The best Northern California beaches are in the areas of San Francisco Bay Area and the vast coastline north all the way to the border with Oregon. This region has many wild and windswept beaches that are excellent for beach combing. The San Francisco Peninsula is made up of San Mateo County and the city of San Francisco. North of the Bay is Marin County with the nearby, yet remote beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore. From there the counties are Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte the northernmost California coastal county. Many of these wild beaches are unsafe for swimming, but they are some of the most photogenic beaches and wonderful spots to wander anywhere in the world. This post covers a lot of beaches. You can click on the county you are visiting which includes the San Mateo County, San Francisco County, Marin County, Sonoma County, Mendocino County, Humboldt County and Del Norte County.
San Mateo County
San Mateo County takes up most of the San Francisco Peninsula south of San Francisco. There are a few parks here with beaches on San Francisco Bay, but San Mateo County is known for its great beaches along the Pacific Coast. The southern part of San Mateo County is sparse with only two small towns along the coast, Pescadero and San Gregorio. Along this southern shoreline there are many beaches in state parks including Ano Nuevo State Reserve, Bean Hollow SB, Pescadero SB, Pomponio SB, and San Gregorio State Beach. Half Moon Bay marks the mid-point of the San Mateo County coast and it has many fine beaches to offer. The famous Mavericks big-wave surfing competition is held at Pillar Point on the Bay each winter. Between Half Moon Bay and San Francisco are the cities of Moss Beach, Montara, Pacifica, and Daly City. Several state parks are found along this shore including Montara SB, Gray Whale Cove SB, Pacifica SB, and Thornton State Beach. In this northern part of San Mateo County there are beaches of nearly all varieties from wide sandy beaches to narrow rocky shores and pocket coves. This county includes Daly City, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Montara, Moss Beach, Pacifica, Pescadero, San Gregorio, San Matao and South San Francisco. Click on the links for a detailed travel guide to help you plan your vacation to these great California beach towns.
Thornton State Beach in Daly City
Thornton State Beach is a remote beach below tall bluffs just south of San Francisco. The park is known for the hiking and equestrian trails on the bluff terraces high above the waterline. Erosion has eaten away at the cliffs creating access problems to the beach below. The state has therefore closed the park to the general public. Now this property is operated by Daly City as Thornton Beach Vista, an overlook platform with views out over the Pacific. All around the vista are signs saying the area is unsafe and not to go beyond the cordoned off pavement. However, there is still a safe route down. If you step over the cords and walk north to the Mar Vista Stables there are wide trails for horseback riders to make it down to the beach. Hikers can do the same! Thornton Beach is best at low tides as during higher tides the entire beach can be wet. If you walk north on the beach you’ll be at Phillip Burton Beach and eventually get to the access at Fort Funston. Walking south the beach stretches with no access or exit until Mussel Rock Park. Bring a coat if you plan a trip down here as it can be windy, foggy, and cold. The Thornton Beach Vista parking lot is at the west end of John Daly Boulevard at Skyline Boulevard (Hwy 35). Parking spaces are limited so get here early if possible. Activities: hiking, equestrian use, Fishing and beach combing. Amenities: overlook platform, benches, trails, no facilities and dogs allowed on leash.
3rd Ave Beach in Foster City
There is a small sandy beach on San Francisco Bay at 3rd Ave, but it’s the wind that draws people here. This spot is also called Kiteboard Beach for the perfect kite boarding and windsurfing launch and reliable wind. These two groups have established rules for how to avoid conflicts while out on the water. Even if you are just a spectator, stop by to watch them ride especially April through September. Third Ave Beach is right next to the Mariners Point Golf Center which has a 9-hole par 3 golf course and driving range. A paved bike path meanders along the shore behind the beach. The parking lot entrance is at Lakeside Drive and 3rd Ave. Activities: kite boarding, windsurfing, biking, running, and golf. Amenities: paved bike path, picnic tables, benches and golf course.
Venice Beach – Half Moon Bay State Beach in Half Moon Bay
Venice Beach is the middle beach of five within Half Moon Bay State Beach. The large parking area is at the west end of Venice Boulevard which turns off Highway 1 just north of downtown Half Moon Bay. At the entrance station you must pay a fee for day-use beach access. Several trails drop down to Venice Beach from the parking area. This sandy beach is between two creeks (Pilarcitos and Frenchmans) which sometimes breach the beach and flow into the ocean. Birds are common users of the freshwater of Pilarcitos Creek south of here next to Elmar Beach. The Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail runs north and south to the other state beaches and beyond. Hikers, runners, and bikers, share this paved trail in this area. There is a parallel trail for horseback riders but horses are restricted from entering the beach. Swimming is dangerous in this area due to the cold water temperature and strong rip currents. Activities: hiking, biking, running, skating, fishing, beach walking, beach combing, bird watching, sunbathing and walking. Amenities: restrooms, showers, paved bike path, trails and no dogs allowed on beach, but OK on Coastal Trail if leashed.
Redondo Beach on Half Moon Bay in Half Moon Bay
Redondo Beach is just south of downtown Half Moon Bay and just north of the Half Moon Bay Golf Links in the Ocean Colony community. Behind Redondo Beach is a large area known as the Wavecrest Open Space which has been protected by the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST). The parking lot is located at the end of Redondo Beach Road off Highway 1 and is clearly signed. After you park in the lot above the bluff, you’ll have to find a path to the beach as there isn’t one designated descent. If you head north on the dirt trail from the parking area you’ll find a route that isn’t as steep as the ones right at the parking lot where erosion has made them dangerous. Bring sturdy shoes to hike down with as flip flops would be risky. This beach will have fewer beach goers than all the other well-known HMB beaches. It’s possible to walk north on the sandy beach all the way to Half Moon Bay State Beach from here. At lower tides you can walk south to tide pools at Miramontes Point below the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay Resort. A more direct access to the tide pools and the sandy beach below the resort can be found at Pelican Point Beach. The Redondo lot is a popular place to park for mountain bike rides on the old roads in the open space lands. Activities: beach combing, mountain biking, hiking, walking, running, beach walking and tide pooling. Amenities: tide pools, trails, no facilities and dogs allowed.
Cowell Ranch Beach in Half Moon Bay
Cowell Ranch Beach south of Half Moon Bay is a public beach that was protected in 1987 by Peninsula Open Space Trust and the California Coastal Conservancy. Soon after the acquisition this beach was transferred to California State Parks. It also receives fewer visitors than many of the better-known Half Moon Bay beaches. February through May harbor seals can be spotted on the south part of the beach which is restricted during that time. The parking lot is signed along Highway 1 about three miles south of town. The old road behind the gate at the parking lot is the access trail to the bluff where a long stairway takes you down to the remote beach. If you don’t want to hike down to the beach, just walk the road for about a half-mile to the end where a viewing area looks out over the ocean from the edge of the cliff. The beach is beautiful with high bluff walls wrapping around it. The stairs down the bluff are often closed due to slides from cliff erosion. The Cowell-Purisima Trail, a segment of the California Coastal Trail, begins at this location and follows the bluff all the way to another parking lot 3.6 miles away. Activities: hiking, bird watching and beach combing. Amenities: toilets and trails.
Dunes Beach – Half Moon Bay State Beach in Half Moon Bay
Dunes Beach is one of the northern beaches in Half Moon Bay State Beach. To reach the parking area turn onto Youngs Road just north of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1. At the end of Youngs Road there is a state park entrance station where they charge a fee for day-use parking (pay with an envelope if the shack is closed). Short steep sandy trails take you down to the beach through the dunes on the bluff. South of the beach access the beach is below sandstone bluffs and north of the access are the beach’s namesake dunes. The Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail runs north-south behind the parking lot for running, walking, and biking. This paved path extends the entire Half Moon Bay shoreline from Pillar Point to Redondo Beach. North of Dunes Beach is Roosevelt Beach with a separate parking area down a long one-lane paved road. Both lots access the same continuous sandy beach. Be careful next to the bluff which is eroding and coming down in large chunks. Activities: hiking, walking, running, biking, skating, fishing, beach combing, beach walking and sunbathing. Amenities: dunes, restrooms, paved bike path and no dogs allowed on beach, but OK on Coastal Trail if leashed.
