The substantial wave energy resource of the US Pacific Northwest (i.e. off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and N. California) is assessed and characterized. Archived spectral records from ten wave measurement buoys operated and maintained by the National Data Buoy Center and the Coastal Data Information Program form the basis of this investigation. Because an ocean wave energy converter must reliably convert the energetic resource and survive operational risks, a comprehensive characterization of the expected range of sea states is essential. Six quantities were calculated to characterize each hourly sea state: omnidirectional wave power, significant wave height, energy period, spectral width, direction of the maximum directionally resolved wave power and directionality coefficient. The temporal variability of these characteristic quantities is depicted at different scales and is seen to be considerable. The mean wave power during the winter months was found to be up to 7 times that of the summer mean. Winter energy flux also tends to have a longer energy period, a narrower spectral width, and a reduced directional spread, when compared to summer months. Locations closer to shore, where the mean water depth is less than 50 m, tended to exhibit lower omnidirectional wave power, but were more uniform directionally. Cumulative distributions of both occurrence and contribution to total energy are presented, over each of the six quantities characterizing the resource. It is clear that the sea states occurring most often are not necessarily those that contribute most to the total incident wave energy. The sea states with the greatest contribution to energy have significant wave heights between 2 and 5 m and energy periods between 8 and 12 s. Sea states with the greatest significant wave heights (e.g.>7 m) contribute little to the annual energy, but are critically important when considering reliability and survivability of ocean wave energy converters.