Cold Tide

Washington's Best Beaches in Winter

Our shoreline shines in the off-season.

By Allison Williams

The Olympic Mountains peek from behind Dungeness Spit.

Washington beaches have always conjured their own off-kilter magic: tidepools and driftwood, not sand dunes and sunburn. Which means that in winter our stretches of shore don't lose their essential appeal, even if we do need to add an extra jacket or two. 

A great blue heron passes Richmond Beach Saltwater Park.

1. Richmond Beach

Like so much of the state's waterfront, Shoreline's Richmond Beach Saltwater Park is better stocked with skipping stones than soft sand. A pedestrian bridge over rail lines separates the parking lot and playground from the beach acreage, making the 40-acre city park feel larger than it should. An off-leash dog park is open November through March, the rare winter-only attraction. Puget Sound

2. Juanita Beach

Though it boasts only one thousand feet of Lake Washington shoreline, Kirkland's compact beach park debuts a host of new structures this spring: a new bathhouse, a new playground complex, and, eventually, boat rentals. This stretch of sand was revealed when the Ship Canal lowered Lake Washington a hundred years ago, and it pairs nicely with the walkable wetlands path at Juanita Bay Park next door. Tennis and sandy volleyball courts keep things active. Lake Washington

Evergreen Beach lies at the end of a forest trail in the Evergreen State College campus.

3. Evergreen Beach

The protected three-thousand-foot section of Olympia's Eld Inlet is called Geoduck Beach on Google maps—a nod to the mascot of the hike-in beach's owner, Evergreen State College. The campus trail, less than a mile, winds through primeval forest overstuffed with ferns and moss, the route even more impressive than the beach itself. Signs are inconsistent at the many trail interchanges, so it helps to have a general sense of direction. Fortunately it's hard to get too lost between the college's F parking lot and the water. Puget Sound

The sun comes out to play year-round on Kalaloch Beach.

Image: Jane Sherman

4. Kalaloch Beach

Time isn't quite normal at Olympic National Park's most popular beach. It's hard to pin down the season at Kalaloch, given that sunshine and storms can happen any day of the year and spectacular sunsets light up the Pacific horizon around the calendar. Parts of Kalaloch Lodge feel straight out of the 1950s, when its main building was erected. Though the long, straight beach has been providing ramble space for centuries, one attraction has gained social media attention in recent years: a Sitka spruce whose roots dangle into the air where the sand has eroded. Called Tree Root Cave, the Runaway Tree, or the Tree of Life, it looks ancient but will someday collapse in a heap, leaving only a million Instagram memories. Pacific Ocean

5. Mocrocks Beach

Just south of the Quinault Indian Reservation, the tides can pull out so far that nearly a quarter mile of sand is revealed at Mocrocks. Razor clams love this shallow shelf, meaning razor clammers do too; when water quality is deemed healthy, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife opens the stretch to harvest. For most of the year, however, it's a beach big enough to find peace and quiet. Pacific Ocean

6. Bottle Beach

Spring is this Grays Harbor state park's prime time, given the number of migratory shorebirds that travel through the spot—more than a million a year. But wildlife shows up on the broad tidal flats year-round. Once meant to be a town called Ocosta—it boasted a lumber company, three hotels, and a brewery by the 1890s—the spot is now quiet and forgotten, a serene getaway when the winds pound too hard on the nearby ocean beaches of Westport and Grayland. Grays Harbor

Sunset at Birch Bay.

7. Birch Bay

What if a giant, half-moon-shaped vacation getaway were plunked down in a not-so-tropical location? It would look something like Birch Bay just south of the Canadian border, where vacation rentals sit next to seafood takeout joints—a sunnier vibe than the moody Salish Sea typically delivers in winter. The state park here has a mile of waterfront, adding to acres accessible between businesses farther north. In summer the water park fills with crowds, but the off-season offers fish and chips with a side of sunset solitude. Puget Sound

8. Kalama Beach

The Columbia River isn't known for its beaches, and Kalama's section just south of Longview is not out to make waves. But the five acres along I-5 pack a lot into a midday pit stop between Portland and Seattle. A section of sand at Louis Rasmussen Park acts as buffer between the industrial shoreline and the river itself; sport courts dot the inland parts of the park and the state's tallest single-piece totem pole stands watch. The wide porch on the McMenamins Kalama Harbor Lodge acts as the ideal setting for an afternoon drink, as does a cabin-shaped bar the hotel owns a bit south on Ahles Point. Columbia River

9. Dungeness Spit

The long, spindly finger that bends north from Sequim is often beset by storms that roll through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, blocking views of Vancouver Island across the water. But the charms of Dungeness Spit lie in the flocks of loon, grebe, and other shorebirds, the wildlife enjoying that they get sole access to much of the land here. A walk to the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula is longer than it looks, a good ten miles round trip. Volunteer lighthouse keepers give tours of the squat, historic structure in non-pandemic times. Strait of Juan de Fuca

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