• Average July high temperature, Long Beach: 65.6°F
• Average July water temperature, Neah Bay: 53°F
• Average July water temperature, Seattle: 56°F
Wrapped in mists and storms much of the year, Washington's beaches are like Greta Garbo - moody, passionate. Summer sunshine, like Garbo's rare smile, intensifies everything - trees are greener, seas bluer, and the warm air ... ahhh, it's like a kiss.
Yet even in summer, Washington's is an elusive coast. Miles of zigzagging shoreline contain hidden mysteries - San Juan Island coves, rocky pockets on Puget Sound shores, vast sandy stretches on the Pacific Coast. Washington's beaches are as hard to know as Garbo. But, oh, the joy of trying.
BEST DINNER ON THE BEACH
Christina's, Orcas Island
This is heaven: Late afternoon on Christina's rooftop deck overlooking East Sound. A favorite companion, a glass of Madeleine Angevine, and a platter of poached oysters or cracked crab. Could be dinner, or just the beginning ...
310 Main St., Eastsound. Dinner only (bar opens at 4 for appetizers); entrées $14.50-$34. Reservations recommended; (360) 376-4904.
BEST DISAPPEARING BEACH
Spencer Spit State Park, Lopez Island
This 1/4-mile-long spit grows or shrinks depending on the tide--but never quite reaches private Frost Island, just beyond its tip. Views of Orcas Island, an old homestead for picnicking, and walk-in campsites make this a great destination for a day or overnight. Mooring buoys accommodate boaters.
Northeast side of Lopez Island. Information: (360) 902-8844. Camping reservations: (800) 226-7688; www.parks.wa.gov.
BEST BEACH TOWN
Langley, Whidbey Island
Got an hour? Or a weekend? Either lets you savor Langley's cliff-hugging main street. Shop for art, then stop at the tiny Boy and the Dog Park overlook for views of Saratoga Passage. Putter on the beach--narrow Langley Sea Wall Park runs 1,000 feet below the overlook and can be reached by stairs or by a path next to the Dog House Backyard Restaurant. Or overnight at the stylish Inn at Langley (360/221-3033) and watch the tide go out from the comfort of a whirlpool spa.
Southeast side of Whidbey Island, reached from the Seattle area by the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton. Langley Chamber of Commerce: (360) 221-6765; www.whidbey.com.
BEST CALIFORNIA-STYLE BEACH
Alki Beach, West Seattle
Okay. So you need the constitution of a polar bear to swim here. Still, on a July day, the 2-mile beach bordered by Alki Avenue feels sunnily Southern Californian. Radios blare as city dwellers catch the rays and volleyball players churn up the sand. Reserve a picnic table (206/684-4081) and get knockout views of downtown Seattle with your meal. Nearby eateries range from the original Spud Fish and Chips (2666 Alki Ave. S.W.) to fine dining at Phoenecia at Alki (2716 Alki Ave. S.W.; reservations 206/935-6550).
From State 99 south of Seattle, take the West Seattle Freeway exit and follow Harbor Ave. signs.
BEST HARD-TO-REACH BEACH
Ozette Loop Hike, Olympic National Park
It's a long drive and a long hike, but this Olympic Peninsula gem offers a beautiful wilderness beach experience. From Ozette Ranger Station southwest of Sekiu, take a 9-mile (about six hours) loop hike - a 3-mile-plus boardwalk stroll to Cape Alava (the westernmost point in the contiguous United States), 3 miles south along the ocean, and 3 miles back to the ranger station via another boardwalk. Or camp just up from the beach. Just don't bring your dog - no pooches allowed on the trail.
From Sekiu take State 112 west about 2 miles; follow signs for Lake Ozette and turn south on Hoko-Ozette Rd., then continue 21 miles to the Ozette Ranger Station. Camping reservations: (360) 565-3100. Information: (360) 565-3130. www.nps.gov.
BEST ROMANTIC GETAWAY
Generations of lovers have hidden out in the rustic cabins of this Olympic Peninsula lodge. No heart-shaped tubs, just wide, driftwood-laden beaches and nurturing solitude for you and your significant other.
35 miles south of Forks on U.S. 101. $126-$240. 44 cabins, including 8 original bluff cabins (these have views); 20 more rooms in main lodge and a motel unit. (360) 962-2271; www.visitkalaloch.com.
BEST ATLANTIC CITY-STYLE BEACH
On a beautiful day, Ocean Shores's 6 miles of flat sand turns into a highway for horseback riders, mopeds, cars, kite fliers, strollers. Inland, there's bicycling, gambling, golf. Most of the '50s-style motels have been upgraded, and new beachfront lodging abounds--Best Western Lighthouse Suites Inn ($139-$209; 800/757-7873), the Shilo Inn ($139-$229; 800/222-2244), and Holiday Inn Express ($139-$259; 888/770-7878).
A 70-mile drive west of Olympia, 22 miles west of Aberdeen. Ocean Shores Chamber of Commerce: (360) 289-2451; www.oceanshores.org.
BEST KITE-FLYING BEACH
The state's oldest coastal resort has a restored downtown, a new boardwalk, and 28 miles of sandy beach. But many know it as one of the best places in the world to fly a kite. That's why 200,000 highfliers gather the third week of every August (in 2002, Aug. 19-25) to celebrate. At the World Kite Museum & Hall of Fame, the show of fighter kites is but a tiny portion of a 1,200-kite collection.
Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau: (800) 451-2542; www.funbeach.com. World Kite Museum, Third St. N.W. and Pacific Hwy.; admission $1.50; open 11-5 daily through August. (360) 642-4020.
BEST DRIFTWOOD BEACH
Fort Canby State Park
Feel the Pacific's awesome power, where the ocean meets the Columbia River at Cape Disappointment. Storms dump driftwood on Benson and Waikiki beaches. You can't burn the driftwood or haul it away without a permit, but you can admire it, climb on it, and, if inspiration hits, build temporary creations. New log cabins and yurts provide close-by lodging.
2 1/2 miles southwest of Ilwaco. (360) 902-8844. Cabin and yurt reservations ($42-$50 per night for up to six people): (888) 2267688. www.parks.wa.gov.