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The Unique Beaches in California to Add to Your List

The Unique Beaches in California to Add to Your List

Featuring everything from purple sands, to sea glass, to unusual rock formations, these unique California beaches are next level.


7 min read

August 24, 2020

Picture this: big ocean waves crashing into rocks, seafoam washing up on the beach while the blue water laps at your feet, the sun shining across the sand, and the wind gently caressing your face. How could you not want to visit the Golden State's beaches? Soaking up the sun, surfing the waves, playing volleyball with your friends, and camping on the beach are all delightful ways to spend your day by the shoreline.

Boasting 840 miles of coastline, California is home to coastal gems for every zodiac sign and interest. But the most unique beaches of California are next level, featuring everything from different colored sands to bizarre rock formations. So, check out this list of 10 unusual beaches throughout the state, and get ready to pack the sunblock and shades

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1. Wildcat Beach

Hike to Wildcat Beach to marvel at the magnificent cascading waters of Alamere Falls.

Location: Point Reyes Station

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: Free parking is available at the trailhead.

Amenities: Trails, backcountry campground, no facilities

Dogs allowed: No

Out of the many beaches tucked within Point Reyes National Seashore, Wildcat Beach is among the best. Here, you'll discover one of only two tidefalls in California: Alamere Falls, a spectacular waterfall plunging from a cliff down onto the sands. 

To safely get to Wildcat Beach, take the route from Wildcat Campground, which is around 5.5 miles from the closest trailhead. If you take the Coast Trail from the Palomarin Trailhead, near Bolinas in the southern part of Point Reyes National Seashore, you'll get there even faster. Although the hike to Wildcat isn't easy, the tidefall at this unique beach in California makes it worthwhile. Once you get there, take a few minutes to appreciate Alamere Falls as the water cascades over a 30-foot tall cliff onto the south end of Wildcat Beach.

Continue exploring: Getaway Guide: Point Reyes

2. Hole-in-the-Wall Beach

Location: Bonny Doon

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: Free parking is available by the beach.

Amenities: No facilities.

Dogs allowed: No

As you walk south of Panther Beach, you’ll notice a tall, wide opening in one of the golden cliffs. This sea cave—which looks like a large hole in the wall—is the only entrance to one of the most unique beaches in California: Hole-in-the-Wall Beach. The hidden beach emerges as soon as you pass through the arch.

The secluded stretch of coast is dangerous to enter at high tide because you may end up trapped. But at low tide, the boundless ocean entices you with its might and magnetism. Swimming here is also not advised due to the rip currents and cold water; however, you'll definitely want to experience the beauty of this unusual beach, so start planning your trip.

Continue exploring: Beach Day Itinerary: Santa Cruz

3. Point Piedras Blancas Beach

When at Point Piedras Blancas Beach, take in the unobstructed views of the beach and wildlife—adorable elephant seals to be exact.

Location: San Simeon

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: Free parking is available at the beach.

Amenities: Trails, seal rookery, observation platforms, no facilities

Dogs allowed: No

Located right off of the famed Pacific Coast Highway, Point Piedras Blancas Beach is home to the only elephant seal rookery in the world that is open year-round, easily accessible, and free. The sea creatures hang out on the shore while making fun noises, soaking up the sun, walking out to the water, or throwing sand at each other. The best time to visit Point Piedras Blancas is in January, April, and October—when there are as many as 17,000 elephant seals on this interesting beach.

If you have questions about the animals, find a docent wearing a blue jacket for answers. While you’re there, book a tour at the neighboring Piedras Blancas Light Station Natural Area to learn more about the fascinating lighthouse.

Continue exploring: The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

4. Glass Beach

Admire the small, colorful glass pebbles covering the shores at California's unique Glass Beach before dipping your toes into the enticing waters.

Location: Fort Bragg

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: Free parking is available by the beach.

Amenities: Tide pools, trails, and restrooms

Dogs allowed: Yes

One man’s trash is the Golden State’s treasure. During the 1900s, residents of Fort Bragg discarded their waste in this former water dump until Mother Nature stepped in and transformed the trash into art: The pounding waves broke down the glass and reformed the waste into smooth, colorful pieces, creating this unique glass beach in California.

The popular attraction now draws thousands of tourists each year, who come to admire the multicolored shores as well as the small tide pools and their ecosystems. Removing glass from the shore is now prohibited, so make sure to bring a camera. Glass Beach will also surprise you with its scenic trails and various rocks along the coast. 

Continue exploring: Getaway Guide: Mendocino

5. Bowling Ball Beach

Visit Bowling Ball Beach at low tide to see these awe-inspiring spherical sandstone concretions.

Location: Point Arena

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: Free parking is available by the beach.

Amenities: Tide pools, trails,  driftwood, fossils, and restrooms

Dogs allowed: Yes

Thanks to millions of years of concretion and erosion, this unique beach in California was created by a geological phenomenon. At the northern end of Schooner Gulch State Beach, you’ll find large spherical rocks that give Bowling Ball Beach its name. Lined up in rows like soldiers, the so-called bowling balls consist of sandstone and are almost perfectly round. At low tide, the bowling balls are perfectly visible, so make sure you visit at the right time. Spend a fun, adventurous day at this unusual beach and climb your way around the strange rock formations. 

Continue exploring: Our Favorite Places to Glamp in the Golden State

6. Ocean Beach

When in San Francisco, make your way to the north end of Ocean Beach, home to the historic Sutro Baths.

Location: San Francisco

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: Free parking is available next to the beach.

Amenities: Bike lane, dunes, fire pits, and restrooms

Dogs allowed: Yes

Ocean Beach offers an expansive shore with pristine sands and sparkling azure waters. However, it’s not necessarily the ocean or entertaining activities that make it a unique California beach. On the north end of Ocean Beach, a hidden gem exists.

The Sutro Baths—one of the most extensive indoor saltwater bathing facilities—used to stand here. The historical landmark is now in ruins, with only concrete foundations, walls, and rusting pieces of iron remaining. Do yourself a favor and book a tour; not only will you learn about the Sutro Baths' history, but you’ll also get to experience the best sunset in San Francisco.

Continue exploring: Getaway Guide: San Francisco

7. Shark Fin Cove

Head to Shark Fin Cove to explore the famous rock formation and nearby sea cave.

Location: Davenport

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: Free parking is available by the beach.

Amenities: Trails, rock arch, caves, no facilities

Dogs allowed: No

A marvelous rock formation is the main feature of Shark Fin Cove. Shaped like a shark tooth, the colossal rock used to be an extension of the mudstone cliff that surrounds the cove. Throughout the years, crashing waves and whistling winds disintegrated the rock in a process called coastal geomorphology, creating its signature formation. The shark fin-shaped geological structure is not the only attraction at this interesting beach. To its left, you’ll find a sea cave that is just as mesmerizing. (Note that since it’s a secluded area, clothing is optional.) 

Continue exploring: The Best Central Coast Surf Spots to Visit This Fall

8. Seacliff State Beach

When at Seacliff State Beach, don't miss out on the opportunity to get a glimpse of the birds perching on the SS Palo Alto.

Location: Aptos

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: $10 

Amenities: Campground, fishing pier, trails, picnic tables, barbeques, cafe, and restrooms

Dogs allowed: Yes

Sunbathing, swimming, and barbecuing are just a few reasons why everyone loves visiting Seacliff State Beach. It's a unique California beach thanks to the old decaying concrete ship found at the end of the fishing pier. The SS Palo Alto used to be a historic World War I era ship, but it was later grounded as an entertainment ocean liner. Over the years, the vessel endured a lot of damage and is now a hot spot for local birds. An incredulous sight to see, the SS Palo Alto is one of the most photographed landmarks in the area and is worth the trip to Seacliff State Beach. 

Continue exploring: California Coast Spotlight: Monterey

9. Pfeiffer Beach

Location: Big Sur

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: $10

Amenities: Rock arch, tide pools, and restrooms

Dogs allowed: Yes

A must-see destination in Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach is an unforgettable sight. The shores here are purple-hued thanks to the various minerals present in the sand—it's most vibrant after rainfall.

Pfeiffer Beach is also home to Keyhole Arch, a hair-raising rock formation. The natural hole was carved into the rocks due to the waves constantly crashing around it for millennia. During the winter solstice, the sun descends into the center of the arch, creating a magical, miraculous sunset. If you ever witness this phenomenon, prepare for an epic photo op sesh.

Continue exploring: Getaway Guide: Big Sur

10. Victoria Beach

Location: Laguna Beach

Hours: Sunrise–sunset

Parking: Ample parking is available on the surrounding streets.

Amenities: Tide pools, volleyball courts, no facilities

Dogs allowed: No dogs are allowed from 9 a.m.–6 p.m. between June 15 and September 10. Dogs are permitted on-leash outside of those dates and times.

One of Laguna’s most gorgeous beaches, Victoria Beach appears to be straight out of a fairytale. This unique beach in California features one of the most mysterious attractions in the state: a pirate tower.

Known as La Tour, the landmark got its nickname from the second owner of the structure. Legend has it that he would disguise himself as a pirate and hide coins and candy between the rocks for local kids to find “buried treasure.” Next to the tower is a concrete pool, which is now partially filled up with sand.

To find these strange attractions at Victoria Beach, park along the Pacific Coast Highway, walk to Sunset Terrace, and take the stairs down to the shore. Then head right, walk across rocks, and wander around the bend. As soon as you spot the tower, you'll be glad you took the time to visit this fascinating and unusual beach.

Continue exploring: The Best Free Things to do in Orange County

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