to be put on the waiting list for your desired weekend.
Find alternate lodging. Vacation rental websites such as vrbo.com and homeaway.com allow you to search for vacation rentals that are available on your specified dates.
Turn beachcombing into a fun game with a scavenger hunt. Create a list of objects to seek out, such as a few different kinds of shells, a strand of sea kelp, a piece of driftwood and a black stone. Give each child a satchel to collect their items. Monitor kids closely, though, to make sure they don’t approach dangerous items that may have washed up, such as sharp glass or tsunami debris from Japan. (If you come across tsunami debris that could be hazardous, call the National Response Center at 800-OILS-911.)
Beach Day Trips
Short on time? Squeeze in one of these half-a-tank (or less!) day trips to still get in some beach time.
Vashon Island. Head to Point Robinson Park on the east shore of Maury Island for beachcombing, kite-flying and a visit to its historic lighthouse. Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie makes a great stop for communing with the locals, and there’s an ice cream stand on the back porch. On Saturdays, stop by the Vashon Farmers Market in town for fresh produce and crafts.
Quimper Peninsula. Take a driving tour south of Port Townsend (if you have time, stop in the charming Victorian downtown and check out the Northwest Maritime Center, Fort Worden State Park and Chetzemoka Park). Tour three local cideries (Finnriver Cidery is the most kid friendly.) After lunch and a slice of pie at the Chimacum Cafe, take the kids on a beach hike with a history lesson at Fort Flagler State Park, formerly a military fort designed to protect against wartime attacks. On Sundays, make a stop at the Chimacum Farmers Market, which is sure to please, with more than a dozen booths and food carts.
Bellevue. Rent a canoe or kayaks from Enatai Beach Boathouse and paddle into the Mercer Slough, a diverse urban wetland where you’ll spot herons and other wildlife. Bellevue’s parks department hosts guided canoe trips with a park naturalist for $16 on weekend mornings at 8:45 a.m. (a trip that’s best suited to older kids). Register at 425-452-6885. bellevuewa.gov
Jetty Island. Build sandcastles closer to home on Jetty Island, two miles of sandy beach that’s just a five-minute foot-ferry ride from downtown Everett. The manmade mass of sand started as a rocky breakwater for Everett’s waterfront, and there are no cars here ― just sand, tide pools, buckets and kites. Although the ferry is free, a boarding pass is required; get one at the kiosk in downtown Everett, first-come, first-served.
Mind the Tides
The coast here is punctuated by rocky headlands that cannot be hiked around at high tide. Your awesome day at the beach can turn into a real bummer if you end up stranded on a beach or sea stack when the tide comes in. Carry an up-to-date tide table (pick one up at a local gas station) or check the tides online before your hike.