Roosevelt Beach – Half Moon Bay State Beach in Half Moon Bay
Roosevelt Beach, a.k.a. Naples Beach is the northernmost beach in Half Moon Bay State Beach. The signed Roosevelt Beach parking lot is located at the end of Youngs Road off Highway 1 north of the Half Moon Bay urban center. This Youngs Road entrance is shared with another state park parking lot for Dunes Beach. Roosevelt Beach is in front of the Miramar neighborhood at the intersection of Roosevelt Boulevard and Naples Avenue. Signage discourages parking in this neighborhood, but if you can find a legal space it’s free to park here. Trails descend through dunes from the parking lot to the sandy beach. The Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail is behind the parking lot and heads north to Pillar Point, site of the famous Maverick’s surf competition, and south along the entire length of the state beach. This trail is popular for walking and bike riding. Note that swimming is dangerous in this area due to cold water temps and strong rip currents. Activities: hiking, biking, running, walking, skating, fishing, beach combing and beach walking. Amenities: restrooms, paved bike path, dunes, picnic tables and no dogs allowed on beach, but OK on Coastal Trail if leashed.
Montara State Beach in Montara
Montara State Beach is a wide mile-long beach just north of Montara along the San Mateo County Coast. Behind the beach are stunning sculpted sandstone cliffs making this a very photogenic spot. The beach has two access points on Highway 1. One is at 2nd Street next to La Costanera Restaurant in Montara and one is a half-mile north. The northern parking lot has a wide trail and a steep stair that drops down to Martini Creek where it crosses Montara Beach. The southern parking lot requires a walk to the beach side of the restaurant to reach a safe stairway access point. Nearby McNee Ranch is state park land within Montara State Beach that has hiking trails that lead up to Montara Mountain. There are also trails that traverse the hillside above the highway all the way to Gray Whale Cove State Beach. You’ll find the hiking trailhead just north of the northern parking lot on the inland side of Hwy 1. The Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel is south of here for a unique place to stay if you plan ahead. Activities: fishing, tide pooling, hiking, beach combing, surfing and beach walking. Amenities: tide pools, trails and dogs allowed on leash.
Rockaway Beach in Pacifica
Rockaway Beach is a popular brown colored sandy beach in Pacifica, CA. Right next to the beach are restaurants and hotels so you can spend the day or even a weekend here. There are hiking trails to explore on the rocky point south of the beach and on Mori Point north of the beach. A paved bike path runs north and south behind the beach for wheeled visitors, runners, and walkers. Surfers come and go through the waves at Rockaway and fishermen will use the shoreline when it’s not too crowded to cast a line into the surf. To get here turn onto Rockaway Beach Avenue from Highway 1 in Pacifica then turn immediately onto Old Country Road which ends at a parking lot. This southern lot provides access to the widest area of the beach even though at high tide much of it will be wet. North of the hotels is another Rockaway Beach parking lot at the end of San Marlo Way. There is less dry sand at this section of the beach. Activities: hiking, biking, surfing, fishing and walking. Amenities: restrooms, showers, trails, paved bike path and dogs allowed on leash.
Mussel Rock Park Beach in Daly City, Pacifica
Mussel Rock Park is made up of a lot of trails connecting to paragliding launch points on a hillside in south Daly City. The shoreline below the park is bouldery with little sand exposed. However, a sandy beach can be found at the north end of the park. The parking lot is located at the end of Westline Drive not far from Highway 1 near the Pacifica and Daly City border. From the parking area walk north into the park, then follow trails as they descend the hillside to the rocky shoreline below. To find sand you’ll have to hike north on the trail above the rocks until it ends and look for a route down to the beach. Signs say “Do Not Enter – Eroding Cliff” but many people scramble down the short steep ledge. Walking north on the sand leads to Thornton State Beach (which has no official public beach access) and eventually Fort Funston Beach. The nearest trail out is about two miles away. It’s a great beach combing spot at lower tides. Mussel Rock can be reached by taking the bottom trail back to the south. Where this trail dead-ends there is a man-made rock arch which looks accessible at low tides. Activities: paragliding, hang gliding, hiking, walking, bird watching and beach combing. Amenities: paraglider launch pads, toilets, trails, man-made tock arch and dogs allowed on leash.
Pebble Beach at Bean Hollow State Beach in Pescadero
Pebble Beach is the northern beach in Bean Hollow State Beach in San Mateo County. This is a small cove with a pebbly coarse brown sand. A stair leads down from the small circular parking area to the rocky south end of the cove. Excellent tide pools can be found in the rocks at the south end. Be careful on these rocks as sneaker waves (waves that are larger than normal) can come crashing ashore.This location is also known for tafoni rocks which are uniquely textured sandstone with holes and honeycomb-like structures that have been created through a weathering process. A self-guided nature trail can be found at the circular end of the Pebble Beach access road. This hiking trail continues along the bluff between Highway 1 and the rocky shoreline for about a mile to Arroyo de los Frijoles Beach, the southern beach in Bean Hollow State Beach. Activities: hiking, tide pooling, fishing and bird watching. Amenities: restrooms, nature trail, picnic tables, BBQs, tide pools, tafoni rocks and dogs allowed on leash.
Pescadero State Beach – North Beach in Pescadero, San Gregorio
The North Beach at Pescadero State Beach is the main sandy beach in this San Mateo County state park. It’s a wide sandy beach backed by dunes that are fun to explore. From the parking lot there are paths at each end that drop down to the sand which has drift logs strewn about. From there if you walk south you’ll run into the dunes area and eventually the creek mouth at the Highway 1 bridge. South of the bridge are rocky coves that make up the South Beach of Pescadero State Beach. At lower tides you can walk on the sand from North Beach up to Pomponio State Beach. This route is below tall colorful cliffs with two deep gulches and several alcoves carved by ocean waves. Across the highway from the parking lot is a hiking trail that enters Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve a popular birding area with two large lagoons. You could make a loop hike by entering the marsh at the lot and then crossing the highway near the bridge and returning on the beach. Activities: beach combing, beach walking, bird watching, fishing, hiking and surfing. Amenities: restrooms, trails, nature preserve, dunes, driftwood and wetlands.
Pomponio State Beach in San Gregorio
Pomponio State Beach protects about two miles of the California coast about 20 minutes south of Half Moon Bay. Much of the beach in Pomponio is difficult to access from Highway 1 due to thick vegetated hillsides and steep sandstone cliffs. The parking lot is centrally located and has a nice wide sandy beach at the driftwood littered mouth of Pomponio Creek. If you want to explore the hidden reaches of this beach, just walk at lower tides north or south below the picturesque cliffs. Each route is a stunning beach walk ending at other state beaches (Pescadero SB to the south and San Gregorio SB to the north). Due to the seclusion these areas can have clothing-optional beach goers. There are picnic tables and BBQs at the Pomponio parking area. Activities: beach combing and beach walking. Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs and driftwood.
San Gregorio State Beach in San Gregorio
San Gregorio State Beach is a stunning beach in a valley about 10 miles south of Half Moon Bay and a short drive from Silicon Valley in the south Bay Area. It has a big parking lot and a popular picnic area on the bluff above the beach. San Gregorio Creek flows down to the beach and pools before creating an exit route through the sand. At times this lagoon will fill most of the cove. Birds can be spotted at this location year-round. Logs and driftwood piles up in places around the lagoon and along the beach. South of the creek, the beach stretches for over a mile below rugged cliffs to Pomponio State Beach. This is an excellent beach walk with high sandstone cliffs the entire way. If you walk north there are caves and fossils in the sandstone cliffs to investigate. Just be aware that if you venture far enough you’ll enter a clothing-optional beach with a separate privately-owned access (called San Gregorio Private Beach). The small community of San Gregorio is just up La Honda Road which branches off Highway 1 just north of the parking lot entrance. San Gregorio General Store is worth stopping at. It’s kind of a famous spot around these parts with a unique atmosphere and live music (on weekends). Free parking spaces near San Gregorio State Beach can be found at La Honda Road and in a pull-out area on the highway just outside the park entrance. Activities: hiking, beach combing, bird watching and beach walking. Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, driftwood, caves, trails and fossils.
Coyote Point Beach in San Mateo
The Coyote Point Park and Recreation Area is located on a point in San Francisco Bay about half-way between San Francisco International Airport and the San Mateo Bridge. The recreation area has an 18-hole municipal golf course (Poplar Creek Golf Course), marina and yacht club, family-friendly nature museum (CuriOdyssey.org), walking trails, beachfront promenade, huge playground, and a grass park with nice amenities. If you want to go biking in the city, this is a fine place to start as the San Francisco Bay Trail passes through the park allowing rides north or south. The north-facing beach here doesn’t do the park justice really, but it’s a great place to dip your toes in the water before walking around the enjoy the rest of Coyote Point. The park is at the east end of Peninsula Avenue just east of Highway 101. Activities: windsurfing, kite boarding, boating, bird watching, golfing, walking, fishing and biking. Amenities: grass park, kids play area, restrooms, picnic tables, golf course, promenade, trails and paved bike path.
