The Central California Coast is a long special coastline that stretches for many miles between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. The counties along this coast include Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Santa Cruz. This is a lengthy post, as Central California has a LOT of beaches, so click on the following links to take you to the specific best central California beaches listed by county: Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County, Monterey County and Santa Cruz County.
Ventura County is home to the coastal cities of Ventura and Oxnard but is about more than the beach too. Backed by rugged mountain terrain, the artsy Ojai Valley looks like a vintage orange-crate label come to life while the region’s Heritage Valley is a fertile agricultural area of farms and small towns. Ventura County includes the cities of Ventura, Oxnard and Port Hueneme. Visit our Ventura Travel Guide, Port Hueneme Travel Guide, and our Oxnard Travel Guide to start planning your Central California beach vacation today.
Mandalay State Beach in Oxnard
This is a popular place for birding. Some of the beach is fenced off to protect nesting areas of the Least Tern and Snowy Plover. Mandalay State Beach is on state park property, but is managed by Ventura County so it is called Mandalay Beach County Park too. Activities: bird watching, beach walking, surfing, fishing and beach combing. Amenities: dunes, trails, no facilities.
Oxnard Beach in Oxnard
Oxnard Beach makes up the shoreline between Hollywood Beach to the south and Mandalay Beach to the north. At the center of this stretch of beach is Oxnard Beach Park, a large grassy park with picnic tables, BBQs, walking paths, and a playground for kids. Amenities: bike trail, walking paths, grass park, picnic tables, group picnic areas, BBQs, volleyball courts, basketball court, restrooms, dunes and dogs allowed on leash.
Hollywood Beach in Oxnard
Hollywood Beach is wide and about a mile long. Because of this huge sandy expanse, it won’t be crowded. Homes are packed together all along the back of Hollywood Beach. Activities: volleyball, sunbathing and swimming. Amenities: lifeguard, volleyball courts, restrooms, showers and dogs allowed on leash before 9am and after 5pm.
Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard
Silver Strand Beach stretches from the Channel Islands Harbor entrance to the Port Hueneme Harbor entrance. The wide sandy beach is backed by many tightly packed homes in the unincorporated neighborhood of Silver Strand Beach. Lifeguards are provided Memorial Day through Labor Day. Activities: surfing, body boarding, body surfing and walking. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, showers, walking path, volleyball courts, accessible features and dogs allowed on leash before 9am and after 5pm.
Ormond Beach in Port Hueneme
Ormond Beach is the beach fronting the Ormond Wetlands and some farmlands near Oxnard in Ventura County. This is a well-known birding area with trails that follow a canal and the restored wetlands. The beach has a remote feel and is great for beach combing or just for walking. Surfers have been coming to this off-the-beaten-path spot for many years. Activities: beach combing, bird watching, surfing, beach walking and fishing. Amenities: wetlands, dunes, trails and dogs allowed on leash.
Port Hueneme Beach Park in Port Hueneme
Port Hueneme Beach Park is the main beach in the city of Port Hueneme which is completely surrounded by Oxnard, CA. The beach here is wide with many picnic areas and volleyball nets available. The long fishing pier at the beach is worth a walk even if not fishing. Activities: fishing, volleyball, surfing, picnicking, sunbathing, walking, running and beach walking. Amenities: fishing pier, lifeguard, volleyball courts, picnic tables, BBQs, lifeguard, restrooms, grass park, walking paths, snack bar and lighthouse.
Surfers Point Beach in Ventura
Surfers will start at various spots and ride these waves toward the Ventura City Pier. Kiteboarders and windsurfers put on a show in the area just west of the point when the wind is up. Activities: surfing, biking, skating, walking, windsurfing, kite boarding, fishing, running, bird watching and picnicking. Amenities: picnic tables, restrooms, showers, paved bike path, lagoon, grass park, benches and dogs allowed on leash.
Solimar Beach in Ventura
This state park has a linear RV campground above the sand about a mile away. There are no facilities at Solimar Beach, but you get free parking and enough sand to make it worth checking out. Activities: surfing, beach walking and beach combing. Amenities: no facilities and dogs allowed on leash.
Surfers Knoll Beach in Ventura
This spot is obviously popular for surfing, but for most of us, it is an excellent spot for beach combing. Activities: surfing and beach combing. Amenities: restrooms, showers and dogs allowed on leash north of the parking lot.
To view other county beaches for the best central California beaches, click on the county you are interested in: Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County, Monterey County and Santa Cruz County.
Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara County has been dubbed the American Riviera thanks to the Mediterranean architecture, incomparable beaches, and the dramatic mountain backdrop of its namesake city. The region also extends beyond the city of Santa Barbara and into the north county, where you can taste your way through several wine regions that are winning international acclaim. The cities included are Carpenteria, Goleta, Guadalupe, Isla Vista, Lompoc, Montecito, Santa Barbara, and Summerland. Visit our Santa Barbara Travel Guide, Montecito Travel Guide, Goleta Vacations Guide, Guadalupe California travel guide, and Carpinteria Travel Guide and start planning your Central California beach vacation today.
