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15 NorCal Beaches to Visit Now

15 NorCal Beaches to Visit Now

Don your sunglasses and pack your swimsuit! It's time to head to your favorite Northern California beach for an outdoor adventure.

Roubina Al Abashian


8 min read

September 07, 2021

The famed Pacific coastline of Northern California is a combination of photogenic beaches and hidden coves, crowded areas and more intimate ones. Those unique beaches offer their visitors more than just water, sand, and rocks. They’re built differently and proudly show it off. The rugged coastline has over 300 remarkable beaches that cater to the desires of every beachgoer. These NorCal beaches, with their distinctive traits, will open so many doors for new adventures you didn’t know were available in the Golden State.

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The Best Beaches in Northern California

1. Hearts Desire Beach

Location: 1208 Pierce Point Road, Inverness, CA 94937
Hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Parking: $8
Amenities: Restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, hand-carry boat launch, swimming area, trails
Dogs allowed: No

Hidden in Tomales Bay State Park is one of the best family friendly beaches in California. Ideal for little ones, Hearts Desire Beach exceeds expectations (and, with a name like this, there are high expectations). Picnics are a delight, as the beach is surrounded with smooth green grass to spread a picnic on, as well as picnic tables and BBQ grills. Gather the kids and head to this family-friendly NorCal beach, where the water is warmer, softer, and safer than many of the surrounding beaches.

Wondering where to set down your beach bag and transform into a beach bum for the day? Head to Stinson Beach. that's where the magic happens.

2. Stinson Beach

Location: 3514 Shoreline Highway, Stinson Beach, California 94970
Hours: Gates open at 9 a.m., closing time varies depending on the season
Parking: Free parking
Amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, BBQs, lifeguard
Dogs allowed: No

Stinson Beach is the go to spot for the adventurous at heart. Just an hour’s drive from the City by the Bay, this popular beach is the perfect spot for bouldering with its perfect rock formations. Stinson beach is also popular within the surfing community, as it is rightfully considered to be one of the best surfing spots in the San Fran area. Up for a scenic adventure? You know where you’re headed next.

Ah, the majestic Black Sands Beach. How could you not want to spend eternity sunbathing here in paradise?

3. Black Sands Beach

Location: Conzelman Road, Sausalito, California 94965
Hours: 24 hours
Parking: Free parking
Amenities: Hiking, photography, beach exploration, fishing
Dogs allowed: No

Famous for its dark colored sand, the Black Sand Beach has rightfully earned its place as one of the best NorCal beaches. This picture-perfect beach has been attracting photographers towards its shores for years now. Incredible surrounding hiking trails, showcasing breathtaking views, are a go-to destination for avid hikers. Whether you're looking for peace of mind or a stroll with your boo, this breathtaking Northern California Beach should be on the top of your list.

The view from Baker Beach is simply incredible. Lose yourself in the view as you sunbathe away, everyday.

4. Baker Beach

Location: Bowley Street  and Gibson Road, San Francisco, California 94129
Hours: 24 hours
Parking: Free parking
Amenities: Restrooms, picnic tables, military gun structures
Dogs allowed: No

San Francisco is famous for providing unparalleled views of beautiful shorelines and lavish sunsets, and Baker Beach is just the place. With mesmerizing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, this one mile stretch of sand is the perfect place to enjoy nature in its finest—that is, if you don’t mind the crowds. If you’re in the Bay Area and looking to have a beautiful time, Baker Beach is just the place for you.

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous... China Beach is where its at for all things relaxation.

5. China Beach

Location: 340 Sea Cliff Avenue, San Francisco, California 94121
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Parking: Free parking
Amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, tide pools, cave
Dogs allowed: No

China Beach was once a campsite for Chinese fishermen, hence the name. Yup, you got that right, fishing is what it’s all about. Following in the footsteps of the Chinese fishermen, crabbing enthusiasts head to this beach for a good catch or two. Now that you know the secret, prepare your gear and head straight to one of the greatest places to go fishing in California.

6. Natural Bridges State Beach

Location: 2531 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, California 95060
Hours: 8 a.m.-sunset
Parking: $10 inside the park, free parking at overlook lot on Cliff Drive
Amenities: Trails, butterfly preserve, tide pools, rock arch, restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, lifeguard
Dogs allowed: No

A California icon now, the Natural Bridges State Beach is as famous as a NorCal beach can get. Getting its name from the natural arch formed from the huge rock found along the shore, this must visit Santa Cruz beach is a great spot for sightseeing, hiking, and having a picnic with the family. The park is also home to a butterfly migration preserve and exhibition. On your next trip to one of the best beaches in California, make sure to share plenty of photos. 

Stroll the pier with your beloved when chillin' like villains at the Santa Cruz Main Beach. Pro tip: share soft serve, it'll make everything sweeter.

7. Santa Cruz Main Beach 

Location: 399 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, California 95060
Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Parking: Santa Cruz parking meters, or $15 at boardwalk parking lots
Amenities: Lifeguard, restrooms, shops, restaurant, amusement park, arcade, boardwalk, pier, volleyball courts, kayak rentals, train
Dogs allowed: No

Spanning the length of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk is Santa Cruz Main Beach, occasionally referred to as Boardwalk Beach. This California beach is the fun you and your pals deserve. Between playing volleyball, kayaking, and paddleboarding, running out of adventurous activities is simply impossible when chillin’ like a villain in Santa Cruz. When not on the shore or playing in the water, ride the roller coasters at the adjacent boardwalk (if you’re daring enough). Hurry up and join the fun!

8. Monterey State Beach

Location: Canyon Del Rey Boulevard and Sand Dunes Drive, Seaside, California 93940
Hours: 8 a.m.-sunset
Parking: Free parking
Amenities: Trails, restrooms, volleyball courts, BBQ, iconic tables, lifeguards, dunes
Dogs allowed: No

Paragliders, surfers, scuba divers, and kayakers—paradise awaits you at Monterey State Beach. With three beaches to choose from, you’ll have options aplenty when it comes to adventuring: Seaside Beach, Houghton M. Roberts Beach, and Window on the Bay Beach are awaiting you and your crew. Need a break from sunbathing? Explore the tidepools and search for sea glass. Thank us beach bums, because you have another must-see California state beach to visit.

Dog-Friendly Beaches in Northern California

Iconic due to its uniqueness, Fort Bragg's Glass Beach is an absolute must. Be there or be square.

9. Glass Beach

Location: West Elm Street and Glass Beach Drive, Fort Bragg, California 95437
Hours: Sunrise-sunset
Parking: Free parking
Amenities: Tide pools, sea glass, restrooms, trails
Dogs allowed: Allowed on leash

California never runs out of mysterious natural wonders, and the gorgeous Glass Beach is proof. What was once a dumpsite of discarded glass is now one of the best beaches to visit in Mendocino. Thanks to the massive waves, the discarded glass became smooth by the powerful ripple of the waves, forming a shoreline of colorful sea pebbles. Join fellow visitors and check out the artistic shoreline at one of Northern California’s best beaches.

Have the time of your life climbing and sliding off the naturally formed bowling balls at this beach.

10. Bowling Ball Beach

Location: Highway 1 and Schooner Gulch Road, Point Arena, California 95468
Hours: Sunrise-sunset
Parking: Free parking
Amenities: Tide pools, driftwood, restrooms, trails, fossils
Dogs allowed:  Allowed on leash

Visiting the rocky shores of Northern California is never complete without first discovering the perfectly spherical rocks at Bowling Ball Beach. This unique California beach has always been a magnet for tourists—mainly because the rocks resemble bowling balls. But there’s more to this beautiful beach than its rocks. This is the perfect spot for exploring tide pools and blazing through the hiking trails.

Dream of standing under a majestic waterfall while at the beach? Dream no further, Point Reyes transforms fantasy into reality.

11. Point Reyes National Seashore 

Location: Point Reyes Station, California 94956
Hours: 6 a.m.-12 a.m.
Parking: Free parking available at Bear Valley
Amenities: Trails, restrooms, showers, campgrounds, picnic tables
Dogs allowed: Allowed on leash

Northern California’s rugged shorelines and majestic mountain views make for the best romantic getaways—the breathtaking Point Reyes National Seashore is a killer example. As one of California’s most romantic beaches, this beach is the perfect spot for a vis-a-vis picnic with your boo or a romantic stroll along its trails. This perfect spot in Point Reyes is also the perfect place to stargaze and wish upon the stars. If your next date isn’t at Point Reyes, are you even doing romance right?

12. Rodeo Beach

Location: 1049 Mitchell Road, Sausalito, California 94965
Hours: sunrise-sunset
Parking: Free parking
Amenities: Restrooms, trails, picnic tables, lagoon
Dogs allowed: Yes

Your furry friend deserves to spend quality time with you at one of the best dog friendly beaches in California. Situated merely two miles away from the Golden Gate Bridge, a visit to this beautiful California beach provides miles of exhilarating views. On its sandy shores, you and your pooch are bound to have an awesome time. Next time you’re bored, treat yourself and your dog to this unique experience.

It's time to relax and take a break from the stress of life. No better place to do so than Fort Funston Beach! May the fun begin!

13. Fort Funston Beach

Location: Skyline Boulevard and John Muir Drive, San Francisco, California 94132
Hours: 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
Parking: Free parking
Amenities: Trails, viewing platform, restrooms, fossils, military ruins
Dogs allowed: Yes

Wild, gorgeous, fun… of course we’re talking about Fort Funston Beach. Spending time at this dog friendly beach in Northern California will take your pup to seventh heaven. With a network of trails leading you from one gorgeous spot to another, this beach makes for the perfect hiking and horseback riding spot. For a fun time on the shores of one of the Bay Area’s best beaches, you now know where to go.

14. Montara State Beach

Location: 2nd Street and Cabrillo Highway, Montara, California 94037
Hours: 8 a.m.-sunset
Parking: Free parking
Amenities: Tide pools, trails
Dogs allowed: Allowed on leash

Are you a kitesurfing enthusiast? Looking for a new spot to adventure away? Montara State Beach is best known for its gorgeous mountain views and high and wild waves. If you’re planning on experiencing the sport at this beloved California kitesurfing spot, make sure you check the height of the waves first—safety comes first. 

Oh so glorious is its presence... when in Northern California, make sure to spend a day at Pfeiffer Beach. You won't regret it.

15. Pfeiffer Beach

Location: 9100 Sycamore Canyon Road, Big Sur, California 93920
Hours: 9 a.m.-sunset
Parking: $12
Amenities: Restrooms, rock arch, tide pools, dunes
Dogs allowed: Allowed on leash

With its white and purple sandy shore, formed due to the manganese garnet rocks in the cliffs, Pfeiffer Beach is an invitation for romantic walks. A visit to this secret California beach is one of the best things to do in Big Sur. The beach is a part of Julia Pfeiffer State Park. Head to this park for a day of outdoor exploration; the massive rock arch found in the glimmering ocean waters will leave you in awe.

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