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Stinson Beach on the California coast near San Francisco Photograph: Alamy

Sean Patrick Hill

Saturday 25 May 2013 00.10 BST

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Rialto, Olympic national park

Washington state meets the Pacific Ocean along 157 miles of rugged coastline at
the Olympic peninsula. Much of this shoreline has been incorporated into the
Olympic national park, including the three miles of Rialto beach. Easy to walk,
this wilderness beach is open to exploring, with views out to the forested James
Island. North of the picnic area, Ellen Creek tumbles into the sea, and further on
lies Split Rock, a massive sea stack with two pinnacles, the tops of which are
crowned with dwarfed trees. Beyond that, you can explore Hole-in-the-Wall, a

cavern-like sea arch carved out by the surf.

Kalaloch, Olympic national park

Photograph: Alamy
Further south, Kalaloch is the most popular of the Olympic peninsula beaches.
Two nearby campgrounds, as well as the Kalaloch Lodge, make this an ideal
national park beach for families, and a destination in itself. This is a wide, sandy
beach hemmed in by a classic coastal forest, with Kalaloch Rocks, a series of sea
stacks, just offshore. Piles of massive driftwood have been shoved up by the tides
against the forested slopes. At low tide, when the rocks are left sitting in their
shallow pools, you can poke around to find starfish and barnacles.


Photograph: Alamy

Easy access from Seattle makes this beach something of a tourist destination, but
that's no reason not to go. It's on a long spit jutting out into Grays Harbour, and
surfers in particular have found a haven here, with numerous surf shops. The
town of Westport also hosts the annual Clean Water Classic surfing competition.
But there's much more to Westport than catching waves. Armed with a shovel
and bucket, razor-clam enthusiasts find an abundant harvest here. From March
to May, grey whale watching is popular. Westhaven and Westport Light state
parks are nearby, and you can visit the Grays Harbour lighthouse, dating from
1898, and one of the tallest on the west coast.


Cannon Beach

Photograph: Alamy
In 1846, a US Navy schooner was wrecked on the Columbia river bar a
common fate for ships at the time. One piece of the vessel, a shard of deck with a
cannon attached, washed ashore near what is now a quaint village on the north
Oregon coast. Whether it's kite flying or looking for sea anemones in the
numerous tidal pools, the level sands of Cannon Beach are one of Oregon's most
popular. But the real centrepiece here is Haystack Rock, a 72m sea stack that
casts an enormous presence over the beach. The rock itself is off limits, as it is a
protected refuge for seabirds including puffins, murres and cormorants.
Ambitious walkers can follow the shore south to Hug Point, four miles away,
where you can see the remains of a 1920s roadway dynamited into the rock to

allow driving at high tide.

Cape Kiwanda, Pacific City

Photograph: Alamy
The four-mile beach along Nestucca sand spit home to Bob Straub state park
is a great place to ride the recumbent bicycles you can rent in Pacific City, just
across the Nestucca river. The beach is long and sandy and draws crowds in
summer, but the real attraction is Cape Kiwanda, a block of sandstone that
stretches into the ocean towards another Haystack Rock a mile offshore (not to
be confused with the Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach). The cape has trails that
lead to impressive views of tide-carved channels churning with waves one even
blasts into a cave. But be careful not to leave the trail! If it's adventure you want,
the massive sand dunes are equally spectacular, certainly for children, who can
climb them and run or roll down.

Nye Beach and Agate Beach, Newport

Photograph: Alamy
The city of Newport has a plethora of attractions including the Oregon Coast
Aquarium, a Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, plus two historic lighthouses
and the 1,079m Yaquina Bay bridge which carries US highway 101 across the
bay. Nye Beach, which stretches nearly two miles along the Pacific, has its own
attractions. Set above the north jetty, Yaquina Bay lighthouse, built in 1871, is
both a navigation aid and a home. A walk northward along the beach leads to
Jumpoff Joe, a headland with a tunnel, which leads on to Agate Beach, a
destination not only for those looking for wave-polished agates but those who
dig for razor clams.


Gold Bluffs beach, Prairie Creek Redwoods state


Photograph: Alamy
When you think of California redwoods, you may bring to mind deep forests in
fabled northern California, but what few realise is how close they are to the
ocean. Redwoods, with their aversion to saltwater, do not grow directly on the
coast, so you won't see any along Gold Bluffs Beach, part of the Prairie Creek
Redwoods Park. What you will see are herds of elk browsing in the morning fog.
The California Coastal Trail runs right along this beach, giving access to
untrammelled coastline and little-known waterfalls. Though you'd never know it,
this beach experienced a short-lived gold rush in the 1850s. Today the bluffs
towering above this stretch are the only gold left, especially at sunset.

Manchester beach, Manchester state park

Photograph: Lee
Foster/Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley

Five miles of beach stretch along this "catch basin", a gently curving bay that
collects ocean debris there's always a large amount of driftwood. The area is
known for its high winds, as the wind-bent breaks of Monterey cypress attest. All
par for the course for the Pacific, and yet there is much that sets this beach apart.
Alder Creek, which empties into the ocean here, is a spawning spot for steelhead
trout. Trails lead to ponds, bluffs, grasslands, and dunes. The Point Arena
lighthouse, built in 1870 and rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, is open for tours.
Indeed the San Andreas Fault runs from the land to the sea here. Manchester
state park is home to a variety of coastal wildflowers, including poppies, lupines,
and irises, as well as tundra swans.

Stinson Beach

Photograph: Alamy
Just north of San Francisco, Stinson Beach is surrounded by the Point Reyes
national seashore, in the shadow of Mount Tamalpais, and nearby Marin
Headlands. With such imposing neighbours, the beach may not jump to mind as
a destination, unless you're a local. But this unassuming three-and-a-half mile
stretch of golden sand draws swimmers, volleyball players and beachcombers,
and has done for nearly a century. Today it is part of the Golden Gate national
recreation area. Though lifeguards are on duty, swimmers should be wary of
sharks. If that scares you off, there are plenty of barbecue grills, picnic areas and
a snack bar for a leisurely afternoon.

Baker beach, San Francisco

Photograph: Alamy
San Francisco may have the reputation as a sprawling urban area, but the City by
the Bay also has marvellous beaches. For scenery alone, Baker beach is the best.
With unimpeded views of the Golden Gate bridge and the Marin Headlands, as
well as the mouth of the bay, the beach is a landmark, and part of the large
Presidio national landmark, itself a section of Golden Gate national park.
Hemmed in by outcrops of grey-green serpentine cliffs, the mile-long beach is
great for sunbathing and barbecuing, but not for swimming with unpredictable
rip currents, undertows, and imposing waves. Fishing, however, is perfectly fine.