Tidal inlets in microtidal, wave-dominated coastal environments tend to close to the ocean seasonally. This obstructs navigation and could cause degradation of water quality in the estuary/lagoon connected to the inlet. Hence, engineering solutions are often implemented to prevent inlet closure. However, a prior knowledge of circulation and mixing processes within the estuary is crucial for the sustainability of any engineering solution. This paper attempts to provide insight into circulation and mixing characteristics of seasonally open estuaries based on the results of a field study undertaken at Wilson Inlet, a typical seasonally open estuary, in south-western Australia. Results of the study indicate that this type of estuary may have two distinct behavioural patterns, in winter and in summer. During winter, solar heating causes density stratification during daytime, and convective cooling causes overnight de-stratification; a horizontal cyclonic gyre is established during winter by the combined action of the Coriolis force and streamflow. During summer, strong sea breezes (similar to 10 m s(-1)) cause vertical mixing during daytime, and convective cooling vertically mixes the water column at night. When the inlet is open, sea water propagates into the estuary during flooding tides unless streamflows are very high.