Best Central California Beaches – Travel Destinations California
The Central California Coast is a long special coastline that stretches for many miles between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. The counties along this coast include Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Santa Cruz. Driving the Central Coast south to north starts on Pacific Coast Highway in northern LA County and continues along Highway 1 all the way to San Mateo County. Along this stunning scenic drive there are over 250 named beaches of all shapes and sizes. The popularity of coastal road trips through this region is easy to understand when you consider that it includes the American Riviera in Santa Barbara, the stunning Big Sur Coast, and the endless sand of Monterey Bay. The Central California Coast has a busy and thriving wine industry and gorgeous towns notable for their classic architecture, history, and contemporary dining and shopping scenes. Anyone who loves the outdoors will find all sorts of things to do on the Central Coast including surfing, kayaking, biking, and fishing. For that matter, the Central Coast’s food scene is as diverse as its outdoor recreation, with fresh seafood restaurants in harbor towns, sophisticated bistros, and even the region’s own home-grown tradition: Santa Maria-style barbecue. And farmers’ markets, including the celebrated Thursday night market in San Luis Obispo, serve up the bounty of the season, whether its delectable strawberries or heirloom tomatoes. This is a lengthy post, as Central California has a LOT of beaches, so click on the following links to take you to the specific best central California beaches listed by county: Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County, Monterey County and Santa Cruz County.
Ventura County is home to the coastal cities of Ventura and Oxnard but is about more than the beach too. Backed by rugged mountain terrain, the artsy Ojai Valley looks like a vintage orange-crate label come to life while the region’s Heritage Valley is a fertile agricultural area of farms and small towns. Ventura County includes the cities of Ventura, Oxnard and Port Hueneme. Visit our Ventura Travel Guide, Port Hueneme Travel Guide, and our Oxnard Travel Guideto start planning your Central California beach vacation today.
Mandalay State Beach in Oxnard
Mandalay State Beach is a protected area of beach, dunes, and wetlands between a power generation plant and the Oxnard Shores neighborhood of Oxnard, CA. This is a popular place for birding. Some of the beach is fenced off to protect nesting areas of the Least Tern and Snowy Plover. Mandalay State Beach is on state park property, but is managed by Ventura County so it is called Mandalay Beach County Park too. You can get here by driving north on Harbor Boulevard to 5th Street and turning toward the ocean. Park on the shoulder of Mandalay Beach Road or 5th Street. Walk north to get away from the homes and be thankful that the state decided to protect this area from development. If you walk south, the beach continues in front of the homes along Mandalay Beach Road all the way to Oxnard Beach Park and beyond to Hollywood Beach. Activities: bird watching, beach walking, surfing, fishing and beach combing. Amenities: dunes, trails, no facilities.
Oxnard Beach in Oxnard
Oxnard Beach is a wide sandy beach in Oxnard, California. It makes up the shoreline between Hollywood Beach to the south and Mandalay Beach to the north. At the center of this stretch of beach is Oxnard Beach Park, a large grassy park with picnic tables, BBQs, walking paths, and a playground for kids. One of the paths leads out through a vast area of dunes to the back of the beach where many benches are provided for resting and enjoying the view out toward the Channel Islands. This facility is a great place for families with so much to do at the park and at the beach. Oxnard Beach Park has lots of public parking available. Another parking lot with direct beach access can be found just south at Mandalay Beach Road and Sunset Lane. A third Oxnard Beach access is provided just north at Neptune Square where a basketball court and volleyball courts can be found on the sand. Activities: volleyball, walking, biking, surfing, sunbathing and picnicking. Amenities: bike trail, walking paths, grass park, picnic tables, group picnic areas, BBQs, volleyball courts, basketball court, restrooms, dunes and dogs allowed on leash.
Hollywood Beach in Oxnard
Hollywood Beach in Oxnard is located on the south end of the peninsula that separates Channel Islands Harbor from the ocean. Hollywood Beach is wide and about a mile long. Because of this huge sandy expanse, it won’t be crowded. Homes are packed together all along the back of Hollywood Beach. Access to the beach is via many streets between West Channel Islands Boulevard and the harbor channel including La Brea, Los Feliz, and La Granada Streets. Parking is available along Ocean Drive and the side streets, and also in the huge free harbor parking lots along Harbor Boulevard. Activities: volleyball, sunbathing and swimming. Amenities: lifeguard, volleyball courts, restrooms, showers and dogs allowed on leash before 9am and after 5pm.
Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard
Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard, Ventura County stretches from the Channel Islands Harbor entrance to the Port Hueneme Harbor entrance. The wide sandy beach is backed by many tightly packed homes in the unincorporated neighborhood of Silver Strand Beach. Behind the homes is the Naval Construction Battalion Center Port Hueneme. Lifeguards are provided Memorial Day through Labor Day. A paved walking path follows the harbor entrance along San Nicholas Ave and leads to Kiddie Beach Park. There is a large parking area at the north where San Nicholas Ave ends at Ocean Drive. You can also park along Ocean Drive and walk through various gaps between the homes to the beach. The south end has a parking area at Sawtelle Avenue on the beach in an area called La Jenell Park. There is only one road into Silver Strand Beach. From Ventura or Oxnard, turn south onto South Victoria Avenue and follow it to the beach. Activities: surfing, body boarding, body surfing and walking. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, showers, walking path, volleyball courts, accessible features and dogs allowed on leash before 9am and after 5pm.
Ormond Beach in Port Hueneme
Ormond Beach is the beach fronting the Ormond Wetlands and some farmlands near Oxnard in Ventura County. Ormond Beach fills a two mile gap between the city of Port Hueneme and the Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu. This is a well-known birding area with trails that follow a canal and the restored wetlands. The beach has a remote feel and is great for beach combing or just for walking. Surfers have been coming to this off-the-beaten-path spot for many years. Unfortunately behind the beach are some ugly remnants of an old smelter and a power generation plant. The California Coastal Commission is working with the county, city, and the Nature Conservancy to acquire property along Ormond Beach for preservation and restoration of wetlands. The best access to Ormond Beach is from the end of Arnold Road at the south end of Ormond Beach, but it’s also possible to walk here from Ocean View Drive at Port Hueneme Beach Park. There is a parking lot at the end of Perkins Road that has access to a small island in the wetlands, but it does not provide access to the beach on the ocean. South of Arnold Road is the Navy Base which is closed to the public and fenced at the south end of Ormond Beach. Activities: beach combing, bird watching, surfing, beach walking and fishing. Amenities: wetlands, dunes, trails and dogs allowed on leash.
