The Pacific Coast of the US is one of the best places to visit for a beach vacation. There are many best beaches on the West Coast of the USA, and almost all of them are accessible on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip.
From powder white sandy beaches to purple-hued coves, from sea stacks to foggy bluffs, from sea glass to driftwood washing up the shore, and from aquamarine waters to churning frothy waves, the West Coast beaches are spectacularly beautiful. They have something to offer for all beach lovers.
Whether you are looking to swim, surf, kayak, play on sand dunes, camp, hike, tidepool, go crabbing or relax on the sand, the dramatic coastline of the Pacific Ocean makes it all possible. In the states of California, Oregon, and Washington you can find extensive sandy stretches, hidden coves, and sheltered beaches.
Take a road trip along Highway 1 or Highway 101 and experience the stunning beauty of these beaches. Experience the enchanting nature of these postcard-worthy beach vacations on the West Coast. Come early for sunrise and stay for one of those legendary West Coast sunsets.
Best beaches on the West Coast
Here are the best beaches including the best beach vacations, best beach resort getaways, and best beach towns along the West Coast of the USA.
Laguna Beach, California
Located in California’s famous Orange County, Laguna Beach is a legendary beach vacation on the West Coast. It is known for its stunningly pretty white sand beaches including the popular Thousand Steps Beach.
There are many other beaches in Laguna Beach. There is Main Beach where you can explore tidepools during a low tide or take a stroll along the boardwalk. Many of the city’s beaches have hiking trails nearby.
The city of Laguna Beach makes a great beach vacation because of its proximity to Los Angeles, a charming downtown, and many art festivals and galleries. Many Hollywood celebrities also live in Laguna Beach, making it one of the most expensive areas in Orange County.
Pfeiffer Beach, California
Pfeiffer Beach ranks top of this list of best beaches on the West Coast for multiple reasons. It is located on the incredibly scenic central coast of California in Big Sur, it has pretty purple colored sand, and is characterized by the iconic Keyhole Rock formation.
Accessing this beautiful beach is not easy. It is located off the beaten path on California’s Highway 1. If you are traveling north to south, then drive past the Big Sur Ranger Station to the sign for Sycamore Canyon Road. Follow the road to the parking lot and then hike down to the beach.
Once at the beach, you will find several jagged rocks along the coast. But the most striking is the keyhole rock which has a natural arch formation where the waves crash. Keyhole Rock looks spectacular at sunset. The purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach comes from the manganese garnet stones on the cliffside.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Pacific Northwest. This iconic beach with the Haystack Rock has become famous since it was featured in the movie Twilight. Haystack Rock is 235 feet tall and when covered in fog or at sunset, is every photographer’s dream.
The best views of Cannon Beach with Haystack Rock and a sweeping panorama down the Pacific Coast can be seen from Ecola State Park. Cannon Beach is simply huge and breathtaking and one of the best beaches to visit along the Pacific Coast.
The beach is perfect for romantic long walks on the sand, especially at sunset. The beach is also a photographer’s paradise with the frothy waves, sea stacks, coves, and tidepools. The town of Cannon Beach makes the perfect beach gateway in Oregon.
Baker Beach, California
No list of best beaches on the Pacific Coast is complete without mentioning Baker Beach in San Francisco. Located in the Presidio of San Francisco, on the ocean side of the Golden Gate Bridge, this is the most popular beach in the city.
Baker Beach has one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge and is the ultimate spot to come for highly photogenic pictures. Apart from walking along the coast and taking in the views, visitors can also go sunbathing or fishing at the beach.
However, there are a few caveats while visiting the San Francisco beach: the beach is clothing optional and gets quite crowded on weekends. It also tends to get foggy in the summer and can have poor visibility of the bridge.
Seaside is Oregon’s favorite beach town and beach vacation destination. This is the largest city on the Oregon Coast and is home to a fabulous beach. The town is close to Tillamook Head which has excellent hiking trails along the coast.
Seaside is an excellent beach vacation for families with kids. The 1.5 miles long Seaside Promenade boardwalk is a primary source of attraction in the resort town. The Seaside Aquarium, located along the promenade, is a great place to take the kids.
Downtown Seaside is also charming with lots of historic buildings and museums. You can play arcade games, do boutique shopping, and eat at seafood restaurants in this lively town. The Seaside Turnaround is one the Lewis & Clark Trail and makes a great photo op.
Rialto Beach, Washington
Located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, Rialto Beach is one of the best beaches along the Pacific Coast Highway 101. The beach is a part of the Olympic National Park and located adjacent to the Mora campground.
This rocky beach is characterized by drift logs, a coastal forest, and views of sea stacks. A main highlight of the beach is Hole-in-the-Wall, a sea carved arch which can be reached on a 1.5 miles hike.
Rialto Beach is also excellent for watching wildlife. You can spot whales, sea lions, sea otters, and birds including puffins, cormorants, and eagles. You can also sea tide pool creatures at low tide.
