Explore the Best of the West Coast with These 13 Unforgettable Coastal Adventures

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The West Coast of the United States is home to every type of coastline you can imagine, from calm bays to long sandy beaches to rugged cliffs to some of the most remote areas in the country. This makes the coastlines of the West Coast an incredible place to visit, as you can pick a new activity every day for 2 weeks and never run out of new things to do.

From kayaking around the San Juan Islands in Washington state to crabbing in Oregon to surfing in California, no matter where you are on the coast, there are opportunities for incredible adventures at your fingertips.

So, let’s hit the road and explore 13 amazing outdoor things to do along the coasts of the west coast.

Kayaking Through the San Juan Islands, Washington

Sea kayaks on deserted ocean beach, San Juan Islands, Washington
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Whether you’ve never put a paddle to water before or you’re a seasoned pro the San Juan Islands offer up incredible kayaking opportunities for everyone. With plenty of protected bays and guided tours for beginners to multi-day kayak trips for those looking to get out and camp on a deserted island and paddle amongst the area’s sea life, you’ll find just what you’re looking for in this marine paradise.

A paddle from Orca Island to Sucia Island, which is a state marine park full of wildlife, narrow bays, and miles of trails on this uninhabited island, is a must-do for any seasoned kayaker.

Surfing at Huntington Beach, California:

Surfers at Huntington Beach California.
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If you’re going to go surfing in one place on the West Coast, make it the beach known as Surf City USA, Huntington Beach. This beach right in the heart of Los Angeles offers excellent waves and a lively beach and surfing culture. If surfing isn’t your style, you can still pull up a beach chair, watch the riders catch waves, and show off their surfing skills.

Exploring the Tide Pools at Cannon Beach, Oregon

People enjoy the tidepools around Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach at extreme low tide on a cloudy day.
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Cannon Beach is home to one of the Oregon Coast’s most famous landmarks: Haystack Rock. At extreme low tides, this massive sea stack opens up to beachcombers and tidepoolers who can walk all the way out to sections of the beach that remain underwater for most of the year. Here, you can wander around tide pools that are home to all sorts of aquatic animals like octopus, crabs, fish, sea stars, and sea aneonomies.

Hiking the Coastal Trails in Big Sur, California

Couple on hiking trip resting on top of the mountain looking at ocean view. People enjoying beautiful coastal scenery. Pacific Ocean, Big Sur, California, USA
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Big Sur, California, is a rugged stretch of coastline that is frequently plagued by storms, landslides, and big surf. As a result, this beautiful area remains largely undeveloped, which makes it an amazing place to hike the coastal trails, explore remote beaches, and dip your toes into the sand.

If you only have time to do one hike in the area, make it the Creamery Meadow, Ridge, Panorama, and Bluffs Trail Loop, which is approximately 8 miles long and offers outstanding ocean views.

Beachcombing at Rialto Beach, Washington

rialto beach with fog Washington
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The west coast of the Olympic Peninsula is home to some of the most remote, rugged, and beautiful coastline you’ll see anywhere in the world. With towering sea stacks, remote campsites, and full exposure to the relentless storms of the Pacific Ocean, we believe that everyone should try to spend time at these incredible beaches at least once.

One of the best activities to do here is beachcombing for treasures washed up by the Pacific. From buoys to antique glass floats to logs, they all end up on these wild shores.

Wildlife Viewing at Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Northern Elephant Seal
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Point Reyes National Seashore is home to an incredible array of land and marine wildlife, with elk, deer, foxes, and owls on shore to elephant seals, sea lions, harbor seals, and whales in the ocean. With plentiful hikes through the headlands, there are plenty of opportunities to get out in the backcountry and watch these magnificent animals in their natural environment.

Sailing Around Catalina Island, California

Aerial view of Catalina Casino and Avalon harbor with sailboats, fishing boats and yachts moored in calm bay, famous tourist attraction in Santa Catalina Island, Southern California. June 20th, 2020
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Sailing around Catalina Island offers some of the most serene and picturesque coastal experiences you’ll find anywhere. With hidden coves, pristine beaches, and the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, if you ever have the opportunity to take a sailing trip through this area, it is a must-do.

One of the best activities while sailing here is anchoring in secluded spots to explore the island’s natural wonders. From snorkeling with vibrant marine life to discovering untouched beaches, the adventures awaiting on Catalina’s shores are truly unforgettable.

Whale Watching in Depoe Bay, Oregon

Water Drips off Whale Tail as it dives down for food
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Depoe Bay, home to the world’s smallest navigatable harbor, is known as the whale capital of Oregon. It is home to a population of resident gray whales who spend nearly the entire year in the waters directly offshore of the bay. The Oregon Whale Watching Center, with its wide decks and helpful volunteers, is a great place to see one of these incredible animals.

If you want to get out on the water to experience the thrill of seeing whales from the ocean, then there are a number of local charter companies, like Dockside Charters, who can make that happen for very affordable prices!

Exploring the Lighthouses of the Oregon Coast:

The historic Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Newport Oregon USA
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Take a tour down the Oregon coast to visit the numerous lighthouses that stand watch over these treacherous waters. From the remote Terrible Tilly that stands alone on a rock a mile offshore to the picturesque Yaquina Head and Yaquina Bay Lighthouses that guide mariners to the safety of Yaquina Bay, these historic lighthouses are a treat to visit.

Don’t miss the shortest lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, the Cape Meares Lighthouse. Because of its location high on the bluffs above the ocean, this lighthouse only had to be built 38 feet tall, yet it can still be seen up to 21 miles out to sea!

Crabbing in Newport, Oregon:

A crab sitting on a dock in Newport, Oregon
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Oregon is known for a lot of foods like marionberries, Pacific golden chanterelles, hazelnuts, and, perhaps most delicious of all, the Dungeness crab. This buttery and delicate crab can be found up and down the coast in protected bays and harbors, and it doesn’t take a commercial fisherman to pull one up from the depths. Many harbor towns along the coast will rent out crab pots and a small skiff so you can try your hand at pulling up your own dinner. There are also plenty of locations, like the Newport Pier, where you can toss in a pot without setting foot on the water; no boat required!

Stand-Up Paddleboarding in Sausalito, California

lone paddle board surfer at sunset
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Paddleboarding in Sausalito offers a unique perspective of the stunning San Francisco Bay, with its calm waters and breathtaking views of the city skyline and Golden Gate Bridge. Gliding through the calm waters of the marina, you can observe the charming houseboats and vibrant marine life up close. This activity provides both a refreshing workout and an escape from the bustling city, making it a must-try experience.

Exploring Sea Caves at La Jolla, California

La Jolla sea cave in San Diego, California
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The cliffs below the picturesque La Jolla, California, are riddled with caves just waiting to be explored, whether by kayak or snorkel. The ocean here can be rough and unpredictable, so unless you’re skilled at ocean kayaking, it is best to explore this area with a guide. Luckily, there are plenty of tour options that will take you alongside, and even inside, some of the caves. Adding the snorkeling element is a must-do as well to get an up-close look at the marine wildlife like sea lions and leopard sharks that call these caves home

Dune Buggy Rides on the Oregon Dunes

Sand buggy tour in the dunes of Oregon
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The Oregon Dunes stretch for over 50 miles along the Southern Oregon coast and are a playground for dune-buggy riders. Even if you don’t own your own buggy, you can still get out on the sand and enjoy the thrill of zooming up and over these towering dunes by renting from one of the many companies that offer these services.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest