25 Best Northern California Beaches
SoCal is famous for its sunny beaches, but what travelers may have overlooked in their quest for the perfect beach getaway are the gorgeous beaches of Northern California. Fort Funston Beach offers incredible whale watching opportunities in the springtime. Glass Beach is an iconic Northern California beach known for abundant sea glass. Beach goers looking for clothing optional beaches will find them at Black Sands Beach, Marshall Beach, and Gray Whale Cove. There are long, sandy leisure beaches, sand dune beaches, and beaches favored by surfers. Photo: irinasen/Fotolia
This is a great family beach, particularly at low tide when the whole gang can go tide pooling together. The only tricky part may be getting to the beach. Visitors park along the shoulder of the road on Scenic Drive and locate the beach trailhead sign. The trail is steep with cable steps at the bottom, which could prove difficult to navigate for families with small children. Baker Beach is an ecological habitat with alder trees, tide pools, and offshore rocks that make for a dramatic setting. Tidepooling reveals delicate creatures that can be easily damaged by doing something as simple as turning over a rock, so careful exploration is called for here.
Address: 1237 Scenic Drive, Trinidad, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: rschlie/Fotolia
»Black Sands Beach
Nestled in the eastern side of Bonita Cove, Black Sands Beach is in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It sits at the bottom of Fisherman's Trail, a dirt path that begins at the trailhead parking area. Numerous wooden steps aid hikers down the otherwise strenuous, steep path to the beach. By stopping just a few steps down the trail, visitors will get epic views of the beach and Point Bonita Lighthouse across the cove – a perfect spot for taking photos. The narrow beach is great for sunbathing or fishing, but visitors will want to check tide charts, as the beach narrows significantly at high tide. Black Sands Beach is an unofficial clothing optional beach.
Address: Conzelman Road, Sausalito, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Teressa/Fotolia
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»Caspar Headlands State Beach
Caspar Headlands State Beach is located in Caspar, a quaint Mendocino coastal town in a deep cove known as Caspar Anchorage. It is situated between the drainage of two distinct creeks, Caspar Creek and Doyle Creek. Caspar Beach is known as one of the safer places to swim in the area, but the water is typically chilly, and the conditions can change randomly so dangerous rip currents are possible. There is an RV park across the street from the beach, to the south there is a small park called Caspar Headlands State Natural Reserve, and to the north there are hiking trails on a bluff that provide beautiful coastal views.
Address: 14441 Point Cabrillo Drive, Mendocino, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: asierromero/Fotolia
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Centerville Beach is a nine-mile long secluded beach separating the sandstone cliffs of dairy country from the Pacific Ocean. Located just five miles west of the historic Victorian Ferndale area, visitors to this beach will enjoy being surrounded by magnificent sandstone cliffs while viewing birds and other wildlife. On occasion, guests to Centerville may even get the chance to see mother whales migrating with their children during April and May. Centerville Beach is the ideal locale for picnicking, beachcombing, horseback riding along the coast, and making s'mores over a bonfire. This windswept beach is also perfect for windsurfing and kiteboarding.
Address: 322 First Street, Eureka, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: tsiban/Fotolia
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»College Cove Beach (Humboldt County)
College Cove Beach is located in a cove north of Trinidad State Beach in the quaint town of Trinidad. The beach is quite large and splits into two sections when the tide comes in. It is recommended that visitors only travel between the two sections during low tide. Although the water can be quite chilly, this is a sought after swimming destination and year-round surf spot. Marine life is often present at the beach, mainly sea lions and seals. On rare occasions, visitors will spot whales making their way between Baja California and Alaska. Starfish, sea urchins, clams, and mussels can also be found in the small tide pools.
Address: 585 Stagecoach Road, Trinidad, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: wildnerdpix/Fotolia
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Shell Beach is a slender and rocky beach south of the Russian River located in the small town of Jenner. To get to the beach, visitors make a quick hike down the bluffs along the trail until they hit the sand. The pathway can be slippery when wet so it's important to wear the proper shoes. The beach feels very private due to the steep bluffs that surround it, making it the perfect locale for beachcombing, fishing, and hiking. Shell Beach is known for its huge rocks and tide pools that become exposed during low tide. It's a fishermen's haven as some of the rocks are entirely covered in mussels.
Address: Highway 1 and Shell Beach Road, Jenner, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Tupungato/Fotolia
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»Fort Funston Beach
Fort Funston Beach is situated 200 feet below striking cliffs at the southernmost edge of San Francisco, and it is revered as one of the most magnificent and unspoiled beaches in the city. There is a steep and rugged path that leads to the beach, providing beautiful views of the bluffs and the Pacific Ocean, which often features Bottle Nose dolphins, whales, and seals. The entrance begins south of Ocean Beach and runs along the cliffs for a quarter mile allowing for 20-minute leisurely strolls from start to finish during low tide. Fort Funston is not a beach for swimming as the waters are quite dangerous; hang gliding is the most prominent activity here.
Address: Fort Fundston Road, San Francisco, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Yuval Helfman/Fotolia
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Glass Beach is an iconic southern beach in the MacKerricher State Park of Fort Bragg. It was previously the location of a trash dump and many pieces of old broken bottles covered the beach, which is how it received the name Glass Beach. The remnants of these bottles have been smoothed by the ocean and turned into treasured, colorful sea glass, which is the beach's main draw. Visitors will discover everything from unique ruby red sea glass made from pre-1967 automobile taillights to sapphire glass from smoothed apothecary bottles. It is against the law to remove sea glass, so visitors should bring a camera to capture the beauty.
Address: W Elm Street and Glass Beach Drive, Fort Bragg, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: wollertz/Fotolia
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»Gray Whale Cove (San Mateo County)
Gray Whale Cove, also known as Devil's Slide, is a protected cove encircled by cliffs that abruptly drop into the Pacific Ocean. As its name states, the beach is known for gray whales traveling close to the shore, making it an ideal locale to whale watch during their migration period mid-April to mid-May. Visitors can get to the beach using a clearly marked and slightly steep trail. This beach is also widely popular for sunbathing, especially for people who prefer to tan in the nude. As an unspoken rule, sunbathers with swimsuits head to the left, and the nudists head to the right when entering the beach.
Address: 1416 9th Street, Sacramento, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Krzysztof Wiktor/Fotolia
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»Greenwood State Beach
Greenwood State Beach is situated in the small town of Elk where Greenwood Creek spills into the Pacific Ocean. There is a parking lot off Highway 1 across from the Elk store that gives visitors access to the beach with a graded trail leading from the parking area to the beach. The picturesque area includes Gunderson Rock, a rock island that sits just slightly offshore. When the waters are calm, Greenwood Cove is an excellent place for kayakers to view prominent rock arches and sea stacks as well as visit Elk Creek Beach, which is only accessible from the water.
Address: 6101 Highway 1, Elk, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Crin/Fotolia
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»Gualala Point Regional Park
Gualala Point Regional Park is a 195-acre park featuring open meadows and a coastal forest. The park offers sandy beaches, coastal vistas, a campground, and a trail system. It is adjacent to the Gualala River, an ideal place for limited seasonal fishing opportunities. Despite its name, Gualala isn't located within the town where its name comes from. Instead, it resides in Mendocino County and marks the northernmost point on the Sonoma County coastline. The beach is a wide and long sand spit between the Gualala River and the ocean, an ideal place to whale watch, kayak, canoe, and beachcomb. Hiking, biking, picnicking, barbecuing, and bird watching are also common here.
Address: 42450 Highway 1, Gualala, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: shoenberg3/Fotolia
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»Heart's Desire Beach (Tomales Bay State Park)
Heart's Desire Beach is located within the Tomales Bay State Park and is known for being a family-friendly beach that can get quite busy on beautiful summer days. It is adjacent to the main parking lot, so it's easy to find. Swimming, kayaking, boating, clam digging, and bird watching are common activities at this beach. Heart's Desire is also known for excellent hiking opportunities. There are hiking trails both north and south of the beach that lead to Indian and Pebble beaches. Visitors will also find a longer hiking trail on the Johnstone Trail that will lead them to Shell Beach, the southernmost beach of the state park.
Address: 1208 Pierce Point Road, Iverness, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Travis/Fotolia
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Klamath Beach is located on a massive sand spit on the southern side of the Klamath River delta. The spit, covered in driftwood, safeguards the river's entrance making it a safer place for swimming, boating, and fishing. There is shoulder parking available where Klamath Beach Road turns south into Coastal Drive. From this point there is a gated road that heads toward the beach, along the way visitors will pass by some ancient wooden Native American buildings listed as Yurok Ceremonial Grounds. After passing these historic structures, it's just a little further to the beach where surfing, beachcombing, bird watching, and beach walking are common activities.
Address: Klamath Beach Road, Klamath, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: retbool/Fotolia
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»Lagoon Creek Beach
Lagoon Creek Beach is a small beach off Highway 101, five miles north of Klamath and on the south end of False Klamath Cove. This beach is mainly used for surfing and beachcombing. The Lagoon Creek Picnic Area, a part of the Redwood National Park, is close to the beach and features a large lagoon, picnic tables, and a parking area. There is a hiking trail that leads from the picnic area to a viewpoint equipped with a bench overlooking the cove and False Klamath Rock; it's ideal for a romantic moment or a photography shoot. If hikers continue on this trail it will eventually lead to Hidden Beach.
