Mile for mile, no stretch of shoreline in the world offers as much captivating beauty as the West Coast of the United States. At virtually every twist and turn of this 6,873-mile dance between land and sea, scenic gems compel you to stop and say wow. Some of these sights come big and bold—mountains soaring from the ocean’s edge, bristling with towering evergreens, breakers rolling eternally toward shore. Others are as intimate as an old lighthouse perched bravely on a cliff or the mesmerizing undulations of translucent green anemones in a pool of crystal water.
But which specific spots are the most gorgeous, the most deserving of a special trip? On the list that follows, you'll find the full picturesque diversity of this remarkable coast. There are beauties both epic and humble, both natural and shaped by human hands. The list deliberately skips some familiar choices in favor of those that may still have the power to surprise. All, however, belong on the must-see list of anyone who lives in or visits the West.
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, Oregon
If there were an Oscar for Best Performance by a Pacific Coast Locale, it might well go to Cape Perpetua Scenic Area every year. Located just a few miles south of Yachats, Oregon, this imposing 2,700-acre headland harbors a wealth of precious old-growth coastal forest that includes a nearly 600-year-old Sitka spruce. But the real drama is down at water’s edge, when storms or high tides smash onto a basalt shelf, creating such marquee features as the Spouting Horn (a blowhole that can spray 50 feet high) and a frothy chasm of surf called the Devils Churn. The biggest draw these days, though, is probably Thor’s Well, a gaping hole that seems to swallow the sea. “A photo of it went viral a few years ago,” says Brian Hoeh, the scenic area's director. “And since then visitors from around the world come here just to see it.”