California’s Pacific Coast is full of stunning beaches and we bet everyone can name a few famous ones like San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, Santa Monica Beach, Venice Beach or San Diego’s Coronado Beach. But some of the best beaches in California are not really known and therefore less busy.
The Best Beaches in California
They are just nature’s unspoilt treasures and they offer great opportunities for solitude, wildlife watching or romantic walks. We’ve lived in California for a year, so we had enough time to discover not only the famous touristy places, but some hidden gems, too.
1. El Matador State Beach, Malibu
El Matador Beach is definitely one of the best beaches in California and it is just a couple of minutes drive from Malibu. This narrow beach is in the shade of huge cliffs and stairs led us down there from the parking lot.
We were amazed by interesting rock formations on the shore and in the water, and also by the perfect ocean sunset this beach offers. It’s not really a beach for swimming or surfing, but it’s photographer’s and couples’ favorite because of its wild and romantic atmosphere.
2. Beach at Alamere Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore
A beach with a waterfall – how does that sound? No, we don’t think of Big Sur’s popular and magical McWay Falls this time, it’s another one: Alamere Falls at Point Reyes National Seashore. We are not sure if this beach has a name, actually, it even ceases to exist at high tide and then Alamere Falls flow directly into the ocean.
But it definitely exists at low tide and there’s a steep trail leading down to it near the top of the falls. However this unique beach requires some hiking, because it can only be accessed via Coast Trail from Palomarin Trailhead. This means an 8 miles moderate roundtrip which has easily became a day hike for us as we spent so much time chilling out on the beach.
If you love these check out 13 more Unique Beaches from Around the world.
3. Rodeo Beach, Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Golden Gate National Recreation Area is just north of San Francisco and it offers several nice coastal hikes, some with stunning panorama of Golden Gate and the San Francisco Bay. Rodeo Beach is a starting point of several shorter and longer hikes and also a nice beach itself bounded by a lagoon.
It’s dark, pebbly sand is unique in California. It’s a popular surfing beach, but swimming is dangerous because of the strong currents. We enjoyed walking on the beach, doing some of the coastal hikes and getting amazed by the wild ocean.
4. Laguna Beach, Orange County
Laguna Beach is a local’s favorite in Orange County. And our favorite, too! It's one of the few California beaches where we went into the water for a short swim. With its clean and calm water it’s said to be one of the best swimming beaches.
But we warn you the water is far from warm even in the summer – just as anywhere else along California coast. It was a nice refreshment though in South California’s hot summer.
We loved our time on Fraser Island in Australia. Now that is one unique beach!
5. Pescadero State Beach, Half Moon Bay
Pescadero is a long, quiet, wild beach in Central California with great wildlife watching opportunities. We've seen tons of harbor seals resting on the cliffs near the shore and Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve is right behind the beach.
There are several shorter trails in the marsh and they are excellent for bird-watching. Pescadero State Beach also has beautiful (though usually windy and chilly) sunsets.
6. Andrew Molera State Beach, Big Sur
Again, an adventurous beach! It’s located in Andrew Molera State Park and accessing it requires a short walk from the parking lot. The walk includes a river crossing as well if the seasonal bridge is removed. The crystal clear river was not deep at all when we were there, we could pleasantly walk through it.
Uhm… we could have done it pleasantly, if it wouldn’t have been so damn cold. But it was still fun. 🙂 Andrew Molera Beach is at the mouth of Big Sur River, it’s a long undeveloped beach and we also loved hiking on the nice bluff trail above it.
7. Gold Bluffs Beach, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Gold Bluffs Beach is part of Northern California’s Redwood National and State Parks and the foggy redwoods in the background give a mystic atmosphere to it. This puts it right up there as one of the best beaches in California. Usually there’s not many people on the beach which will only strengthen this atmosphere.
One of the most special hikes in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is Fern Canyon Trail which took us back to the Jurassic times – actually, some scenes of the Jurassic Park movie was filmed there. It starts from Gold Bluffs Beach – or ends at the beach if you start at James Irvine Trail like we did. The beach itself is also accessible by car and there’s a small campground at the parking lot.
Check our post on Santorini for more great beaches
8. Limantour Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore
This long and perfectly sandy beach on a sand spit between Drakes Bay and the Limantour Estero esturary is another gem of Point Reyes National Seashore. Thanks to the nearby wetlands there’s high chance to spot seabirds. Harbor seals also like the shallow water of Drakes Bay and they are often seen lying on the shore.
Limantour Beach is accessible by car and it has a nice large parking lot. But if you ask us it's much nicer to park earlier along the road and hike there through pine forests and wetlands. We’ve done the Laguna Trail – Limantour Beach – Muddy Hollow Trail – Bayview Trail loop which was a beautiful diverse day hike.
9. Carmel Beach City Park, Carmel-By-The-Sea
The charming small town of Carmel-By-The-Sea is located right south of Central California’s Monterey Peninsula. It’s one of those typical Central California beach towns with a lovely walking street, tons of restaurants with or without ocean panorama and of course, a long, sandy (and also dog friendly) beach.
We loved walking on Carmel Beach and also on the scenic road above the beach. The beach was full of families having picnic, kids swimming or playing in the water and dogs running around. Carmel Beach is one of the few places left on California coast where people can still gather around a fire to toast marshmallows and enjoy the atmosphere of a beach bonfire.
10. Cowell Ranch Beach, Half Moon Bay
The most hidden beache and one of the best beaches in California, is Cowell Ranch Beach. While driving south of Half Moon Bay State Beach on California 1 we were looking for a small parking lot by a yellow gate which indicated the trailhead for Cowell Ranch Beach. It’s easy to miss it, but it’s worth looking for, it rewarded us with a beautiful, barely known beach.
The beach is accessible by a short bluff trail with wooden stairs at the end and it took us about 15 minutes to get there. There’s another beach south of the trail which is not accessible because it’s a seal preserve. Binoculars are always a good idea on California coast, but here you have especially good chance to observe seals. On the other hand Cowell Ranch Beach is facing perfectly west, so it’s a peaceful getaway for sunset lovers.
Did we miss anything? What do you think are the best beaches in California?
About the authors
Csaba & Bea are passionate travellers, hikers and hobby photographers. They left their small home country, Hungary almost 2 years ago and moved to a much bigger one, the US where they have quickly became addicted to national parks, hiking and road trips and started to believe that they can live their dreams. Now they are back in Europe again and they continue dreaming and exploring and try to have more adventures and less bullshit in their lives. Read about their adventures on their blog Our Wanders. Follow them also on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook!