10 Best Beaches in Northern California

Updated On October 4, 2023
Northern California

Northern California beaches offer a natural escape from the everyday.

Some beaches are open year-round for land-based and water-based activities, which include the following. 

  • Fishing – Local and visiting fishermen take advantage of some of the best fishing in the icy waters of Northern California beaches. Surf fishing, pier fishing, fly fishing, and charter boat fishing. 
  • Boating – California coastal visitors often take advantage of boating in charter boats, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, jet skiing, and exploring the Pacific coast on other motorized and non-motorized watercraft. 
  • Surfing – Experienced surfers visit Northern California’s beaches to take advantage of challenging waves that put their surfing skills to the test. 
  • Tidepooling – Coastal visitors love exploring the wide variety of tide pools at low tide, where they can discover a vast array of sea life and marine animals like whales, seals, and sea lions
  • Whale Watching – Many people visit Northern Cali beaches to see their favorite marine life up close for one-of-a-kind experiences where beach visitors can observe local sea life in their natural habitat. 

Below is a summary of some of California’s best beaches and things to do at the beach. 

10 Best Beaches in Northern California

Baker Beach
Baker Beach

1. Baker Beach, San Francisco, CA

About the Beach

Baker Beach in San Fran is one of California’s best-kept secrets.

This beach gives coastal visitors a breathtaking view of the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. 

Important Notes

This San Fransisco beach is best for strolling, picnicking, or sunbathing, as the choppy waters and icy temperatures make it difficult to swim at Baker Beach.

Visitors can also glimpse history when they visit the Battery Chamberlin to see historic military artifacts. 

Contact Information

Address: 1770 Gibson Road, San Francisco, California – 94129

Website: https://www.presidio.gov/places/baker-beach

Stinson Beach
Stinson Beach

2. Stinson Beach, Marin County CA

About the Beach

Stinson Beach in Marin County is part of the National Park Service’s family of parks and beaches.

This swim-friendly beach features many family-friendly activities, making it an ideal location to spend a balmy afternoon. 

Important Notes

This Northern California beach is among those that allow dogs on the beach.

However, newcomers should note that dogs are not permitted on the NPS-designated portions of the coast.

Locals also advise that parking lots fill up quickly and that arriving early is best. 

Contact Information

Address: Shoreline Drive, Marin County, CA 94970

Website: https://www.nps.gov/goga/stbe.htm

Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Beach

3. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, CA

About the Beach 

One of the first things beachgoers think of when they visit Pfeifer Beach is its distinctly colored sand.

This one-of-a-kind Northern California Beach has purple sand! 

Important Notes

Beach lovers come to Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach to gaze at spectacular natural formations like keyhole arches instead of swimming which is not recommended due to frigid water temperatures and underwater rock formations.

Contact Information

Address: Julia Burns State Park, King City, California 93930. 

Website: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=570

Glass Beach
Glass Beach

4. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg

About the Beach 

Glass Beach in Fort Bragg is a popular tourist site where people go to relax and admire this beach, where the sand is covered in sea glass pebbles that are remnants of old glass bottles. 

Important Notes

Swimming and other water-based activities are prohibited at glass beaches for safety reasons.

Instead, people visit glass beaches to take pictures and relax in the Northern California Sun.

Dogs are allowed on a leash at Glass Beach. 

Contact Information 

Address: Fort Bragg, CA 95437

Website: https://www.californiabeaches.com/beach/glass-beach/

Carmel Beach
Carmel Beach

5. Carmel Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

About the Beach 

Carmel Beach is a picturesque beach frequently named one of California’s Best Beaches.

This popular beach is famous for its breathtaking scenery, which includes groves of trees strewn along the coastline. 

Important Notes

Caramel Beach is dog friendly. They allow dogs on and off leash under the command of their owners.

The water temperatures are colder than some other beaches—water temperatures at Caramel Beach average around 50 degrees. 

Contact Information 

Address: Caramel-by-The Sea, California – 93921

Website: https://www.carmelcalifornia.com/carmel-beach.htm

Moonstone Beach
Moonstone Beach

6. Moonstone Beach, Cambria, CA 

About the Beach

Moonstone Beach is one of Northern California’s most famous and popular beaches.

People visit Moonstone Beach to marvel at its natural array of moonstones and agates found in this area. 

Beach visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and surfing at Moonstone Beach.

They can also see some of the area’s largest tidepools, attracting thousands of visitors to this serene Northern Cali beach. 

