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Top 9 Beaches in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Top 9 Beaches in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Here are the top 9 beaches in Carmel-by-the-Sea to enjoy while in the area for a trip or getaway.

Dikran Seferian


5 min read

May 29, 2022

Pristine beaches and picturesque views characterize Carmel-by-the-Sea, a charming city awash with coastal gems. From the stretches of white sand at Carmel City Beach to the breathtaking landscapes of Garrapata State Park, it is no wonder that this coastal city attracts waves of visitors. Beachgoers are also drawn to the numerous Instagrammable photo-ops that Carmel-by-the-Sea beaches provide. Whether it’s the Point Sur Lighthouse, the Bixby Creek Bridge, or just about any photographable wonder that defines the city, you are sure to make a lasting memory — especially with the variety of beaches and the range of activities to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

1. Carmel City Beach

Get your dose of sunshine and ocean breeze at Carmel City Beach, one of Carmel-by-the-Sea’s coastal hotspots.

The stretch of pale sands at Carmel City Beach is hard to find anywhere else on the central coast of California. Although the place can be crowded on hot summer days, this portion of the coast is relatively cool and cloudy so you’re sure to find a good spot. Venturing north from the main access point will take you to a shore just below the Pebble Beach Golf Course, whereas heading south will lead you to the stunning beachside homes along the Carmel Waterfront Scenic Walkway.

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2. China Cove, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Witness paradise in the form of pristine waters surrounded by lush greenery at the China Cove.

Emerald green waters hugged by lush vegetation characterize China Cove, a natural attraction just near Carmel. When the tides are low, a small cave and an arch reveal themselves in the southern part of the rock formations embracing the cove. The natural beauty of this coastal gem makes it a hotspot for professional photographers — and an ideal central coast gateway for beachgoers. You can make your way to the cove via a short hiking trail that starts at the very end of the natural reserve’s park road. Once you get to the trailhead, take the Bird Island Trail and you’ll find the steps that lead you down to China Cove.

3. Bixby Creek Bridge Beach

Overlooking a scenic beach, Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks along California’s central coast.

The part behind Bixby Bridge is privately owned,  and the shores below are impossible to access by land due to cliffs surrounding the bridge from the north and the south, but that doesn’t keep visitors from stopping by. There’s a good reason why this landmark features one of the most photographed bridges in the Golden State. Lying beneath the iconic arched bridge, this coastal treasure is only accessible by boat as the walls of the canyon are quite steep and the land just above is off-limits. However, the north edge of the bridge features a pull-out parking spot that offers idyllic views of the Carmel-by-the-Sea beach along with the bridge itself. 

4. Sea Lion Cove, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Sea Lion Cove is a popular coastal destination for wildlife enthusiasts and beachgoers alike.

Snuggled in a cove between Sea Lion Point and Sand Hill, Sea Lion Cove is a hotspot for spotting whales, and one of the hidden havens of Carmel. Getting a map as you enter the reserve will allow you to know your way around the trails as well as the natural features of the area. You can reach the Sea Lion Cove by taking either the Sand Hill Trail or the Sea Lion Point Trail, both of which begin from the same point and aren’t more than half a mile long. From Sea Lion Point, you can enjoy views of the offshore Sea Lion Rocks; and if you’re lucky enough, you might even get a chance to witness migrating whales in the distance.

5. Carmel River State Beach

From hiking to birdwatching, Carmel River State Beach is packed with fun activities for everyone.

Located south of Carmel-by-the-Sea is a large stretch of sand known as Carmel River State Beach. This protected beach is part of the Carmel River Lagoon and Wetlands Natural Preserve, a massive portion of land that mainly consists of wetlands at the tip of the Carmel River. Gradually shifting with time, the lagoon provides habitat to various species of birds. This Carmel California beach is a popular destination for sunbathing during the warmer months and draws hikers as well as birdwatchers throughout the rest of the year. 

6. Garrapata Beach, Garrapata State Park

Spanning across 4 miles, Garrapata’s waterfront boasts numerous scenic hiking trails.

Adorning the northern coastline of Big Sur with breathtaking vistas is Garrapata Beach. The state park’s waterfront spans 4 miles, with a sandy beach at the southern reaches. Two different parking areas provide access to the beach through steep dirt trails, although the southern path near the bridge overlooking Garrapata Creek is relatively wider and safer. At low tide, the small sandy cove at Garrapata Creek becomes accessible. While cold water and rip currents make it unsafe to swim at Garrapata Beach, visitors still come for the stunning views. And let’s not forget to mention the gorgeous hiking trails of Garrapata State Park.

7. Monastery Beach

Being the most dangerous beach for swimming in California doesn’t stop visitors from enjoying the other activities it has to offer.

Named after the Carmelite Monastery Mission just across Highway 1, Monastery Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Swimming at this beach, however, isn’t allowed due to the dangerous rip currents. As a matter of fact, it is believed to be the most dangerous beach in California. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying the other activities this place has to offer. A scenic hiking trail at the northern end of Monastery Beach goes around the bay towards Carmel River State Beach.

8. Little Sur River Beach

With a variety of rock formations and coastal marvels, Little Sur River Beach is awash with natural beauty.

Dunes, drift logs, and a backdrop of steep mountains are some of the defining features of Little Sur River Beach. You can often see birds floating on a lagoon that gathers at the mouth of the Little Sur River. The land at the river mouth is private property, but visitors can still photograph the beach or enjoy birdwatching from several pull-out parking spots along Highway 1. If you park your car on the north end and look towards the south, you can even see an arch formation in the massive rock on the beach. 

9. Point Sur State Historic Park and Lighthouse

Rising above a picturesque beach, the Point Sur Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the Golden State.

Standing high up on a huge volcanic rock, the Point Sur Lighthouse overlooks a sandy stretch of beach. Although this Carmel beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea is also off-limits, guided tours are frequently available for a small fee. The walking tours typically go on for three hours and involve a short yet steep hike up a paved path that starts from the bottom of the rock to the top. A short distance south, Andrew Molera State Park offers a variety of hiking trails, campsites, and a charming beach to spend a day at.

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