Hikes: California Dreamin'

Hikes: California Dreamin'

Yep, Californians must dream of being able to hike a beach like this.

First there is ample parking – and it’s free, or better yet, you can ride your bike or take the bus here. This is a beach where you will see more whimbrels than people, where you can surf without the music of a beach blanket bingo party in the background, where millionaire homes don’t intrude, where the air is clean and clear, and where snow-covered mountains relax in the background, sharp and inviting.

The sound of the surf is the constant soundtrack for the entire two-and-a-half-mile hike in each direction.

And the bluffs lining the beach also speak volumes, in muted voices unless we pay close attention.
Sixteen thousand years ago, this land was buried under 4000 feet of ice, laboriously grinding south to Olympia, then receding north to Canada and the Cascades. For several thousand years they had scoured Whidbey, then rebuilt it with castoffs from its excavations.

These bluffs stand as stark reminders of the flow of time and energy in a world that had cooled just a handful of degrees. The glacier pushed the salt waters of Puget Sound away. When the ice retreated, large lakes formed from meltwater and the many rivers still coming out of the Cascades and Olympics. Most of these lakes disappeared when the glacier retreated up Whidbey, once again allowing the ocean waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to fill the waterways we see today.

Walls of sand over a hundred feet high line the north half of this beach. These walls erode quickly as wind and waves dig at them relentlessly. The eroded sand fills the beach here and for miles to the north as the currents carry the sand along.

​Here's a YouTube video of the sand waterfalling down the cliff: https://youtu.be/if_Kqz40rK8

The south half of the bluffs is glacial outwash, the typical glacial till we have all come to know and hate – a texture like gravelly concrete, with larger rocks thrown in as the melting glacier dropped its load of scoured debris. The beach is rocks and gravel beneath these bluffs.

The action continues. Waterfalls of sand rained down the bluffs as we walked along. Larger piles of sand lay at the bottom, eaten away with each high tide. Further down, a large cabin-sized slump of glacial till had broken off the bluff. Hopefully, no one is underneath when this happens again, which it will! We played leapfrog with the whimbrels, marveled at the flight of seagulls, and watched crows shoo an eagle out of ‘their’ neighborhood. Surfers waited just offshore for good curls to ride back in.

The south end of the beach has a house built out into the shoreline, requiring a rock riprap wall to protect it from waves, temporarily. You can only get around this obstruction with a tide of less than four feet. The tide was rising, almost at four feet now. Another hour and I would have been too late.

We were back at our car, ready for a snack, and one last look over the entire stretch of coastline we had just hiked. The sandy strand still beckoned, a world apart from the busyness of our normal lives. The sunshine and warmth made us smile. Waves rolled in with their steady soothing surf song. The islands and mountains in the background made it all seem so dreamy.

Dream on, Californians.


Directions: From Highway 20, 4.4 miles south of Oak Harbor, or 6.4 miles north of Coupeville, turn north onto Hastie Lake Road and drive to Hastie Lake Beach Park. Or park at West Beach County Park on West Beach Road at the north end of this hike.

By Transit: Take Route 6 which follows West Beach Road near here.

By Bike: the roads in this area are rolling with an occasional steep section. They are somewhat high speed, with minimal shoulder, but low volume.

Mobility: the beach is a mixture of sand, gravel, and small boulders.

Note: Check your tide calendar! There is NO place to get above a full high tide for most of this beach, especially in the winter. And the tide must be below the four foot level to get around the rock rip rap at the south end, and to make for easier walking at the north end.