Catch a Glimpse of Magnificent Creatures
Updated: Aug 5
Incredible local beaches to view wildlife this summer By Lindsey Stover, Executive Director at Harbor WildWatch | Photo Courtesy of Harbor WildWatch
I love the peninsula life. Being surrounded by water on three sides means I am never far from it and all its wonders. Whether I’m driving to work or going to lunch, every glimpse reminds me how lucky I am to live and work within the biologically rich waters of the Salish Sea. Spanning two countries, this inland sea is teeming with life—with 37 species of mammals, 172 species of birds, 253 species of fish, and more than 3,000 species of invertebrates!
I spent my childhood summers roaming the beaches during low-tide or hanging from the side of the public dock in search of these creatures. Garbage can lid-sized sunflower stars, bright yellow egg-yolk jellies, and every crab under a rock were commonly spotted during my explorations. As an adult, I’m grateful for the chance to continue my beach adventures as part of my job and share my love of the Salish Sea with others.
One of the most common questions we receive at Harbor WildWatch is which beach is the best to see local wildlife. While it’s not possible to choose one over the other, the Harbor WildWatch team put together a list of beaches that we recommend visiting this summer to catch a glimpse of the magnificent creatures who call the Salish Sea home.
Penrose Point State Park | 321 158th Avenue SW, Lakebay | Parks.wa.gov/564/Penrose-Point
This park has a variety of wildlife along the expansive 2 miles of shoreline. The ample parking and flat grassy area adjacent to the beach make it very accessible for all ages and a perfect spot for post-exploration picnics.
• Highlights: Various habitats from mud to gravel to cobble to boulders, a lagoon, and a near mile-long (out-and-back) sandspit exposed at low tide.
• Creatures to look for: Piddock clams, moon snails, plumose anemones, mottled stars, red rock crabs, and the eggs of opalescent squid.
• Special considerations: The Washington State Discover Pass is required to park at all WA State Parks. Cost is $10/day or $30/annual pass. Annual passes can be purchased at DiscoverPass.wa.gov or at any of the 600 licensed vendors including the Ace Hardware in Gig Harbor.
DeMolay Sandspit Nature Preserve | 53 Bella Bella Drive Fi, Fox Island | PenMetParks.org/parks/demolay-sandspit-nature-preserve
Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Nature Preserve, Bella Bella Beach, or the Fox Island Sandspit … this is the beach with many names! No matter what you call it, there is plenty of beach exploration available at this PenMet Parks property situated on the northern tip of Fox Island.
• Highlights: Designated marine preserve with distinct habitats to explore from the short steep spit to a small sand patch in the higher intertidal zone, to a wide sand flat when the tide is low. It’s one of the few beaches where you can observe clay babies and hear the tube worms sing!
• Creatures to look for: Bamboo tube worms (which make squeaky “singing” noises), leather stars, Japanese oysters, ribbon worms, and striped nudibranchs.
• Special considerations: Limited facilities and overnight camping is available for those arriving in human-powered vessels only.
Sunrise Beach Park | 10015 Sunrise Beach Drive NW, Gig Harbor | PenMetParks.org/parks/sunrise-beach-park
On a clear day, this park has stunning views of Mt. Rainier that you can enjoy from the picnic tables at the top of the hill or swings at the entrance to the beach. The Colvos Passage Marine Preserve is located just south of this PenMet Park border.
• Best Features: Steep beach with concentrated marine life to be found around the boulders and eel grass habitat. Depending on the current, this is also a popular SCUBA diving site.
• Creatures to look for: Stimpson’s sun stars, red octopus, and the chance to view seals, sea lions, and orcas offshore.
• Special considerations: Limited facilities and a considerable hill from the parking area to the beachfront.
Manchester State Park | 7767 East Hilldale Road, Port Orchard | Parks.wa.gov/542/Manchester
Although this is in Kitsap County, it is too special not to highlight. This park has 3,400 hundred feet of saltwater shoreline that includes clay substrate and a more traditional “tide pooling” experience. The Southworth ferry passes this beach, so watch out for wave action!
• Best Features: The beach has distinct habitats ranging from sand, boulders, and cobble to an eelgrass meadow to a clay-based rocky shore. There is a grassy field with open areas and a covered historic feature, both great for picnicking.
• Creatures to look for: Anemones, blood stars, porcelain crabs, sculpin, chitons, great blue herons, and seaweed galore!
• Special considerations: The Washington State Discover Pass is required to park at all this park as well.
The best times to view wildlife at any local beach is during the lowest low tide of the day. Extreme low tides happen about every two weeks at various times, so we encourage you to download one of the many free tide apps to ensure you are always prepared to explore the intertidal zone. If you want to learn more from a seasoned beach explorer, join Harbor WildWatch for one of our free, family friendly beach walks in Pierce and Kitsap County through August. Check HarborWildWatch.org or @harborwildwatch on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for program information.