Address: Redwood Highway, Klamath, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: cherylvb/Fotolia
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»Manila Dunes Recreation Area
The Manila Dunes Recreation Area is a small beach on the Samoa Peninsula that fronts the tiny community of Manila close to Arcata and Eureka. The easiest way to reach this beach is by entering through the Manila Dunes Community Center located on Peninsula Drive. It's an additional one-third mile walk through the dunes along a sandy trail before reaching Manila Beach. Once visitors reach the beach, they'll notice it stretches for miles in both north and south directions, making it ideal for shoreline walking and beachcombing. The visitor center Friends of the Dunes is also close by, offering access to the beach and featuring various hiking trails.
Address: 1611 Peninsula Drive, Arcata, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Dima Rogozhin/Fotolia
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»Marshall Beach (San Francisco Presidio)
Marshall Beach is a long, slender, and secluded beach that begins at the Golden Gate Bridge at ends at North Baker Beach. Its steep cliffs provide shelter to the beach, making it one of the most prominent clothing-optional beaches in San Francisco. Due to water temperatures and safety reasons, this is not a swimming or surfing beach, though it is ideal for sunbathing and hiking. There are several trails along the bluff that go down to the beach. It's best to park at the Golden Gate Overlook and hike south until the trails begin to emerge. The magnificent views of the Golden Gate Bridge are this beach's highlight.
Address: Lincoln Boulevard and Langdon Court, San Francisco, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Can Balcioglu/Fotolia
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»Montara State Beach
Montara State Beach runs along the San Mateo County Coast with two access areas on Highway 1; the first is at 2nd Street and the second is a half-mile north of there. The beach is wide and spans a mile, featuring beautiful sculpted sandstone cliffs behind it that make it quite photogenic. Fishing, tide pooling, surfing, beachcombing, and beach walking are all popular here. Due to its location, it is also an ideal hiking destination with the nearby McNee Ranch offering several trails that lead to Montara Mountain. More hiking trails can be found on the hillside above the highway and north of the northern parking lot.
Address: 2nd Street and Cabrillo Highway, Montara, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: inacioluc/Fotolia
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»Moonstone Beach County Park (Trinidad)
Moonstone Beach County Park is on the north side of the Little River delta close to Trinidad. This tends to be a surfing beach, but it is also family-friendly as children can play safely in the river's slow current. This beach is quite photogenic with large sea stacks and rocks protruding out of the surf. The most prominent is Camel Rock, a massive, two-humped rock island north of the beach. There are various activities offered at this beach, including sea kayaking, swimming, tide pooling, rock climbing, horseback riding, and beachcombing. There are also a few hidden caves on the northern end of the beach that are worth exploring.
Address: 100 Moonstone Beach Road, Trinidad, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: wildnerdpix/Fotolia
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»Point St. George Beach (Crescent City)
Point St. George Beach is a large and wide beach that is part of the Tolowa Dunes State Park with the beach itself actually stretching farther north than the park. Whale watching, surfing, fishing, and beachcombing are popular activities among visitors. There are also tide pools on the south side of the point in a protected cove where the wild ocean waves don't crash, making it perfect for checking out the local marine life. This prominent rocky point is just three miles north of Crescent City and boasts magnificent views of the St. George Reef Lighthouse on clear days; telephoto camera lenses and binoculars are recommended.
Address: 4355 N Pebble Beach Drive, Crescent City, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: flatbox/Fotolia
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Rodeo Beach is located within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area on the sand spit that divides Rodeo Cove from the Rodeo Lagoon. The beach is broad and dark colored due to its small brown, green, blue, and red pebbly stones. It is a popular beach due to its close proximity to San Francisco and the fact that it is ideal for surfing, hiking, bird watching, and rock hounding. Slightly offshore is Bird Rock, which features a small arch in its center where various birds often perch. There are several trails that lead from the beach's parking lot to the bluffs where coastal overlooks can be found.
Address: 1049 Mitchell Road, Sausalito, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Lynn Yeh/Fotolia
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»Russian Gulch State Park
Russian Gulch State Park is north of Mendocino below the Highway 1 Bridge where the Russian Gulch Creek streams into the slender cove. The sandy beach is a family-friendly area where children can play safely in the creek water, but they should be careful in the bay water. The cove is a protected area popular for scuba divers. Kayaking, canoeing, fishing, Abalone diving, mountain biking, and camping are common in this area, as well as hiking. There are several trails worth exploring in the headlands north and south of the beach. A highlight is the Devil's Punchbowl, a one-of-a-kind natural feature where waves flood the bowl through a big rock arch.
