West Coast Sailing [Top 10 Sailing Destinations]

What’s so special about sailing on the American West Coast?

The tide! The wind! The physical conditions!

These are words spoken by a seasoned sailing enthusiast, when asked about what was so special about sailing on the West Coast.

Sailing buffs love the West Coast for several reasons, some say it is the atmosphere and the sun, while others say its the wide range of sailing experiences it has to offer.

There is a mystical allure about sailing along the American West Coast; some of the world’s best sailors can attest to the fact that the Pacific Ocean offers some of the most challenging and exhilarating sailing experiences in equal measure.

Apart from the actual sailing experience, there are loads of other attractions to enjoy along the West Coast when sailors dock for a day or two.

There are various sailing destinations along the West Coast and this article covers some of the most-favored places,where sailors come for leisure, sport, and for the love of sailing.

West Coast Sailing Destinations

1.       Seattle

(Having fun on Puget Sound)


The fun is not stopping any time soon in Seattle. For more than 33 years, it has been the top sailing destination along the West Coast. This is the go-to waterfront area for sporting and leisurely cruises in the region.

One of the most popular places to sail to is the Puget Sound towards the south. Sailing under the towering double bridges of the Narrows offers a great challenge to novice sailors as they try to navigate the fast currents. These are when the inflow of high volumes of water from several inlets and channels is forced into the narrow channel.

During flood tides, the current has been known to take boats along at speeds of up to 11 knots; small boat owners need to be very careful in this region.

The Penrose Point State Park, named after Dr. Stephen Penrose, one of the pioneer presidents of Walla Walla’s Whitman College, is another great place to sail in Seattle. From the waters, one has an unfettered view of the imposing forested Penrose Point, rising into the sky,towering over the neighboring Fox Island.

2.       Santa Cruz


(Whale watching on Santa Cruz waters)


There’s no better way to enjoy wind, water and sun, than sailing in Sunny Santa Cruz. This is perhaps the most popular vacationing destination for sailing buffs from all over the world. The atmosphere of this warm-weather region brings in tourists, hobbyists and hardliners in droves.

Santa Cruz has a wonderful mix of calm waves and rugged coastline, ideal for a fantastic sailing excursion - whether you are a newbie or an experienced sailor, you will find an enclave that best suits your experience.

When out of the water, you can visit the popular man made Beach Boardwalk, which has giant rides and games, including the Big Dipper, an old wooden roller coaster that has been featured in many films.

Sailing in Santa Cruz waters offers an exhilarating sail in the high speed winds and on the high waves popular among surfers. When you go out to sea, you will have the company of seals, otters and sometimes a Great White Shark, eyeing your boat from afar.

Not to worry, the Great Whites in this region will not jump across your gunwale, looking to bite a tasty morsel from your body.

3.       San Diego

(One afternoon sailing in San Diego)


Whether you are looking for an exhilarating adventure sailing across open waters, or simply looking for a casual sight-seeing cruise along the bay, San Diego has an experience to suit all sailing palates.

Steer your boat to the docks and moor near the oldest active sailing ship in the world, The Star of India.

Sail close to the USS Midway, the world's longest-serving aircraft carrier as its imposing size towers above the docks of San Diego’s, busy Embarcadero.

When sailing during the winter season, be prepared to have some gigantic visitors pass by your boat. San Diego is famous for whale sightings during the winter, as mother whales swim beside their calves, heading towards the warm waters of Mexico. Coming close to a whale in the open waters is an experience that you will remember for the rest of your life.

When you are not on the water, San Diego has a lot of seaside attractions that you can visit, within a stones-throw from your docking area.

4.       San Francisco

(San Francisco Bay Sailing Cruise)


San Francisco has always had a bit of a tourist-attraction atmosphere, and one would think that the sights and sounds of the city are restricted to landlubbers alone – sailors are invited to tryout their sea legs on the onshore attractions.

However, San Francisco has a lot to offer for sailing buffs, from the bay waters to the open seas of the Pacific Ocean.

The beauty of sailing in San Francisco is that most of its world-renown sites are right there on the water.

The Famous Alcatraz Prison Island,Sausalito, Angel Island and the long-span of the Golden Gate Bridge are sights that you can enjoy as you cruise along on your boat.

Be sure to wear heavy clothes when going out to sea, as the temperatures can fall to very low levels. This cold waters of the open sea and the warm waters of the bay come together to form an omnipresent fog, which added to the vessel traffic, high winds and strong currents, makes sailing these waters a challenge for some.

All-in-all, San Francisco is a great place to steer your boat to when sailing along the West Coast.

5.       San Juan Islands

(Sailing across the San Juan Islands)


The San Juan Islands offer a fantastic calm-water sailing experience, given that the 300-mile Vancouver Island shields these islands from the storms and swells of the open Pacific Ocean.

There are countless anchorage points along the 300 miles of shoreline offered by the islands. If you want to take short cruises on your boat, the region offers a great island-hopping experience.