Carpinteria City Beach in Carpinteria
The city beach is a wide sandy beach backed by Carpinteria beachfront homes and the Carpinteria Shores condo building. The beach slopes out gradually so this is a fun and safe beach for playing in the surf or for swimming if you can handle the water temperature. Volleyball courts and a campground are available south of Linden Avenue in Carpinteria State Beach. Activities: sunbathing, beach walking, volleyball, hiking, bird watching, wildlife watching, surfing and swimming. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, showers, volleyball courts, picnic tables, salt marsh and trails.
Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary
The Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary is a harbor seal rookery next to the old oil pier just south of Carpinteria State Beach. As expected, the beach at the sanctuary is off-limits to the public, but it’s still a great spot to visit. On the bluff above the sanctuary there is a public overlook that provides close views of these lively marine animals. Amenities: seal rookery, pier, ocean overlook, trails and no dogs on the beach or at the rookery overlook.
Rincon Point State Beach in Carpinteria
This is a popular surfing spot for the right-hand waves that break around the east side of the point. Each year the Rincon Classic surf competition is held at this location. The beach itself is a narrow rock and sand strip at the access point and also in front of the homes. Activities: surfing. Amenities: restrooms and lifeguard.
Goleta Beach Park in Goleta
Goleta Beach Park is a nice county run facility on a sand spit next to the University of California Santa Barbara campus, the Santa Barbara Airport, and the city of Goleta. The paved bike path that runs right behind the park goes all the way to Santa Barbara and beyond making this a great spot to park and begin a ride. Activities: fishing, bird watching, biking, walking, sunbathing, volleyball, picnicking, boating, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Amenities: fishing pier, restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, paved bike trail, grass park, kids play area, restaurant, boat launch, volleyball courts and dogs allowed on leash.
Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve in Guadalupe
The dunes here are high and vast and the beach is long and sandy. There are access restrictions March 1st through October 1st for snowy plover and least tern bird nesting protection so read signs in the parking lot before roaming the dunes. Activities: beach combing, bird watching, whale watching, fishing, hiking, picnicking, surfing and beach walking. Amenities: dunes, restrooms and picnic tables.
Paradise Beach in Guadalupe
Paradise Beach is situated along a remote section of the northern Santa Barbara County coastline between Point Sal and Mussel Point. Access to this long sandy beach over land requires a long rugged walk. At the north end of Mussel Point Beach is a rock arch sticking up out of the sand. From the trail at Point Sal you can look down on Lion Rock which usually has birds and possibly seals or sea lions on top. Activities: beach exploration, hiking and beach combing. Amenities: rock arch and no facilities.
Camino Majorca Beach Access In Isla Vista
Camino Majorca Beach Access is at the corner of Camino Majorca and Del Playa Drive in Isla Vista, CA. This part of Isla Vista Beach is sandy but narrow. At high tide the beach will likely be all wet. Activities: sunbathing and walking. Amenities: trails, no facilities and dogs allowed on leash.
Devereux Beach In Isla Vista
Surfers enjoy this surf spot that has a solid right hand break and tide pools seekers can find a reef right at the point to explore at low tides. A trail on the bluff also follows the route west to Devereux and in several spots you can climb down to the beach. Activities: surfing, hiking, tide pooling and walking. Amenities: trails, tide pools and dogs allowed on leash.
Sands Beach In Isla Vista
The sand bars in this area provide a nice break for local surfers to enjoy. Tide pools can be found right at Coal Oil Point where a reef is exposed at low tides. On the east side of the point is the Devereux surf spot. There are many trails in the area so even if you are not surfing, bird watching, or tide pooling you can still walk beaches and trails for hours. Activities: surfing, hiking, bird watching, tide pooling and beach walking. Amenities: trails, tide pools, lagoon, toilets and dogs allowed on leash
Minuteman Beach In Lompoc
Only Vandenberg pass holders and their guests have access to Minuteman Beach. Portions of the beach are closed March through September for bird nesting of the Snowy Plover. Activities: fishing and beach walking. Amenities: dunes and no facilities.
Ocean Beach Park In Lompoc
Ocean Beach is backed by dunes that extend in both directions from the river. South of Ocean Beach is Surf Beach (open to the public) and north is Wall Beach (on Vandenberg AFB). Activities: beach combing and bird watching. Amenities: restrooms, dunes, train trestle, picnic tables, BBQs and dogs allowed on leash.
Jalama Beach County Park In Lompoc
This site is a popular Santa Barbara County park with a campground and day-use facilities. The campground is open to tent and RV campers and even has seven cabins available to reserve. On site is a camp store with sundries, food, beer, and wine. Activities: fishing, camping, surfing, windsurfing, kite boarding, rock hounding, whale watching, bird watching, and bonfires. Amenities: campground, camp store, restaurant, lifeguard, restrooms, picnic tables, fire pits and dogs allowed on leash, extra fee for dogs.
Butterfly Beach In Montecito
This is a popular beach with Santa Barbara area locals, many who walk their dogs at the water’s edge. The beach has been eroded here so the sandy part is thin sometimes especially at high tide and after winter storms. There are no public restrooms at Butterfly Beach so plan accordingly. Activities: sunbathing, biking, fishing and beach walking. Amenities: no Facilities but dogs allowed on leash.
Hammonds Beach In Montecito
Hammonds Beach is a locals beach and a surfing spot in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara County. The beach here is a nice sandy spot hidden away among homes on several private drives. Behind the beach is an undeveloped open area known as Hammonds Meadow. Activities: surfing and beach walking. Amenities: no facilities but dogs allowed on leash.
Miramar Beach In Montecito
This is a nice south-facing cove with a sandy beach. The public portion of the beach is below mean high tide level so don’t take a spot too close to the homes. Activities: beach walking, surfing, beach combing and tide pooling. Amenities: tide pools, no facilities and dogs allowed on leash.
Arroyo Burro Beach in Santa Barbara
Arroyo Burro Beach County Park is the official name of what Santa Barbara locals call Hendry’s Beach. This beach is surrounded by tall bluffs with parks and trails on top including the Douglas Family Preserve, a wooded space saved from development by locals and even Michael Douglas who named it in honor of his father Kirk. Activities: sunbathing, body boarding, swimming, fishing, hiking, beach combing and beach walking. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, grass park, restaurant, accessible features and dogs allowed off leash on the beach south of the creek mouth, and on-leash in the rest of the park.
Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara
Leadbetter Beach is right across the street from Santa Barbara City College so expect to see students here on sunny days. It’s an excellent wide sandy beach that is perfect for sunbathing. With the right conditions, it gets breezy so windsurfing, kite boarding, kite flying, sailing, and even beginner surfing all take place here. Activities: sunbathing, kite boarding, windsurfing, surfing, sailing, walking, jogging and swimming. Amenities: restrooms, showers, lifeguard, grass Park, picnic tables, BBQs and tide pools.
Thousands Steps Beach in Santa Barbara
The concrete stairs, originally constructed in 1923, have what seems like 1000 steps, but is actually closer to 150. Beaches along this shoreline are not known for sunbathing, but they are excellent places for tide pool exploration at low tide, and beach walking except at high tide when the beaches are all wet. Activities: tide pooling, Beach Exploration, Beach Walking, and Surfing. Amenities: Tide Pools. No Facilities. Pet Policy: Dogs allowed off leash.
East Beach of Santa Barbara
Most of the activity at East Beach happens at the east end where the beach is widest. At this end there are many sand volleyball courts, a grass park with picnic tables, an arts pavilion (Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center), and a restaurant (East Beach Grill). Activities: Volleyball, Biking, Sunbathing, Walking, Running, Skating, and Picnicking. Amenities: Lifeguard, Volleyball Courts, Paved Bike Path, Skate Park, Grass Park, Picnic Tables, Restrooms, Kids Play Area, Restaurant, Accessible Features.
To view other county beaches for the best central California beaches, click on the county you are interested in: Ventura County, San Luis Obispo County, Monterey County and Santa Cruz County.
San Luis Obispo County
San Luis Obispo County is roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and lets you explore everything from vintage beach towns to celebrated wine regions. The city of San Luis Obispo offers a walkable, historic downtown while north along the coast, you’ll find the legendary Hearst Castle and wild, unspoiled beaches. This area includes Avila Beach, Cambria, Cayucos, Grover Beach, Harmony, Los Osos, Morro Bay, Oceano, Pismo Beach and San Simeon. Visit our Oceano California Vacations Guide, Grover Beach Vacations Guide, Arroyo Grande Vacations Guide, Baywood Los Osos CA Travel Guide, Morro Bay Vacations, Cayucos Beach CA travel guide, Avila Beach Vacations Guide, or our Visit San Simeon travel guide to start planning your Central California beach vacation today.
Avila Beach City Beach
Avila Beach City Beach is the large wide sandy beach that takes up the entire waterfront of the town of Avila Beach, CA. The picturesque wooden Avila Pier sticks out over 1600 feet into San Luis Bay from the center of City Beach. For families, there is a small park at the north end of the waterfront that has a pirate-themed playground, grassy areas, and an aquarium. Activities: volleyball, basketball, Biking, skating and fishing. Amenities: fishing pier, restrooms, lifeguard, picnic tables, BBQs, shops, grass park, basketball court, aquarium, kids play area and dogs allowed on leash before 10am and after 5pm.
San Simeon Creek Beach In Cambria
This is a wide sandy beach with dunes, wetlands, and driftwood. Birds can be seen and photographed on the lagoon that forms where the creek backs up behind the beach. Activities: camping, picnicking, bird watching and beach combing. Amenities: campground, trails, picnic tables, accessible features, wetlands, restrooms and showers.
Estero Bluffs State Park in Cayucos
Estero Bluffs State Park encompasses a large chunk of undeveloped land between Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean north of Cayucos and near the small town of Harmony. Activities: hiking, beach combing and beach exploration. Amenities: trails, tide pools, no facilities and dogs allowed on leash on the trails.
Morro Strand State Beach – North Beach in Cayucos
Morro Strand State Beach has two sections, north and south, which are separated by a long stretch of non-state-owned beaches. The North Beach at Morro Strand State Beach is a wide sandy beach in the southern part of Cayucos, CA. Kitesurfers can be seen zipping back and forth just offshore. Activities: sunbathing, kite boarding and beach walking. Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables and dogs allowed on leash.
Pismo State Beach – Grover Beach in Grover Beach
Grover Beach (the beach) is a wide flat sandy beach that is typically packed firm enough for even passenger cars to drive onto. It’s still recommended to have four-wheel-drive to avoid getting stuck in the sand. Activities: beach driving, fishing, clam digging, walking, hiking, golfing, equestrian use, kite boarding, and bonfires. Amenities: restrooms, showers, picnic tables, boardwalk, trails, beach overlook, dunes, restaurant, golf course, accessible features and dogs allowed on leash on the beach.
Montana de Oro State Park – Sandspit Beach in Los Osos
Sandspit Beach at Montana de Oro State Park is a long beach that starts south of Morro Bay and continues out onto the long sand spit barrier that protects the bay. There are restrooms and picnic tables at the parking lot. Activities: hiking, surfing, beach walking and beach combing. Amenities: trails, picnic tables, restrooms, dunes.
Morro Rock City Beach in Morro Bay
This is a wide sandy beach just north of the Rock. The rock itself is protected by a natural preserve that is part of Morro Rock State Park and is completely off limits to climbing on. That’s ok as the best photos of this 580-foot tall landmark are from a distance. Activities: surfing, bird watching, photography and fishing. Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables and dogs allowed on leash.
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area in Oceano
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is the only California State Park that allows non-street-legal vehicles to drive on the beach. Beach camping is allowed in the OHV area. Activities: OHV, ATV, motorcycling, beach driving, camping, equestrian use, surfing and fishing. Amenities: dunes, beach camping area, OHV Area, restrooms and dogs allowed on leash.
Pismo State Beach – Oceano Beach in Oceano
OcThis is a wide flat sandy beach backed by a deep dunes structure with grass, shrubs, trees and flowers to view. Trails from the campground meander through these dunes and lead to the beach. Activities: beach driving, camping, kite boarding, surfing, fishing, clam digging, walking, hiking, equestrian use and Bird watching. Amenities: campground, restrooms, showers, lagoon, trails and accessible features.
Pismo State Beach – North Beach in Pismo Beach
Pismo Creek meets the ocean at this location and sometimes pools up next to the campground. Once on the beach if you walk north it’s not far to the Pismo Beach Pier. Activities: camping, clam digging, fishing, hiking, walking, kite boarding, surfing and bird watching. Amenities: campground, restrooms, showers, butterfly colony, trails, boardwalk and dogs allowed on leash.
Pismo Beach City Beach in Pismo Beach
Pismo City Beach is best known for fishing, surfing, sunbathing, and digging clams. The “famous” Pismo Clam is now protected so consult local regulations and get a fishing license before digging for these buggers. North of the pier is an area with many sand volleyball courts below Cypress Street. If the wind is up, then kite boarders might be out in the surf with the surfers at City beach. The beach along this shoreline is wide and long so you could walk south on sand for days to the headlands near Point Sal. Activities: surfing, fishing, body boarding, stand-up paddle boarding, volleyball, walking, beach walking, sunbathing, swimming, kite boarding, bird watching and clam digging. Amenities: fishing pier, boardwalk, picnic tables, restrooms, showers, lifeguard, volleyball courts, kids play area, benches, rentals and dogs allowed on leash on the beach, but not on the pier.les, restrooms, showers, lifeguard, volleyball courts, kids play area, benches, rentals and dogs allowed on leash on the beach, but not on the pier.
Pismo Beach – Wilmar Stairs Access in Pismo Beach
At lower tides when this area is most easily accessible there are deep alcoves in the rocks to investigate. Pismo City Beach has full facilities and makes a nice out-and-back beach walk from the Wilmar Access. Activities: beach walking and sunbathing. Amenities: caves, lifeguard, no facilities and dogs allowed on leash.