Port Hueneme Beach Park in Port Hueneme
Port Hueneme Beach Park is the main beach in the city of Port Hueneme which is completely surrounded by Oxnard, CA. The beach here is wide with many picnic areas and volleyball nets available. The long fishing pier at the beach is worth a walk even if not fishing. Another long walking opportunity is the promenade trail that connects the pier to the lighthouse at the north end next to the port entrance. The sand on the beach at Port Hueneme comes from a bi-annual dredging operation by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Without that imported sand, the beach erodes away making the park, the pier, and even nearby roads vulnerable to damage from the surf. Ventura Road will take you straight here from where Highway 101 and Highway 1 meet in Oxnard. There is a parking lot at the intersection of Ventura Road and Surfside Drive. Activities: fishing, volleyball, surfing, picnicking, sunbathing, walking, running and beach walking. Amenities: fishing pier, lifeguard, volleyball courts, picnic tables, BBQs, lifeguard, restrooms, grass park, walking paths, snack bar and lighthouse.
Surfers Point Beach in Ventura
Surfers Point Beach at Seaside Park in Ventura, California is located at the Ventura River mouth. A lagoon forms where the river backs up behind the beach which makes this a great birding location. The point faces south so waves coming from the west curl around it making right hand waves that roll in consistently. Surfers will start at various spots and ride these waves toward the Ventura City Pier. Kiteboarders and windsurfers put on a show in the area just west of the point when the wind is up. West of the point is Emma Wood State Beach. East of the point is Seaside Park and the Promenade, a paved pathway that connects Surfers Point to the pier. The Omer Rains Bike Trail continues from the Promenade and goes in both directions along the shore. Between the point and the pier the beach has eroded away so if the tide is up you won’t find sand there. Surfers Point has a couple large parking lots behind the beach. To get here, turn onto Figueroa Street from Harbor Boulevard at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Activities: surfing, biking, skating, walking, windsurfing, kite boarding, fishing, running, bird watching and picnicking. Amenities: picnic tables, restrooms, showers, paved bike path, lagoon, grass park, benches and dogs allowed on leash.
Solimar Beach in Ventura
Solimar Beach is next to the small seaside community of Solimar Beach Colony in Ventura, CA. This is a gated housing development along Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1) about four miles north of downtown. The beach right in front of the homes has eroded away so there isn’t much sand except at low tides. South of the last home is a sandy spot that surfers will drive here to ride. The beach south of here is part of Emma Woods State Beach and it is very narrow. This state park has a linear RV campground above the sand about a mile away. There are no facilities at Solimar Beach, but you get free parking and enough sand to make it worth checking out. From Ventura drive Highway 101 north to exit 72 then drive on PCH to the parking spaces just before the homes. Activities: surfing, beach walking and beach combing. Amenities: no facilities and dogs allowed on leash.
Surfers Knoll Beach in Ventura
Surfer’s Knoll Beach is across from the restaurants and shops at Ventura Harbor Village. Surfers Knoll has its own small parking lot where Spinnaker Drive turns north, but you can park at the Village and walk across the street if it is full. This spot is obviously popular for surfing, but for most of us, it is an excellent spot for beach combing. From the parking lot the beach continues south in front of the Santa Clara River which is usually dammed up by sand allowing passage all the way to McGrath State Beach. McGrath SB doesn’t have a day-use area and the campground is frequently closed so you might have this entire area to yourself. Activities: surfing and beach combing. Amenities: restrooms, showers and dogs allowed on leash north of the parking lot.
Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara County has been dubbed the American Riviera thanks to the Mediterranean architecture, incomparable beaches, and the dramatic mountain backdrop of its namesake city. The region also extends beyond the city of Santa Barbara and into the north county, where you can taste your way through several wine regions that are winning international acclaim. The cities included are Carpenteria, Goleta, Guadalupe, Isla Vista, Lompoc, Montecito, Santa Barbara, and Summerland. Visit our Santa Barbara Travel Guide, Montecito Travel Guide, Goleta Vacations Guide,Guadalupe California travel guide, and Carpinteria Travel Guide and start planning your Central California beach vacation today.
Carpinteria City Beach in Carpinteria
Carpinteria City Beach starts where Linden Avenue (the main drag in Carpinteria) ends at the ocean. It runs north for three city blocks to Ash Avenue where the beach in front of the Sandyland Cove Community begins. The city beach is a wide sandy beach backed by Carpinteria beachfront homes and the Carpinteria Shores condo building. The beach slopes out gradually so this is a fun and safe beach for playing in the surf or for swimming if you can handle the water temperature. Volleyball courts and a campground are available south of Linden Avenue in Carpinteria State Beach. At Ash Avenue there are trails that lead into Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park where Santa Monica Creek and Franklin Creek converge in a wetlands area known as El Estero. Here you can go for a hike and see rare plants, birds, and other animals in a natural setting. Access to Carpinteria City Beach is at the end of Linden, Elm, Holly, and Ash Avenues. If no street parking is available in town, there is a large public parking lot in the state park nearby with an entrance on Palm Avenue (there is a small fee for all day parking). Activities: sunbathing, beach walking, volleyball, hiking, bird watching, wildlife watching, surfing and swimming. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, showers, volleyball courts, picnic tables, salt marsh and trails.
Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary
The Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary is a harbor seal rookery next to the old oil pier just south of Carpinteria State Beach. As expected, the beach at the sanctuary is off-limits to the public, but it’s still a great spot to visit. On the bluff above the sanctuary there is a public overlook that provides close views of these lively marine animals. Often there is a volunteer at the overlook to answer questions and to provide information on them. The pier next to the sanctuary is photogenic but privately-owned and closed to the public. Access to the sanctuary is through the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve. From the preserve parking lot there are trails that head toward the ocean. Stay right on the Bluff Trail and soon after crossing railroad tracks there is steep trail that heads left down to a public beach below the preserve. If you keep walking farther along the bluff signs for the sanctuary overlook will come into view. Walking even farther on the Bluff Trail will eventually lead to Tar Pits Beach and Carpinteria State Beach. Activities: wildlife watching and walking. Amenities: seal rookery, pier, ocean overlook, trails and no dogs on the beach or at the rookery overlook.
