Best Beach Towns in WA State
Although Seattle is one of America’s most likeable and vibrant cities, well worth a few days of anybody’s time, perhaps its greatest asset for visitors is its proximity to the glorious rural scenery of Puget Sound.
The islands here are stepping stones to the Olympic Peninsula to the west, whose mountains are home to rare elk and lush vegetation that merges into rainforest, and whose wilderness beaches have remained unchanged for centuries.
The Olympic National Park, which occupies the bulk of the peninsula, is dazzling, and a hike along one of its clearly laid-out trails can be a highlight of any trip.
Not quite as rainy as the mountains to the northeast, the southern coast is flatter and more accessible but not as appealing, littered with industrial towns and glum holiday resorts.
Of the three islands with accommodations, Lopez is the least developed. Although it is less spectacular than Orcas or San Juan, it is flatter, which makes it popular with bicyclists who often prefer easy grades to stunning panoramas.
Lopez maintains more of its agricultural roots than either of the two previously mentioned islands, and likewise has fewer activities for tourists.
If you just want to get away from it all and hole up with a good book for a few days, Lopez may be the place for you.
The delightful and spacious Lopez Islander resort hotel ($130-160) sits on the edge of Lopez Village, about four miles from the ferry dock, and not far from the excellent Bay Cafй Restaurant.
For a change of pace, and a quiet respite in the woods, Blue Fjord Cabins ($75-100) offers two cozy, secluded cabins for reasonable rates.
Horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island is quieter than San Juan, its several holiday resorts tucked away in distant coves.
Tiny Orcas itself, where the ferry lands, is mainly interesting for its grand Victorian Orcas Hotel. You can rent bicycles and mopeds around the ferry dock area.
Most visitors head ten miles north to the rather drab main town of Eastsound, where the visitor information kiosk on North Beach Road, just past Eastsound Square, provides maps.
Two miles west, at the end of West Beach Road, the Beach Haven Resort ($100-130) is a great place to stay , its 50-year-old beach front log cabins lined up along a densely wooded, sunset-facing cove; in summer they are only available by the week.
The island’s real highlight is Moran State Park, where over thirty miles of hiking trails wind through dense forest and open fields to freshwater lakes, and to the summit of the 2409ft Mount Constitution , where there are great views to be had from an observation tower.
One of the best Orcas Island’s beaches is Obstruction Pass State Park. Set at the end of a half-mile-long trail through the woods, this tiny cove is barely big enough for a dozen sea kayakers to beach their boats on, but therein lies this beach’s charm.
This is the quintessential little San Juan Islands cove beach, and you don’t have to have a boat to get to it.
San Juan Island
San Juan , the ferry’s last stop before Canada, is the only island where the ferry drops you in something resembling a town.
Though small, Friday Harbor is the only incorporated place in the archipelago and the best spot to sort out the necessary transportation. San Juan Shuttle circles between twelve communities and points of interest on the island, and a daily hop-on, hop-off pass costs a reasonable $10 ($17 for two days; ).
Friday Harbor’s cafes, shops and waterfront make for pleasant wandering, and the small Whale Museum, 62 First St N, offers an interesting look at the sights and sounds of local cetaceans.
To see the real thing, head past the coves and bays on the island’s west side to Lime Kiln Point State Park , named after the site’s former lime quarry.
Orca (“killer”) whales come here in summer to feed on migrating salmon, and there’s usually at least one sighting a day.
Camping is a good choice on San Juan Island; there’s a pleasant cyclists-only campground called the Pedal Inn at 1300 False Bay Drive, and Lakedale Campground is six miles from the ferry on Roche Harbor Road, accessible by bus.
The Bed & Breakfast Association of San Juan Island can hook you up with a room, though most places start at around $100 in high season.
It’s essential to book ahead in summer for rooms in Friday Harbor, especially during the popular San Juan Island Jazz Festival , the last weekend in July.
With sheer cliffs and craggy outcrops, rocky beaches and prairie countryside, Whidbey Island is a favorite retreat for Puget Sound’s city-dwellers.
Although it’s possible to reach the island by road – Hwy-20 off I-5 drops into the north end of Whidbey, some 85 miles north of Seattle – the ferry is often a better option. The quickest route from Seattle is to head thirty miles north to Mukilteo and catch the ferry to Whidbey’s southern tip.
The Mukilteo ferry lands at the small town of Clinton, but Langley, further around the east coast, makes a better place to linger, with its old-West main street of wooden storefronts set on a picturesque bluff overlooking the water. The visitors center is at 208 Anthes St. (daily 9am-5pm;).
The middle part of the island contains the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, which some may find worthwhile for its preserved World War II-era military garrisons Fort Ebey and Fort Casey.
More appealing, though, is charming little Coupeville, with its Victorian sea captains’ mansions – and is certainly preferable to Oak Harbor, Whidbey’s largest town and the site of a naval air station and a slew of motels.
To the north, at Deception Pass State Park, a steel bridge arches gracefully over the narrow gorge between Whidbey and Fidalgo Island, connecting point for the San Juans beyond.
Deception Pass State Park is the most popular state park in Washington – the many miles of beach, spread out on two sides of Deception Pass, are among the prettiest in the Puget Sound area.
On the edge of Coupeville, you’ll find accommodations at the appealing Captain Whidbey Inn, 2072 W Captain Whidbey Inn Rd, two miles west of Coupeville on Penn Cove, a lovely nautical-themed hotel serving superb food.
You can also camp in any of four state parks, including Fort Ebey State Park.