The sun is shining, and the weather is warm – it must be summertime! And what better way to spend the summer than at the beach? Northern California is home to some of the best beaches in the world, and we want to help you find them.
In this blog post, we will discuss our top 9 picks for beaches in Northern California, as well as provide information on what makes each one special. So pack your swimsuit and sunscreen and get ready for a fun-filled summer. Although be aware the water is this part of California is always cold.
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Monterey State Beach
Monterey State Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Northern California. Located in Monterey and a short drive from the popular tourist spot Cannery Row, this beach is known for its scenic beauty and is a great place to enjoy the outdoors.
The beach begins next to Fisherman’s Wharf and continues down to Seaside. Monterey is a flat beach, making it fantastic for walking or jogging. This spot is popular for paragliding, kite flying, and surf fishing. For those who want to stay on dry land, there’s also volleyball, swimming, sunbathing and picnicking.
Additionally, Monterey State Beach is home to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, one of the biggest marine protected areas in the country. The sanctuary has the best wildlife the world has to offer, including whales, octopuses, dolphins, otters, seals, and sea lions, lush kelp forests, and fascinating tide pools. The best way to see the wildlife is a trip to the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium, a whale watching trip, or a scuba dive.
Carmel Beach is a small but popular beach located in the small, laid-back town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. This beach city is known for its incredible museums and art galleries, as well as its fairytale cottages that can be seen throughout the town.
Enjoy the village life by eating at one of the many restaurants or by shopping for souvenirs in its many boutique shops. There are also plenty of luxury hotels overlooking the sea and large golf courses in the area for visitors to enjoy.
Carmel Beach is a great place to relax and take in stunning views. Its rugged coastline and white sand make it a popular spot for photographers and nature lovers. Best of all, this area has a dog-friendly atmosphere – dogs are allowed on the beach off-leash but have to be under voice command.
This picturesque beach is the perfect place to spend a day with your family or friends. There’s something for everyone here, from boogie boarding and sunbathing to exploring the tide pools at the southern end of the beach. And after a day worth of fun, you can spend the evening lighting up a campfire and grilling some dinner and s’mores – perfect for a summer night.
Located in Marin County, this Northern California beach is a great spot for a day trip from San Francisco. As a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Stinson Beach is about a 60-minute drive away from the city, making it the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.
Nestled in a small, unincorporated community, this under-the-radar beach is rural and secluded from most travelers. The residents of San Francisco love to come here on the weekends to relax and enjoy the quiet atmosphere.
Stinson Beach is well known for its gentle surf, making this beach fantastic to swim in – if you can handle the cold water. If the water is a touch too cold for your liking, sit back on its beautiful white sand and sunbathe the day away.
Once you’re done having fun at the beach, you can check out Muir Woods National Monument and Mt. Tamalpais State Park, which are only a short drive away. These areas are perfect for hiking and picnicking and offer stunning views of giant redwoods and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Battery Point Beach, Crescent City
Battery Point Beach is a great spot for those who want to experience a bit of everything Northern California has to offer – from its history to its natural beauty. Located in Crescent City, this beach is small but offers plenty of activities for visitors.
For history buffs, there is the Battery Point Lighthouse – which is only accessible during low tide – as well as an old Coast Guard Station that has been turned into a museum.
Visitors can also enjoy fishing, swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking in the area. There are even a few restaurants located nearby if you get hungry. Crescent City has a few different overnight stay hotels you can go to, but the Lighthouse Inn is probably the best in town for both its views and amenities.
So, whether you’re looking to relax or explore, Battery Point Beach is the perfect spot for you.
Main Beach, MacKerricher State Park
Main Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Northern California, and it’s easy to see why. This beach is located in MacKerricher State Park and is known for its incredible views and diverse landscape. It’s also the only park in the park system that was once part of the Mendocino Indian Reservation.
Visitors can find tide pools, dunes, wetlands, and even a few forested areas – making it the perfect place to explore. Don’t forget to visit Glass Beach while you’re there. Formerly a trash dump of broken bottles has been transformed into a beautiful treasure trove of smooth sea glass; just make sure not to walk too close to the water.
There are also plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching, as this beach is home to a variety of birds and other animals. See more than 90 species of birds that live near Cleone Lake, a former tidal lagoon, or walk along the park’s coastline to see the seals that may be sunbathing on the rocks.
Main Beach is also a great place to go hiking, camping, surfing, and horseback riding. With miles and miles of trails, you can take your bike – or horse – through the different ecosystems and really take in all that this beach has to offer. Additionally, if you have mobility issues, you can still enjoy the nature trail as it has wheelchair access.
The beach also has an abundance of activities and facilities, including environmental learning opportunities, exhibits and programs, fishing, guided tours, scuba diving and snorkeling, windsurfing, geocaching, and so much more.
If you’re looking for an overnight campsite, look no further! Main Beach has a dense collection of family and group campsites, hiking and biking trails, and RV access. Not a fan of camping but still want to stay overnight? No problem. The Shoreline Cottages between Fort Bragg and Mendocino bring modern comfort to your beach adventures. Located on Highway 1, this place is just a short walk or drive away from all the action.
Bodega Dunes Beach
This large remote beach is located in Bodega Bay and offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Located in Sonoma County, near Napa Valley, this sandy beach can famously be seen in movies such as Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
Bodega Dunes State Beach is one of the best places to go camping in Northern California. With huge campgrounds that can accommodate almost 100 spots for RVs and tents, this beach is perfect for those who want to spend a few days in the great outdoors. If you want a more luxurious experience, you can visit the Bodega Bay Lodge, which offers beachfront views, a spa, and a golf course.
There are also several miles of hiking trails that will take you through the sand dunes, woodlands, and wetlands. The coastal bluffs are also a great place for nature watching or just enjoying the sunset.
Equestrian riders will be pleased to see that they can access the Bodega Dunes trail system from the campground. Horses are allowed on the south beach, but unfortunately, not on the north side. Dog owners should also note that dogs are not permitted in the dunes or beach area. Dogs are allowed on the campgrounds, though, so long as they are leashed.
Whether you’re looking to spend a day or a week, Bodega Dunes is the perfect place for your next beach adventure.
This mile-long crescent-shaped beach offers incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Lands End, and the Marin Headlands. It’s also a great place to relax on a sunny day or go for a walk any time of the year.
Baker Beach is located in the Presidio of San Francisco and is one of the few beaches where clothing is optional; therefore, it is often considered a nude beach. While the south side has more clothed beachgoers, the further north you travel, the less clothing you’ll see.
Unfortunately, sunbathing, fishing, flying a kite, and taking in the sights are about all you can do, as swimming is considered unsafe due to the undertow and rip currents.
The best time to visit is during the weekday as many San Francisco residents like to make the short-day trip during the weekends.
So, if you’re looking for a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge or want to experience San Francisco’s unique take on a nude beach, Baker Beach is the place for you.
Nine miles long and located in both Mendocino and Humboldt County, this beach is often called the Lost Coast due to its undeveloped coastline. If you want to experience a beach that is pure and raw with water, both cold and rough, this is the place for you.
There are no lifeguards on duty, no bathrooms or showers, and very few amenities in general. Due to the rough and cold water, water sports are not recommended either. However, there are plenty of hiking trails, tidepools, and natural wonders to explore.
Horses and dogs are allowed on the beach. So, if you’re looking for a place to bring your furry friend, this is it! Vehicles and ATVs are also allowed since it’s a wide and flat area.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz is a beach town that’s well-known for its vibrant atmosphere and beautiful scenery. The beach is wide and flat, with soft bright yellow sand and plenty of room for everyone. The water is also very clean and clear, making it perfect for swimming, surfing, or just relaxing.
The ocean is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and like Monterey beach, you can spot whales, dolphins, sea lions, and otters, often from the shore.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of the most popular attractions in the area, perfect for families. This world-famous boardwalk stretches for almost two miles along the beachfront and is lined with shops, restaurants, and rides.
Some of the most popular family-friendly rides include the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, the Looff Carousel, and the Ferris Wheel. Young children can also join in the fun with kiddie rides like the Beach Swing, Jet Copters, and Sea Dragons. For those who want a more thrilling experience, there are also a few rollercoasters located on the boardwalk. Rides like Fireball, Typhoon, and WipeOut are great for thrill seekers.
In addition to the rides, there are also plenty of food options available with tons of cafes and restaurants. You can find everything from hot dogs and cotton candy to sushi and ice cream. Restaurants on the outskirts of the boardwalk are incredible, too, especially if you’re looking for a nice sit-down meal.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, there are several hotels located near the boardwalk. The Casablanca Inn and the Carousel Beach Inn are both great options. The boardwalk is open all year round, although the rides are only open in the summer and on weekends.
There’s something for everyone at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your sunscreen and head down to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for a day of fun in the sun!
So there you have it – our top nine picks for the best beaches in Northern California! If you’re looking for some fun in the sun, Northern California has no shortage of amazing beaches to choose from. From rocky coastlines to sandy shores, there’s something for everyone on this list of the best beaches in Northern California.
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