To view other county beaches for the best central California beaches, click on the county you are interested in: Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, Monterey County and Santa Cruz County.
Monterey County is the most northerly of the Central Coast’s areas, ranges from the rugged coastline of Big Sur all the way to communities on the southern edge of the San Francisco Bay area. Carmel is one of California’s gallery centers, the city of Monterey is home to the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Santa Cruz is part beach town and part college town—and always independent in spirit. Monterey County includes the cities Big Sur, Carmel, Marina Del Ray, Monterey, Moss Landing, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Sand City, and Seaside. To start planning your vacation to Monterey visit our travel guides for each city: Big Sur California Vacation, Carmel California Vacation, Marina Del Rey Guide, Monterey California Tourism, Visit Moss Landing California, Visit Pacific Grove California, Visit Pebble Beach California, Sand City California, and our Seaside California Travel Guide.
Carmel City Beach in Carmel
Carmel City Beach is a long, wide, white sand beach that is hard to beat anywhere on the California Central Coast. It can be packed here on sunny days, but this part of the coast is often cool and cloudy making it easy to find your own space on this large beach. Even on busy days, if you are willing to venture north or south from the main access at Ocean Avenue you’ll probably find open spaces. Activities: sunbathing, beach walking, fishing, wildlife watching, bonfires and volleyball. Amenities: restrooms, volleyball courts and dogs allowed off leash.
Monastery Beach in Carmel
This beautiful sandy beach is popular on sunny days, but it is not a swimming beach. Due to its shape there is a severe undertow and rip current in the cove that can suck swimmers out to certain death. The nickname of the beach is Mortuary Beach and it has been called the most dangerous beach in California. Activities: scuba diving and sunbathing. Amenities: restrooms and dogs allowed on leash.
Marina State Beach in Marina
Marina State Beach is a stunning sandy beach that sits below high rugged dunes in Marina, CA. Hang-gliders launch off the dunes and enjoy the ideal wind and launch conditions here. You’ll see surfers riding the swells here, but the surf can be dangerous so be careful if you want to swim and watch for sneaker waves. Activities: wildlife watching, surfing, hang gliding and picnicking. Amenities: restrooms, showers, picnic tables, dunes and interpretive trail.
Monterey Municipal Beach in Monterey
This is probably the busiest sandy beach in the city. The beach here is north facing and somewhat protected by the pier so it is safer for swimming. Next door to the north is Monterey Bay Waterfront Park with volleyball courts and grass areas. The beach at that park is known as Window on the Bay and is the southern beach of Monterey State Beach. Activities: kayaking, scuba diving, biking, sunbathing and swimming. Amenities: kayak rentals, volleyball courts, restrooms, fishing pier, paved bike path and dogs allowed on leash.
San Carlos Beach in Monterey
This beach is sometimes referred to as Reeside Beach Access because of its location at the end of Reeside Avenue. San Carlos Beach is known for scuba diving not subathing, but it’s a great place to visit on a sunny day. You can choose from grass lawns, sandy beaches, or benches and picnic tables to rest on. Activities: scuba diving, picnicking and walking. Amenities: grass park, picnic tables, restrooms and paved bike path.
Moss Landing State Beach in Moss Landing
This is a long sandy beach backed by dunes. Moss Landing State Beach is known for fishing, surfing, kayaking, birding and wildlife watching. Sea otters are regulars in the waters near the parking area. The water is cold and rip currents make it dangerous for swimming on the ocean side of the peninsula. Activities: kayaking, fishing, surfing, bird watching, stand-up paddle boarding, equestrian use and hiking. Amenities: toilets, dunes, boat launch and picnic tables.
Salinas River State Beach – Potrero Entrance in Moss Landing
The sandy beach here is long and wide and backed by dunes for most of its length. From the parking lot a trail meanders south in the dunes to the southern parking lot in Salinas River State Beach at Monterey Dunes Way. Activities: fishing, bird watching, wildlife watching, hiking, beach walking, beach combing and equestrian use. Amenities: toilets, dunes, trails and wetlands.
Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove
Asilomar is not a typical “beach.” It’s a string of small coves and rocky points with a few sandy spots along the shoreline. An accessible walking trail meanders along the dunes between the ocean and the road connecting all the coves and points. Plan to spend some time walking the trail along the grassy dunes and exploring the shore. Activities: hiking, walking, tide pooling, bird watching and biking. Amenities: tide pools, dunes, trails, boardwalk, bike lane, accessible features and dogs allowed on leash on trails and the beaches.
Seal Rock Creek Beach in Pebble Beach
This white sand beach is at the mouth of Seal Rock Creek which flows intermittently. Just offshore is Seal Rock and a little to the north is Bird Rock. Both are frequently covered with many seals and birds. Activities: picnicking and bird watching. Amenities: trails, restrooms, picnic tables and tide pools.
Monterey State Beach – Roberts Beach in Monterey, Seaside
This beach is an excellent spot to relax or walk at the edge of the water, but swimming here can be dangerous due to rip currents. Activities: biking, skating, scuba diving, surfing, tide pooling, fishing, beach combing, beach walking and body boarding. Amenities: tide pools, dunes, paved bike path, toilets and dogs on leash are allowed at Monterey State Beach south of the resort hotel.
To view other county beaches for the best central California beaches, click on the county you are interested in: Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County, and Santa Cruz County.
Santa Cruz County
The Santa Cruz County coastline is south of San Mateo County on the San Francisco Peninsula and just a short drive from San Jose and the southern San Francisco Bay Area. It is best known as a counter-cultural hub, with a bohemian feel and youthful vibe, and fun weekend tourist attractions like the Beach Amusement Park and Boardwalk and the Mystery Spot. The relaxed beach lifestyle is supplemented by some high tech industry and a vibrant university culture. This includes Aptos, Capitola, Davenport, Santa Cruz and Watsonville. To start planning your vacation to Santa Cruz, visit our travel guides for each city: Visit Aptos CA, Capitola CA Travel Guide, Visit Santa Cruz California, Davenport CA, or Visit Watsonvilla Ca.
Seacliff State Beach in Aptos
This is a great place for sunbathing or walking the sandy shores of Monterey Bay in either direction. Seacliff State Beach has it all with a nice swimming beach, shaded picnic areas, an oceanfront campground for RVs, and a huge fishing pier to explore. At the end of the pier there is an old rotting concrete ship called the USS Palo Alto that is worth walking to the end to see. Activities: fishing, swimming, sunbathing, camping, picnicking and beach walking. Amenities: campground, fishing pier, historic ship, restrooms, showers, lifeguards, picnic tables, BBQs, covered picnic areas, cafe, accessible features and dogs allowed on leash.
Rio Del Mar Beach in Aptos
Rio Del Mar Beach is the main beach in the community of Rio Del Mar in Aptos, CA. It starts in the waterfront area at the end of Rio Del Mar Boulevard and continues south for almost a mile on Beach Drive to the end. These beaches on Monterey Bay are continuous so you can walk in either direction for miles. Activities: sunbathing, fishing, picnicking, swimming, beach walking and bonfires. Amenities: fishing pier, restrooms, showers, historic ship, fire pits, lifeguards, benches and dogs allowed on leash.
Capitola Beach in Capitola
It’s a popular urban beach that can be jam packed on sunny days and during beach events. This south-facing beach has a large fishing pier, Capitola Wharf, that sticks out into Soquel Cove where the water is usually calm due to protection from land west of here. The point beyond the east end of the beach gets waves and is a popular surfing area. Behind the beach is a lagoon formed by Soquel Creek which has birds at times putting on a show. Activities: volleyball, fishing, sunbathing, bird watching and surfing. Amenities: fishing pier, volleyball courts, lifeguard, restrooms, showers, shops, creek, restaurants and benches.
New Brighton State Beach in Capitola
Inside the park are trails to explore and they are open to hiking with dogs on leash. Because there are lifeguards and protection from the west in Soquel Cove, this beach is safer for small kids and for swimmers most of the time. North of the beach are steep cliffs and a rocky narrow shoreline, but south of here you can walk for miles to Seacliff State Beach and far beyond. Activities: fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, beach walking and bonfires. Amenities: campground, trails, restrooms, picnic tables, fire pits, accessible features and dogs allowed on leash.
Davenport Beach in Davenport
The south end of the beach has high cliff walls and a stunning tall rock in the surf. Davenport Beach with the rock just offshore is a frequently photographed site especially at sunset. Activities: photography, sunbathing, beach exploration and caves. Amenities: tide pools, tunnel, no facilities and dogs allowed on leash.
Scott Creek Beach in Davenport
Scott Creek runs into the ocean at the north end of the beach and Molino Creek crosses the beach at the south end. The shallow channel formed in the sand when Scott Creek is flowing can be fun for kids to play in. Most people settle into the beach between the creeks but this beautiful coastline invites exploration north and south. In particular, there are tide pools to investigate if you walk north at low tides. Activities: beach combing, beach exploration, beach walking, windsurfing, kite boarding, tide pooling and surfing. Amenities: tide pools, dunes, creek and no facilities.
Waddell Creek Beach in Davenport
The Waddell Beach area is the only part of this massive park that is on the ocean. Most of the park is made up of inland hills with trails and camps geared toward hikers, bikers, and backpackers. This area is known for windsurfing and kite boarding so if conditions are right you’ll have a great show put on by the pros that ride the wind here. Activities: wind surfing, kite boarding, surfing, hiking, mountain biking, equestrian use, backpacking, driftwood, body boarding, bird watching, fishing, beach combing and camping. Amenities: trails, nature trail, campground and restrooms.
Greyhound Rock Coastal Access in Davenport
The massive rock just offshore is Greyhound Rock which is part of Greyhound Rock State Marine Conservation Area a marine life protection area of the California Dept. of Fish and Game. Fishing is popular at this beach as is beach combing. Activities: fishing, beach combing, beach walking and tide pooling. Amenities: viewing platform, restrooms, picnic tables, tide pools, accessible features, benches and dogs allowed on leash.
Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz
Natural Bridges State Beach is named for the natural arch in the huge rock located in the shore break here. This is one of the most photographed beach icons in the state of California. The park also offers a monarch butterfly migration preserve and exhibit, picnic areas, hiking trails, an accessible boardwalk, and a great sandy beach. Activities: tide pooling, bird watching, whale watching, sunbathing and photography. Amenities: trails, butterfly preserve, tide pools, rock arch, restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, lifeguard.
Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz
Seabright Beach is on state-owned property in that is part of Twin Lakes State Beach. It spans a wide stretch of sand from the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor entrance to a narrow natural rock wall that juts out into the surf at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River. Activities: surfing, sunbathing, swimming, B and bonfires. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, lighthouse, rock arch, fire pits.
Twin Lakes State Beach in Santa Cruz
Twin Lakes State Beach is a sandy beach with a bird-watching lagoon behind it. The main beach in Twin Lakes State Beach is at 9th Avenue and East Cliff Drive in the Live Oak area of Santa Cruz. This state park extends for a mile along this shoreline including the beaches on both sides of Santa Cruz Harbor and the beach in front of Bonita Lagoon (aka Black’s Beach). Activities: swimming, sunbathing, picnicking, bird watching, and bonfires. Amenities: restrooms, showers, lifeguard, lagoon, fire pits, wetlands and dogs allowed on leash.
Santa Cruz Main Beach in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Main Beach is known as Boardwalk Beach because of the boardwalk and amusement park that spans the length of this beach on the Santa Cruz, California waterfront. Main Beach is a south-facing beach that stretches from the mouth of the San Lorenzo River to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf wooden pier. Even with this large expanse of sand it gets quite packed with tourists and locals on sunny days. Behind the beach you’ll find roller coasters and other amusement park rides, an arcade, mini golf, swimming pool, bowling alley, and many restaurant options. Activities: volleyball, sunbathing, swimming, mini golf, bowling, walking, kayaking, fishing, boating and stand-up paddle boarding. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, shops, restaurant, amusement park, arcade, boardwalk, pier, volleyball courts, kayak rentals and train.
Manresa State Beach in Watsonville
The main day use area of Manresa State Beach has a large paved parking lot on the bluff above a wide sandy beach on Monterey Bay. Be careful of sneaker waves when playing in the surf. Cold water and strong rip currents make swimming dangerous at beaches in this area. Activities: sunbathing, picnicking, fishing, beach walking and bonfires. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, picnic tables, fire pits, campground and dogs allowed on leash.
Sunset State Beach in Watsonville
This is a popular state park with a campground, nice day use picnic facilities, and a long wide sandy beach. Activities: picnicking, camping, beach combing, beach walking and fishing. Amenities: campground, picnic tables, BBQs, group picnic areas, restrooms, lifeguard, remote control glider port, accessible features and dunes.
Palm Beach in Watsonville
Palm Beach is a day use area of Sunset State Beach State Park with a separate entrance. This park provides access to a wide sandy beach on Monterey Bay that is backed by beautiful grassy dunes. North and south of the park the state-owned beach continues in front of the Pajaro Dunes Resort which has condos and vacation rentals. Hike up and over the high dunes to an excellent sandy strand. Activities: fishing, picnicking, beach walking and beach combing. Amenities: picnic tables, BBQs, restrooms, showers, lifeguards, dunes and dogs allowed on leash on the beach in front of the park but not in front of homes or condos.
To view other county beaches for the best central California beaches, click on the county you are interested in: Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County, and Monterey County.
The water will be a little chilly between 55 and 60 degrees depending on where you are headed. I know it is about 68 here for us, and that to me is quite chilly. I am glad you found the information you needed for beach locations. You can still enjoy the beach, with maybe only a quick dip in the water 🙂 Thanks for reading about the best Central California Beaches.
Great, I love California too! I thing the Central part of the state has a lot of the best beaches. I do have a post specifically for surfers here. Let me know if you have any questions.
Very informative post! I live in NW Oregon and have never had a chance to visit California beaches however I know that they have some very beautiful beaches and bodies of water! I must say I didnt realize there were nearly as many as there are! Thank you for sharing!
You are very welcome Tiffany! You will have to take a drive down to California. The California beaches are definitely worth a visit! Thank you for reading about the Best Central California Beaches!
Wow I lived in San Diego for 5 years but ended up spending too much time on the beaches down there. I had no idea that there were so many beautiful places in Central Coast. When you hear about it, it’s mostly about wine. Thanks for doing this. I have just included bookmarked your page as we’re planning on a road trip from Oregon to San Diego. I’ll let you know how that goes. Thanks Leahrae
You are very welcome Marcus! Thanks for reading about the Best Central California Beaches. I know when most people think of California beaches, they think Southern California. Central California has amazing beaches! Thanks for taking the time to comment, and let me know how you road trip goes 🙂
I want to see all of the beaches, what a fab place to explore. I would do it in a campervan I think. There are loads more beaches than I would have imagined. Do you do a link to campervan hire? I would love love to see loads more pictures, it’s a dream destination.
I never thought about adding that. But driving up Highway 1 and visiting all these places would be wonderful. I am going to add this 🙂 Thank you Andi!
This was some great information Leahrae. I’m living near Vancouver, British Columbia and I’ve always wanted to drive down the west coast. This just made me want to do that even more.
It looks like you will just be hitting some incredible beaches a long the way. I knew before that there was a lot of nice beaches but not that they had this many.
I will definitely come back to this article when I will plan my trip.
Thanks a lot
Please do Marcus ! Thanks for stopping in and reading 🙂
hi there, I hope this does not come across as negative, but there is a lot of info on this page I’m wondering if there is a way to break it up with a search function? And in a couple of questions down in the comments that ask about camping and Rv’ing: and that makes me wonder if you could find an affiliate program for those and add that info to you posts? Don’t get me wrong I like all the info I’m just making suggestions.
Thanks Nicky, ….yes I know a LOT of info. I’m am trying to find a way to jump to a particular beach. Haven’t figured it out yet. Thanks for visiting!
Amazing in-depth article. The sheer number of beaches is mind-blowing. I’m a native Californian but moved away when I was younger and I have always loved the coast. You are doing a great service to promote information on these natural wonders by putting this info out. I was wondering if you have ever been to any of the ones listed and what on is your favorite? Thanks.
Hi Dan, I have only been to the Laguna beach area, so really most of those beaches and I do love all of them. I’m a beach bum, so whats not to love? Lauguna Beach itself is a wonderful beach! Thank you for visiting!
Wow – great guide to beaches on California. Very informative. My family and I are visiting the West Coast in a couple of months, so this website is perfect to help me plan the best beaches to sit and relax on. Well that’s what I want to do, but I have my boogie-board mad daughter with me, so have to make sure she is catered for. Can I ask if it is ok to bring alcohol onto beach? Just thinking that having a glass of wine watching the sunset would be amazing, but as we are not locals I wouldn’t want to do anything I wasn’t supposed to. Thanks for your guidance.
Yes, not all do allow alcohol. Here is an article that gives the beaches that do, and a little description of them 🙂 http://localemagazine.com/alcohol-friendly-beaches-in-southern-california/ Should be helpful. Thanks for visiting!
Hi, it is my biggest dream to travel… These destinations make me want it even more.. will be hard to choose when I can finally go.
Definitely hard to choose 🙂
Lots of information , I love California …so many beautiful places to visit.
Excellent site I know A lot of people will benefit from it.
Thank you J. I am trying to make it very comprehensive, so you can find everything and anything related to the beach!
If anyone ever needs information on California coastal beaches, this IS the site to see! very detailed
and nuanced review. Always think of the America song, Ventura Highway , when that place is mentioned.
And Carmel is way high on my bucket list! thanks for the great info!
You are most welcome Lefty and thank you for visiting and the comments!
Hi there! I am hoping to travel to California one of these great days of summer… Thank you for the great information on the beaches. Baja would be my first destination. That would be cool if you included a picture or two of each one… Thanks again… PJ
Yes, I do need to add pictures! Thanks for reminding me 🙂
Wow Matty’s mom,
I will make sure to visit some of them the next time I’m in the U.S.
Should you ever come to Liberia, make sure to ask about Nana’s beach in Robertsport and JWG Beach & Resort in Marshal. They’re both breathtaking and fascinating. Robertsport is fast becoming a global surfing destination
When I am ready to add them to my list, I will ask if I have the information correct 🙂 Thanks for reading!
I have to tell you when I first read your headline; I was thinking how cool it would be to take two or three days to see some of the best central California beaches.
Right in the first paragraph you mention 250 beaches, and I realize, I would need to take two weeks just to check out some of these beaches.
I never knew there were so many different beaches in California. The number of beaches to choose from is unbelievable. I have not been to California yet, but I can see I would need at least two weeks.
I take it you can rent a motorhome. So would you be able to camp along the way from the north checking out beaches, then turn in the RV at a location in the south?
Yes, that is what a lot of people do! I tell you, we have been to a camper park near Laguna Beach, it was awesome. Everyone around the bonfire at night having fun….just a great atmosphere. The motorhome is the way to go Travis!