If you get bored with sailing the ocean waters, you can hire a kayak and go for some inland water adventures through the Bull Kelp, where you will find a high population of Bald Eagles staring down at you from the forest treetops. Most of the islands have been turned into parks,thanks to the wide range of flora and fauna found on the islands.

When in the shallows, take a look over the side of the boat and view the countless purple starfish that the region is famed for.

Sailing to Sucia Island, Orcas Island,Stuart Island and the other iconic islands of San Juan offers you a great way of relaxing during your vacation.

6.       Astoria

(Sailboat racing in Astoria)


Well, sailing should not always be about sailing on the open ocean waters, harbors and bays; you can also have a fantastic time sailing up the Columbia River, when you are on the West Coast.

You can sail up the river, closely passing the huge ships that cruise these waters at such close distances, that you can almost reach out and touch their hulls. It’s one thing to see a ship at the dock and it’s quite another to have one pass so close to your boat, the waves pushed by the hull incessantly rock your boat.

When sailing up the Columbia River, you get to see wonderful sights of Astoria from the water. There is lots of wildlife that are close enough to view with a decent pair of binoculars. Marine wildlife is somewhat scarce, since the area is a busy shipping route.

After a day of sailing, you can venture ashore and get to meet some sailing enthusiasts for an evening of fun,reminiscing about your past adventures on the water.

7.       Coos Bay

(Sailing the Tall Ships on Coos bay)


The locals say that one has never experienced Coos Bay until you go out on the waters around it. Coos bay is a wonderful, calm place for recreational sailors to visit. If you are new to sailing, this is a great place to hone your sailing skills, as the waters are fairly calm.

There are lots of water activities to partake in, such as scuba diving, kayaking, surfing, fishing and even paddle-boating.

For hardliners, the river bar offers you a challenge to overcome and add to your bucket list of sailing experiences.

You can watch the bustling activities of the Port of Coos Bay and The North Bend, Share waters with tug boats, wood chip ships, lumber barges and an impressive Coast Guard Cutter. The Coos Bay estuary system is a marvel to view, and sailing under the immense Conde McCullough Bridge, a sight to behold.

The East side Industrial waterfront is rarely-seen attraction and offers a great view of the impressive Isthmus Slough tidal estuary.

8.       Port Angeles

(Sailing Port Angeles to Newark)


Port Angeles is a great place for sailing enthusiast to enjoy the Olympic Peninsula - it is actually regarded as the ‘happening place” on the peninsula.

You can take a trip to the Hurricane ridge,or spend the day exploring the Olympic National Park. This is a busy hub as most sailing trips to Victoria, British Columbia begin here; be prepared to navigate your craft alongside many others on these waters.

If you decide to take a few hours touring the shore, you can visit the fantastic beaches, berry farms and lavender fields. The waters off the shoreline are filled with a wide range of aquatic wildlife to admire. Fishing along the open waters offers you a chance to catch huge marlin and take a memorable photo during the weigh-in on the shore.

9.       Port San Luis

(Whale watching in Port San Luis)


Sailing in Port San Luis may be the best hands-down decision you have ever made as a sailor. The weather is mostly sunny and the region is famous for whale watching.

This is not the whale watching that is advertised and you end up getting disappointed. With a great guide, you can getup close and candid with these majestic creatures in the open waters.

According to most people who have come as enthusiasts or tourists, the whale-watching is unlike any other along the West Coast.

San Luis also has a long stretch of beautiful beaches, where you can dock and spend some time on land. It is a given, that spending the day polishing your tan on the deck of your boat is an exhilarating experience; the calm waters of San Luis will lull you to sleep as they gently rock your boat.

When sailing along the American West Coast,make San Luis a must-be part of your itinerary.

10.   Hawaiian Islands

(Sailing and water activities in Hawaii)


Saving the best for last! Hawaii is said to be the sailor’s playground, offering a wide range of water activities for you to take part in. There’s never a dull moment when sailing these waters; Watch the Manta Rays on the Kona Coast or sail on the gentle waves of Waikiki beach;look for adrenaline-pumping activities or gentle exploits for you and your family to enjoy.

Take the time to go whale watching on the open waters, when thousands of humpback whales migrate to the warm waters of Hawaii to breed and nurse their calves. When hopping from one island to another, you will definitely come across these majestic creatures.

When tired and want to stretch your sea legs on land, you can fly over lush forest canopies on some of the longest zip lines in the United States or simply visit the national parks for a great view of Hawaii’s flora and fauna.

The Hawaiian Islands give unique sailing and touring experiences and you should keep some time to visit all of them.After all, you have a boat that can take you across at any time you prefer.

In Conclusion

When sailing across the American West-coast, these are just some of the places that you can visit and enjoy a wonderful time sailing your boat. The waters of the Pacific are temperamental and you never know what you will encounter, so be prepared when on the open seas.

When you come inshore, there are various-activities that you can enjoy on your boat, such as seeing awesome aquatic wildlife,or visiting some iconic places on the shore.

Want to see other places to sail? Check out our best places to sail article for tips on where to travel next.

You have never enjoyed sailing if you do not take a trip along the West Coast of America; you should add it to your sailing bucket list.