Oyster Cove Beach in South San Francisco
Oyster Cove Beach is a small sandy beach in Oyster Point Park on San Francisco Bay. The park is part of the San Mateo County Harbor District and has a full marina, boat launch ramp, fuel dock and more for boating enthusiasts. The beach is great for families with safe swimming, shade trees and picnic tables to enjoy. At the other end of the marina is the Oyster Point Fishing Pier. Take the Oyster Point Boulevard exit of Highway 101 in South San Francisco and head east following signs to the marina. The beach parking area is just past Marina Blvd on the right. Activities: swimming, fishing and boating. Amenities: fishing pier, boat launch, grass park, trails and picnic tables.
San Francisco County
San Francisco County and San Francisco City are just different names for the same place. They both have the same boundaries and the same beaches. There are more than ten different beaches in San Francisco and almost all of them are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The western-facing Pacific Ocean beaches include the narrow exposed beach at Fort Funston and Ocean Beach. The latter is wider and safer and stretches from the San Francisco Zoo to the Cliff House, including the beach at the foot of Golden Gate Park. From the point at Lands End to the Golden Gate Bridge there are five beaches below the high bluffs at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. In this area China Beach and Baker Beach have easy access, but other beaches nearby require steep hikes and are considered clothing-optional because of their remote status. East of the Golden Gate Bridge there are beaches at city parks in the Presidio area, along the San Francisco waterfront, and on San Francisco Bay. Start planning your San Francisco vacation, visit our San Francisco Travel Guide.
Baker Beach is a large popular beach not far from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. On sunny weekends both parking lots could be full and all the spaces along the entrance roads too. This popular spot is one of the many beaches in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Just north of the main parking lot is the Battery Chamberlin, a large historic military gun installation that was built in 1904. It is worth checking out especially if you have kids. Be aware as you explore the north end of Baker Beach because North Baker Beach is a clothing-optional area. All of Baker Beach is an unsafe swimming area because of cold water and frequent rip currents in the surf. Activities: Fishing, sunbathing, walking, and hiking. Amenities: Restrooms, picnic tables, military gun structures. Pet Policy: No dogs allowed on the beach
China Beach is a great little local beach in San Francisco. The China Beach Cove is protected by rock walls on both sides creating a protected area that once was a camp for Chinese fishermen, hence the name. China Beach faces north toward the Marin Headlands and has a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge too. It’s not a large beach so when the tide is up and the summer sun is out, it can be hard to find a spot that is dry and isn’t already taken. The China Beach parking lot can be found below the intersection of El Camino Del Mar and Sea Cliff Avenue in the Seacliff Neighborhood. From the parking area you can walk down a long ramp or take a more direct stairway which drops down to a building with restrooms and a rooftop deck. From there you can walk around the building to more stairs and ramps to the beach. Like all the beaches in this area, China Beach is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Swimming isn’t safe at China Beach for many reasons including the lack of lifeguards. The area just south of the cove is called Lands End and has many hiking trails to explore. Activities: Sunbathing, picnicking, and tide pooling. Amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, tide pools, and cave. Pet policy: No dogs allowed on the beach.
Clipper Cove Beach on Yerba Buena Island
On the north side Yerba Buena Island is Clipper Cove Picnic Area. This park has nice views of the Bay Bridge and a calm sandy beach. The only problem is parking for easy access. The Clipper Cove Picnic Area parking lot off Treasure Island Road is regularly closed off. If it is, then just continue onto Treasure Island and park at the Treasure Isle Marina, then walk back to the beach. To get here, just exit off I-80 at Yurba Buena Island then follow signs toward Treasure Island. A steep stairway leads down from the park to the beach. It’s a north-facing beach so it can be cool and shaded. This spot is best for a picnic or a resting spot on a kayaking trip circumnavigating Yerba Buena and Treasure Island. Activities: Picnicking. Amenities: Grass park.
Crissy Field – East Beach, San Francisco
East Beach in San Francisco is located at the east end of Crissy Field Park in the old Presidio Area of what is now Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The view across San Francisco Bay is stunning – from west to east you see the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, Angel Island, and Alcatraz Island. The beach is wide, safe for swimming, and very popular on sunny days. Nearby is Crissy Marsh a tidal lagoon with birds that is surrounded by trails and viewing platforms. The Golden Gate Promenade is a wide path that goes all the way from here to the Golden Gate Bridge for running, walking, cycling, and skating. Crissy Field Center near the beach has the Beach Hut Cafe for goodies during your stay at East Beach. At the west end of Crissy Field is the West Bluff Picnic Area with more beaches, trails, and other fun things to discover. Activities: Windsurfing, kite boarding, bird watching, walking, running, biking, and sunbathing. Amenities: Picnic tables, restrooms, cafe, grass gark, bike path, trails, historic buildings, and fishing pier. Pet Policy: Dogs allowed off leash if under voice control.
Fort Munston Beach, San Francisco
Fort Funston is the southernmost beach on the Pacific Coast side of San Francisco and is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Fort Funston is known for windy conditions and the hang-glider platform at the edge of the bluff. If the forecast calls for high wind, go to another local beach. There are hiking trails along the bluff and two routes down to the beach. The southern route to the beach has many steps and a sand ladder and is more direct. If you take this route, going left on the sand takes you onto Phillip Burton Beach and going right takes you below the hang-glider launch in Fort Funston. Walking north (right) makes a great loop as you can return on another beach access and take the Sunset Trail back to the car. On this loop you’ll discover a graffiti-covered concrete structure at beach-level that has an artsy golden dog on it. Keep your eyes open for sand dollars on the beach and fossils in the rocks on this route. The trail passes behind Battery Davis, a World War II military installation which has two tunnels you can walk through. Back at the parking lot there is a wooden observation platform that offers stunning views of the beach and the ocean. Dogs can be walked on leash in most parts of the park. Bikes and horses are also allowed on trails in the park but consult maps before heading out. Look for the parking lot for Fort Funston on the southbound lanes of Skyline Boulevard just south of John Muir Drive. Activities: Hang gliding, hiking, beach combing, equestrian use, beach walking, fishing, and biking. Amenities: Trails, viewing platform, toilets, fossils, and military ruins. Pet policy: Dogs allowed on leash.
Golden Gate Park Beach, San Francisco
Golden Gate Park Beach is technically the northern part of Ocean Beach within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The beach in front of the park stretches from Lincoln Way to Fulton Street and then continues north a bit farther to the Cliff House on Point Lobos. In between the beach and Golden Gate Park is the Great Highway and the adjacent pedestrian walkway called The Esplanade. Golden Gate Park, which is run by the city of San Francisco, has so much to offer — way too much to list here. The sandy beach is very wide and inviting even on cold days (just bring a jacket). So if you are visiting the park and can make it to the west end, it’s worth crossing the road to walk on the sand. Just note that swimming is dangerous near the park and all along Ocean Beach. Windsurfers might be playing in the surf while you are there. Look for a large free parking lot on the Great Highway next to Golden Gate Park. Also on the Great Highway is the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant which is above the Golden Gate Park Visitor Center located at 1000 Great Hwy. Activities: Walking, biking, running, golf, disc golf, tennis, horseshoes, beach walking, and bird watching. Amenities: Grass park, walking paths, golf course, sports fields, sport courts, botanical garden, Japanese garden, museums, fly casting ponds, carousel, and kids play area. Pet policy: Dogs allowed off leash if under voice control.
Marshall Beach, San Francisco
Marshall Beach is a long narrow secluded beach that stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge south to North Baker Beach. Because of the seclusion below steep cliffs it is one of the best-known clothing-optional beaches in San Francisco. Access to the beach is via trails along the bluff that descend long windy paths and stairways. Park at the Golden Gate Overlook parking lot near Battery Godfrey at the end of Langdon Court just off Lincoln Boulevard south of the bridge. Then hike the trail south until you find the safe path down. At high tide the beach can be totally wet so consult tide charts before you go. Marshall’s is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Swimming is not safe here due to cold temps and rip currents. Even if this type of beach isn’t your cup of tea, it is worth stopping at the overlook for the views of the bridge and the Marin Headlands and to explore the several military structures nearby. Activities: Hiking and sun bathing. Amenities: military structures, viewpoint and trails. Pet policy: No dogs allowed on beach.
Mile Rock Beach, Lands End
Mile Rock Beach is in a small cove tucked below the Lands End Viewpoint in San Francisco’s portion of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The view from Lands End includes the Marin Headlands, the entrance to San Francisco Bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Also, visible offshore is the lighthouse foundation on Mile Rock which gives this beach it’s name. Mile Rock Beach is rocky, small, and littered with logs. At high tide the shore will be quite narrow, but when it’s out, you can explore the boulder-covered beach south of here. Lands End and the trails are fun to explore so allow extra time. Above the beach is the Eagle Point Labyrinth, a small rock labyrinth with stunning views of the bridge. Below the rocky bluffs between Point Lobos and Lands End there are three shipwrecks that are exposed at low tides. Nearby are many military structures to discover including several that aren’t on the maps. It requires a long trail walk to get to this beach, but it’s worth the effort. The 243-stair-step descent to the beach is unsigned so bring a map with you. We suggest starting at the visitor center called the Lands End Lookout at 680 Point Lobos Avenue. They have free maps, a large bookstore, and a cafe to fuel up in before the walk. Below the visitor center you’ll find the ruins of the Sutro Baths. Another parking lot for Lands End is at Fort Miley off Point Lobos Ave at El Camino Del Mar where several military structures can be found. Activities: Hiking, beach Exploration, and photography. Amenities: Trails, picnic tables, viewpoint, military gun structures, lighthouse, shipwrecks and labyrinth. Pet policy: Dogs allowed off leash if under voice control.
North Baker Beach
North Baker Beach is the clothing-optional area of Baker Beach in San Francisco. Starting at Baker Beach, as you walk north it becomes more likely that you’ll see beachgoers sans clothes. The far north end is below a steep bluff and this is the clothing-optional area. There is even a hidden area over some rocks at the north end, but watch for rising tides if you go there. Fixed ropes are sometimes in place to help getting over the rocks. Swimming in this area is unsafe due to rip currents and is not advised. Baker Beach is popular so if you plan to park there and walk north on the sand, get an early start or all spots might be taken. Another option is to hope for one of a few spots along Lincoln Boulevard between Kobbe Avenue and Pershing Drive. The Sand Ladder Trail descends steeply from these spots to North Baker Beach. There are more clothing optional beaches in the area. Activities: Sunbathing and hiking. Amenities: Trails and volleyball court. Pet policy: Dogs allowed off leash if under voice control.
Ocean Beach, San Francisco
Ocean Beach is a long beach spanning the entire Sunset District of San Francisco from Cliff House south to Sloat Boulevard. It’s also a wide beach especially when compared to all the other San Francisco beaches. The widest part of Ocean Beach is the north end where Golden Gate Park faces the ocean. Like all the beaches along the coast in San Francisco, Ocean Beach is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There is a large parking lot with an entrance at Sloat Boulevard and there are street spots all along the west edge of Sunset neighborhood near the Great Highway with crosswalks to the Esplanade and stairs to the beach. The Esplanade is superb for walking and you could extend your trip into Golden Gate Park or the San Francisco Zoo. Bonfires are allowed in fire rings which are provided between stairwells 15 through 20. When the wind is kicking (most of the time) you can find windsurfers riding in the wild waves along Ocean Beach. Note that swimming is dangerous at here due to cold water temperatures and strong rip currents. Activities: Beach Walking, walking, running, biking, sunbathing, windsurfing, and kite boarding. Amenities: Restrooms, promenade, paved bike lane, dunes, zoo and fire pits.
Marin County is just across the Golden Gate Bridge north of San Francisco. The beaches of Marin County vary widely from small beaches in parks on the bay to sandy beaches below the Marin Headlands to the windy and wild beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore. The cities of San Rafael and Tiburon have several parks with shoreline access on San Francisco Bay. Angel Island State Park on the Bay is just a short ferry boat ride away from Tiburon or San Francisco and has beaches, trails, and campgrounds to enjoy. The cities of Mill Valley and Sausalito have easy access to beaches and trails in the Marin Headlands area of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Mount Tamalpais State Park. This southwestern Marin shoreline has popular beaches near the small towns of Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, and Bolinas. Point Reyes National Seashore makes up the majority of western Marin County. This large park has beaches on all sides of the Point Reyes Peninsula including bird-watching spots on Drakes Bay, great beachcombing beaches on the outer edge, and protected beaches on Tomales Bay. The rest of Marin’s beaches are on the eastern shore of Tomales Bay and on the southern part of Bodega Bay. Sonoma County has picturesque beaches north of Marin County. Marin County includes Bolinas, Dillon Beach, Inverness, Marshall, Mill Valley, Muir Beach, Olema, Point Reyes Station, San Raphael, San Saulsalito, Stinson Beach, and Tiburon.
Bolinas Beach in Bolinas
Bolinas Beach is a quiet public beach in the small town of Bolinas. It’s often called Brighton Beach because the main access road to the beach is Brighton Avenue. Parking is the problem in this area especially on sunny weekends. Get here early to find legal street parking spots (local police will enforce the parking rules). Bolinas Beach is at the mouth of Bolinas Lagoon in a spot where waves wrap around the point and roll in softly. For this reason it’s known as a great surfing beach, especially for beginners. It’s also popular with dog owners since pets can roam off-leash, but this also has led to complaints about poop on the beach. At lower tides it is possible to walk a long way on the remote beach west of here. Locals have been known to remove the town signs but it’s fairly easy to get here. Drive north on Highway 1 from Stinson Beach, then turn left as soon as you can at the north end of Bolinas Lagoon onto Olema Bolinas Road. The main beach access is at the end of Brighton Avenue. A secondary access is at the end of Wharf Road but this can be all wet at high tide. Restrooms can be found next to the tennis court on Brighton Ave. Activities: surfing, body boarding, bird watching, kayaking, stand-up paddle boardingand sunbathing. Amenities: restrooms, tennis court and dogs allowed off leash. [linkoptimizer:5]
Dillon Beach, Dillon
Dillon Beach on Bodega Bay is privately-owned by the Dillon Beach Resort, but for a small fee anyone can enjoy this beautiful beach. The beach is located in the small town of Dillon Beach at the northern Marin County coastal border. To get here, just head west on Dillon Beach Road from the town of Tomales on Highway 1 west of Petaluma. Dillon Beach gets bigger waves rolling on shore than nearby Lawson’s Landing which has some protection from Tomales Point on Point Reyes Peninsula. For this reason surfers come here when conditions are right. When the tide is low and the surf is too, tide pool exploration is fun. The resort has a quaint little cafe, a general store, a surf shop, and cabins to rent if you’d like to stay for a while. Activities: surfing, body boarding, tide pooling and bonfires. Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables, fire pits, cabins / cottages, cafe, store, tide pools and dogs allowed on leash.
Point Reyes North Beach, Inverness
North Beach at Point Reyes Beach is the northern access point to an 11-mile long beach on the west side of Point Reyes National Seashore. Beach combing is probably the biggest activity here with a huge expanse of beach and powerful waves hurling goodies onto the sand. You can walk for miles in both directions and drift logs provide resting options along the shore. High tides can trap beach walkers against the cliffs in some areas so head back to your car well before high tide. The parking lot at North Beach is just off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard on the way to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. This paved lot is surrounded by dunes and feels very remote and exposed to the power of the ocean as it is. Dangerous swimming conditions exist here with strong rip currents and sneaker waves not to mention the cold water. Bring warm clothes at Point Reyes Beach because it can be windy and foggy out here. Drakes Beach is nearby on the other side of the peninsula and is less exposed to the wind and the waves as Point Reyes Beach is. Activities: beach combing and beach walking. Amenities: restrooms, driftwood, dunes and dogs allowed on leash.
Point Reyes South Beach, Inverness
South Beach is the southern access to Point Reyes Beach, an 11-mile long strand nicknamed “The Great Beach” in Point Reyes National Seashore. This vast expanse of shoreline is excellent for beach combing. Walk in either direction for miles and rest by sitting on drift logs along the upper beach. Just remember that at the highest tides the beach can be all wet in some places. From December through April the beach south of the South Beach parking lot is closed for elephant seal mating season. During that time bring binoculars for spotting gray whales that are migrating around the point. This exposed west side of the peninsula has dangerous swimming conditions with strong rip currents, cold water temps, and sneaker waves. If you want a milder surf head to nearby Drakes Beach which is protected by the point. The South Beach parking lot is located just off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard on the way to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Be prepared for cool foggy weather on any trip to Point Reyes. Activities: beach combing and beach walking. Amenities: restrooms, driftwood, dunes and dogs allowed on leash.