Rincon Point State Beach in Carpinteria
Rincon Point State Beach is a separate unit of Carpinteria State Beach located at the border of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. It’s a public beach right next to the private gated community of Rincon Point. This is a popular surfing spot for the right-hand waves that break around the east side of the point. Each year the Rincon Classic surf competition is held at this location. The beach itself is a narrow rock and sand strip at the access point and also in front of the homes. If you want a wider sandier beach, then go to Rincon Park County Beach across the street. To get to Rincon Point, take the Bates Road exit off Highway 101 about three miles south of Carpinteria. Turn on Bates Road toward the water where the Rincon Point Beach parking lot is on the left and the Rincon Park County Beach parking lot is on the right. Activities: surfing. Amenities: restrooms and lifeguard.
Goleta Beach Park in Goleta
Goleta Beach Park is a nice county run facility on a sand spit next to the University of California Santa Barbara campus, the Santa Barbara Airport, and the city of Goleta. The paved bike path that runs right behind the park goes all the way to Santa Barbara and beyond making this a great spot to park and begin a ride. There are walking trails on the bluff top west of Goleta Beach Park which lead to the UCSB Lagoon and Campus Point Beach. The 1500-feet long fishing pier is a long walk in itself with views back toward the mountains. There is a boat launch here for launching boats right onto the bay. Kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders put in here as well and there are rentals on site. Right at the pier entrance is the Beachside Bar Cafe for lunch or dinner during your stay at the beach. To get here from Highway 101 take the Hwy 217 exit toward the Airport and UCSB then follow it to Sandspit Road and look for signs pointing to Goleta Beach Park. Activities: fishing, bird watching, biking, walking, sunbathing, volleyball, picnicking, boating, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Amenities: fishing pier, restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, paved bike trail, grass park, kids play area, restaurant, boat launch, volleyball courts and dogs allowed on leash.
Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve in Guadalupe
Ranch Guadalupe Dunes Preserve County Park near Guadalupe, California has the northernmost beach along the Santa Barbara County coastline. These large sand dunes are managed by the Santa Barbara County Parks Department for both recreation and animal habitat protection. The dunes here are high and vast and the beach is long and sandy. There are access restrictions March 1st through October 1st for snowy plover and least tern bird nesting protection so read signs in the parking lot before roaming the dunes. North of the parking lot the Santa Maria River meanders toward the ocean with more bird-watching opportunities. To get here, turn west on Main Street in Guadulupe and follow it to the end of the road where a parking lot on the sand that isn’t far from the water’s edge. Once on the beach you can walk south for 2.5 miles to Mussel Point or walk north in front of Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. Activities: beach combing, bird watching, whale watching, fishing, hiking, picnicking, surfing and beach walking. Amenities: dunes, restrooms and picnic tables.
Paradise Beach in Guadalupe
Paradise Beach is situated along a remote section of the northern Santa Barbara County coastline between Point Sal and Mussel Point. Access to this long sandy beach over land requires a long rugged walk on old jeep roads from Point Sal Road near Point Sal State Beach or a three mile long hike on the beach, over dunes, and along sandy trails from Rancho Guadalupe Dunes County Park. At the north end of Mussel Point Beach is a rock arch sticking up out of the sand. From the trail at Point Sal you can look down on Lion Rock which usually has birds and possibly seals or sea lions on top. Activities: beach exploration, hiking and beach combing. Amenities: rock arch and no facilities.
Camino Majorca Beach Access In Isla Vista
Camino Majorca Beach Access is at the corner of Camino Majorca and Del Playa Drive in Isla Vista, CA. This part of Isla Vista Beach is sandy but narrow. At high tide the beach will likely be all wet. From the street corner if you walk straight toward the water you will find the stairs to the beach. Once on the sand, the beach extends west to Devereux Beach and continues around Coal Oil Point to Sands Beach in front of the Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve. From the Camino Majorca Access you can walk east on the beach (if the tide is not too high) below the entire Isla Vista bluff and the main campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Free parking spaces are provided along Camino Majorca, but they are taken most of the time. A trail starts at the corner near the parking area and follows the bluff top for a nice walking route. Activities: sunbathing and walking. Amenities: trails, no facilities and dogs allowed on leash.
Devereux Beach In Isla Vista
Devereux Beach is on the east side of Coal Oil Point in Isla Vista, CA. Behind the beach is the west campus of the University of California Santa Barbara. Surfers enjoy this surf spot that has a solid right hand break and tide pools seekers can find a reef right at the point to explore at low tides. West of the point is Sands Beach in front of the Devereux Lagoon in Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve which is owned by the state and managed by UCSB. The best free parking for Devereux is at the Camino Majorca Beach Access in Isla Vista. From this street corner a short path leads to a stairway beach access where you can walk west (right) on the sand to Devereux. A trail on the bluff also follows the route west to Devereux and in several spots you can climb down to the beach. Activities: surfing, hiking, tide pooling and walking. Amenities: trails, tide pools and dogs allowed on leash.
Sands Beach In Isla Vista
Sands Beach is located on the west side of Coal Oil Point in Isla Vista, CA. This beach lies in front of the Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve, a protected plant and animal habitat that is administered by the University of California Santa Barbara. Unfortunately the beach, which is open to the general public, isn’t that easy to get to because of the fenced-off preserve. The best way is to park at the corner at the Camino Majorca Beach Access in Isla Vista and walk the bluff trail in front of the western UCSB campus all the way around the point. Another way is to walk here from Ellwood Beach at Santa Barbara Shores Park (much farther). Alternatively, you can contact the preserve or pay for parking on west campus and walk or drive down Slough Road. There are a few pull-out parking spaces along Slough Road too. Inside the preserve is Devereux Slough Lagoon which provides bird-watchers a habitat to view with binoculars. Sands Beach is at the mouth of the slough channel which has a tidal flow in the winter months. The sand bars in this area provide a nice break for local surfers to enjoy. Tide pools can be found right at Coal Oil Point where a reef is exposed at low tides. On the east side of the point is the Devereux surf spot. There are many trails in the area so even if you are not surfing, bird watching, or tide pooling you can still walk beaches and trails for hours. Activities: surfing, hiking, bird watching, tide pooling and beach walking. Amenities: trails, tide pools, lagoon, toilets and dogs allowed on leash
Minuteman Beach In Lompoc
Minuteman Beach at Vandenberg Air Force Base is located at the north end of the Vandenberg coastline a few miles south of Point Sal State Beach. Only Vandenberg pass holders and their guests have access to Minuteman Beach. Portions of the beach are closed March through September for bird nesting of the Snowy Plover. If human violations in these restricted areas reach a certain limit, the AFB will close the beach for the rest of the nesting season. Check the Vandenberg plover update web page to see if the beach is open during this season. To get to this remote beach, enter the Air Force base at California Boulevard or 13th Street off Ocean Avenue and ask them for directions. Activities: fishing and beach walking. Amenities: dunes and no facilities.
