Recent research has revealed that the plan view evolution of a coast due to gradients in alongshore sediment transport is highly dependant upon the angles at which waves approach the shore, giving rise to an instability in shoreline shape that can generate different types of naturally occurring coastal landforms, including capes, flying spits, and alongshore sand waves. This instability merely requires that alongshore sediment flux is maximized for a given deepwater wave angle, a maximum that occurs between 35° and 50° for several common alongshore sediment transport formulae. Here we introduce metrics that sum over records of wave data to quantify the long-term stability of wave climates and to investigate how wave climates change along a coast. For Long Point, a flying spit on the north shore of Lake Erie, Canada, wave climate metrics suggest that unstable waves have shaped the spit and, furthermore, that smaller-scale alongshore sand waves occur along the spit at the same locations where the wave climate becomes unstable. A shoreline aligned along the trend of the Carolina Capes, United States, would be dominated by high-angle waves; numerical simulations driven by a comparable wave climate develop a similarly shaped cuspate coast. Local wave climates along these simulated capes and the Carolina Capes show similar trends: Shoreline reorientation and shadowing from neighboring capes causes most of the coast to experience locally stable wave climates despite regional instability.