Monday, March 7, 2011

Why wait for summer to enjoy the beach? Here are the 6 best beach destinations of the NW

Visiting the beautiful beaches of the Pacific Northwest is probably not quite like you imagine a "day at the beach" to be.  These areas offer cozy coastal towns, jagged, rocky coastlines teeming with sea life, and often temperamental and cooler weather, but don't be fooled... You don't need to have a sunburn and a bikini to enjoy the beach!  Of course, like most coastal towns, in the warmer months these beaches and downtown streets are crawling with visitors who've come to build sandcastles, surf, eat saltwater taffy, and fly kites, but if you slip on over in the off-season, an entirely different experience awaits you. Here are six of the best beach vacation destinations to explore and appreciate all the wonders the Pacific Northwest has to offer any time.

1. Indian Beach, Ecola State Park, Cannon Beach, Oregon

Located off of Hwy 101 – from the north take the first Cannon Beach exit; from the south take the last Cannon Beach exit. Signs to Ecola State Park are clearly marked. The narrow road will wind uphill for about two miles through dense forests.

Best beach vacation spot for: Outdoor enthusiasts.

Why it's great: Even on dark and stormy days, Indian Beach is dramatically beautiful and wonderfully relaxing.

Don't miss: "Terrible Tilly" or Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Whale spotting from this viewing spot is excellent during migration – bring your binoculars. Spend the night in the park's new cabin (very small and primitive) on Tillamook Head, a 1½-mile hike from Indian Beach.

2. Alki Beach, West Seattle, Washington

Located about 15 miles west of downtown Seattle, this two-and-a-half mile stretch of sand runs from Alki Point to Duwamish Head on Elliott Bay. It is easily reached by car via the West Seattle Bridge.

Best beach vacation spot for: Beachcombers.

Why it's great: A lot of Seattle-area beaches are covered in rocks and shells, but this beauty is covered in powdery sand with seawalls for walking and people watching. You'll love the stunning views of the Seattle skyline, Olympic and Cascade Mountains and Puget Sound.

Don't miss: During busy summer months, avoid parking problems and take Seattle Metro's water taxi, which leaves from between Piers 55 and 56.

3. Long Beach, Tofino, Vancouver Island B.C., Canada

Getting to Long Beach can be tricky, but the trek is well worth it. Sound Flight offers regular flights from Seattle. It is also possible to take a ferry from Washington State to Victoria and then drive five hours across Vancouver Island to reach the tip of the Esowista Peninsula.

Best beach vacation spot for: Surfers.

Why it's great: With 35 kilometers of perfect beach break, Long Beach is somewhat of a cult surfing destination. It's popular year round – in summer for surfing and water sports, in winter for windswept storm-watching.

Don't miss: Participate in a grey whale observation tour led by a park naturalist. Start at the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre – the entrance is adjacent to Hwy 4 at the end of Long Beach Rd.

4. South Beach, San Juan Islands, Washington

Located on American Camp on the south side of San Juan Island, this driftwood haven is reached via a short flight from Seattle or a 90 minute drive to Anacortes terminal and then a scenic ferry ride.

Best beach vacation spot for: Anyone seeking a slow paced "time out."

Why it's great: It's the longest stretch of public beach in the San Juan Islands and locals are especially outgoing in sharing their beachfront beauty.

Don't miss: Work off the effects of a beach barbecue with a short hike along the bluff trails to the Hudson's Bay Farm site above Grandma's Cove.

5. Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Known by locals simply as "Kits Beach," this popular Westside destination and one of Western Canada's best beach vacation spots is located off Cornwall Ave., between Yew St. and Arbutus.

Best beach vacation spot for: Four-legged friends.

Why it's great: During the summer months (April-Oct), dogs are not allowed on the main stretch of the beach, but there is a designated "Dog Beach" area that is open all year round for playing and swimming. The views of English Bay and downtown Vancouver are spectacular.

Don't miss: The beach is home to the longest outdoor swimming pool in Canada, the salt-water Kitsilano Pool is open during the summer months.

6. Lincoln City, Oregon

Seven miles of pristine white sandy beaches have long served as an artist's Mecca. Approximately two hours from Portland, this resort town is an easy and scenic drive through the beautiful Coastal Mountain Range.

Best beach vacation spot for: Families.

Why it's great: There are tons of activities to keep the kids busy from tide pooling and surfing to flying kites and fishing.

Don't miss: Voted "Kite Capital of the World," Lincoln City hosts three fun-filled kite festivals annually on its beaches. Stay at Surftides, where vintage old-school charm collides with contemporary style and activities for all ages abound.

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