Ocean Beach Park In Lompoc
Ocean Beach Park is a Santa Barbara County park located at the mouth of the Santa Ynez River and surrounded by Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, CA. The river backs up into a wide lagoon that attracts birds and birding enthusiasts. Ocean Beach is backed by dunes that extend in both directions from the river. South of Ocean Beach is Surf Beach (open to the public) and north is Wall Beach (on Vandenberg AFB). Unfortunately, Ocean Beach Park is completely closed to entry from March 1st to September 30th for Snowy Plover nesting season. The neighboring beaches also have seasonal restrictions for nesting birds, but are not completely closed off. To get to Ocean Park, turn west onto Ocean Ave from Highway 1 (H Street) in downtown Lompoc. From the parking area a walking trail ducks under a low train trestle and heads to the beach. This path might be under water when the river estuary is high. A dirt trail climbs up and over the railroad tracks for access when the paved route is all wet. Note that this area has had two separate fatal shark attacks and signs caution to swim and surf at your own risk. Activities: beach combing and bird watching. Amenities: restrooms, dunes, train trestle, picnic tables, BBQs and dogs allowed on leash.
Jalama Beach County Park In Lompoc
Jalama Beach spans the mouth of Jalama Creek at the site of a historic Chumash Indian settlement named “Halama.” Now this site is a popular Santa Barbara County park with a campground and day-use facilities. The campground is open to tent and RV campers and even has seven cabins available to reserve. On site is a camp store with sundries, food, beer, and wine. At the store is a grill restaurant with their “World Famous Jalama Burger” and other tasty meals for breakfast, lunch, and early dinner. Jalama Creek flows under a train trestle and pools up on the north side of the park where birds can be found. The public beach continues below cliffs north in front of Vandenberg Air Force Base and south in front of the Cojo-Jalama Ranch. To get to Jalama Beach County Park, turn off Highway 1 south of Lompoc onto Jalama Road and follow it all the way to the ocean. It’s a long winding drive of nearly 15 miles from the highway which can be slow going in an RV and very fun in a sports car (unless you get stuck behind one of those RV’s!). Activities: fishing, camping, surfing, windsurfing, kite boarding, rock hounding, whale watching, bird watching, and bonfires. Amenities: campground, camp store, restaurant, lifeguard, restrooms, picnic tables, fire pits and dogs allowed on leash, extra fee for dogs.
Butterfly Beach In Montecito
Butterfly Beach is located along Channel Drive in ritzy Montecito, CA. This is a popular beach with Santa Barbara area locals, many who walk their dogs at the water’s edge. The beach has been eroded here so the sandy part is thin sometimes especially at high tide and after winter storms. Rocks and broken concrete barriers are trying to protect the bluff and the road. Getting here is easiest if you just drive toward the ocean on Olive Mill Road which turns into Channel Drive near the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort. Park along the waterfront on Channel Drive or on Butterfly Lane if necessary. Near Butterfly Lane there is a stair to the widest part of the beach. At lower tides, it’s possible to walk all the way to East Beach in Santa Barbara. In the other direction the narrow shoreline leads to Hammonds Beach. There is a paved bike path that runs from the Santa Barbara Pier to Butterfly Beach if you are coming from the city and have a bike or wish to rent one. There are no public restrooms at Butterfly Beach so plan accordingly. Activities: sunbathing, biking, fishing and beach walking. Amenities: no Facilities but dogs allowed on leash.
Hammonds Beach In Montecito
Hammonds Beach is a locals beach and a surfing spot in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara County. The beach here is a nice sandy spot hidden away amongst homes on several private drives. Behind the beach is an undeveloped open area known as Hammonds Meadow. Hammonds Beach shares a small parking lot with Miramar Beach located at the end of Eucalyptus Lane. To get here, drive toward the ocean on San Ysidro Lane which becomes Eucalyptus Lane after passing under Highway 101. At lower tides you can walk west (right) along the beach in front of the homes to get to Hammonds Beach. Most of the time it is much easier to walk the Hammonds Meadow Trail from the parking lot to where it ends on the beach. Montecito Creek sometimes flows out to the ocean at this location. Activities: surfing and beach walking. Amenities: no facilities but dogs allowed on leash.
Miramar Beach In Montecito
Miramar Beach is a public beach in front of a gated community called Miramar Beach in Montecito, CA. This is a nice south-facing cove with a sandy beach. The Miramar Hotel Resort used to be on the beach in the center of the cove, but it has been torn down. The public portion of the beach is below mean high tide level so don’t take a spot too close to the homes. To get to Miramar Beach, head south toward the water on San Ysidro Lane which turns into Eucalyptus Lane after you cross under Highway 101. At the end of the road is a small parking lot. When the lot is full you can park along streets on the other side of the railroad tracks. The Eucalyptus Lane Beach Access pathway is straight ahead from the parking lot and Miramar Beach is to the left. You can continue walking east on this beach in front of some stunning homes on Fernald Point. If you walk west on the beach at low tide there are tide pools to explore. Surfers will head west on the Hammonds Meadow Trail which starts at the parking lot to reach a surfing area known as Hammonds Beach. Activities: beach walking, surfing, beach combing and tide pooling. Amenities: tide pools, no facilities and dogs allowed on leash.
Arroyo Burro Beach in Santa Barbara
Arroyo Burro Beach County Park is the official name of what Santa Barbara locals call Hendry’s Beach. This beach is surrounded by tall bluffs with parks and trails on top including the Douglas Family Preserve, a wooded space saved from development by locals and even Michael Douglas who named it in honor of his father Kirk. A footpath into the preserve begins at the entrance to the parking lot. Overhead at Hendry’s there are hang gliders and paragliders that take off from Elings Park nearby. Right at the beach is the Boathouse Restaurant so you can make this an all day affair or an evening visit for dinner. This is one of the cleanest beaches in the area because adults and kids venture out from the South Coast Watershed Resource Center to clean it monthly. The water however can be unsanitary if the creek is flowing so ask lifeguards if you plan to swim. The center is located at the same parking lot as Hendry’s and offers education programs for local kids (learn more at ExploreEcology.org). It’s possible to walk quite a ways in both directions from here especially at lower tides. The parking lot entrance for Hendry’s Beach is just west of the intersection of Cliff Drive and Los Positas Road. This is a popular beach so the parking lots fill up quick on nice days. Arroyo Burro Creek flows across the beach sometimes. South of this creek dogs are allowed to roam free if under voice control. Activities: sunbathing, body boarding, swimming, fishing, hiking, beach combing and beach walking. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, grass park, restaurant, accessible features and dogs allowed off leash on the beach south of the creek mouth, and on-leash in the rest of the park.
Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara
Leadbetter Beach is a locals beach located just west of the harbor in Santa Barbara. It’s right across the street from Santa Barbara City College so expect to see students here on sunny days. It’s an excellent wide sandy beach that is perfect for sunbathing. With the right conditions, it gets breezy so windsurfing, kite boarding, kite flying, sailing, and even beginner surfing all take place here. At the center of the beach is Shoreline Beach Cafe a great place for lunch. At the east end of the beach are more restaurants next to the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum on the harbor. Behind the beach is Leadbetter Beach Park, a grassy spot with picnic tables and barbeques. A larger grass park called Shoreline Park is at the west end of Leadbetter Beach which makes a nice walk from here. A paved path follows the waterfront east from Leadbetter creating a bike route full of things to see along the way. The parking lot for Leadbetter Beach is located at Shoreline Drive and Loma Alta Drive just west of the Santa Barbara Harbor main entrance. Activities: sunbathing, kite boarding, windsurfing, surfing, sailing, walking, jogging and swimming. Amenities: restrooms, showers, lifeguard, grass Park, picnic tables, BBQs and tide pools.
Thousands Steps Beach in Santa Barbara
Thousand Steps Beach is a rock and sand beach below homes high on the bluff in the East Mesa area of Santa Barbara. It requires a long hike down a stairway to get to the beach. The concrete stairs, originally constructed in 1923, have what seems like 1000 steps, but is actually closer to 150. The spot where you land on the beach is only a short jaunt from Shoreline Park Beach just to the east. Beaches along this shoreline are not known for sunbathing, but they are excellent places for tide pool exploration at low tide, and beach walking except at high tide when the beaches are all wet. If you walk far enough west you’ll reach another long stairway at Mesa Lane Beach. Thousand Steps Beach is located at the dead end of Santa Cruz Boulevard just off Shoreline Drive. Unfortunately, there is only room for a handful of cars at the top of the stairs. Street spaces can be found along Shoreline Drive and on Santa Cruz Boulevard across the street. Activities: tidepooling, Beach Exploration, Beach Walking, SurfingAmenitiesTide Pools, No FacilitiesPet PolicyDogs allowed off leash.
East Beach of Santa Barbara
East Beach in Santa Barbara is located along the waterfront east of State Street and the Stearns Wharf Pier area. Most of the activity at East Beach happens at the east end where the beach is widest. At this end there are many sand volleyball courts, a grass park with picnic tables, an arts pavilion (Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center), and a restaurant (East Beach Grill). Across the street from East Beach is a paved bike path that goes all the way west to UCSB and east to Butterfly Beach. Also, across the street and down the path a little is the Andree Clark Bird Refuge Lagoon for bird-watching. Closer to the Wharf the beach narrows a bit and a palm tree lined grass park called Chase Palm Park provides a buffer between the sandy beach and the busy street. This central part of East Beach is less populated than the area near the pavilion. Parking for East Beach can be found along East Cabrillo Boulevard and also in lots located at Ninos Drive, Corona Del Mar Drive, and Garden Street. ActivitiesVolleyball, Biking, Sunbathing, Walking, Running, Skating, PicnickingAmenitiesLifeguard, Volleyball Courts, Paved Bike Path, Skate Park, Grass Park, Picnic Tables, Restrooms, Kids Play Area, Restaurant, Accessible Features.
San Luis Obispo County
San Luis Obispo County is roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and lets you explore everything from vintage beach towns to celebrated wine regions. The city of San Luis Obispo offers a walkable, historic downtown while north along the coast, you’ll find the legendary Hearst Castle and wild, unspoiled beaches. This area includes Avila Beach, Cambria, Cayucos, Grover Beach, Harmony, Los Osos, Morro Bay, Oceano, Pismo Beach and San Simeon. Visit our Oceano California Vacations Guide, Grover Beach Vacations Guide, Arroyo Grande Vacations Guide, Baywood Los Osos CA Travel Guide, Morro Bay Vacations, Cayucos Beach CA travel guide, Avila Beach Vacations Guide, or our Visit San Simeon travel guide to start planning your Central California beach vacation today.
Avila Beach City Beach
Avila Beach City Beach is the large wide sandy beach that takes up the entire waterfront of the town of Avila Beach, CA. The picturesque wooden Avila Pier sticks out over 1600 feet into San Luis Bay from the center of City Beach. At the north end of the beach is a sand spit at the mouth of San Luis Obispo Creek where dog owners will be found in the mornings and evenings. South of the pier the beach extends to a rocky headland which used to be the home of large oil storage tanks. In the 1990’s a huge underground oil contamination was excavated at the waterfront. Many homes, buildings, and the entire beach had to be removed. New sand from Guadalupe Dunes was installed and the waterfront buildings were rebuilt. Avila Beach is now reaping the rewards of their pain and suffering during the remediation. Their beach is beautiful and the businesses next to the beach are thriving. For those who want to see the area on bike, the Bob Jones Trail is a scenic paved bike path that begins at 1st Street and Avila Beach Drive. Those who want to fish can drop a line from the Avila Pier even without a license. Near the beach are shops, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms. Just a short drive away you’ll find a golf course, a KOA campground, and Avila Hot Springs which offers cabins and camp spots. For families, there is a small park at the north end of the waterfront that has a pirate-themed playground, grassy areas, and an aquarium (the Central Coast Aquarium). To find Avila City Beach, simply take the Avila Beach Drive exit off Highway 101 and wind your way down to this charming village. Activities: volleyball, basketball, Biking, skating and fishing. Amenities: fishing pier, restrooms, lifeguard, picnic tables, BBQs, shops, grass park, basketball court, aquarium, kids play area and dogs allowed on leash before 10am and after 5pm.
San Simeon Creek Beach In Cambria
San Simeon Creek Beach is at the mouth of San Simeon Creek north of Cambria, CA. This is a wide sandy beach with dunes, wetlands, and driftwood. Birds can be seen and photographed on the lagoon that forms where the creek backs up behind the beach. North of the bridge is a dirt parking area along the shoulder of Highway 1. South of the bridge is the Washburn Day-Use Area with a parking lot on both sides of the highway. A wooden boardwalk meanders through the wetlands and under the highway from the parking lot on the eastern side of the highway. More hiking trails circle the two campgrounds at this location. The camping entrance is off San Simeon Creek Road. These day-use parking areas and campgrounds are all part of Hearst San Simeon State Park. Activities: camping, picnicking, bird watching and beach combing. Amenities: campground, trails, picnic tables, accessible features, wetlands, restrooms and showers.
Estero Bluffs State Park in Cayucos
Estero Bluffs State Park encompasses a large chunk of undeveloped land between Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean north of Cayucos and near the small town of Harmony. Several parking lots exist along the highway and each has a trail or two that cross the wide open lands and take you to the edge of the bluffs looking out over Estero Bay. The northernmost lot has a trail that leads to the biggest beach in the park where Villa Creek meets the ocean at a sandy cove. There are other beaches along this stretch of state beach, but access from the bluff isn’t always easy. To find Estero Bluffs State Park, drive north on Highway 1 from Cayucos and look for parking areas about four miles from town. Activities: hiking, beach combing and beach exploration. Amenities: trails, tide pools, no facilities and dogs allowed on leash on the trails.
Morro Strand State Beach – North Beach in Cayucos
Morro Strand State Beach has two sections, north and south, which are separated by a long stretch of non-state-owned beaches. The North Beach at Morro Strand State Beach is a wide sandy beach in the southern part of Cayucos, CA. Next to the state park parking lot is a wider section of beach with no homes. This is the mouth of Old Creek which sometimes flows across the sand but rarely amounts to much. The state beach continues south from the creek in front of Studio Drive and the homes in the southernmost part of Cayucos, CA. Kitesurfers can be seen zipping back and forth just offshore. North Morro Beach has two parking areas. One is at Pacific Avenue and 24th Street (restrooms at this lot) and the other is nearby just off Highway 1 at Studio Drive. From this beach you can walk sand all the way north to the pier at Cayucos State Beach (except at high tide) or south to Morro Rock – a distance of about five miles! Activities: sunbathing, kite boarding and beach walking. Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables and dogs allowed on leash.
Pismo State Beach – Grover Beach in Grover Beach
Grover Beach is the middle portion of Pismo State Beach and the only beach in the city of Grover Beach, California. Grover Beach is a small city squeezed between Oceano and Pismo Beach along the southern San Luis Obispo coastline. Grover Beach (the beach) is a wide flat sandy beach that is typically packed firm enough for even passenger cars to drive onto. It’s still recommended to have four-wheel-drive to avoid getting stuck in the sand. Near the Grover Beach entance is a day-use plaza with a wooden boardwalk that leads to a platform between the dunes that looks out over the beach. Another boardwalk starts from the plaza and leads north through the dunes next to the Pismo Beach Golf Course. Farther north of Grover Beach is the Pismo State Beach North Campground and south is the Oceano Campground. Access to Grover Beach is at the west end of Grand Avenue where there is an entrance station and a parking lot. Fin’s Seafood Restaurant is located right next to the beach entrance at 25 West Grand Avenue in Grover Beach. Activities: beach driving, fishing, clam digging, walking, hiking, golfing, equestrian use, kite boarding, and bonfires. Amenities: restrooms, showers, picnic tables, boardwalk, trails, beach overlook, dunes, restaurant, golf course, accessible features and dogs allowed on leash on the beach.
Montana de Oro State Park – Sandspit Beach in Los Osos
Sandspit Beach at Montana de Oro State Park is a long beach that starts south of Morro Bay and continues out onto the long sand spit barrier that protects the bay. Drive out Pecho Valley Road and turn right into the Sandspit day-use area and park at the end of the road. There are restrooms and picnic tables at the parking lot. It is just a short walk on a wide trail to reach the beach nearest the parking area, but it’s a long walk north on beach if you want to reach the sand spit. Morro Rock is visible in the distance as you walk northward. At the end of the sand spit is a protected area named Morro Dunes Natural Preserve which is closed March through September. Surfers might be here at Sandspit Beach when conditions are right. If you want to camp in the state park, just drive a little further to Islay Creek Campground which is next to Spooner’s Cove. Activities: hiking, surfing, beach walking and beach combing. Amenities: trails, picnic tables, restrooms, dunes.
Morro Rock City Beach in Morro Bay
Morro Rock Beach is the city beach between the iconic Morro Rock and Morro Strand State Beach in Morro Bay, CA. This is a wide sandy beach just north of the Rock. The rock itself is protected by a natural preserve that is part of Morro Rock State Park and is completely off limits to climbing on. That’s ok as the best photos of this 580-foot tall landmark are from a distance. The main parking lot for Morro Rock Beach is on Coleman Drive just north of Morro Rock (you can’t miss the rock from the town of Morro Bay). At this location there are restrooms and other amenities. Two other day-use parking areas are available. One is in front of the Morro Dunes RV Park (1700 Embarcadero) and the other is at the end of Embarcadero which begins at Coleman Park. Neither of these other lots have facilities, but the beach is less populated at these locations. A campground is available next door at Morro Strand State Beach. Activities: surfing, bird watching, photography and fishing. Amenities: restrooms, picnic tables and dogs allowed on leash.
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area in Oceano
Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is the only California State Park that allows non-street-legal vehicles to drive on the beach. To enter this five mile long wide sandy beach, just drive west on Pier Avenue in Oceano to an entrance station and parking lot. You can drive cars on the beach if desired, but four-wheel drive vehicles with larger tires are recommended to avoid getting stuck in the sand. Non street-legal off-road vehicles must be delivered (i.e. on a trailer) to the off-highway vehicle (OHV) area which starts one mile south of Pier Avenue. In that area ATV’s, motorcycles, and dune buggies roam freely around the sand dunes. The only areas that are off-limits are fenced off to prevent vehicle entry. Beach camping is allowed in the OHV area. North of Pier Avenue is Pismo State Beach and the Oceano Campground for normal tent and RV camping. Activities” OHV, ATV, motorcycling, beach driving, camping, equestrian use, surfing and fishing. Amenities: dunes, beach camping area, OHV Area, restrooms and dogs allowed on leash.
