Skip to main content

The Best Northern California Beach Towns
Travel

The Best Northern California Beach Towns

With ample heart, open waters, and good-natured locals, nothing will get in the way of your relaxing vacation.

Share

5 min read

September 22, 2021

While NorCal has no shortage of coastal beauty, there are only several coastal spots that truly stand out from the rest—towns that truly embody sun-kissed memories of summer, year-round. With ample heart, open waters, and good-natured locals, nothing will get in the way of your relaxing vacation (can’t we just staycation forever?). We know you’re impatient to discover NorCal’s stellar beach towns, so without further ado, here’s our roundup of NorCal’s best. Before you know it, you’ll be daydreaming about leaving the city life and moving to one of these spots for good

Recomended businesses

Show me California.com
Recommended Businesses near

Discover the best of California. Our recommended businesses are top-quality and are committed to their communities.

Coastal Towns in Northern California To Check Out Now

The quaint seaside village of Trinidad is where the redwoods meet the Pacific on the picturesque Northern Coast of California.

Trinidad

Median House Price: $682,870

Just eighty miles shy of the Oregon border, Trinidad is too postcard-perfect to be overlooked. Every inch of this Northern California coastal city looks tailor-made to backdrop a painting. Just a couple of minutes here in paradise, and you’ll already be hooked. Hike to the top of Trinidad Head to whale watch, go tide pooling at Indian Beach, or get face-to-ocellus with starfish at Humboldt State University’s Marine Lab; whatever you choose, it’s coastal activities for the win.

Recomended businesses

Show me California.com
Recommended Businesses near

Discover the best of California. Our recommended businesses are top-quality and are committed to their communities.

While exploring Trinidad, make sure to stop by Trinidad Pier. Refurbished in 2012, the pier juts into the Trinidad Harbor—a haven if you’re into crabbing—and is shaded by the shadow of a massive rock sprouting with greenery. Wander around the state's northernmost pier, and make a pit stop at Seascape Restaurant for scrumptious clam chowder (a NorCal classic). You can’t head to a beach town and not save time for swimming. Carve out a few hours of your schedule to splash around Trinidad State Beach as well as the sandy, beachcomber’s paradise known as Moonstone Beach.

This seaside community in S.F.'s backyard has an abundance of shops and dining opportunities, scenic views, and charming houseboat enclaves.

Sausalito

Median Home Price: $1,615,200

Upon heading north of the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll see a steep hillside clad in drops of chaparral transforming the 101 into a flat, sunny shoreline known as Sausalito. Well, more like the Sausalito day-trippers from San Francisco have come to recognize. Many walk or cycle over the bridge, a few take the ferry, and a select number drive—but they all do it to sit and have a cup of joe at one of the charming cafes found on Bridgeway Main Street. A steaming mug of coffee in one hand, chatting with friends, and vistas of the Bay skyline. Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? But what if we told you that dining at Bridgeway, cruising the Caledonian Street, or sampling the top-rated Sushi Ran only scratches the surface of this Northern California coastal town? Sausalito seriously has so much more to offer.

Decades before the hype for all things artisanal, Sausalito was where art met industry. It was a city that housed creatives who loved working with their hands. And the proof is in the pudding— Liberty merchant ships were made here (an immense help in the Second World War) as well as ceramic pottery and tiles that Edith Heath took to two-thirds of the restaurants in the Bay Area.

Learn more about the city’s staple ceramic practices at Heath Ceramics’ Factory. Immerse yourself in the local culture at the now-defunct Record Plant, where iconic stars like Prince, Metallica, and Fleetwood Mac once recorded their tracks. Eat sustainably-made seafood at Fish. in the Clipper Yacht Harbor Marine, and watch the boats disappear into the horizon.

The biggest city on the Mendocino Coast, Fort Bragg is home to the extraordinary Glass Beach and the spectacular Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

Fort Bragg

Median Home Price: $498,500

This coastal beauty tends to skirt under the radar of most Mendocino County visitors—a grave injustice, but we’re here to remedy that. Fort Bragg’s long-standing attractions are too many to count, but The Skunk Train is definitely one quite notable. The train chugs into the inland redwood forests, all the way to the town of Willits, another Mendocino gem. You’ll also discover the Noyo Harbor, housing whale watching boats and fishing charters—quite the cure to curb that marine-life curiosity.

Fort Bragg’s coastal setting in itself serves as an attraction. The infamous Glass Beach, a rainbow of sea glass formed of bottles, is one of Golden State’s most praised open secrets. A handful of lodging options dot the city, letting you take full advantage of this unique coast. At the Beachcomber Motel, for example, chill around a roaring beachfront fire pit. At the Noyo Harbor Inn, guests wake up to the sounds of seals in the distance; at the Country Inn, beaches, the Skunk Train, and window shopping are all within walking distance. Regardless of where you stay, you’re definitely livin’ the life.

With the ocean at your doorstep and fresh seafood at your fingertips, it’s no wonder why Bodega Bay has long remained a popular Sonoma County getaway.

Bodega Bay

Median Home Price: $1,281,260 

The first thing that pops into most people’s heads when thinking of Bodega Bay is Alfred Hitchcock’s bird-filled world gone cray cray. But we assure you, that’s just Hollywood fiction. Bodega Bay’s real story is much less thriller—and much more escapist fantasy. Blue, sparkling waters, neverending scenic vistas, rolling hills dotted with kaleidoscopic blooms, and gray whale tales peeking out from the depths of the ocean; this is what a typical day looks like at Bodega Bay.

If you’re driving from Highway One and happen to find yourself on the outskirts of town, then you’ll only see a few shops selling saltwater taffy and seafood. We recommend you explore further. Turn west and you’ll find the real ties to the sea—this is where Bodega Bay truly shines. Head to Birds Cafe and feast on freshly caught crispy fish and chips; meander to the Fishetarian Fish Market, crafting the best seafood tacos ever; or wander to Spud Point Crab Company for the best clam chowder in town. Whichever you choose, this coastal city is all about crafting delicious culinary creations, guaranteed.

Enjoy art, food, kayaking, canoeing, camping, and the relaxing pastime of beachcombing in the peaceful village of Gualala.

Gualala

Median Home Price: $570,470

Known as the quieter of the coastal towns in Northern California, Gualala is named after a river that flows through the town before eventually plunging into the Pacific. The natives of the land, Pomos, called the area q-ahwala-li, which roughly translates to the ‘coming down water place’, which is the best description you’ll ever hear—this town is all about exploring the coastline.

There are enough galleries in Gualala to qualify it as an art town. Is there anything better than an artistic beach town? We think not, so spending a few days here, sans the rush, is a wonderful way to relax and rejuvenate. There’s no better way to recharge than by spending time in nature. Stop by the Salt Point State Park, where hiking trails, a pygmy forest, and rhododendron await, as well as a kayaking sesh at Gualala River.

California voices

JOIN OUR COMMUNITY OF CONTRIBUTORS

Have a great story to tell? A unique experience to write about? We’d love to hear it.

Learn more

RELATED Articles

Discover More

fueled by the power of California love
We’re committed to helping you discover the places, people and businesses that make our state Golden. Our online publication, updated daily, brings you all the content you need to live your California dreams. And that’s just the beginning…
LEARN MORE ABOUT US
Purpose section
Purpose section