Ilwaco forms the base of the Long Beach Peninsula
, and is surrounded by Baker Bay, the Columbia River
, and the Pacific Ocean. Protected by tall headlands to the west, Ilwaco lies northeast of Cape Disappointment, at what is regarded as one of the most treacherous river bars in the world. Before jetties were constructed to control its sandbar, the mouth of the Columbia River
was known as the "Graveyard of the Pacific."
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse and Coast Guard Station, 4 miles southeast of Ilwaco, is the home of one of the largest search and rescue facilities in the state. It also houses the Coast Guard's only heavy-weather Motor Lifeboat School.
Tourism, forestry, and cranberry farming play an important role in the community's economy.