6 Quaint Coastal Towns in the West

Seek ocean breezes and quiet at these laid-back spots.

Gentle waves crash onto Cayucos State Beach on the waterfront of Cayucos on the Central Coast of California.
Cayucos State Beach in the town of Cayucos on the Central Coast of California.
HannaTor / Shutterstock

From the fairytale cottages in Carmel, California, to the ghost forest of Neskowin, Oregon, the West is full of charming coastal towns with surprising features. Whether you are traveling along Alaska’s Pacific Coast or making your way down California’s Highway 1, here are eight waterfront communities to see the sights, grab a meal, and experience unique perks. 

Cayucos, California: The Coolest Little Beach Town

Tucked away along California’s Central Coast between Cambria and Morro Bay is Cayucos, an easygoing, low-slung town. Along with miles of beach, visitors can stroll along the historic pier—a perfect place for catching the sunset—or peruse downtown’s antique stores and specialty shops, all perched along an easily walkable stretch. 

Shop for souvenir hoodies at Cayucos Surf Company, or embark on a kayak eco-tour to explore kelp beds and hard-to-access beaches with local outfitter, Good Clean Fun. 

Blue corn waffles and berry-filled smoothies are the norm at the Hidden Kitchen, a fully gluten-free cafe with a beachfront patio for dining, while the nautical-themed Schooners Restaurant serves up plates of horseradish-crusted ahi with prime ocean views and occasional live music. 

Located on Cayucos’s northern end, Estero Bluffs State Park features hiking trails that wind along cliffs and overlook sea stacks. Tidepools brimming with mussels and sea anemones are prevalent on the beach below. 

Before heading home, be sure to pick up a box of hand-rolled sea-salt cookies from Brown Butter Cookie Company, a local staple.

Storybook buildings that house Cottage of Sweets and the Court of the Golden Bough on Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Cottage of Sweets and the Court of the Golden Bough on Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Plinthpics / Alamy

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California: A storybook getaway

A whimsical seaside village on California's Monterey Peninsula, Carmel draws crowds with its bevy of 1920s cottages that look like something out of a fairytale. Upscale shops selling everything from custom cowboy hats to Kate Spade handbags adorn its tree-lined streets, which are also home to fanciful storefronts like the long-running Cottage of Sweets, where helpings of rich, shop-made fudge share space with mouthwatering caramels and hard candies. 

At the foot of downtown sits Carmel Beach, a favorite among surfers and dogs. Pack a picnic from Bruno’s Market and Deli, then settle in among the locals to catch one of Carmel’s epic sunsets.

Stumps of the Neskowin Ghost Forest poke out of the sand at high tide.
Ghost forest in Neskowin, Oregon.
Larry Geddis / Alamy

Neskowin, Oregon: Quiet, Laid-back Living

With a shore that’s over three miles long and a bevy of quintessential beach cottages, Neskowin is an ideal place to savor the slow life. 

Shop for locally made cheeses, enjoy coffee to-go, or sit back on the front porch with a freshly made sandwich at downtown’s Neskowin Trading Company.

Accessible at low tide, Proposal Rock offers spectacular views from atop its Pacific Ocean perch. Just south of this iconic sea stack stands Neskowin Ghost Forest, the haunting remains of about 100 ancient Sitka spruce trees, many of them covered in barnacles and other sea life. Scientists believe they met their demise as the result of a tsunami or earthquake. The remaining stumps are estimated to be around 2,000 years old.

Seaside homes sit atop a cliff at sunset, surrounded by evergreen trees at Seabrook, Washington State.
Seabrook, Washington.
Dana Hunting / Alamy

Seabrook, Washington: An Idyllic Coastal Village

A planned community that seemingly sprang from the forest in 2005, Seabrook sits on a bluff along Washington’s central coast and attracts visitors drawn to its New England-style atmosphere. The walkable town is awash in saltbox homes and shingled cottages, each of them sporting a name like “Compass Rose” or “Sandy Side Up.” Everything here is reachable within a 10-minute walk or less. 

Whether it’s making your own candle at Lorraine’s Candle Studio or browsing the beach reads and detective novels at Joie Des Livres: The Joy of Books, there’s plenty in town to entertain. Hungry? Indulge in a wood-fired brick oven pizza topped with truffle oil and ricotta cheese at Frontager’s Pizza Co., then follow it up with a serving of small-batch ice cream from The Sweet Life. 

Seabrook’s Saturday market occurs weekly throughout summer, followed by a family friendly evening block party, complete with yard games and music. Sunset concerts take place at the community amphitheater on Friday evenings, late June through August.

Vibrant purple rows of lavender in Sequim, Washington.
Rows of lavender in Sequim, Washington.
blueeyes / Shutterstock

Sequim, Washington: Art Meets the Outdoors

Situated along the Dungeness River near the base of the Olympic mountains and roughly 35 minutes from Olympic National Park, Sequim offers plenty to do for both art lovers and outdoor recreationists alike. Browse wood carvings, ceramics, photographs, and watercolors from over 25 local artists at Blue Whole Gallery, or shop for dream catchers and hand-crafted baskets made by Native American artists from around the state at Northwest Native Expressions. Later, pay a visit to Sequim Bay State Park, known for its array of hiking trails—including a portion of the paved, 135-mile Olympic Discovery Trail— as well as nearly 5,000 feet of saltwater shoreline. 

Swing by Essence Coffee Roasters for an iced chai pick-me-up, or Alder Wood Bistro for fish and chips and wood-fired pizzas. 

Sequim’s lavender fields are in full-bloom come mid-July, and the best place to see them is the Sequim Lavender Trail. Family farms en route include Jardin du Soleil, where you can even assist with the harvesting on certain days.

King Eider floats on the water at Alaska SeaLife Center.
King Eider at Alaska SeaLife Center.
Courtesy Alaska SeaLife Center

Seward, Alaska: Gateway to Awe-Inspiring Nature 

Situated at the head of south-central Alaska’s Resurrection Bay, Seward is both a working harbor town and the state’s self-proclaimed mural capital, with paintings depicting everything from the dawn of aviation to Alaska’s Iditarod Trail. It’s also the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, a stunning landscape in which the ocean, mountains, and ice—including the park’s culminating feature, the more than 700-square mile Harding Icefield—come together in a spectacular display. 

Get up close with wildlife such as steller sea lions and tufted puffins at the Alaska SeaLife Center, the state’s only permanent marine mammal rehabilitation facility.

Occupying a converted church, Resurrect Art Coffee House serves as a communal gathering space for the town. Residents and visitors alike come to sip cappuccinos, dine on freshly baked cinnamon rolls, and peruse works by area artists. For helpings of fresh fish and locally foraged finds, don’t miss The Cookery along 5th Avenue, Seward’s buzzy main street.