Whether you’re looking for picture-perfect views or the ideal spot for hunting for sea glass, these are the top 10 beaches in Northern California. Northern California is known ‘round the world as home to some of the prettiest beaches on the west coast. There’s something particularly dreamy about the rugged stretches of coastline that hug the chilly Pacific—and while pretty much all of them are quite impressive, not all beaches are created equal. Below, we’ve rounded up a few of the best beaches in Northern California. You’ll encounter the local wildlife, catch some wild waves if you’re looking to surf, discover private coves, and be in total awe of how beautiful these beaches are:
Beaches to Visit in Northern California
1. Glass Beach
Glass Beach is an iconic southern beach in the MacKerricher State Park of Fort Bragg. This beautiful beach in northern California 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 tail lights 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
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2. Baker Beach
This is a great family beach in northern California 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, California
3. 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 Bottlenose dolphins, whales, and seals. The entrance of this amazing beach in northern California 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 Funston Road, San Francisco, CA
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4. Gualala Point Regional Park
Gualala Point Regional Park is a 195-acre park featuring open meadows and a coastal forest. This 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. This iconic beach in northern California is a wide and long sandspit 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
5. Centerville Beach
Centerville Beach is a nine-mile long secluded beach separating the sandstone cliffs of the 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 smores over a bonfire. This windswept beach in northern California is also perfect for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Things to Do in Eureka.
Address: 322 First Street, Eureka, CA
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6. College Cove Beach
College Cove Beach is located in a cove north of Trinidad State Beach in the quaint town of Trinidad. This most visited beach in northern California 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
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7. Shell Beach
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. This best beach to visit in northern California 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.
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8. Gray Whale Cove
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 amazing beach in northern California 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
9. 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, this most beautiful beach in northern California 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.
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10. Heart’s Desire Beach
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. This famous beach in northern California 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
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11. Stinson Beach
Stinson Beach is a large public beach in northern California 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.
12. 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
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13. Rodeo Beach
Rodeo Beach is located within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area on the sand spit that divides Rodeo Cove from the Rodeo Lagoon. This crowded beach in northern California 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 rockhounding. 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
14. 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. This top beach in northern California 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
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15. 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, this longest beach in northern California stretches more than a mile beneath the cliffside to Pomponio State Beach; this is a wonderful beach walk.
Address: 20063 Cabrillo Highway S, San Gregorio, CA
16. 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 sandy beach in northern California 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
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17. Klamath Beach
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 this popular beach in northern California, 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
18. Enderts Beach
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 in northern California 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
19. 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 famous sandy beach in northern California 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
20. 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. This most beautiful beach in northern California 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. Things to Do in MendocinoAddress: 14441 Point Cabrillo Drive, Mendocino, CA
Here are the Top 10 Beaches in Northern California which are famous in there own terms and activities. On these beaches, you can go for perfect sunbathing, hiking, horseback riding, boating, kayaking, and other outdoor activities to enjoy the best beach moments. I hope you loved our post and please share it so that it will be informative to other individuals also.
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