Ocean Shores on the Washington coast is an affordable family vacation location: a town where you can play with the kids on the beach, go clamming when the time is right, and escape to indoor activities when the rain hits.
Located about three hours from Seattle, Ocean Shores is a great spot for a beach getaway and it’s a must-see stop if you are making a loop of the Olympic Peninsula. Just when you think you might need a break from the majesty of the Olympic Mountains, after you’ve barely escaped the clutches of Sasquatch, when the dense rainforests of Hoh and Quinault have become just too much for you…that’s the time to escape to an easy breezy beach vacation.
Ocean Shores is a quaint beach town. If you only peer at pretty pictures from blue-sky days, you might imagine the sun warming bikini-clad bodies on its long stretches of sand. In fact, a cold Pacific Northwest wind blows through this town most days of the year. However, that doesn’t stop most kids from happily shedding their clothes and splashing through the waves when they are done building sandcastles. Furthermore, this area gets some warm, sunny days, often in late summer or early fall, when it can be warmer here than in Seattle.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied during bad weather, too. Ocean Shores has go-karts, mini-golf, bowling, a movie theater, and plenty of shops, including one of the best candy stores I’ve ever encountered. This is the type of town where you can absolutely afford to stay with your family in a beachfront hotel, so what are you waiting for?
The beaches in this area are long, sandy, and absolutely gorgeous. Bring buckets and sand toys for the kids. Bring kites, too, or buy one from the kite shop in town; the wind is perfect for kite flying. Play in the surf, look for sand dollars, search tide pools for creatures. If your kids like crabs, they’ll have a field day at low tide. Take a horseback ride, if that strikes your fancy. Several outfits offer horseback rides, and you can often see teams of horses waiting on the beach at the end of the beach access roads in the hotel zone.
Clamming — digging through the sand for razor clams — is a prime activity on the Washington Coast, but available only when the state opens specific beaches for it (during the winter) and when the tides are right, often at night. Visit the Washington State website for more information as well as open clamming times.
The nearest entrance to the Olympic National Park from Ocean Shores is Quinault, and it’s only about a hour drive away, which makes it a great day trip. Quinault has some easy trails through the rainforest, as well as a pretty lake and a river for fishing, if that’s your jam.
Speaking of rivers…the Humptulips River is one of the best rivers in the state for salmon fishing, and is less than a thirty minute drive from Ocean Shores. If you don’t know anything about fishing but just want an educational experience, take the kids to the Humptulips salmon hatchery for a look-see.
Don’t miss visiting the Coastal Interpretive Center if you are in Ocean Shores with your family. In addition to a variety of indoor exhibits, they have a little playground, native plants garden, and nature trail outdoors. They are clearly devoted to the types of hands-on learning that attracts, kids, which makes this a fun place to take the family as well as a great place to learn more about the history and ecology of the area.
When the kids are clamoring for less of the natural world and more of the type of excitement that will drain your wallet, you’ll have plenty of options. Playtime Family Fun is hard to miss on the main street in town with its go-kart track. It also has bumper cars and an ice cream parlor inside.
The town also has a bowling alley and the movie theater, of course. Our favorite activity in town, however, is the Pacific Paradise Family Fun Center, with its beautiful locally themed mini-golf course. You do have to get the kids past the indoor arcade games and the outdoor bumper boats before you can get to the mini golf, though. Godspeed.
There are plenty of gift shops to keep anyone who doesn’t care for mini-golf busy for an afternoon. Ocean Shores Kites is a favorite, as is Buddy & Howie’s Old Fashioned Sweet Shoppe, one of the few candy shops left in the world where my children can do pretty well for under five bucks. Most of the stores are clustered on the ocean side of Point Brown Avenue, the main road in town, but don’t miss Ocean Shores Soapworks across the street.
Finally, the Ocean Shores tourism board tries to keep visitors busy with a steady calendar of weekend events, many of which are worth a trip to the beach. One festival worth seeing is the Sand and Sawdust Festival, which features world-class chainsaw carvers and sandcastle builders doing their thing. This is family fun at its best.
Where to Eat
Our favorite restaurant is Bennett’s Fish Shack. It has a little bar inside of it and serves up a varied menu that includes fish and chips as well as salads and other options for picky eaters as well. For fast food, both Moby Dick’s and The Lighthouse are good choices. This is a town where everyone competes for the best fish and chips, so you can rarely go wrong with seafood.
In the morning, don’t miss out on a chance to visit Linda’s Bakery and Cafe. The baked goods are some of the best I’ve ever had, and there’s an adjacent shop that sells locally made crafts, in case you’re still in need of souvenirs or gifts.
The fanciest place in town — for an anniversary, for example — is Emily’s, the restaurant inside the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino, and it’s excellent. This is the place to go if you seek fine dining. We did not take the monsters there.
Places to Stay
Ocean Shores has strict limits on nightly rentals from private homes, so the Airbnb options here are somewhat limited. If you are looking for a house to stay in, the beach communities of Ocean City, Copalis, Moclips, and the like a few miles up the coast would be reasonable options for an Ocean Shores vacation.
Within Ocean Shores, there are multiple affordable hotels right along the beach. For a fancier hotel option, look at Quinault Beach Resort and Casino, which is just outside Ocean Shores, directly on the beach, and has beautiful guest rooms as well as a spa and casino inside of it.
All the hotels in Ocean Shores tend to be very affordable mid-week and off-season. You will pay higher prices during summer weekends and during clamming weekends in the winter.