North-end beaches: Perfect for strolling, clamming

The National Wildlife Refuge and Washington State Park at Leadbetter Point are home to vast numbers of birds.

Ocean Park or North Beach

The beach approach on Bay Avenue in Ocean Park marks the beginning of a different kind of landscape than to the south, with the dunes starting to go up instead of out. Topping the crest of the primary dune as you drive west, a dazzling ocean view suddenly opens before you. From this slightly higher vantage point, you can see farther out to sea, a view that is at its best at sunset as light gleams on the water far away toward the horizon. Ocean Park residents sometimes call the entire Peninsula by the name North Beach, regarding the competing overall name of Long Beach as something of a publicity stunt by their cousins in the next major village to the south. At the very least, Ocean Park natives are free to refer to their own stretch as North Beach, and a great beach it is.

Best attractions: Ocean Park's beach definitely has a distinct character of its own, usually less crowded than Long Beach but somehow kind of comfy, like a friendly neighborhood. It's a swell place to walk along, letting your mind wander as it will.

Cautions: Be careful in the water. And watch for cars. Accidents and near-misses are rare, but they do happen. Keep an eye on your kids.

How to get there: Drive north on SR103, the main north-south highway on the Peninsula, or on Sandridge Road, the Peninsula's secondary north-south road. In either case, turn left (or west) on Bay Avenue and drive to the seashore. There is informal parking at the end of the road.

Restrooms and other facilities: There are public restrooms at the Ocean Park Beach Approach. Food, lodging and other services all are in ample supply in Ocean Park.

Pacific Pines State Park

This small state park is located north of Ocean Park off 274th Place. It's a pretty spot with access to the beach, but little else.

Surfside and Oysterville Approach

There is informal beach access from various points in the north Peninsula village of Surfside, but please respect private property. The primary public access is near the north end of the community at Oysterville Road. This lovely beach is backed by tall, subdivided hills carpeted with pines. One of the county's fastest-growing areas in population, you'll nevertheless have plenty of room to breathe on the beach here. If you walk north from Oysterville Approach, you'll soon pass beyond human habitations. About two miles to the north of Surfside is the southern boundary of Leadbetter Point State Park.

Best attractions: Conversations with interesting Surfsiders can provide a break from whale and birdwatching. The north end of the Peninsula seems to provide some of the best beachcombing, with autumn and winter storms still occasionally bringing in Japanese glass fishing floats.

Cautions: The north end doesn't just feel remote, it is remote. So if you choose to drive your car on the beach up here, be prepared to walk a way if you get stuck, or plan to spend the night, as one woman recently did.

Motor vehicles are prohibited north of Oysterville Approach to the Leadbetter State Park line from April 15 through the day after Labor Day, except during recreational razor clam tides.

How to get there: The most surefire way to get to the Oysterville Approach is to take Sandridge Road all the way north to its end, turn left on Oysterville Road and drive west about a mile to the ocean. There is informal parking at the end of the road.

Leadbetter Point

This is the wild, wild north - a combination of state park and national wildlife refuge including dozens of square miles of dense forest, swamps, dunes and beach. Without much in the way of geographical landmarks, this is an easy area in which to get lost, but it's narrow enough that you can always eventually make it out to the ocean or bay and figure out where you are. The ocean beach here is littered with sand dollars, and little visited, but sublime in its solitude. Rounding the tip north tip of the Peninsula into Willapa Bay, the character of the beach changes as the surf dies away. Grassy Island, which can sometimes to reached after an arduous trek through marshes and sloughs, is home to major colonies of seals and sea lions. Northern dune areas provide nesting sites for endangered snowy plovers, and are off-limits to all access from April to August.

Best attractions: Leadbetter's ocean and bay beaches are close to a wilderness experience in some ways, but still easily accessible for most people in reasonable health. The ocean-side beaches offer the ultimate in seaside privacy. The bay-side is more visited, but offers unusual walks along hard mud into which the tide has carved infinite patterns of ripples. It's a magical place.

Cautions: Don't swim. Let someone know you're coming up here in case you get lost. Steer well clear of black bear cubs. Beach driving is restricted year-round in this area except during recreational clam tides, when traffic may be intense, as clams are at their highest concentrations here.

How to get there: Basically, keep going north till you can't go north anymore. Specifically, the most straightforward route is to take Sandridge Road north to its end, turn left, turn right on Stackpole Road and stay on it till it ends in a parking area. Trailheads take off from the parking area, and maps and birding lists are sometimes available.

Restrooms and other facilities: Restrooms are available at the state park but the nearest food and drink is in Oysterville.

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