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You’ve probably heard the quote “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” Jewish theologist Martin Buber said this back in 1955, and it became a mantra for travelers eager to explore beyond what was listed on their itinerary. I feel like the opposite is also true: all destinations have secret journeys of which the traveler is unaware.
For me, Washington State is one of those destinations; the more I explore, the more I discover that I want to return and explore again.
One of the best ways to see a big swath of western Washington is by taking a road trip along the Washington Coast; I’ve done several road trips along the Washington Coast, including the Olympic Peninsula. Whether you’re setting out from Seattle to explore the state, driving up from the Oregon Coast, or continuing your Pacific Coast Highway road trip, the Washington Coast has some incredible coastal towns and sights that you may want to string together into a road trip itinerary.
In this post, I’m detailing all the stops I recommend on a Washington Coast road trip itinerary. These may not all work for your own timeframe and budget, but as you’ll see there’s a lot to explore and see no matter how many of these road trip stops you can make. After reading, you’ll have all the basic info you need to choose your own stops on a Washington coastal road trip, and be ready to hit the road!
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Coast Salish, Nuxwsa’7aq (Nooksack), S’Klallam, Samish, Tulalip, Á,LEṈENEȻ ȽTE (W̱SÁNEĆ), Lekwungen/Songhees, Hul’qumi’num, Sauk Suiattle, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Puyallup, Chimacum, Makah, ChalAt’i’lo t’sikAti (Chalat’), Quileute, Chehalis, Chinook, Cowlitz, Willapa, Siletz, and Lower Chinook peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in September 2014, and was updated in October 2017 and October 2021.
Please let me know in the comments if you see any errors.
A Perfect Washington Coast Road Trip Itinerary
Before jumping into the list of places in greater detail, I thought it might be helpful to start with a map. As you can see, the numbers above mark all the cities and towns along my suggested Washington Coast road trip; the other icons signify other sights and stops I recommend too.
As you’ll see, there are so many cool places to stop and explore along the Washington Coast, you probably can’t do them all on a single trip. If you have the time and inclination though, a road trip like this one is a great way to explore the Evergreen State.
23 Stops for Your Washington Coast Road Trip
Now let’s go through each of the stops I recommend on a Washington Coast road trip itinerary. In each one, I give more detail about why I recommend it as a stop and things to do there. Where it makes sense, I also note my suggested overnight stops – and I provide accommodation recommendations at the end of this post.
Starting in the northern part of the state, Bellingham is the first major city south of the United States-Canada border. Bellingham is one part college town (home to Western Washington University, where Mr. V went), one part ski town (thanks to nearby Mt. Baker and North Cascades National Park), and one part coastal town (due to the large Bellingham Bay to the west).
Other than exploring the Downtown Arts District or heading out on one of the area’s many hikes, be sure to visit the Fairhaven Historic District and drive scenic Chuckanut Drive south as you leave town to continue your Washington Coast Road Trip.
Anacortes is one of my favorite towns in Washington State, and I’ve been there many times; it’s worth a trip on its own, but if you’re on a road trip, you should certainly make it an overnight stop.
Located on Fidalgo Island, Anacortes combines many aspects of what makes the Washington Coast worth visiting: the historic downtown and local museums are easily visited on a self-guided walking tour. You can also ascend Cap Sante or drive through Washington Park for scenic views of the area.
If you choose to visit the San Juan Islands (#3, which takes at least 1-2 days on your Washington Coast Road Trip itinerary), you’ll board and depart from the ferry terminal in Anacortes. In either case, be sure to head south through Deception Pass State Park on your way to Whidbey Island (#4).
3. The San Juan Islands (Optional)
I was on the fence about including the San Juan Islands since they are a huge detour for road tripping down the Washington Coast, but A) they’re one of the coolest parts of the state and B) they’re coastal, so they should be included!
The San Juan Islands are an archipelago of over 172 islands; there are four main islands serviced by the Washington State Ferry system. If you have time, both Orcas Island and San Juan Island are worth a stop – though you need at least one day per island to really enjoy them. On Orcas Island, you can explore the quaint town of Eastsound or go hiking on Mt. Constitution. As the largest island, San Juan Island has even more to offer, with the ferry town of Friday Harbor on the southern coast, posh Roche Harbor on the northern coast (good for dinner and a view of the sunset), and loads of historic sites across the island.
Once you’ve explored the islands to your heart’s content, you can catch the ferry back to the mainland. Note that it can be hard to drive onto the ferry without reservations, so I recommend making reservations in advance.
4. Whidbey Island
South along the coast, there’s yet another island worth exploring: Whidbey Island.
There are a number of hiking trails and state parks on Whidbey Island, but I recommend basing yourself in the town of Langley. From here you can either get out and burn off some energy from days spent in the car, or indulge in the area’s wineries or fresh seafood. In any case, you’ll drive Whidbey Island Scenic Way, a scenic drive from the north to south along this skinny, C-shaped island.
Connected by a bridge in the north (to Fidalgo Island/Anacortes), you’ll have to take a ferry south to the mainland to continue your Washington Coast road trip.
No trip to the Washington Coast is complete without a stop in Seattle. Yes, Seattle is a coastal city, located on the shores of Puget Sound. It’s the biggest city in Washington – and one of the best places to explore. I might be biased, but I did live here for four years, so I know what I’m talking about!
It’s impossible to share all the best things to do in Seattle in this section, but I recommend making at least an overnight stop here as part of your road trip itinerary. You can ascend the redesigned Space Needle (totally worth it!), meander through Pike Place Market, and dine on some of the best food in the state at many of the city’s restaurants (I personally love the Belltown neighborhood for dining and drinks).
It’s a short 45-minute drive south from Seattle to neighboring Tacoma. This underrated city has been on the rise, and housing prices have been accordingly astronomical – not that you have to worry about that as you’re just passing through on a road trip!
In Tacoma, there are a number of cool museums (including the Museum of Glass and LeMay – America’s Car Museum) as well as nice outdoor spaces including Point Defiance Park and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. There are also an increasing number of great restaurants in town thanks to the city’s popularity, so Tacoma is a great spot to spend an afternoon and enjoy either lunch or dinner before continuing on.
From Tacoma, it’s a short 15-minute drive to my next stop, Gig Harbor, crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. As such, plan your overnight in Gig Harbor – and let me tell you why.
7. Gig Harbor
Gig Harbor is another of my favorite spots in Washington; it’s a picturesque little harbor snuggled into one of the many waterways of the south sound. There are some great places to stay (hence the recommendation as an overnight stop), but my favorite is the Maritime Inn, right on the water.
Start the morning at Netshed No. 9, the best brunch (and food) in town. Then stop by the Harbor History Museum to get more acquainted with the maritime life of these coastal towns. There are a number of cute parks in town too, but the Finholm View Climb is the must-do especially before climbing back in the car.
8. Port Townsend
From Gig Harbor, you’ll begin heading north onto the Olympic Peninsula; the next few stops are on the western shores of Puget Sound. First up is picturesque Port Townsend.
Home to 10,000 Washingtonians, Port Townsend is out on a northeastern spur peninsula of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s actually faster to reach Port Townsend by ferry from Whidbey Island, so if you’re looking to cut a few days off this Washington Coast road trip or skip Seattle/Tacoma/Gig Harbor, that’s one option.
Fort Worden State Park is the most popular attraction in town; Port Townsend Marine Science Center is a close second and great if you’re road-tripping with kids.
Sequim (pronounced “skwim”) lies 30 miles west of Port Townsend. It doesn’t offer a ton in the way of tourist attractions, though there are some great restaurants (good as I recommend your next overnight stop at a favorite B&B between Sequim and Port Angeles).
If you happen to be visiting in June or July, Sequim is filled with blooming lavender fields! It’s an absolutely picture-perfect scene. And if you happen to be visiting in mid-July, you might get to experience the Lavender Festival, where you can purchase all of the lavender goodies that you have in mind.
10. Port Angeles
After a restful night (see my suggestions on overnight accommodation at the end of this post), it’s time to start the day bright and early.
Port Angeles is home to 20,000 people, so it’s one of the largest towns you’ll encounter along the Washington Coast. It also has a few more tourist amenities and attractions, including the Olympic Coast Discovery Center which I loved for its water tanks and touch tanks.
Port Angeles is also the gateway to Olympic National Park…
11. Olympic National Park
…Which is obviously a must-visit on your Washington Coast road trip! Olympic National Park protects the mountainous, forested central part of the Olympic Peninsula, and there are a number of access points and areas worth visiting.
First up is Hurricane Ridge, which is a great hiking spot to spend a half-day. There’s also a Visitor Center up here. This part of the park is generally open seasonally based on the snow, so if you’re planning a winter trip to Washington, be sure to check the NPS site before driving up the Olympic mountains.
Elwha is another part of the park near Port Angeles. There was formerly a dam in this area, though it was removed and the land is slowly returning to the wild.
12. Sol Duc Hot Springs/Falls
Sol Duc Hot Springs and Sol Duc Falls are another part of Olympic National Park, so you’ll pass an entrance station to reach this part. This is definitely a detour, as you’ll need at least a half-day in this part of Olympic National Park too. There are loads of hiking trails in the region, though the most popular leads to the falls themselves.
To give yourself plenty of time to explore – and the chance to enjoy the hot springs – spend a night at the resort here. (Details at the end of this post.)
13. Cape Flattery (Optional)
Here’s another part of the Washington Coast I was on the fence about including; Cape Flattery is a definite detour as the road is an out-and-back drive. However, some people – maybe you – will want to explore the northwesternmost part of the contiguous U.S., and this is that area. (You might also be curious why I “cut off” that part of the peninsula on my map, above – this is why.)
There isn’t a ton to do out in Cape Flattery, beyond enjoying a few hiking trails, and admiring the view of Cape Flattery Lighthouse on its offshore island. Further back down the road, you can visit Neah Bay, which has a lot more to offer.
Give yourself a whole day if you make this detour since it’s ~2 hours each way from Port Angeles.
14. Hoh Rainforest
Heading around to the western side of the Olympic Peninsula, there are more natural wonders to discover. This part of the peninsula is basically undeveloped, so make sure you have a full tank of gas before setting out.
The first stop worth making is at Hoh Rainforest, also part of Olympic National Park. This gorgeous old-growth forest is also a rainforest – this side of the peninsula gets an average of 140 inches of rain per year! There are several great hiking trails here to stretch your legs and wander among the trees.
15. Ruby Beach
A short drive further takes you to Ruby Beach, one of the most picturesque beaches on the Pacific coast. Framed by trees, sea stacks (rock formations) dot the coastline and a chaotic mess of rocks, fallen trees, and seafoam make this a perfect beach to go beachcombing, search the tide pools, or let the kids run a bit. On a clear day, you may even see Destruction Island Light standing solitary on its tiny island out at sea.
16. World’s Largest Spruce Tree
Several of the world’s largest trees once stood – or still stand – on the Olympic peninsula. One such example is the World’s Largest Spruce Tree, which stands 191 feet tall and measures 58 feet, 11 inches around. This thousand-year-old tree stands near the shores of Lake Quinault and has a nearby resort named after it. It’s a great spot for dinner before continuing on south along the coast.
Seabrook is a small coastal town, one of many that I recommend on the remainder of this Washington Coast road trip. Home to fewer than 300 year-round residents, you might wonder if Seabrook is worth the stop. In town, you can visit the Museum of the North Beach or stroll along the shore at Pacific Beach State Park. There are also a number of cute eateries in town, if you didn’t dine at the World’s Tallest Spruce Tree.
18. Ocean Shores
For an overnight stop, make it Ocean Shores. Ocean Shores is one of the most well-known towns along Washington’s coast. It’s also known as one of the family-friendly coastal towns in the state, so you’ll likely be rubbing elbows with Washingtonians if you pass through on a busy summer weekend.
In addition to offering plenty of overnight accommodation and one of the best Pacific beaches in the state, you can search for crabs along the North Jetty, check out the restored bald eagle nest at the Coastal Interpretive Center, and get a sweet treat from Murphy’s Candy and Ice Cream before continuing south along the coast.
Aberdeen, to be honest, didn’t have many claims to fame before the 1990s. Home to several lumber manufacturing plants, most people cruised right through Aberdeen on their way to the Pacific coast of the Olympic Peninsula.
Then, in the 1990s, a band called Nirvana burst onto the scene, putting Seattle on the world’s music map. The lead singer, Kurt Cobain, guaranteed his own infamy – and that of his band – when he committed suicide in 1994. For the three decades since, Nirvana fans have made the pilgrimage to Aberdeen to see the house where Cobain grew up.
The Cobain house in Aberdeen is at 1210 E 1st St, and right next door you can see a memorial to Cobain in Kurt Cobain Memorial Park. It’s a must-stop for grunge music fans, even if just passing through.
Westport is a little bit of a detour – but it’s the counterpoint to the tourist-friendly Ocean Shores you visited last night. Here too you can get a good sense of life on the Pacific Coast, but more from the maritime industries. You can climb the stairwell at Gray’s Harbor Lighthouse or up the Westport Lookout Tower. Both will give you beautiful views of the coastline and the tumultuous Pacific Ocean.
You can head to the Westport Aquarium to see different local Pacific species, visit the Maritime Museum to learn more about the maritime history of the area, and go clam digging or crabbing.
As part of one trip to Long Beach (#22), I stayed in Raymond. Since there’s no bridge between Long Beach Peninsula and the small town of Dexter-by-the-Sea on the north shore of Willapa Bay, you have to drive around. On the map, Raymond is an inland town, but Highway 101 passes right through as it snakes around the headwaters of the Willapa River.
While passing through, you can choose to enjoy fresh Willapa Bay Oysters at River View Dining in nearby South Bend or stay a bit longer and go kayaking on the Willapa River with Willapa Paddle Adventures. There’s also a funky Carriage Museum if you want a reminder of how pleasant automobile travel is compared to the way people used to travel this scenic route in the past.
22. Long Beach
Long Beach is arguably one of my favorite destinations in Washington, and that’s a very competitive list. I’ve traveled there repeatedly and spent several weekends exploring and eating my way through the small towns on the peninsula, particularly Long Beach and Seaview.
Long Beach is also home to the longest beach in the USA, at 28 miles long. Each summer, the communities on the peninsula host the International Kite Festival, which draws kites and kite performers from around the world to come to fly in the excellent, consistent onshore winds from the Pacific Ocean. There are loads more things to do in Long Beach if you don’t happen to be visiting during the festival.
I recommend Long Beach as the final overnight stop on your Washington Coast road trip before continuing south for an Oregon coast road trip or back to Seattle.
23. Cape Disappointment State Park
South of Long Beach at the southwesternmost point of Washington State, Cape Disappointment State Park is so named because early explorers thought the northern bay was the mouth of the Columbia River (in fact, the river opens south of the park).
By far the most common activity in the state park is hiking, especially to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse. There are other trails too though, if you want a good leg stretch before finishing up your road trip.
Bonus: Olympia (Returning to Seattle)
Olympia is regularly overlooked when people visit the Pacific Northwest; it’s not exactly on this Washington Coast road trip route, but you’ll definitely pass through if you drive back to Seattle to end your trip.
The Washington State Capital is by far the most beautiful and engaging attraction in Olympia. You can plan a visit yourself, or book a guided tour; the Department of Washington has a surprisingly helpful website to help you plan your trip.
Olympia also has a good children’s museum, the Hand’s On Children’s Museum, and a few oddball attractions outside town, including the mysterious Mima Mounds. All in all, Olympia is full of surprises and a good ‘bonus’ stop.
Recommended Overnight Stops on this Road Trip Itinerary
It’s hard to suggest exactly how many days you should on a Washington Coast road trip, as there are so many great stops and you may be either short on time – or have all the time in the world. In any event, there are eight spots I recommend for an overnight stop, meaning the ideal shortest number of days for this itinerary is 9. You could certainly do it in fewer if you don’t have nine days though!
- Anacortes: The Majestic Inn & Spa or the Cap Sante Inn
- Friday Harbor (Optional): The Island Inn at 123 West, Bird Rock Hotel, or Earthbox Inn & Spa
- Seattle: The Hotel Theodore, the Ace Hotel, or The Fairmont Olympic
- Gig Harbor: The Maritime Inn or Waterfront Inn
- Port Angeles/Sequim: Colette’s Bed & Breakfast
- Sol Duc Valley: Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort
- Ocean Shores: Sea Breeze Cottages or Wanderlust Inn
- Long Beach: Adrift Hotel, Sou’wester Lodge, or Inn at Discovery Coast
I’ve stayed at almost all of these properties directly, so my recommendations for these are based on my personal experience. There are however lots of other properties in these communities if they are unavailable or don’t fit your budget.
Have any other questions about planning a Washington Coast road trip? Let me know in the comments!