Muir Beach, Muir Beach
Muir Beach (the beach) is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and located in the small town of Muir Beach, California. Redwood Creek flows down to the ocean here, but slows down near the beach forming a lagoon, some ponds, and wetlands that are great for birding. There are hiking trails that branch out from Muir Beach in many directions inviting explorations of the headlands. To find the parking lot for Muir Beach, turn off Highway 1 onto Pacific Way and drive to the end. There is a long wooden bridge that takes you from the parking area to the beach access trails. The northern part of the beach in the separate small cove is a clothing-optional beach called Little Beach. While you are in the area and if the skies are clear, you should visit the Muir Beach Overlook to see the stunning views. Look for a sign pointing to the parking lot just off Highway 1 at north end of Muir Beach town. Activities: hiking, beach combing, bird watching, fishing, sunbathing, bonfires and picnicking. Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables, trails, fire pits and dogs allowed off leash if under voice control. [linkoptimizer:6]
Sculptured Beach in Olema
Sculptured Beach is a remote beach in the southern portion of Point Reyes National Seashore. The beach is accessible by walking or mountain biking from the Point Reyes Hostel via the Coast Trail. It’s also accessible for a day-trip by walking south from Santa Maria Beach at low tide. Just be careful not to get trapped by rising tides as some of the access points get cut off by high water. Sculptured Beach is known for the many natural “sculptures” in the rocks along the beach. Look for unique rock features, rock arches, caves, sea stacks, and more. At low tide there is even more to discover in the exposed tide pools. The steep bluffs behind the beach add to the secluded setting. Because of it’s remote status some visitors consider it a clothing-optional beach. Secret Beach is accessed at the south end of Sculptured Beach at low tides. Book rooms at the Point Reyes Hostel well in advance. Camping is possible at Coast Camp above Santa Maria Beach. Activities: hiking, tide pooling, and beach combing. Amenities: tide pools, nature rock features and trails.
Limantour Beach in Point Reyes Station
Limantour Beach is a south-facing beach on a sand spit between Drakes Bay and the Limantour Estero estuary. Limantour Beach has a nice large parking lot near the beach. Trails take you through the wetlands to the beach and beyond. Here you can hike for days along the spit, around the estuary and waterways, and even head to a back country camp at Santa Maria Beach to the south via the sandy shore or the Coast Trail. This is a great place to beachcomb and look for birds and other animals. The beach ends at a scenic spot with dunes where Limantour and Drakes Estero come together. Pack and dress appropriately for the cool damp weather out in this rugged part of the country. The water is cold here, but due to protection from the west, Drakes Bay is usually a safe swimming area. To get here follow directions to the Bear Valley Visitor Center in Point Reyes National Seashore, then drive the Limantour Road out to the end at the Limantour Spit. Hosteling International operates the Point Reyes Hostel which is about a mile from the beach. Activities: hiking, bird watching, wildlife watching, beach combing, beach walking and swimming. Amenities: restrooms, hostel, wetlands, trails and dogs allowed on leash.
McNears Beach Park in San Rafael
McNears Beach Park is a Marin County Park located in the city of San Rafael. The beach here is rocky and located in a muddy part of San Pablo Bay but at least the park has a beach. Canoes, kayaks, and SUPs can be launched here. The park is better known for fishing than beach combing. There is a large popular fishing pier just a few steps from the parking lot. There are grass lawns, picnic areas, and sports facilities here too. If you want to go hiking or cycling, head over to nearby China Camp State Park, which has a network of trails and a sandier beach. Activities: fishing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, walking, tennis, picnicking, stand-up paddle boarding and bird watching. Amenities: fishing pier, picnic tables, BBQs, group picnic area, restrooms, tennis courts, grass park and swimming pool.
Black Sands Beach in Sausalito
Black Sands Beach is a south-facing beach below the Marin Headlands in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There are great views to be had just a few paces down the trail from the parking lot, but it is worth hiking the rest of the way down to this amazing black sand beach. The hike down is made easier with many wooden steps to help ease the steep grade. To get here, drive into the Recreation Area on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. Head west on Conzelman Road until it becomes a one way road then continue about a half-mile to a parking lot on the left side. This lot is signed for the Upper Fisherman’s Trail head. From there the steep dirt path descends the hillside to the dark sand beach which is on the east side of Bonita Cove. At high tide the beach will be narrow so check tide charts before your trip out here or head to Rodeo Beach which is a short drive away. Also nearby is the Point Bonita Lighthouse which is visible from Black Sands Beach. Note that some locals consider Black Sands a clothing-optional beach. The parking lot only has room for about a dozen cars so it might be full when you get there unless you go early. Activities: hiking, photography, beach exploration and fishing. Amenities: restrooms, trails and viewpoint.
Rodeo Beach in Mill Valley, Sausalito
Rodeo Beach is a wide sandy beach on the sand spit that separates Rodeo Lagoon from Rodeo Cove on the west side of the Marin Headlands in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The beach is dark colored and made up of small pebbly stones in brown, red, green, and blue. It’s a popular spot as it is close to San Francisco and easy access for both locals and tourists. Walk to the south end of the beach to see rocks in the surf that are frequently photographed. Bird Rock is offshore and has a small arch in the center. With binoculars you can see the birds on the rock but Rodeo Lagoon is the best spot for bird watching. To get here follow signs to Marin Headlands Visitors Center and then turn west on Bunker Road. Then look for signs to the Rodeo Beach parking lot and picnic area. From the parking area trails go north along the bluff to coastal overlooks and south to various military batteries and South Rodeo Beach. Activities: hiking, bird watching, surfing, rock hounding. Amenities: restrooms, trails, picnic tables, lagoon and dogs allowed off leash if under voice control.
Stinson Beach in Stinson Beach
Stinson Beach (the beach) is a large public beach within Golden Gate National Recreation Area located in the town of Stinson Beach, California. It’s a popular getaway just an hour or so north of San Francisco in Marin County. Stinson Beach is a great place for beach combing especially when the crowds are lower in the winter and during morning low tides. On sunny weekend days the parking lots will fill up early making it tougher to get to the beach. To get here, head north of the Golden Gate Bridge and then exit from Highway 101 onto Highway 1 and continue to Stinson Beach. Signs in town will direct you to the beach. Gates close at the end of the day and lifeguards are available mid-day hours. A snack bar can be found near the lifeguard tower during the summer and restaurants are nearby. This beach has rip currents so check in with lifeguards if you plan to swim. At the far south end of Stinson Beach there are some clothing-optional sandy pockets behind huge boulders called Red Rock Beach. North of Stinson is a dog-friendly county beach named Upton. Activities: beach combing, beach walking, picnicking, fishing, surfing, sunbathing, and swimming. Amenities: restrooms, showers, picnic tables, BBQs, lifeguard and no dogs allowed on beach, but ok north of the north beach access (at Upton Beach).
Paradise Beach Park in Tiburon
Paradise Beach County Park is a nicely landscaped facility on San Pablo Bay near Tiburon, CA. The beach here is narrow and rocky, but it’s an easy place to launch a kayak to explore the bay. The park offers a lot in addition to the beach. Fishermen can head out onto the long fishing pier and cast into Paradise Cove. Others can bring a ball or Frisbee to enjoy the open grass fields. There are horseshoe pits if you are into that. Benches and picnic tables throughout this park make it a great place to come for lunch or just some restful contemplation. Activities: fishing, picnicking, kayaking and canoeing. Amenities: fishing pier, picnic tables, group picnic area, BBQs, restrooms, grass park and horseshoe court.
The Sonoma County coast has a lot of great beaches but few cities. In between the town of Bodega Bay and the community of Sea Ranch, with the exception of Jenner, there are only a few small coastal villages with gas stations and general stores. This makes the drive along Highway 1 feel very remote. Near the town of Bodega Bay there are several great beaches to check out. There are several state beaches with a variety of beach combing and some tiny coves to check out. Farther north of Jenner are beaches at Fort Ross State Historical Park and Salt Point State Park. The northernmost part of Sonoma County’s coastline is in the private community of Sea Ranch. The beaches of Sea Ranch are all accessed via trails that begin at parking lots along Highway 1 that are owned by the county for public use. Many people drive right by and don’t take advantage of these great hidden public beaches. Across the Gualala River from Sea Ranch is the town of Gualala in Mendocino County.