Pismo State Beach – Oceano Beach in Oceano
Oceano Beach is in front of the Oceano Campground at Pismo State Beach. This is a wide flat sandy beach backed by a deep dunes structure with grass, shrubs, trees and flowers to view. Trails from the campground meander through these dunes and lead to the beach. Another great hiking trail loops around the Oceano Lagoon next to the campground and has birds to watch from gaps between the trees. If you are not camping in the campground then you’ll need to park in the Pier Avenue area in Oceano and walk north on the beach from there. Alternatively if you happen to have a 4WD vehicle, you can drive onto the beach at Pier Ave and drive north in front of the Oceano Campground all the way to Grover Beach. South of Pier Avenue is Oceano Dunes State Vehiclular Recreation Area, a Mecca for ATV and ORV users. Activities: beach driving, camping, kite boarding, surfing, fishing, clam digging, walking, hiking, equestrian use and Bird watching. Amenities: campground, restrooms, showers, lagoon, trails and accessible features.
Pismo State Beach – North Beach in Pismo Beach
North Beach is in front of the North Beach Campground at Pismo State Beach. Pismo Creek meets the ocean at this location and sometimes pools up next to the campground. Once on the beach if you walk north it’s not far to the Pismo Beach Pier. Heading south you can take the beach route or walk on a boardwalk that meanders through the dunes next to the Pismo Beach Golf Course all the way to the Grover Beach entrance. You can drive a car onto Pismo State Beach at Grand Avenue in Grover Beach or at Pier Avenue in Oceano. There is no day-use parking lot at the North Beach state park entrance, but there are parking spaces along Highway 1 where a one-mile long Coastal Access Trail leads non-campers to the beach. Next to the North Beach Campground is a Monarch Butterfly Colony in a eucalyptus grove which can be viewed when they are present in late-October through February. Parking for grove access is clearly signed along the highway outside the campground. Activities: camping, clam digging, fishing, hiking, walking, kite boarding, surfing and bird watching. Amenities: campground, restrooms, showers, butterfly colony, trails, boardwalk and dogs allowed on leash.
Pismo Beach City Beach in Pismo Beach
Pismo Pier juts out into the Pacific from the center of the Pismo Beach waterfront giving visitors a grand view of the beach. Pismo City Beach is best known for fishing, surfing, sunbathing, and digging clams. The “famous” Pismo Clam is now protected so consult local regulations and get a fishing license before digging for these buggers. North of the pier is an area with many sand volleyball courts below Cypress Street. Farther north is another beach access at the Wilmar Stairs. If the wind is up, then kiteboarders might be out in the surf with the surfers at City beach. The beach along this shoreline is wide and long so you could walk south on sand for days to the headlands near Point Sal – a distance of 15 beach miles. A shorter walk is to combine a walk out the pier with the boardwalk promenade along the waterfront. There is a public parking lot next to the pier at the west end of Pomeroy Avenue. Another parking lot at the end of Addie Street gives access to the south part of Pismo City Beach near Pismo Creek where birds can be seen and photographed. Nearby are campgrounds and trails in Pismo State Beach. Activities: surfing, fishing, body boarding, stand-up paddle boarding, volleyball, walking, beach walking, sunbathing, swimming, kite boarding, bird watching and clam digging. Amenities: fishing pier, boardwalk, picnic tables, restrooms, showers, lifeguard, volleyball courts, kids play area, benches, rentals and dogs allowed on leash on the beach, but not on the pier.
Pismo Beach – Wilmar Stairs Access in Pismo Beach
The Wilmar Stairs are a city-owned wooden stairway that provides access to the quieter north end of Pismo City Beach. From the bottom of the stairs walk north to a small cove with white cliff walls that is hidden behind a rock wall below the SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel. At lower tides when this area is most easily accessible there are deep alcoves in the rocks to investigate. If you walk south the beach you’ll pass below the Kon Tiki Inn on the way to volleyball courts and eventually the Promenade and the Pismo Beach Pier which is visible from the Wilmar Stairs. Pismo City Beach has full facilities and makes a nice out-and-back beach walk from the Wilmar Access. Look for limited free public parking spaces at the end of Wilmar Avenue just west of Price Street. Activities: beach walking and sunbathing. Amenities: caves, lifeguard, no facilities and dogs allowed on leash.
Monterey County is the most northerly of the Central Coast’s areas, ranges from the rugged coastline of Big Sur all the way to communities on the southern edge of the San Francisco Bay area. Carmel is one of California’s gallery centers, the city of Monterey is home to the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Santa Cruz is part beach town and part college town—and always independent in spirit. Monterey County includes the cities Big Sur, Carmel, Marina Del Ray, Monterey, Moss Landing, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Sand City, and Seaside. To start planning your vacation to Monterey visit our travel guides for each city: Big Sur California Vacation, Carmel California Vacation, Marina Del Rey Guide, Monterey California Tourism, Visit Moss Landing California, Visit Pacific Grove California, Visit Pebble Beach California, Sand City California, and our Seaside California Travel Guide.
Carmel City Beach in Carmel
Carmel City Beach is a long, wide, white sand beach that is hard to beat anywhere on the California Central Coast. It can be packed here on sunny days, but this part of the coast is often cool and cloudy making it easy to find your own space on this large beach. Even on busy days, if you are willing to venture north or south from the main access at Ocean Avenue you’ll probably find open spaces. North leads to a beach below the Pebble Beach Golf Course and south leads to the rest of City Beach in front of Carmel oceanfront homes. To see these stunning houses just walk along Scenic Road and drop down to the beach at any access point along the way. Getting to City Beach is easy. Just turn west onto Ocean Ave from Highway 1 and pass through downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. Look for a parking space at the road’s end. On busy days you’ll have to search for a parking spot along Scenic Road or one of the other streets near the water. The rules here are conducive to a romantic or festive evening as alcohol is allowed on the beach and small bonfires (aka “warming fires”) are allowed in the sand south of 10th Avenue. Activities: sunbathing, beach walking, fishing, wildlife watching, bonfires and volleyball. Amenities: restrooms, volleyball courts and dogs allowed off leash.
Monastery Beach in Carmel
Monastery Beach gets its name from the Carmelite Monastery Mission across Highway 1 from the beach. The monastery is currently home of the Nuns of Carmel. This beautiful sandy beach is popular on sunny days, but it is not a swimming beach. Due to its shape there is a severe undertow and rip current in the cove that can suck swimmers out to certain death. The nickname of the beach is Mortuary Beach and it has been called the most dangerous beach in California. Another name for the beach is San Jose Creek Beach for the creek that runs behind the beach before entering the cove at the north end. The creek flows down through a stunning canyon behind the beach in a large property called Point Lobos Ranch. The ranch land is a new state park property which hopefully will be open to the public in the near future. At the north end of Monastery Beach there is a trail that wraps around the bay to Carmel Meadows Beach and Carmel River State Beach. Experienced scuba divers frequently dive at Monastery Beach and at nearby Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Look for open parking spots along the highway near the Monastery entrance at 27951 California 1, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. Activities: scuba diving and sunbathing. Amenities: restrooms and dogs allowed on leash.
