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6 Things the International Traveler Should Know About Oregon and Washington Coast

Published 09/04/23 at 7:07 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

6 Things the International Traveler Should Know About Oregon and Washington Coast

(Ocean Shores, Washington) – So you're an international traveler coming to the U.S. for a beach trip, and you're wondering where the most adventure and thrill lies. Need to do some surfing? Watch some crazy waves? Looking for a strand less populated? Also: free beaches with no access restriction? How about a lot of whale watching? (Above: Shore Acres State Park, Coos Bay area; photo courtesy Manuela Durson Fine Arts)

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It seems you've just conjured the Oregon coast and Washington coast.

First: where are these coastlines? When locals are abroad, like...say Germany or Switzerland....and you tell them you're from Oregon, you often get a puzzled look and the question "where is that?" Oregon is directly above California, we tell them, and Washington above that. Then we watch it sink in.

Here are six (sometimes amazing) facts the international traveler should know about Pacific Northwest beaches.

All Beaches Are Public. Oregon's coastline is not like much of the U.S. coastline, where you'll find some chunks of beaches that are private while most or some are public – depending on the state. It's not like many places around the globe that have private beaches, either, where your access is cut off. If you're from Japan or most European countries, you may find that of particular interest.

Grayland, Washington, photo courtesy Steve Ginn / Flickr

In fact, U.K. beaches have a similar moody disposition as these coastlines, in terms of weather. But there are very large tracts that are completely undeveloped and wild here, which is very different than most countries around the globe where civilization is just a few steps away from the majority of their beaches.

Thanks to one big stroke of the pen in the late '60s, all beaches along the Oregon coast are public and wide open to all. Whether it's rocky ledges, soft sands or a mixture of that, all visitors are welcome to tread near the tides.

Cannon Beach, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Now, there are plenty of rocky ledges you shouldn't try to get to and plenty of areas that are dangerous in other ways, but that is usually blocked or marked with signage.

On top of it, Oregon and Washington beaches are known as some of the most pristine in the world, largely because there are just not the same influxes of populations, and the rather wild surf does tend to cleanse things a bit more as well.

Unlike many popular and public beaches in U.S. states, where these can be relatively dirty in some cases, you're not going to find well-populated beaches in Oregon and Washington that way. Which brings on the next point....

Manzanita, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Northwest Beaches Some of the Cleanest in the World. The Oregon and Washington coasts are not immune to garbage and litter, but it's not as prominent as some beaches in the U.S. or the rest of the world. They've been called among the most pristine in the world for decades, and it comes down to you just don't see the same masses on these beaches on a constant basis, not like – say – some in California.

Depoe Bay area, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Tiny bits of plastic are prevalent on really just about all the world's beaches these days, but they don't appear in mass clumps or as complete eyesores. The coastlines from Brookings, Oregon, to the Olympic Peninsula are essentially still spotless.

Moody Beaches and Safety. There is a gloomy vibe to the coastlines of the Pacific Northwest – but not constant. It has a reputation for that, but there is stunning beauty on even those days. Overcast conditions do rule many days, but depending on time of year you'll find just gobs of sun 'n fun all around, or at least pleasant mixes of rays and moving clouds.

Cape Disappointment, courtesy King Tides

Yet hurricanes do not happen here, so you can take that out of the equation for your visit to this U.S. beach. It's the big winter storms you have to look out for. While dramatic to watch from afar (which can easily be done with safety), they can be deadly. More often than not, it's out-of-staters who wind up getting killed while not heeding warnings to stay off the beaches.

Any time of year, but especially in fall, winter and spring, the Washington and Oregon coasts have what are called sneaker waves – something international visitors and those from other states have some problem understanding. Slightly akin to what you may know as rogue waves in your country or state, these are actually large waves that suddenly appear on beaches with no warning, shooting maybe 100 or 200 feet farther up the beach than the normal tideline and sometimes grabbing unsuspecting visitors and dragging them out.

It's not entirely unexpected though: these particular conditions are known by local weather forecasters and officials and are broadcast everywhere when they happen. The problem is that the warnings are not heeded. Sneaker Waves More Common on Oregon / Washington Coast Than Rest of U.S.

Smaller sneaker waves can happen at any time, so the general advice here is do not turn your back on the ocean.


Other fun facts for world travelers coming to Washington or Oregon beaches:

Second Summer: September through early October is often the nicest time of the year to come out, as most years the weather is at its warmest and bluest. It's nicknamed “second summer” around these parts, and it's often nicer than much of regular summer. Get Ready for 'Second Summer' on Oregon Coast, Washington Coast: Best Weather of the Year

Springtime in April and May can be a bit stormy at times, but it's often a curious mix of the two. Many spring days alternate between squalls of rain and then bouts of sun within an hour or two of each other. The beaches are still fairly deserted at that time of year and the air is exhiliaratingly fresh.

Winter Storms: As described above, they can be deadly, but storm watching here is absolutely astounding and perfectly safe if you do it right. Areas like Coos Bay's Shore Acres or Cape Disappointment on the Washington coast can see waves well over 100 feet tall at times. Rocky ledge areas like Depoe Bay, Port Orford or Washington's Westport provide astounding wave action from safe vantage points as well.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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