Contact Information 

Address: San Luis Obispo County, Cambria, CA 

Website: https://visitcambriaca.com/itinerary-element/moonstone-beach/

Limantour Beach
Limantour Beach

7. Limantour Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA

About the Beach 

Limantour Beach offers a serene coastal escape with its expansive sandy shoreline and scenic views.

It’s an excellent spot for bird-watching, beach walks, and horseback riding. 

Important Information

Visitors to Limantour Beach normally spend hours taking in its natural beauty which includes rolling sand dunes and an expansive stretch of California coastline.

This beach features protected areas designated for wildlife viewing and observing local sea life.

Land-based activities are popular here as the landscape and cold waters are not ideal for swimming. 

Contact Information

Address: Limantour Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA 

Website: https://www.nps.gov/places/point-reyes-limantour-beach.htm

Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach

8. Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz

About the Beach 

Natural Bridges State Beach could be one of the most idyllic beaches in Northern California.

This beach features an arch where visitors flock for photos and upfront views of the natural rock formation jutting out of the Pacific. 

Important Notes

Swimming is allowed at Natural Bridges State Beach, but no lifeguards are on duty.

Inexperienced swimmers should take caution when swimming in choppy waters that can have a strong undercurrent.

Excited beachgoers and nature enthusiasts can also take advantage of hiking, photography, and bird-watching at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz

Contact Information 

Address: 200 Natural Bridges State Beach Road, Santa Cruz, California 95060

Website: https://www.californiabeaches.com/beach/natural-bridges-state-beach/

Shelter Cove
Shelter Cove

9. Shelter Cove, Humboldt County, CA

About the Beach 

Shelter Cove in Humboldt County, California, is a preferred location for swimmers, hikers, fishers, and campers.

Along with being a hotspot for local swimmers, Shelter Cove offers awe-inspiring natural scenery, including a star-filled sky for overnight campers who love stargazing. 

Important Notes

Shelter Cove belongs to a residential resort community in Humboldt County that borders the King Range National Conservation Area.

This trendy beach is open to the public, with a parking lot just a short distance from the coastline. 

Contact Information

Address: 155 Beach Road, Whitethorn, California – 95589

Website: https://humboldtgov.org/1928/Shelter-Cove

Sonoma Coast Beach
Sonoma Coast Beach

10. Sonoma Coast State Beach, Bodega Bay 

About the Beach 

California tourists and visitors spend quality time at Sonoma Coast State Beach and have summertime fun by swimming, fishing, hiking, and boating along the gorgeous Northern California coastline.

Sonoma Beach is famous for its tranquil location that provides easy access to the ocean and tidepools. 

Important Notes

There are a wealth of land-based activities like sea watching, where marine life like seals, sea lions, and whales regularly appear atop the waves.

One of the best features of Sonoma Coast State Park Beach is its overnight camping facilities that allow visitors to enjoy the beach for days at a time. 

Contact Information 

Address: CA 1 – Bodega Bay, California -94923

Website: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g32091-d116911-Reviews-Sonoma_Coast_State_Beach-Bodega_Bay_Sonoma_County_California.html

California Safety Overview

READ THE FULL REPORT: California Safety Review

Safety Index:

Frequently Asked Questions

Are all Northern California beaches suitable for swimming? 

Not necessarily.

Local weather reports from news sources and first-hand accounts from beachgoers say that some beaches in Northern California can have a cold to frigid temperatures that aren’t ideal for swimming or surfing.

Check the weather and water temperature of your favorite Northern California beaches before venturing into an icy surf.

Are there any restrictions I should know about when visiting Northern California beaches?

Rules and regulations for what is acceptable at each beach vary by location.

Travelers and newcomers to Northern California beaches should visit their beach website to learn about the specific rules and regulations for each beach.

For example, while some beaches allow pets like dogs on the beach, others strictly prohibit pets.

California beachgoers can also find rules and regulations for bonfires, camping, and consuming alcohol on the beach on the beach website.

What do people do at Northern California beaches?

There are a wide variety of fun beach activities to take part in at Northern California beaches.

Local residents, tourists, and returning beach visitors can entertain themselves for hours on end, doing the following activities:

  • Surfing
  • Fishing
  • Volleyball
  • Tanning
  • Frisbee
  • Picnicking

Can I take my dog to the best beaches in Northern California?

Some Northern California beaches accept dogs and have designated dog-friendly areas on the beach.

Others strictly prohibit having dogs and other animals on the beach.

Be sure to check your favorite beaches’ regulations to learn if your furry family member is welcome on the beach.

1 Comment on 10 Best Beaches in Northern California

  1. The beaches of Northern California offer a diverse range of activities, making them the perfect natural escape from everyday life.

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