Top 10 beaches of the West

Our well-traveled readers share their favorite places to beachcomb, snorkel, or just kick back

6. Second Beach, near La Push, WA 

A maze of driftwood

Why I love it: Wild, white-capped waves have piled up driftwood and smoothed the boulders into interesting shapes. And the pebbled sand is perfect for building castles.

Take my advice: From the beach, climb to an overview where you can spot eagles roosting in old-growth trees.

INFO: $15 per vehicle; nps.gov/olym  –Ganeille Posey Hostvedt, Bremerton, WA

7. Butterfly Beach, Santa Barbara

A seal's-eye view

Why I love it: My favorite thing to do on a summer day is swim the 100 yards to the buoy line at Butterfly Beach. Bobbing out there, I take in the beach, the Biltmore hotel, the palm trees, and the purple mountains behind Santa Barbara.

Take my advice: After your swim, stroll around the grounds of the Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara hotel (805/969-2261) and grab a drink at the bar.

INFO: Free; 805/568-2461.–Todd Walsh, San Francisco

8. La Jolla Cove, CA 

A peek below the waves

Why I love it: Snorkeling in the Underwater Park just offshore from La Jolla in San Diego, I see bright orange Garibaldis, giant sea bass, and lobsters ― all just below the waves. It's so peaceful to float on the surface and watch the sea grass swaying with the movement of the tide.

Take my advice: On summer Sunday afternoons, catch a concert in Scripps Park, up on the bluffs (every Sun, Jun 28–Sep 6; free; ljconcertsbythesea.org).

INFO: Free; sandiego.gov  –Vikki Shearrow, Chula Vista, CA

9. Moonstone Beach, Cambria, CA

Where we go to decompress

Why we love it: A boardwalk that stretches the length of the bluff above the sand makes the views of this uncrowded stretch of rocky coastline accessible to absolutely everyone. We often spot otters, harbor seals (nearly always basking on the rocks at low tide), gray whales, dolphins, various birds, and, most recently, a red fox.

Take our advice: With seafood restaurants and reasonable motels nearby, this is the perfect place to decompress.

INFO: Free; in Hearst San Simeon State Park; parks.ca.gov  –Glen and Debra Renner, Pine Mountain Club, CA

10. Shell Beach, CA 

Away from it all in Pismo

Why I love it: It's 77 steps (and a bit 
of a scramble) down the cliffs to this small and uncrowded beach in Pismo. 
I love to visit at low tide to see hawks, pelicans ― and sometimes spot an otter.

Take my advice: Bring down a great picnic of rotisserie chicken from nearby DePalo & Sons market (805/773-1589).

INFO: Free 
–Ramona Richardson, Orange, CA 

More:  The West's best places to camp

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