Bodega Head Beach in Bodega Bay
Bodega Head is the prominent rocky point that protects Bodega Harbor from the west. This large point has a rugged coastline that is exposed to strong waves and cool damp weather. There is a small sandy beach below the parking lot and picnic area that is worth visiting. A steep path north of the picnic area leads to the beach where you can feel the raw energy of the ocean. The real draw to Bodega Head is the hiking trail network that loops around the headlands. Dress appropriately for this windy spot and make time to hike the official loop trail. It’s a wide path that is mostly accessible. There are many small side trails that take you to vantage points at cliff edges overlooking Bodega Harbor, Bodega Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. Bodega Head is a popular gray whale watching location during the January-May migration season. The Headlands are part of Sonoma Coast State Park. If you are looking for a safer beach to wade in, then consider Campbell Cove on Bodega Harbor on your way back down the Westshore Road. Activities: whale watching, hiking and picnicking. Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables, trails, rock arch and accessible features.
North Salmon Creek Beach in Bodega Bay
North Salmon Creek Beach is right off Coast Highway 1 just north of Bodega Bay. A large parking lot is available, but it can fill up in the summer so look for other pull-out parking areas along the highway if necessary. From the main lot you can walk down short paths to the sand at the mouth of the Salmon River. Surfers are often out in the waves north of the river mouth. Walking north on the sand leads to narrower beaches along the highway with names such as Miwok and Coleman. South of the creek mouth you’ll find South Salmon Creek Beach which has a separate parking lot off Bean Avenue. Both Salmon Creek beaches and many others nearby are part of the Sonoma Coast State Park State Beaches system. Activities: fishing, beach combing, picnicking, surfing, wildlife watching, bird watching and beach walking. Amenities: restrooms, driftwood and creek.
Campbell Cove in Bodega Bay
Campbell Cove Beach is a sandy spot on Bodega Head just inside the entrance to Bodega Harbor in Bodega Bay, CA. The beach is a flat one so at low tide it can be quite large and at high tide it might be mostly underwater. Behind the parking lot there is a small pond in a bowl called “Hole in the Head.” A wooden boardwalk leads to the Hole with a viewing platform where you can check out the birds in this unique spot. A sign here explains the history of Bodega Head and the mystery behind how the Hole was created. To get here from Highway 1, drive out Eastshore Road then turn right onto Bay Flat Road which becomes Westshore Road. Park in the parking lot (or just outside if it is closed) which is located where the road bends sharply before heading up the hill to Bodega Head. Campbell Cove Beach is part of Sonoma Coast State Park. Activities: bird watching. Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables, birding platform and accessible features.
Blind Beach in Jenner
Blind Beach is located south of Jenner and the Russian River in Sonoma County. It’s a long narrow beach that is great for beach combing and fishing. Offshore is a large rock with an arch in it (Arch Rock) and many other photogenic sea stacks. To get here, turn onto Goat Rock Road about a mile south of the Russian River Bridge. There is an upper parking lot with a steep narrow trail that descends to Blind Beach, but this lot has been closed off recently. There are shoulder spots outside the parking lot for a few cars. Alternatively you could continue to the large lot at the base of Goat Rock and walk onto the north end of Blind Beach. The Kortum Trail begins from the road just south of the upper parking lot and follows the bluff south past the Sunset Boulders and Shell Beach on the way to Wrights Beach about three miles away. This makes a fun out-and-back hiking route with lots to discover along the way. Goat Rock Beach, Blind Beach, and Shell Beach are all part of Sonoma Coast State Park. Stay away from the dangerous waves and don’t swim in the ocean in this area. Activities: fishing, beach combing, hiking and beach walking. Amenities: restrooms.
Fort Ross Reef in Jenner
Fort Ross Reef is a scuba diving destination just offshore from Fort Ross State Historical Park. There is a day-use parking area for access to the beach and the reef. A step trail drops down from the parking lot to the cove below. There isn’t a sandy beach at this part of the park. It’s a steep rocky shoreline best left to divers to navigate. To get here, follow signs to Reef Campground off Highway 1 south of the main Fort Ross SHP entrance. After turning off the highway, the campground will be to the right and the Fort Ross Reef day-use area will be to the left. Check in with the campground entrance station to pay your entrance fee and to inquire about hours for the gate at the reef road entrance. Activities: scuba diving and fishing. Amenities: campground.
Black Point Beach in Sea Ranch
Black Point Beach is a public beach located in the Sea Ranch community. This wide cove is just north of Black Point Landing in the south part of Sea Ranch. The dark sand beach is backed by steep rocky cliffs that wrap the length of it. Sea Ranch Lodge is a luxury hotel nearby that is just walking distance to the beach. At the lodge is the Black Point Grill featuring a seasonal menu with local ingredients and a large wine list. The parking lot for the beach is on the west side of Highway 1 just north of the entrance to the lodge. Toilets are provided at the parking lot. A quarter mile long access trail cuts across the open meadow and ends at the edge of a cliff where you’ll find a huge staircase and safe passage to the beach below. Enjoy the public beach, but note that the property around the beach and access trail is private. Black Point Beach can have strong rip currents and is dangerous for swimming. Activities: beach combing, hiking, fishing and bird watching. Amenities: trails, toilets, lodge, restaurant and dogs allowed on leash.
Walk-On Beach in Sea Ranch
This public beach known as “Walk-On Beach” is located in the private Sea Ranch Community in northern Sonoma County. The paved parking lot is just off Highway 1 between the Sea Ranch entrances at Deer Trail and Leeward Spur. A trail leads to the beach from the parking lot for a distance of just under a half-mile each way. The route is clearly signed to keep visitors from getting lost. There are two coves here. The northern cove is smaller than the southern cove, but they are both worth checking out. Separate stairways drop into the coves from the top of the point between them. Hikers will enjoy the Bluff Top Trail that starts at Walk On Beach and continues north along the coastline all the way to Gualala Point Regional Park. Stay on the trails to respect the privacy of home owners. The currents at Sea Ranch beaches can be very strong so even if you can handle the cold temperatures, resist the urge to swim here. Toilets provided at the parking lot but not at the beach. Activities: hiking, walking and bird watching. Amenities: toilet, trails, driftwood and dogs allowed on leash.
Mendocino County takes up a large chunk of Northern California coastal real estate. Driving Highway 1 north from Sonoma County to Humboldt County is well over 100 miles, but it’s a very scenic drive. From Gualala to Point Arena in the southern part of the county there are many beaches tucked into coves that form between rocky headlands. North of Point Arena is Manchester State Park, a long sandy beach that might be the best beach combing spot in NorCal. From the tiny town of Manchester to the city of Fort Bragg, Highway 1 closely follows the shoreline and has access to more deep cove beaches. Along this stretch are state park beaches at Greenwood SB, Navarro River Redwoods SP, Van Damme Beach SP, Mendocino Headlands SP, Russian Gulch SP, Point Cabrillo Light Station SHP, Caspar Headland SB, and Jug Handle State Natural Reserve Park. North of Fort Bragg there is only one more town along the Mendocino County Coast and that is Westport. There are some great beaches in this area including several at MacKerricher State Park and Westport-Union Landing State Beach. At the northern end of Mendocino County, Highway 1 turns inland around a remote region where Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is located. The beaches here are only accessible by a long windy drive on back roads or by backpacking to them via the Lost Coast Trail. Shelter Cove is the next town to the north in Humboldt County and it has nice black sand beaches, but it’s another long drive to get there. Medocino County includes Albion, Caspar, Elk, Fort Bragg, Gualala, Little River, Manchester, Medocino, Point Arena and Westpoint.
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve in Caspar
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve is along Highway 1 about midway between the towns of Mendocino and Fort Bragg along the Mendocino County Coast. The park is known for its hiking trail loop called the Ecological Staircase Trail which takes you through interesting geological features here. Along they way hikers are educated about the forces of nature that formed the five terraces in the park. The trails explore the headlands above the cove and also the valley of Jug Handle Creek. The beach is equally impressive with a deep sandy cove and high bluffs on both sides. It requires a short hike from the parking lot on the highway to the beach below the arched bridge over the gulch. If you hike around on the bluff south of the beach try to spot the rock arch known as the Jughandle. Activities: hiking and sunbathing. Amenities: nature trail, restrooms, picnic tables and creek and dogs allowed on leash on trails, not on beach.
Glass Beach in Fort Bragg
Glass Beach is the well-known southern beach of MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg. Glass Beach gets its name from the smooth colorful glass pieces that you can find in the pebbly beach. The site was once a trash dump so broken bottles from garbage cans of local residents are now little treasures to be found and photographed (and left behind). It is illegal to remove any glass from Glass Beach. This is a great place to take kids who can explore around but watch them near the water which can be dangerous. There is a wide path to the beach from the parking area on Glass Beach Road a couple blocks west of Highway 1 down West Elm Street. There are more trails on the bluff to hike north up to Pudding Creek Beach where a paved multi-use trail crosses over an old train trestle. Trails also go south from the Glass Beach entry path to other glassy beaches that are outside of the state park boundary. Activities: hiking, tidepooling and beach combing. Amenities: tide pools, sea glass, toilets and dogs allowed on leash.
Pudding Creek Beach in Fort Bragg
Pudding Creek Beach is below an old wooden train trestle that now is a multi-use recreational trail bridge in MacKerricher State Park. Pudding Creek flows down onto the beach sometimes crossing the sand and at other times just pooling up behind it. Pudding Creek Beach is a deep sandy beach in the cove at the creek mouth. Another beach is just steps way. The Old Haul Road Beach is a long narrow sandy beach that is hidden away over the bluff to the north. The paved Haul Road Trail heads north to Virgin Creek Beach and all the way to MacKerricher Main Beach. Hiking trails follow the bluff south to Glass Beach not far away. To get to Pudding Creek Beach find a parking strip across from the Best Western Vista Manor Lodge Hotel and just south of the Beachcomber Motel along Highway 1 (Main Street) north of downtown Fort Bragg. This beach parking lot is right on the beach behind the trestle so you’ll walk under it on the way to the water’s edge. Activities: hiking, biking and sunbathing. Amenities: trails, paved bike path, toilets, rail-trail and dogs allowed on leash.
Gualala Point Regional Park in Gualala
Gualala Point Regional Park Beach marks the northernmost point along the Sonoma County Coast. Despite the name, the park is not in the nearby town of Gualala which lies across the river mouth in Mendocino County. It is adjacent to the housing community of Sea Ranch which has five stunning beaches of it’s own. On the drive into the park the Sea Ranch Golf Links golf course is on the left. The beach here is a long wide sand spit between the ocean and the Gualala River which doesn’t always breach the beach. Hiking trails meander along the estuary to the river shoreline and also out to the sandy driftwood-covered ocean beach. Another trail called the Bluff Top Trail follows the dramatic shoreline in Sea Ranch all the way to Walk-On Beach about 2 miles away. During whale migration season January through May, many visitors will head to Whale Watch Point to look for gray whales. This ocean overlook is excellent any time of year if the weather is cooperating. Gualala Point Regional Park has a full-service campground with showers in the restrooms. There is a fee for day-use parking, but it’s worth it to wander the beaches and the trails here. Activities: hiking, whale watching, beach combing, camping, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, biking, bird watching and picnicking. Amenities: campground, picnic tables, BBQs, restrooms, trails, benches, river, driftwood, accessible features, visitor center and dogs allowed on leash.
Van Damme State Park in Little River
Van Damme Beach State Park is located at the mouth of Little River in the small town of Little River. In addition to having an excellent beach in a semi-protected cove, this state park has several camping areas to accommodate over 70 car and tent campers. It also has ten miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers that meander up Fern Canyon and all across the Spring Ranch Property with access to the ocean bluffs. Cyclists can ride the paved road that follows the Little River up-canyon. The day-use parking area is right on the beach at a bend in Highway 1. The Little River Golf Course is across the highway and many lodging options are available if you’d like to stay here for a coastal getaway weekend to the Mendocino Coast. For added adventure, Kayak Mendocindo launches SUPs and kayaking tours to sea caves and the Albion River which start right at Van Damme Beach. Nearby is the Little River Blowhole which shouldn’t be missed since you are so close. Activities: hiking, mountain biking, running, biking, scuba diving, abalone diving, camping, sea kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Amenities: trails, campground, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, rentals and dogs allowed on leash.
Mendocino Headlands Beaches in Mendocino
The Mendocino Headlands along Heeser Drive in Mendocino California has several stunning coves tucked below the bluff. Most are best photographed from above even though the eager adventurer could probably find a way down to the small beaches. One beach is a better than the rest and is a little easier to access. It has a steep, but commonly used trail that draws down many curious beach enthusiasts. It’s located at the southwest point just inside Goat Island. This beach is usually calm because of the protection from the island. It has a large rock arch that is one of the most photogenic on the west coast. Another small arch, which you can walk into at low tides, can be found if you search around. The beach is littered with colorful seashells including fragments of abalone shells. To get here from downtown Mendocino, head west on Little Lake Street (which turns into Heeser Drive after leaving the houses behind) and turn left into the parking lot on the point. Look for a trail just north of the lot. Three more parking areas can be found north along Heeser Drive, each with excellent views of the coves and rocks below the headlands. The northernmost lot gives access to a cypress grove and a cove direction below it. Dirt footpaths meander all around the bluff perimeter making this a perfect spot to get out and walk around while staying in Mendocino. Activities: beach exploration, photography and walking. Amenities: seashells, rock arches, tide pools, trails and dogs allowed on leash.
Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino
Russian Gulch State Park, north of Mendocino, has a sandy beach below the Highway 1 bridge where Russian Gulch Creek flows into a narrow cove. Kids can play in the safe waters of the creek, but be careful in the water on the bay. The cove is protected by Russian Gulch State Marine Conservation Area and is a popular scuba diving location. Hikers will find trails that explore the headlands north and south of the beach and also the Russian Gulch Valley. Don’t miss the Devil’s Punchbowl, a unique natural feature that has it’s own parking area and trails. The waves rush into the bowl through a large rock arch that you can walk on top of. A paved biking trail loop of three miles winds through the part of the park that is east of the highway. Along the way there is a 36-foot high waterfall to see. Ask for a trail map when you pay to enter the park. There are several parking areas scattered around the park. One is right behind the beach. A campground isn’t far from the beach if you plan to stay for the night. You’ll need reservations in the summer months as this is a popular camping spot. Activities: hiking, mountain biking, scuba diving, canoeing, kayaking, abalone diving, fishing and camping. Amenities: campground, waterfall, trails, paved bike path, restrooms, showers, Devils Punchbowl, rock arch and dogs allowed on leash.
Bowling Ball Beach in Point Arena
Bowling Ball Beach is located at the northern end of Schooner Gulch State Beach. If tide is out it's hard not to notice the large round rocks that resemble bowling balls as you walk north on the beach. This area of the state park is great for tide pooling and more rocky features are exposed when the tide is out so check the tide charts before your trip. At the far north end of the beach is Ross Creek and the surfing area known as Whiskey Shoals which is more accessible for surfers from the Moat Creek Public Access. For Bowling Ball Beach, there is a parking area alongside Highway 1 across from the Schooner Gulch Road. From the parking area there are two trail heads. The northern one goes to Schooner Gulch Beach. Unfortunately, the northern trail is subject to erosion where it descends the bluff and is sometimes closed. Activities: fishing, surfing, picnicking, tide pooling, beach combing and hiking. Amenities: tide pools, driftwood, toilet, trails and fossils.
Stornetta Public Lands in Point Arena
Stornetta Public Lands is an open area next to the ocean north of the town of Point Arena. These lands are managed through a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management and other state and public agencies. Currently visitors can hike the trails to the bluff for whale watching, wildlife viewing, birding, picnicking, and photography. Bikes and cars are not allowed off the main paved roads here according to the interim management rules. In the future, a final management plan will be published and public uses might change. The Point Arena Lighthouse property is completely surrounded by the Stornetta Public Lands. There is a steep beach access at Sea Lion Cove south of the lighthouse. Rock arches can be seen in the Sea Lion Rocks from trail above this cove. The BLM warns of unstable cliffs and large sinkholes near the cliffs so be careful when exploring near the cliff edges. Access to Stornetta Public Lands is from pull-out parking areas along Lighthouse Road that ends at the entrance to Point Arena Lighthouse. Trails lead from these parking areas to the bluff and many excellent vantage points to view rocks, sea stacks, islands, rock arches, tide pools, stunning cliffs, and the lighthouse. In a few places there are steep routes down to the rocky beaches. North of the lighthouse the Stornetta property includes the beach at the mouth of Garcia River which is only accessible from Manchester State Beach. Activities: hiking, walking, whale watching, wildlife watching, bird watching, photography and picnicking. Amenities: tide pools, island, rock arch, trails, toilet and dogs allowed on leash.
The Humboldt County coast is chock full of wild and remote beaches that beg for exploration. Just north of the Mendocino County line is the city of Shelter Cove, located at the end of a twisty 25-mile drive from Highway 101. It’s worth the drive to get there to walk on Black Sand Beach and to check out the many tide pooling coves right in town. The coast between Shelter Cove and the Mattole River is part of King Range National Conservation Area. The Lost Coast Trail backpacking route follows the coastline in this area with access to very remote beaches and the Punta Gorda Lighthouse. North of the Mattole River are many unnamed beaches next to wind-swept dunes and cattle grazing lands that end at Cape Mendocino, the westernmost point in California. The coast near Humboldt Bay is one continuous sandy beach from the small farming town of Ferndale south of Eureka all the way to Trinidad Bay north of Arcata. Along this stretch are many county parks, wildlife areas, and recreation areas. The town of Trinidad has picturesque beaches including Trinidad State Beach and some smaller beaches on the bay. North of Trinidad most of the beaches are in state parks such as Patrick’s Point SP, Humboldt Lagoons SP, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Del Norte County begins near the Klamath River and continues the rest of the way up the California Coast to the border with Oregon. Humboldt County includes Arcata, Eureka, Ferndale, Loleta, McKinleyville, Orick, Petrolia, Shelter Cove and Trinidad.
Ma-le’l Dunes – South Unit in Arcata
Ma-le’l Dunes on Samoa Peninsula is a Bureau of Land Management property that is open to the public daily during daylight hours. This land is part of the Ma-le’l Dunes Cooperative Management Area which includes this BLM land and a portion of Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Area. To get here, turn off Highway 101 in Arcata or Eureka onto Highway 255 heading west and then turn onto Young Lane on the peninsula. To the left is the the south Ma-le’l Dunes parking lot (with access to Manila Beach) and to the right is the North Ma-le’l Dunes parking lot. The northern lot is closed several days a week, but is still open for those willing to walk into the dunes from the south lot. The Ma-le’l Dunes South parking lot provides access for those who want to walk their dogs or ride horses (both are prohibited in the North Unit). Hiking trails meander through the dunes from the parking lot to the beach. The beach runs north and south for long distances from here. Activities: hiking, equestrian Use, beach combing and beach walking. Amenities: dunes, restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, seashells, trails and dogs allowed on leash.
Samoa Dunes Recreation Area in Eureka
Samoa Dunes Recreation Area is a sandy off-highway vehicle play area on Samoa Peninsula near Eureka. The recreation area is located on the south end of the North Jetty at the entrance to Humboldt Bay. This area was an old US military property (a Coast Guard Station still exists nearby) and even the site of a lighthouse in the 1800’s. Remnants of the ammunition bunkers and lighthouse can be found if you search around. The property is now managed by the Bureau of Land Management for public recreational use. Off-road motorcycle, off-highway vehicle, and ATV riding is popular as is bird-watching and beach combing on the long expanse of beach from here northward. To get here drive from Eureka across Arcata Bay on Highway 255, then turn south on New Navy Base Road and continue to the end of the peninsula. RV camping spaces are available at the nearby boat launch area called Samoa Boat Ramp County Park. Activities: fishing, bird watching, hiking, surfing, OHV, hiking and camping. Amenities: off-highway vehicle area, trails, restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, dunes, RV campground, boat launch and dogs allowed off leash if under voice control.
Moonstone Beach County Park in Trinidad
Moonstone Beach County Park is at the north side of the Little River mouth near Trinidad. The beach is popular with surfers and also with families that can play safely in the slow river current. It’s a picturesque beach with rocks and larger sea stacks poking up out of the surf. The large two-humped rock island known as Camel Rock is visible to the north. At the north end of Moonstone Beach are some hidden caves to explore expecially at lower tides. South of the river mouth is Little River State Beach if you want to wade through the water and then wander a remote strand. In the summer months it is warm enough to swim in Little River. To get here, start in Trinidad and turn off Main Street onto Scenic Drive. Follow this scenic windy road until you see a sign for Moonstone Grill. The beach is right below the restaurant. Activities: surfing, beach combing, equestrian use, sea kayaking, rock climbing, swimming and tide pooling. Amenities: restaurant, toilets, caves, river, tide pools and dogs allowed off leash.
Del Norte County
Del Norte County is the northernmost county in California and, like Humboldt County to the south, it has more wild remote beaches than urban beaches. Crescent City is the largest city in the county and it is located near the mid-point of the Del Norte Coast. There is a wide variety of beaches near Crescent City including the long wide sandy Crescent Beach, the protected beach on the harbor, and the rocky coves of Pebble Beach. The rugged southern coast of Del Norte County has many wild driftwood-covered beaches. Some of these are easily accessible from Highway 101 including Klamath Beach, Lagoon Creek Beach, and Wilson Creek Beach. Others require a hike to reach them including Hidden Beach, Damnation Creek Beach, and Enderts Beach. North of Crescent City is Point St. George where a lighthouse six miles offshore is visible on clear days. Between Point St. George and the Smith River there are remote beaches in Tolowa Dunes State Park and Lake Earl Wilderness Area. Between Smith River and the Oregon Border there are few beach access points. Look for signs to Clifford Kamph Memorial Park and Pelican State Beach if you want to pull off Highway 101 to do some beach combing in this area. Del Norte County includes Crescent City, Klamath, and Smith River.
Enderts Beach in Crescent City
Enderts Beach is a remote beach along the Del Norte Coast south of Crescent City. The beach is known mostly for its tide pools, but is worth the effort to get here just for the views. Turn off Highway 101 onto Enderts Beach Road and drive to the very end at Crescent Beach Overlook, a Redwood National Park facility. The first parking area is for the overlook which is worth a stop. The last parking area is the trailhead for the Last Chance Section of the California Coastal Trail. Hike (or bike) this trail for about about a half mile of flat wide trail to Nickel Creek Campground, then you descend a short path to the beach. You’ll find rocks and driftwood on the beach and a small canyon where Nickel Creek cuts through the hillside to reach the sand. It’s best to avoid high tide at Enderts Beach as it gets pretty narrow then. The California Coastal Trail continues south from here for about six miles to Damnation Creek Beach and for many miles beyond that if you want to backpack the Del Norte and Humboldt County coastlines. Activities: hiking, tide pooling, bird watching, whale watching and camping. Amenities: tide pools, walk-in campground, trails, picnic tables, accessible beach overlook and dogs allowed on leash.
Crescent Beach in Crescent City
Crescent Beach is a long and wide beach immediately south of Crescent City. The main parking area, located near the midpoint of the crescent-shaped beach, can be found on Enderts Beach Road off Highway 101. This parking lot and the beach south of here is on Redwood National Park property. Winter storms toss driftwood and logs high up on the back of the beach creating many resting spots for a long walk along this shoreline. Just south of the parking lot is a wetland area where Mill Creek pools up before flowing across the sand. There is a beach overlook at the end of Enderts Beach Road that looks back over the entire length of Crescent Beach. The half-mile hike to Enderts Beach begins near the overlook. Activities: beach combing, surfing and beach walking. Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables, driftwood, accessible features and dogs allowed on leash.
South Beach in Crescent City
South Beach is a locals beach just south of Crescent City Harbor where Highway 101 rolls into town. It’s a wide sandy beach that is partially protected from the west by the harbor jetties. Winter storms have thrown large drift logs onto the back of the beach. When conditions are right, local surfers will ride waves as they wrap around the harbor. South Beach Outfitters is next to the beach and they rent boards and offer surfing advice. Stand-up paddle boarding is also popular at South Beach and on the Harbor. From South Beach you can walk south on Crescent Beach for several miles. Street parking spaces can be found along Anchor Way and Highway 101 which are both adjacent to South Beach. Activities: surfing and beach walking. Amenities: picnic tables, driftwood, creek, surf rentals and dogs allowed on leash.
Damnation Creek Beach in Crescent City
Damnation Creek Beach is a remote rocky stretch of coastline in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. This shoreline isn’t a wide sandy beach, but it still works well as a resting spot after hiking down a thousand feet of elevation to get here. The steep cliffs and huge rocks in the surf make this a stunning place to photograph. A pyramid-shaped rock arch is visible to the south from where the trail hits the shoreline. Time your hike to avoid high tide and you’ll have a long rugged beach to beach comb for goodies – just don’t get caught by the rising tides. To get to this small coastal hide-away you must hike two miles steeply downhill on the Damnation Trail from the trailhead along Highway 101 south of Crescent City. There is a pullout parking area on the west side of the highway where a trail head sign marks the start of your hike. It’s easy to drive right by this spot as there are no cross streets or large markers, but it is located at mile-marker 16. Unfortunately, dogs and bikes are not allowed on the trail. However, it’s possible to bike to Damnation Beach on the Last Chance Section of the California Coastal Trail which begins at Enderts Beach (six miles each way). Activities: beach combing and hiking. Amenities: trails, rock arch, driftwood and no facilities.