Thursday, October 22, 2015

West vs. East Coast Beaches: The best of both worlds

Today's blog post was written by guest blogger, Donna Fitzgerald, of Wilmington, NC. Donna has lived in Wilmington for 7 years and enjoys taking visits to the beach with her two daughters. Donna is an avid reader and writer- what better place to compose than on the sandy shores!

Thanks, Donna, for researching this topic and sharing with the Beach Blog!

The beaches throughout the United States all offer some varying levels of beauty. Many will argue which area of the country contains the best beaches. For some, it's the surfing conditions that make a beach the best. For others, the beach terrain and weather conditions may make one coast more favorable than another.

There are many differences between the coastal beaches of California and the shoreline of North Carolina. Some differences are notable and evident to the average beach-goer. Other aspects are less obvious and require research and understanding of the varying geographic areas.

Sandy beaches and dunes are typical along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Physical Differences

The coast of North Carolina is mostly made up of barrier island chains that allow visitors to travel over many bridges to get from one island to the next. One of the most famous areas, the Outer Banks, is completely made up of thin island chains and sandy beaches separated from the mainland by large shallow bays. The coast of western beaches - California in particular - contains mostly beaches that are immediately adjacent to the mainland areas. Barrier islands and inlets are few and far between.

As we all know, the coast of California is under constant watch for tectonic activity. The east coast is what is referred to as a passive margin, while the California coast is on an active margin. With this being said, California is much more prone to earthquakes and unpredictable tectonic shifts.


The eastern shores of the United States are much more prone to experiencing tropical cyclones that form off the Atlantic. With these storms comes the risk of tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes that can impact the coast. With this being said, the climate in each area varies greatly. In general, the beaches of the Pacific Northwest (northern California, Oregon, and Washington) receive the highest amounts of precipitation. East coast beaches receive moderate precipitation and central and southern California beaches receive the least. El Niño cycles can greatly affect the distribution of precipitation along the west coast.

The waves roll in at Pacific State Beach, about 15 miles south of San Francisco.

Other Differences

Sandy beaches mostly make up the shorelines of east coast beaches. To the north, you may find a few New England beaches that feature rocky, jagged shorelines. The east coast primarily features sandy shores that make beach time more enjoyable and relaxing for visitors.

The west coast beaches, like those along the coast of California often feature rocky terrain and steep slopes. The California shoreline often contains many more steep hills and cliffs, like those along Big Sur in central California. These can pose threats to visitors and special cautions should be exercised.

One of the biggest advantages of west coast beaches in comparison to the east coast beaches is the consistent wave climate. California beaches are known for having higher, longer period waves due to the offshore wave climate and narrower continental shelf along the west coast. Surfing conditions are more ideal on the west coast compared to the east coast, where waves are less consistent. This being said, great east coast surfing spots can be found.

Steep beaches with waves make for fun skimboarding at Montara State Beach, about 30 miles south of San Francisco.


If you are visiting either coast, be sure to take note of these unique differences. Some tend to favor visiting the east coast beaches because of their sandy shorelines and enjoyable temperatures. Others believe California and west coast beaches are better to visit because of their geographic diversity and great surfing conditions.

Which coast do you prefer?

Sunset near Cape Hatteras, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.


  1. Brilliant post on all types of differences to be counted for beaches classification. Do read the post if you are thinking about planning a trip to the beach.

  2. The west coast is the best!!!
    No waves is boring.
    And we do also have flat sandy beaches with no cliffs or rocks or anything here. The weather here is really nice too.