There’s Magic in Small Parks: Rockaway Beach

View of Seattle from Rockaway Beach

There is a tiny beach on our island that I’ve been in love with for years. I managed to grow up here without discovering Rockaway Beach until my high school marine biology teacher took us there on a field trip during a low spring tide. I couldn’t believe such a place existed on “my” island, so very different from all the other beaches I knew well.

Tide Pool at Rockaway Beach, Bainbridge Island, WA photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

It’s a pocket of wave-worn rocks and intertidal creatures with a geographic structure unique among our island beaches, all accessible by foot when the tide is low enough.  The park is half an acre in total, from the tiny parking area to the water, and it packs more enchantment into that space than any other small park I can think of.

Top View of the Arch at Rockaway Beach

Top View of the Arch at Rockaway Beach

The Bainbridge-Seattle ferries run past offshore and you can see the big city across the curve of the sound. When you stand at Rockaway, you really do feel like you’re truly on an island. Strangely, this feeling can be hard to come by on this island, partly because of geography (our shores are quite close the Kitsap Peninsula at many points, making for short views from here to there) and partly because we have relatively little public beachfront. Washington State allowed for the sale of public tidelands to individuals from 1889 – 1971, so that today approximately 60% of our state’s beaches and tidelands are privately owned (more about that here).  This makes spots like Rockaway all that much more important. For families like mine that can’t afford waterfront homes, the small road end beaches and the few larger public waterfront parks connect us to our island’s shores and the sound that surrounds us, they remind us that we’re islanders, too.

Ferry Seen from Rockaway Beach, Bainbridge Island, WA photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

This past weekend, I realized that my kids had never experienced the magic that unfolds at Rockaway at a low tide. It’s lovely at high tide, yes – There’s a small grassy spot with a bench and, at least this week, an old leather swivel chair, where you can enjoy the view of Puget Sound, Seattle, and the Cascades behind the city (if you’re lucky enough, weather-wise).

Aggregating Anemone Colony

But at low tide, Puget Sounds tips just far enough away to expose tall rocks covered, literally, with life. It’s hard to find safe places to put your feet, so that you can walk without leaving a path of death behind you, but that’s OK. No one wants to move fast – There’s so much to examine with each step: Sea stars and sea cucumbers hide under rock edges; colonies of aggregating anemones wage their slow-speed clone wars; barnacles, mussels, and snails cover the surfaces not taken up by anemones and rockweed; the world’s largest octopus species lives just offshore. There are holes, kid-sized caves, cracks, and an arch to explore, there’s the swivel chair to spin in, and even a pocket of meadow to rest in, all in a half-acre of public space.

Arch at Rockaway Beach

Arch at Rockaway Beach

My girls fell under the spell of Rockaway Beach this weekend. After their first trip there with their dad on Saturday, they organized an all-family visit again during Sunday evening’s low tide. We ended up eating dinner late, and that meant a slightly late bedtime for a Sunday, and it was completely worth it. Rockaway is proof that people don’t need huge spaces to discover the magic of the natural world.

A Quiet Spot at at Rockaway Beach

A Quiet Spot at Rockaway Beach

It’s also proof that sometimes, when you’re really lucky, the spots that enchanted you as a child will survive for your own children to discover, and if you’re even luckier, these spots will still seem just as amazing to your own adult eyes as they did when you first saw them, way back when. Rockaway Beach is my own bit of luck. What’s yours?

Low Tide at Rockaway Beach

Wake from a Passing Tug Arrives at Rockaway Beach

8 comments on “There’s Magic in Small Parks: Rockaway Beach

  1. What a magical place, and so close to our own home in Fort Ward! Can’t wait to go explore. Thanks for sharing your special place with us, Rebecca. And beautiful photos!

  2. No words. Miss it from 5000 miles away. Thank you for loving it. Please say ‘hello’ for us.


  3. We came upon this park on our own a # of years after we moved here. We were blown away by its beauty & magic & wondered why no one ever told us about it. If low tide is to our advantage, the weather right & visitors are in town it’s now a “must see”. Thanks, Rebecca, for putting the beauty into words.

  4. I love this article, may it bring many young explorers to the beach! The reason there is so much life here is the giant earthquake in 900 AD uplifted ridges and reefs of bedrock for the marine life to cling to. It’s a great place to scuba as well. I grew up near here, and after many years saved enough money to get the little house next to the park, so now that I am old I get to play on the beach I found so fascinating as a child. I love to see young people out there exploring!

    • Thank you so much, Alice! What a wonderful story about your life-long love for Rockaway – We’ll hope to meet you in person during one of our visits there. Do you happen to know of an online article about the 900 AD earthquake? I’ve heard about how that formed Rockaway, but I couldn’t find anything to link to in my article – I’d love to include that information!

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