La Jolla Beach, California
La Jolla Shores, located adjacent to San Diego, is home to the most famed beaches in southern California. At La Jolla, you will find white sandy beaches and hidden coves sheltered by rocky cliffs.
This is a popular west coast beach vacation destination for families. You will find kids playing in the sand and surfers on the waves at La Jolla. You can also go scuba diving and beach kayaking at La Jolla.
La Jolla Cove is the most popular beach in the area. It is a part of the marine reserve and is excellent for snorkeling. Torrey Pines State Beach, located north of La Jolla, is great for hiking and enjoying the sunset.
La Push Beaches, Washington
The La Push beaches on the Olympic Peninsula are separated from Rialto Beach by the Quillayute River. The beaches can be accessed via the La Push Road. These are actually three beaches known as First Beach, Second Beach, and Third Beach.
The First Beach is located on the Quileute Reservation while the other two are part of the Olympic National Park. Second Beach and Third Beach also have tidepools and excellent for visiting with kids.
Second Beach is the most popular one for its dramatic beauty. To reach the beach, you need to hike about 0.7 miles from the parking lot. The trail goes through the old-growth forest and the views are magnificent. Stairs at the end of the trail take visitors to the often foggy beach.
First Beach is most easily accessible and hence frequently crowded. Third Beach needs a 1.4 miles hike and hence is less visited and great if you want the beach to yourself.
Carmel Beach, California
Charming Carmel-by-the-Sea, located a few hours from Monterey, is an excellent beach vacation on California’s central coast. This upscale, charming, coastal community has a distinct art vibe.
Carmel Beach is the perfect place to spend a day relaxing in the sun. The crescent-shaped beach is also dog-friendly and you will find many furry friends splashing in the water. Popular activities on the beach include swimming, surfing, and bonfires at night.
Another great option is the Carmel River State Beach. It is less visited and so often secluded compared to Carmel Beach. Here you can find sand dunes and a mile-long beach. Also adjacent to the beach is a bird sanctuary and you can spot a variety of land birds and seabirds like warblers, pelicans, and oystercatchers.
Rockaway Beach, Oregon
Located in Tillamook County of Oregon Coast, Rockaway Beach is a popular coastal city. Located just an hour away from Portland, this is a very popular beach vacation destination. The town itself is charming, you can see Victorian buildings from the Wild West days.
A highlight of Rockaway Beach is Twin Rocks, a pair of sea stacks that rise out from the ocean. It looks even more spectacular at sunset or when covered in pastel hues in the spring. You can go beachcombing or take the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad to Garibaldi.
Ruby Beach, Washington
Located in the Kalaloch Area of the Olympic National Park, Ruby Beach is an incredibly beautiful beach along the Pacific Coast. It has a certain mythical quality: the fog descends pretty low on the sea stacks and sunsets are just gorgeous here. The beach is located near the mouth of the Hoh River and is full of interesting rock formations.
The tidepooling here is legendary: at low tides, you can observe crabs, sea urchins, and starfish. The beach has a beautiful view of Abbey Island and at low tide, you can even cross across the sand to go near the island.
While the beach is easily accessible from the parking lot, the reach the area where the Hof River empties into the Pacific, you will need to go along a 3-mile long trail. You can also spot the Destruction Island Lighthouse from Ruby Beach.
Long Beach, Washington
For a fun beach getaway in the Pacific Northwest, consider Long Beach. Located in Washington, Long Beach is known for its abundant seafood and longest beach in the US.
The Long Beach Peninsula has the longest continuous beach in the country with 28 miles of sandy stretches. It is also the world’s largest drivable beach. Here you will find grass-covered sand dunes along the Pacific Coast.
If you prefer not walking on the beach, then the city also has a half-mile long boardwalk. You can also hike or bike along the Discovery Trail and learn about Lewis and Clark’s expedition.
A special attraction of the Long Beach peninsula is Cape Disappointment State Beach. It has two lighthouses, an old-growth forest, and hiking trails.
Glass Beach, California
Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach located in Mackerricher State Park is one of the most unique beaches along the Pacific Coast Highway 1. Here you will find abundant sea glass all over the beach.
The sea glass was formed from trash and rubble that was dumped here decades ago. The sea glass while depleting, still makes the beach look gorgeous and unique.
Fort Bragg itself is a charming town to visit and located adjacent to charming Mendocino. It makes a fun stop on the Pacific Coast Highway road trip.
Horsfall Beach, Oregon
Horsfall Beach is located about 2 miles north of Coos Bay on Oregon’s central coast. This beach is located within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and is surrounded by a never-ending dunes field.
The dunes here are some of the tallest on the continent. Some of them tower over 500 feet in height. The dunes field stretches for over 47 miles. Visitors can go offroading on the dunes and have a thrilling time.
Other useful posts to plan your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Planner
Pacific Coast Highway 4 day Itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 5 day itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 7 day itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 10 Day itinerary
All PCH Itineraries
Best Places to Stay along the Pacific Coast Highway
Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops