Beach or Bust: Exploring the Sandy Shores of the Pacific Northwest



One of Seattle's best-kept secrets: its serene, pristine beaches. Sure, many visitors arrive here prepared to experience top-notch coffee, culinary treats, soul-soothing music and funky art, but not as many know that the city also happens to be home to some of the country's most stunning beaches.

These spaces prove ideal spots for getting active and enjoying sports from volleyball and kitesurfing to stand-up paddle boarding (try popular athletic outfits like Surf Ballard, for example). However, these sandy shores also lend themselves to pure relaxation under the rays (once they make an appearance), allowing visitors to picnic with friends, take leisurely beach wanders or, in some cases, gather around a cozy bonfire once the veil of night descends.

While several parks draw beach bums to urban spaces within city limits (Golden Gardens is in the Ballard neighborhood, and Alki is in West Seattle, for example), other options require a short road trip that launches visitors out into the beautiful nature omnipresent in the Pacific Northwest. (For one, Olympic National Park is well worth the couple-hour journey west.) But if the goal is to stay nearer to the heart of Seattle, try mini-beaches at destinations that sometimes comes as a pleasant surprise (like Green Lake Park).



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Wedgewood
Magnuson Park


 

Magnuson Park is an urban, 350-acre park on Sand Point at Pontiac Bay, Lake Washington. This park, the second largest in Seattle, includes pieces of Seattle's military past (it's situated on a former Navy airfield). Today visitors enjoy boating, walking, kite flying and, last but not least, swimming. The beach here includes a tiny pebble shoreline, the perfect gateway to refreshing waters that average 67 degrees during summer months (from June until Labor Day). Grassy flats west of the beach provide perfect lounging territory, and guests can also find a children's wading pool, picnic shelters and tables (perfect for a BYO feast) nearby.


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Idylwood Beach Park


 

Overlooking Sammamish Lake, Idylwood Park is a great place for picnicking, swimming or just relaxing and taking in the lovely scenery. Dogs are welcome as long as guests use the cleanup bags provided. Located close to businesses such as Microsoft, Safeco and Nintendo, Idylwood features a swimming beach that features a bathhouse and restrooms. Nautically-minded guests can launch car-top boast from the park's small ramp. Park authorities also encourage visitors to "spread out and play a game in the large open space or explore Idylwood's playground area." Picnic shelters and picnic tables encourage festive get-togethers. Parking here is plentiful, too.


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Ahoy matey! One of this city's best features? All of its beautiful bodies of water. So one of the best ways to experience this city? Well, come on abroad and see for yourself! Argosy Cruises offers this scenic Lake Washington tour that leaves from the public docks at Marina Park in Kirkland. The relaxing cruise highlights stunning scenery and includes interesting trivia and tidbits about the area's history and most famous residents. Snacks and beverages are available onboard, and free parking is available in Peter Kirk Municipal Library garage. Argosy also offers a variety of wonderful cruises departing from downton Seattle.


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Gas Works Park


 

On the north end of Lake Union, you'll find what may be the most unique park in the area. The 21-acre industrial area, formerly the site of a gas plant, was transformed in the 1975 into a recreational complex (a worldwide first). You'll find that there's plenty to do in the park, including kayaking, sailing, picnicking, and bicycling. From atop the park's 60-foot hill, visitors have one of Seattle's best views, and the park is a favorite place to view the city's Fourth of July fireworks display. To reserve their 200-seat picnic shelter for special occasions, call 206-684-4081 for reservations. BUS: 26


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Olympic Sculpture Park


 

Olympic Sculpture Park: Stroll through the grounds and admire the fascinating large-scale works on display at this nine-acre green space. Extensive landscaping enhances the park's beauty, and a walkway, extending from the beach to Belltown, provides views of the Puget Sound and of downtown landmarks. Among the pieces on view along the way view is "Eye Benches I, II, III" by Louise Bourgeois, a series of functional carved-granite benches that take the form of giant eyeballs. Also here is a work from the height of famed sculptor Alexander Calder's career, "The Eagle" from 1971, a huge abstract steel sculpture in bright orange. Free public tours of the park are offered, and times and topics vary by season.


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Outside the city
Olympic National Park
Photo courtesy of Lana_aka_BADGRL


 

Olympic National Park provides Seattle visitors with a huge range of recreation options in a compact area. About an hour to an hour-and-a-half southwest of Seattle on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, the nature preserve centers around the Olympic Mountains and its system of rivers and valleys to the Pacific Ocean. Hiking, backpacking, kayaking, or just touring by car, it's easy to check out the varying microclimates and zones within the park, which is encircled by U.S. Highway 101. So whether it's crunching along a dirt and gravel trail up a mountainside, padding over fragrant pine needles along a path deep in the temperate rainforest, or finding solid wet sand to save energy exploring along rugged Pacific Ocean beaches, this natural wonderland offers it all.


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This local park accommodates a host of joggers, in-line skaters, and sunbathers that exercise and bask along the greenbelt that circles Green Lake, the park's picturesque centerpiece. A favorite of locals, the park's plentiful green space and open water in the midst of an urban landscape creates a true oasis. The park also serves as a natural preserve for hundreds of species of trees and plants, as well as for numerous birds and waterfowl. Seattleites also make good use of the expansive athletic fields or visit the park for boating, picnics, and swimming. Make sure to visit Green Lake Small Craft Center, which is located at the southwest corner of the park and offers rowing, canoeing, kayaking, and sailing classes.


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Situated on Magnolia Bluff overlooking Puget Sound, this expansive urban park � the largest in Seattle – offers two miles of beach trails and nine miles of winding footpaths. Ostensibly a bluff-top reserve, Discovery Park protects a remarkable urban wilderness and is a great place for nature-watching. The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, which features art and cultural exhibits, is also located at the park, as is a marine reserve. An 1881 lighthouse, the oldest in the area, can also be found here. Offering breathtaking views of both the Cascade and the Olympic mountain ranges, the park's remote site includes two miles of protected tidal beaches as well as open meadow lands, dramatic sea cliffs, forest groves, active sand dunes, thickets, and streams.


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In West Seattle, visitors and residents alike relish one of Seattle's finest gems: Alki Beach. Offering stunning views of the downtown Seattle skyline and Puget Sound, Alki Beach is where the Denny Party settlers arrived and spent the winter of 1851, before retreating to Elliot Bay. Today, joggers, rollerbladers, kayakers, paddleboarders and beach bums convene at this 135.9-acre park that is lined by a sidewalk "boardwalk" and driftwood that create natural benches. Cafes and bars line the most concentrated section of the strip, and rooftop balconies prove the perfect spot to grab a bite or a drink on a sunny Seattle day.


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Golden Gardens


 

West of Ballard, visitors find one of Seattle's best-kept secrets: Golden Gardens beach. Located on Puget Sound, this popular public park offers extraordinary views of the water and nearby Olympic Mountains. The park includes wetlands, beaches, hiking trails, as well as picnic and playground areas. The park is bisected by the BNSF Scenic Subdivision railway line. Golden Gardens offers wanders along a rugged coastline, hikes through forest trails, sunbathing on sandy beaches, fishing from a pier and a boat launch. In summer months, sandy volleyball courts fill with active folks, while the waters fill with swimmers, kite-surfers, kayakers, sailors and other nautically-inclined guests. The park is also home to an off-leash area for dogs in the upper northern portion of the park.


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Meet Corinne Whiting

Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's...  More About Corinne

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