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 associated with Southern California, there are many other stretches of beach that should not be overlooked.
While some West Coast beaches require you to swap your swimsuit for a sweatshirt, the stunning scenery is not to be missed. Whether it’s the sunny sands of SoCal or the dramatic, moody seas of the Pacific Northwest, here are 10 beautiful beaches to add to your bucket list.
One of the most popular beaches (and towns) in Southern California, Laguna Beach is an Orange County gem. In fact, Laguna Beach is comprised of seven miles of relaxing coves, so visitors will have no problem finding the perfect spot in the sand.
The topography creates plenty of natural tidal pools and coastal caves to explore in Laguna Beach. Towering cliffs protect beachgoers from the wind, so it’s an ideal location for sunbathing and swimming in the ocean. Be sure to check out the sleepy town of Laguna Beach, too; The funky (but upscale) community is an artists’ hub that offers the most beachfront accommodations in the entire state of California. In addition, it contains over 20,000 acres of protected wilderness filled with hiking and biking trails to enjoy.
Related: Thousand Step Beach: How to Get to Hidden Laguna Pools
9/10 La Jolla Cove, San Diego, California
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La Jolla Cove, San Diego California
Apart from its natural beauty, one of the coolest things about La Jolla Cove is its ambience. While it is a major tourist attraction, it is 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 diving.
The chic coastal town right next to La Jolla Cove has no shortage of action either. Restaurants and cafes 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 ideal for families, although the abundance of seal populations attracts visitors of all ages.
Although the beach may not be the first thing one associates with Oregon, its 363 miles of coastline offer some of the most beautiful beaches on the West Coast. Thanks to state law, the public has the right to access them all for free and without interruption!
Named by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful places in the world, Cannon Beach is a must-see for any ocean enthusiast. The 235-foot Haystack Rock that juts out from the sea is one of the most iconic landmarks in the state and is home to large numbers of adorable tufted puffins. Be sure to explore the sands of Cannon Beach, too; It is known as one of the best art cities in the country.
Related: Top 10 fun things not to miss in Cannon Beach, Oregon
7/10 Carmel Beach, California
Beach in Carmel, Big Sur California
The coastal drive through Big Sur, California, is nothing short of amazing, and this popular road trip deserves a spot on every traveler’s bucket list. There are many beaches to explore along this scenic stretch, most of which require a short walk to get to. Just be sure to bring a blanket and a jacket, as temperatures tend to stay cool all year round.
Hitting the sand in Carmel is an excellent option for easy access, and the postcard-perfect town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is also worth exploring. The whimsical architecture gives you the feeling of being in a true fairy tale, and boutique shopping, historical sites, art galleries, and culinary delights abound.
Related: How to Plan a Long Weekend Getaway in Carmel-By-The-Sea, California’s Fairy Tale Town
Located over 1,500 square miles in the state of Washington, Olympic National Park is in fact home to several visit-worthy beaches that could warrant their own top ten list! Almost all of them feature towering sea stacks, incredible biodiversity, colorful tidal pools, and lush coastal rainforests.
Among the most popular beaches in Olympic National Park are Rialto Beach and Ruby Beach, which are always vying for the title of “best” beach. Ruby Beach (named after the red sand) is the undisputed choice for those looking for a break, thanks to its easy accessibility. Rialto Beach requires a hike, but visitors will be rewarded for their efforts.
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 20th century. In 1967, it was closed by the state of California, and various clean-up programs were implemented.
Over the course of several decades, Mother Nature has literally turned trash into treasure, and now the seashore is a spectacle of smooth sea glass. The unique Mendocino County Beach is a must-visit, but please leave the colored pebbles for others to enjoy. Besides the beach, Fort Bragg is home to other interesting attractions as well. Catch a glimpse of the historic “skunk” train and railroad bikes, or take an enchanting walk through the redwoods.
The majestic Golden Gate Bridge towering behind Baker Beach makes it a no-brainer to list it as one of the most beautiful beaches on the West Coast. Although Baker Beach is located in the city of San Francisco, visitors will feel a world away with its crashing waves and panoramic view of the Marin Headlands.
There are picnic tables, grills, parking, and public restrooms, and Baker Beach is dog-friendly (they’re even allowed off-leash). Of note, the northern end of Baker Beach is clothing-optional. However, the rest of the beach is much more modest, and is well suited for children and families.
With miles and miles of white sand and shallow water areas, Stinson Beach is one of the most attractive beaches in a generally rugged coastal area. Its orientation protects it from the winds prevailing in the area, and the 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’s easily integrated into any San Francisco itinerary.
Equipped with public toilets, a picnic area, and barbecues and surrounded by an array of locally owned shops and cafes, Stinson Beach is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Volleyballs and nets are provided free of charge.
2/10 Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, California
Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, California
On the west side of Santa Cruz is Natural Bridges State Beach. Visitors can watch the waves while also watching the butterflies, and it is a favorite among surfers during the winter season. The area is home to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary which is a wintering home to large numbers of migratory species.
Natural Bridges Beach is also known for its gorgeous tidal pools. The tide pools have been preserved as part of a marine protected area, and are filled daily with thousands of diverse species. Visit the visitor center for a map of the tidal basins – exploration should be planned around low tide. Remember, this is a no-trace area; Do not take anything from the environment or leave anything behind.
On the Long Beach Peninsula in southwestern Washington state lies Cape Disappointment State Park. Don’t be put off by the name – its rugged and stunning beaches with waves crashing into cliffs hundreds of feet high won’t disappoint at all. Considered the “graveyard of the Pacific,” the area is a great place to humble the power of the ocean.
Since the waters can be rough and there are no lifeguards, swimming is not recommended, but the views are stunning, and walking trails are plentiful. The beaches here also offer excellent clam pits, kite-flying, fishing, and picnicking. The area is steeped in historical significance and maritime legacy as well. Visit the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center to learn more with their interactive exhibits.