© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved. To predict future coastal hazards, it is important to quantify any links between climate drivers and spatial patterns of coastal change. However, most studies of future coastal vulnerability do not account for the dynamic components of coastal water levels during storms, notably wave-driven processes, storm surges and seasonal water level anomalies, although these components can add metres to water levels during extreme events. Here we synthesize multi-decadal, co-located data assimilated between 1979 and 2012 that describe wave climate, local water levels and coastal change for 48 beaches throughout the Pacific Ocean basin. We find that observed coastal erosion across the Pacific varies most closely with El Niño/Southern Oscillation, with a smaller influence from the Southern Annular Mode and the Pacific North American pattern. In the northern and southern Pacific Ocean, regional wave and water level anomalies are significantly correlated to a suite of climate indices, particularly during boreal winter; conditions in the northeast Pacific Ocean are often opposite to those in the western and southern Pacific. We conclude that, if projections for an increasing frequency of extreme El Niño and La Niña events over the twenty-first century are confirmed, then populated regions on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean basin could be alternately exposed to extreme coastal erosion and flooding, independent of sea-level rise.