Address: Point Cabrillo Drive and Brest Road, Mendocino, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Enso Creative/Fotolia
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»San Gregorio State Beach
San Gregorio is a beautiful beach in a valley roughly ten miles south of Half Moon Bay. There is a massive parking lot and picnic area located on the cliff above the beach, ideal for barbecues. Gregorio Creek flows down to the beach, pools, and then exits through the sand. Often the lagoon will occupy the entire cove, attracting various types of birds year round. To the north of the cove are caves and fossils within the sandstone cliffs that are worth exploration. South of the creek, San Gregorio stretches more than a mile beneath the cliff side to Pomponio State Beach; this is a wonderful beach walk.
Address: 20063 Cabrillo Highway S, San Gregorio, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Colinda McKie/Fotolia
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Located within Redwood National Park, Enderts Beach is one of the most scenic beaches within the park, but takes a mellow hike to reach it. To get to this driftwood-laden, rock-studded coastline, visitors will walk just under a mile along a portion of the old Coast Highway that has long been abandoned. It is downhill on the way there and uphill on the way back; the halfway mark is the pastoral Nickel Creek Campground that welcomes backpackers overnight. This crescent shaped beach might not be ideal for swimming, but it is perfect for leisurely strolls along the shoreline, kite flying, sand-castling, and walking around the tide pools at low-tide.
Address: Enderts Beach Road, Crescent City, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Zack Frank/Fotolia
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»South Salmon Creek Beach
South Salmon Creek Beach is located slightly north of the town of Bodega situated between Salmon Creek and Bodega Dunes. The most popular area of the beach is north of the parking lot near the sand spit. The north end of Salmon Creek Beach sits across from the creek, which at certain parts of the year is simply a lagoon with no way out. Beachcombing, fishing, bird watching, beach walking, picnicking, and wildlife watching are common activities here. It is also an excellent place to surf when the conditions permit, but it is too dangerous to swim in the area.
Address: Bean Avenue and Maryana Drive, Bodega Bay, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Crin/Fotolia
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Stinson Beach is a large public beach located within the town that shares its name and can be found within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This favored getaway an hour north of San Francisco is popular for surfing, swimming, sunbathing, picnicking, fishing, beach walking, and beachcombing. The latter is especially true during the winter when the beach isn't as crowded. On sunny days the parking lot can fill up quickly, so visitors should plan ahead. Rip currents are common here, so be sure to check with the lifeguard station. There is a snack shack and a few restaurants during summer.
Address: 3514 Shoreline Highway, Stinson Beach, CA 25 Best Northern California Beaches - Photo: Tupungato/Fotolia
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25 Best Northern California Beaches
- Baker Beach, Photo: Courtesy of rschlie - Fotolia.com
- Black Sands Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Teressa - Fotolia.com
- Caspar Headlands State Beach, Photo: Courtesy of asierromero - Fotolia.com
- Centerville Beach, Photo: Courtesy of tsiban - Fotolia.com
- College Cove Beach (Humboldt County), Photo: Courtesy of wildnerdpix - Fotolia.com
- Shell Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Tupungato - Fotolia.com
- Fort Funston Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Yuval Helfman - Fotolia.com
- Glass Beach, Photo: Courtesy of wollertz - Fotolia.com
- Gray Whale Cove (San Mateo County), Photo: Courtesy of Krzysztof Wiktor - Fotolia.com
- Greenwood State Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Crin - Fotolia.com
- Gualala Point Regional Park, Photo: Courtesy of shoenberg3 - Fotolia.com
- Heart's Desire Beach (Tomales Bay State Park), Photo: Courtesy of Travis - Fotolia.com
- Klamath Beach, Photo: Courtesy of retbool - Fotolia.com
- Lagoon Creek Beach, Photo: Courtesy of cherylvb - Fotolia.com
- Manila Dunes Recreation Area, Photo: Courtesy of Dima Rogozhin - Fotolia.com
- Marshall Beach (San Francisco Presidio), Photo: Courtesy of Can Balcioglu - Fotolia.com
- Montara State Beach, Photo: Courtesy of inacioluc - Fotolia.com
- Moonstone Beach County Park (Trinidad), Photo: Courtesy of wildnerdpix - Fotolia.com
- Point St. George Beach (Crescent City), Photo: Courtesy of flatbox - Fotolia.com
- Rodeo Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Lynn Yeh - Fotolia.com
- Russian Gulch State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Enso Creative - Fotolia.com
- San Gregorio State Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Colinda McKie - Fotolia.com
- Enderts Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- South Salmon Creek Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Crin - Fotolia.com
- Stinson Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Tupungato - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of irinasen - Fotolia.com
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