With thousands of miles of coastline, there is no shortage of stunning beaches on the West Coast of the United States. While beach culture may be most commonly associated with Southern California, there are many other expanses of shoreline that shouldn’t be overlooked.
While some West Coast beaches will require swapping swimwear for a sweatshirt, the stunning landscapes are not to be missed. Whether it’s the sun-drenched sands of SoCal or the moody, dramatic seas of the Pacific Northwest, here are 10 beautiful beaches to add to the bucket list.
10/10 Laguna Beach, California
Laguna Beach, Orange County CA
One of the most iconic beaches (and towns) in Southern California, Laguna Beach is a jewel of Orange County. In reality, Laguna Beach comprises seven miles of cozy coves, so visitors won’t have any trouble finding the perfect spot in the sand.
The topography creates lots of natural tide pools and seaside caves to explore in Laguna Beach. The tall cliffs shelter beach-goers from the wind, so it is an ideal location for sunbathing and taking a dip in the ocean. Be sure to check out the laid-back, seaside city of Laguna Beach, too; the funky (but upscale) community is an artist hub that offers the most beachfront lodging in the entire state of California. Additionally, it contains over 20,000 acres of protected wilderness that is full of hiking and biking trails to enjoy.
9/10 La Jolla Cove, San Diego, California
La Jolla Cove, San Diego CA
Aside from its natural beauty, one of the coolest things about La Jolla Cove is its vibe. While it is a top tourist attraction, it is also much-loved by locals and has deep roots within the San Diego community. As part of an ecological reserve, there is an abundance of wildlife that makes for excellent snorkeling and scuba diving.
The elegant seaside town situated beside La Jolla Cove has no shortage of action either. Restaurants and cafés dot the waterfront, so it’s easy to enjoy dining with a view. There are markets, shopping, arts, nightlife, and frequent events and festivals. Scripps Park and Children’s Pool is an ideal place for families, although the abundant seal population draws visitors of all ages.
8/10 Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, Oregon
While the beach may not be the first thing one associates with Oregon, its 363 miles of coastline offer up some of the most beautiful beaches on the West Coast. Thanks to state law, the public has the right to free and uninterrupted access to all of them!
Named by National Geographic as one of the world’s most beautiful places, Cannon Beach is a must-see for any ocean enthusiast. The iconic 235-foot Haystack Rock jutting out from the sea is one of the state’s most recognizable landmarks and is the habitat to droves of adorable Tufted Puffins. Be sure to explore off the sands of Cannon Beach, too; it is renowned as one of the country’s top art towns.
7/10 Carmel Beach, California
Beach in Carmel, Big Sur California
The coastal drive through Big Sur, California, is nothing short of jaw-dropping, and this iconic road trip deserves a spot on every traveler’s bucket list. There are numerous beaches to explore along this scenic stretch, with most of them requiring a short hike to access them. Just be sure to bring along a blanket and a sweater, as the temperatures tend to stay cool year-round.
Hitting the sand in Carmel is an excellent option for ease of access, and the postcard-perfect town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is well worth exploring too. The whimsical architecture gives the feel of being in a real-life fairytale, and boutique shopping, historical sites, art galleries, and culinary delights abound.
6/10 Olympic National Park, Washington
Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park WA
Located over nearly 1500 square miles in Washington State, Olympic National Park is actually home to numerous bucket-list-worthy beaches that could even warrant their own top 10 list! Nearly all of them are characterized by towering sea stacks, incredible biodiversity, colorful tide pools, and lush coastal rainforests.
Among the most popular beaches in Olympic National Park are Rialto Beach and Ruby Beach, which are always in fierce competition for the ‘best’ beach title. Ruby Beach (named after the red-hued sand) is the undisputed choice for those looking for convenience, thanks to its easy access. Rialto Beach requires a hike, but visitors will be rewarded for their efforts.
5/10 Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California
Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, Mendocino County California
Perhaps the most interesting of all the beaches on the list, this beach was used as a dumping ground throughout the early 1900s. In 1967, it was closed down by the state of California, and various cleanup programs were implemented.
Over several decades, Mother Nature quite literally turned trash into treasure, and now the seashore is a kaleidoscope of smooth sea glass. This unique Mendocino County Beach is a must-visit, but please leave the colorful pebbles for others to enjoy. Besides the beach, Fort Bragg is home to other interesting attractions too. Check out the historic ‘skunk’ train and railbikes, or take a mesmerizing stroll through the redwoods.
4/10 Baker Beach, San Francisco, California
Baker Beach, San Francisco CA
The majestic Golden Gate Bridge towering behind Baker Beach makes it a no-brainer for inclusion as one of the West Coast’s most beautiful beaches. Even though Baker Beach is located in the metropolis of San Francisco, visitors will feel like they’re a world away with the crashing waves and panoramic view of the Marin Headlands.
There are picnic tables, grills, parking lots, and public bathrooms, and Baker Beach is also dog-friendly (they are even permitted off-leash). It is worth noting that the northern end of Baker Beach is clothing-optional. The rest of the beach is much more modest, though, and is perfectly suitable for kids and families.
3/10 Stinson Beach, California
Stinson Beach, Marin County CA
With miles and miles of white sand and areas of shallow water, Stinson Beach is one of the most inviting beaches in a generally rugged region of coastline. Its orientation shelters it from the prevailing winds of the region, and beach conditions are among the most pleasant in the Bay Area. Located across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, just north of Mill Valley, it is easily incorporated into any San Francisco itinerary.
Equipped with public restrooms, a picnic area, and barbecues and surrounded by a handful of locally-owned shops and cafés, Stinson Beach is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Volleyballs and nets are even provided for free.
2/10 Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, California
Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, California
On the west side of Santa Cruz sits Natural Bridges State Beach. A favorite of surfers during the winter swell season, visitors can watch the waves while also watching the butterflies. The area is home to a Monarch Butterfly preserve that serves as a winter habitat for droves of the migrating species.
Natural Bridges beach is also known for its incredible tide pools. Preserved as part of a Marine Protected Area, the tide pools fill up daily with thousands of diverse species. Drop by the Visitor’s Center to grab a map of the tide pools – exploration should be planned around low tide. Remember that this is a leave no trace area; do not take anything from the environment or leave anything behind.
1/10 Cape Disappointment, Washington
Long Beach Peninsula, Washington
Located on the Long Beach Peninsula in southwestern Washington State sits Cape Disappointment State Park. Don’t be put off by the name – its rugged yet stunning beaches with waves pounding into cliffs that are hundreds of feet high will not disappoint at all. Deemed the ‘graveyard of the Pacific, the area is a spectacular place to be humbled by the power of the ocean.
As the waters can be rough and there are no lifeguards, swimming is not advised, but the views are breathtaking, and walking trails are abundant. The beaches here also make for excellent clam-digging, kite-flying, fishing, and picnics. The area is steeped in historical significance and maritime legacy too. Visit the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center to learn more via their interactive exhibitions.