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  Great Washington Getaways Home  |   Digging razor clams on coastal beaches
Photo: Razor clam diggers work the surf at sunset near Ocean City on the Washington coast.
Razor clam diggers work the surf at sunset near Ocean City on the Washington coast.
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  Bountiful bivalves: Digging razor clams on coastal beaches
Photo: Razor clam limit and shovel.
One limit of 15 razor clams can easily feed a whole family.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the Washington coast each year, drawn by the fishing, bird watching, beachcombing and countless other outdoor adventures on offer in this playground of surf and sand. Few attractions, however, have a bigger or more dedicated following than Pacific razor clams.

In a single day, as many as 30,000 people may descend on the state’s coastal beaches to dig these meaty mollusks, which can run up to six inches in length. Carrying shovels and clam guns, clam diggers stretch for miles along the shoreline at low tide, searching for “spouts,” “dimples,” “keyholes” and other evidence of bivalves buried in the sand.

Most are richly rewarded. Diggers, including kids and seniors, can usually harvest their limit of 15 razor clams in an hour or two, leaving plenty of time for other surfside fun. Best of all, a single limit of clams – usually served fried or in chowder – can serve a family of four in classic Northwest style.

Photo: Clam diggers using shovel and clam gun.
Shovel or clam gun – both are effective tools for digging razor clams.

Gearing up to dig razor clams

Only the most basic equipment is necessary to dig razor clams: A shovel or clam gun, rubber boots or waders, a bucket or clam net to store your clams and a lantern for evening digs in fall and winter. Warm, waterproof clothing is strongly advised during the cold months.

A state fishing license is also required for anyone age 15 and older. Several types of licenses, valid for three days to a full year, are available online from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and can also be purchased from license vendors around the state.

Veteran clam diggers are divided over whether a shovel or a clam gun (also called a “clam tube”) is the best tool for the job. Without taking sides, WDFW offers tips on how to use both implements to best advantage on its razor clam website.

When and where to dig

Map of beaches where to dig razor clams.
Basic rules of razor clam digging
All diggers age 15 and older must have a valid fishing license.
The daily limit is 15 clams, and diggers must retain the first 15 clams they dig.
All diggers must keep the clams they have dug in their own bucket or clam net.
Razor clam digging is allowed only during openings announced by WDFW. Evening digs in fall and winter run from noon to midnight (although most digging occurs an hour or two before low tide). Morning digs in spring run from midnight to noon.

Washington’s active razor clam beaches extend 58 miles along the coast from the Columbia River north to Moclips on the Olympic Peninsula. Along the way, quaint seaside towns such as Long Beach, Grayland, Westport and Ocean Shores offer a full range of overnight accommodations, many just a stone’s throw from the beach.

Clam-digging seasons are set by WDFW, which generally schedules digs from November through May. Digs running from a few days to more than a week are announced throughout the season on the department’s website and through notices to the statewide news media. Razor clam digging is closed during the summer months when the clams spawn.

Razor clam digs revolve around the tides. As a rule, the lower the tide, the better the digging. For best results, experienced diggers recommend hitting the beach an hour or two before low tide as the surf recedes and reveals more signs of clams along the water’s edge.

Because the tides change with the seasons, razor clam digs are scheduled during afternoon and evening hours in fall and winter, then switch to morning hours in spring. The conditions are tougher during the cold months, but there is less competition for prime spots to dig. In winter, the lights from diggers’ lanterns glow like fireflies along the water’s edge.

Stalking the wily razor clam

Digging razor clams is like a treasure hunt for some of the choicest seafood in the Pacific Northwest. As the hunt begins, diggers flock to the water’s edge looking for “shows” in the wet sand – evidence of a clam below.

“Shows” differ, depending on where you choose to dig. In the wet sand above the surf line, look for holes and indentations called “sand dimples,” “doughnuts” and “keyholes” to find the clams. Generally speaking, the bigger the hole the bigger the clam.

Photo: Types of clam "shows"

The strategy is somewhat different for digging clams at the edge of surf line, where the waves are lapping at your ankles. Here, razor clams often reveal themselves by poking the end of their neck above the surface. (Used to drawn in food-rich seawater, the neck, or siphon, looks a bit like the burnt end of a small stick.) Another technique is to stomp hard on the wet sand, which often causes razor clams to spew a jet of water into the air.

Whatever the strategy, it’s important to dig quickly, because razor clams can propel themselves through the sand a lot faster than you might think. 

For more information on the how-tos of digging razor clams, see WDFW’s razor clam webpage. You’ll also find tips on how to clean and prepare razor clams, along with a variety of recipes.

Celebrating clams and other attractions

While it would be an overstatement to say that Washington’s coastal communities revolve around razor clams, it might seem that way to visitors. Motel parking lots routinely empty out an hour before low tide, and traffic picks up on roads to the beach.

Photo: Giant frying pan that has long been a symbol of the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival.
A giant frying pan has long been a symbol of the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival.

Two beach towns – Long Beach and Ocean Shores – hold annual festivals celebrating the beloved bivalve with digging lessons, chowder competitions, music and other entertainment. 

Yet, thousands of people arrive at ocean beaches without any thought of slinging a clam gun. Some come to walk the pet-friendly beaches, ride horses, go surfing, or observe seabirds and whales along their coastal migration route. For the kids, Long Beach and Ocean Shores both provide an array of amusements from Go Karts to video arcades.

Ilwaco and Westpoint are both major points of departure for guided fishing trips for salmon, halibut, and rockfish off the coast. Ocean Shores has an old-growth forest and 23 miles of canals, while Long Beach boasts an annual kite festival, a cranberry museum, a seaport museum, and the “World’s Largest Frying Pan” – fit for the world’s largest razor clam.

Ilwaco also marks the start of the Discovery Trail, a paved 8.5-mile hiking and biking path that weaves through a diverse mix of Sitka spruce, swamplands and sand dunes to Long Beach. Interpretive signs along the trail chronicle the journey of Lewis and Clark, the famous explorers who camped nearby before deciding to spend the winter on the opposite side of the Columbia River.

The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is perched atop Cape Disappointment, the massive headland that juts out into the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the mighty Columbia. The interpretative center not only provides a stirring account of the explorers’ “Voyage of Discovery,” but also offers spectacular views of the Columbia River, the ocean and beaches stretching for miles below.

Of course, the beaches are still the biggest draw, whether for digging clams or a quiet walk through the dunes. Surfside communities offer a wide range of accommodations, from campgrounds to beachfront hotels. For more information, see the websites for Long Beach, Westport, Ocean Shores and Pacific Beach.

Ready for lunch? Coastal restaurants often feature razor clams, when they’re in season – but it’s more fun to dig your own.

Photo: North Head Lighthouse on Cape Disappointment marks the mouth of the Columbia River.
The North Head Lighthouse on Cape Disappointment marks the mouth of the Columbia River.