The Pacific Northwest's iconic, rocky coast has proved to be harder to develop and tame than the sandy shores of the more Southern and Atlantic beaches. But, that's actually turned out to be a good thing in a lot of ways... you won't find towering resorts or crowded piers on these beaches, just sand and surf. And rocks. Lots of rocks. Thanks to the jagged cliffs and coastline, it's easy to stumble upon hidden coves, grottos, and pocket beaches that feel secluded and secret. Since there are few things more magical than an evening enjoying the waves and breezes at a hidden beach, here's our guide to some of the PNW's best.
Head to the Natural Bridge section of Samuel H. Boardman State Park and hike the trail that leads you across the natural bridge itself; the waves have bored a hole into a cliff, forming an arch. Looking down at the waves below you is an adrenaline rush, and since there's a little beach behind the bridge, you can cool off and relax after the hike. There are countless sea stacks, some dotted with trees, and there's plenty of coastline for one incredible landscape.
A short but steep hike takes you down to Brookings Secret Beach. The trail is between Spruce Island Viewpoint and north of Thunder Rock Cove, and it's fairly manageable, though it does require a bit of rock scrambling. You can also hike up or down the beach and explore the caves... but be aware that this beach is only accessible at low tide.
Devil's Churn is more of a cove than a beach, but it's still a great spot to visit. Few places show off the power of the ocean than this. Get a US Forest Service Pass for the Siuslaw National Forest, then head to Cape Perpetua and take the Restless Waters trail. The inlet was once a cave, bored into the basalt by the waves, but the roof collapsed, forming the churn. It can be dangerous when the tide is high and rough, with spray and water exploding hundreds of feet in the air, but it's an incredible photo op.
The inside of Netarts Bay offers some lesser-visited shores, and the sand spit that makes up Cape Lookout is a calmer, sandier beach than many in Oregon. The camping here is stellar, so bring along you RV or your gear, or rent a cabin or yurt and make a weekend of it. The beachside towns here are fun to explore as well.
Cape Meares is a rocky headland that features loads of pocket beaches, coves, and caves that visitors can explore and discover. Look for whales, puffins, bald eagles, seals, and sea lions, and make sure to visit the lighthouse for even more stunning views.
Ruby Beach is one of the most beloved Olympic Peninsula beaches, but the three La Push Beaches are more secluded and just as gorgeous. Driftwood, tree-lined sea stacks, and rocky coves make them perfect examples of Pacific Coast beaches. Of the three, Third Beach is the hardest to reach and least crowded, as First Beach has resorts nearby and Second Beach is accessible by car. Pick up a wilderness backcountry camping permit and set up a tent on the shore, build a fire, and enjoy the cool breezes off the water.
Another hidden gem along the Olympic Peninsula is Shi Shi Beach. To get there, you'll need to first conquer a 3-or-so-mile hike through the woods until you reach the ocean. From there, you'll need to descend about 200 feet down a cliff, either with the help of a rope along the trail, or using tree roots for support-- but it's all worth the effort when you finally land on the beach. You'll definitely want to get a camping permit (you can get them from the Wilderness Information Center or the South Shore Lake Quinault Ranger Station) and bring along a tent, because you won't find any more magic place to spend the night in the park than on Shi Shi Beach.
Shi Shi's rugged coastline provides the perfect conditions for tidepools to really form. Plan to visit during low tide, when the waters recede and leave behind shallow pools filled with exotic marine life. Green anemones, pink algae, seashells, starfish, clams, snails, even wolf eels and rock crabs can be spotted along the beach's rocky tidepools. Be careful of slippery seaweed and algae covering the rocks, and be careful to not disturb the wildlife too much-- although you're definitely welcome to pick up trash that's washed ashore!
You can also spend hours just getting lost along the rocky coastline. Dotted by caves and sea stacks, and covered with all kinds of marine life and plant life, the rocks along the shore also make for more awesome photography. One of the most prominent landmarks along the ocean is a sea stack known as Point of Arches. It looks especially breathtaking as the sun sets behind the Pacific Ocean, which is one of the best reasons to camp overnight-- and as an added bonus, the sunrise is pretty spectacular, too. Just be sure to check the tides before you pitch your tent!
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. -John Lubbock