Marina State Beach in Marina
Marina State Beach is a stunning sandy beach that sits below high rugged dunes in Marina, CA. Hang-gliders launch off the dunes and enjoy the ideal wind and launch conditions here. Just before entering the main parking lot for the state park the Dune Nature Trail begins on the left. It is a sandy boardwalk and interpretive trail that heads south through the dunes for over one-third mile. You’ll see surfers riding the swells here, but the surf can be dangerous so be careful if you want to swim and watch for sneaker waves. The parking lot is located at the west end of Reservation Road just west of Highway 1. If you walk north on the beach you’ll pass in front of the Sanctuary Beach Resort on the way to Marina Dunes Preserve. The state park beach heads south from the parking lot. A separate south entrance to Marina State Beach can be found at the end of Lake Drive. Activities: wildlife watching, surfing, hang gliding and picnicking. Amenities: restrooms, showers, picnic tables, dunes and interpretive trail.
Monterey Municipal Beach in Monterey
Municipal Beach is the name given to the city-owned beach adjacent to the Municipal Fisherman’s Wharf 2 Pier in Monterey, CA. This is probably the busiest sandy beach in the city. The beach here is north facing and somewhat protected by the pier so it is safer for swimming. Next door to the north is Monterey Bay Waterfront Park with volleyball courts and grass areas. The beach at that park is known as Window on the Bay and is the southern beach of Monterey State Beach. The paved Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail runs north and south from here for bikers, walkers, and joggers. The pier has restaurants and pubs so it’s worth a visit for some grub or brews. Monterey Bay Kayaks is headquartered here and they rent kayaks and lead tours for visitors. Activities: kayaking, scuba diving, biking, sunbathing and swimming. Amenities: kayak rentals, volleyball courts, restrooms, fishing pier, paved bike path and dogs allowed on leash.
San Carlos Beach in Monterey
San Carlos Beach is located in Monterey at the west end of Cannery Row next to the Coast Guard Pier. This beach is sometimes referred to as Reeside Beach Access because of its location at the end of Reeside Avenue. San Carlos Beach is known for scuba diving not subathing, but it’s a great place to visit on a sunny day. You can choose from grass lawns, sandy beaches, or benches and picnic tables to rest on. Some old concrete structures exist at the water’s edge. Right behind San Carlos Beach Park is the paved Monterey Peninsula Recreation Trail for bikers, runners, and walkers to enjoy. Check out nearby Monterey Municipal Beach if you want a sandier beach experience. Activities: scuba diving, picnicking and walking. Amenities: grass park, picnic tables, restrooms and paved bike path.
Moss Landing State Beach in Moss Landing
Moss Landing State Beach is just north of the Moss Landing Harbor Channel entrance in the town of Moss Landing, CA. This is a long sandy beach backed by dunes. The parking lot is on the bay side of the peninsula and has a great spot for launching kayaks to explore the harbor and Elkhorn Slough. Moss Landing State Beach is known for fishing, surfing, kayaking, birding and wildlife watching. Sea otters are regulars in the waters near the parking area. The water is cold and rip currents make it dangerous for swimming on the ocean side of the peninsula. Walking north on the beach leads to a remote area with wetlands in Bennett Slough behind the beach. If you kept walking in this direction you would eventually reach Zmudowski State Beach. To get to Moss Landing State Beach, take the Jetty Road turnoff from Highway 1 just north of the channel. There is a parking lot at the end of the road and room for cars along Jetty Road when the lot fills up. Near the park entrance is a boat launch and the Sea Harvest Fish Market and Restaurant. Activities: kayaking, fishing, surfing, bird watching, stand-up paddle boarding, equestrian use and hiking. Amenities: toilets, dunes, boat launch and picnic tables.
Salinas River State Beach – Potrero Entrance in Moss Landing
The Potrero Road entrance to Salinas River State Beach is on a strip of land between the Old Salinas River and the Pacific Ocean. This is the central entrance to the state park. The sandy beach here is long and wide and backed by dunes for most of its length. From the parking lot a trail meanders south in the dunes to the southern parking lot in Salinas River State Beach at Monterey Dunes Way. A wider path leads north from here all the way to the northern entrance near Moss Landing Harbor. You can get to the Potrero Entrance of Salinas River State Beach by taking Highway 1 south from Moss Landing and then driving to the end of Potrero Road. The popular activities here include fishing, beach combing, and birding. Activities: fishing, bird watching, wildlife watching, hiking, beach walking, beach combing and equestrian use. Amenities: toilets, dunes, trails and wetlands.
Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove
Asilomar State Beach is located on the Pebble Beach Peninsula in Pacific Grove, CA. This linear state park is along Sunset Drive between Jewel Avenue and Crocker Avenue. Asilomar is not a typical “beach.” It’s a string of small coves and rocky points with a few sandy spots along the shoreline. An accessible walking trail meanders along the dunes between the ocean and the road connecting all the coves and points. Plan to spend some time walking the trail along the grassy dunes and exploring the shore. Next to the road is a bike lane for those who would rather bike around the peninsula. Parking spaces with easy shore access can be found on the shoulder of Sunset Drive. Across the street are homes and nearby are conference grounds that are part of the state park. This area is just outside of the private Pebble Beach community so it is free to drive here (there is an entrance fee to drive through Pebble Beach). There are no restrooms at Asilomar Beach, but you could walk trails into the conference grounds at the south end if necessary. Spanish Bay Beach is a wide sandy beach with easy access from Asilomar State Beach. Activities: hiking, walking, tide pooling, bird watching and biking. Amenities: tide pools, dunes, trails, boardwalk, bike lane, accessible features and dogs allowed on leash on trails and the beaches.
Seal Rock Creek Beach in Pebble Beach
Seal Rock Creek Beach is a small sandy beach along the 17 Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, CA. This white sand beach is at the mouth of Seal Rock Creek which flows intermittently. Just offshore is Seal Rock and a little to the north is Bird Rock. Both are frequently covered with many seals and birds. Behind the beach is a pull-through parking lot. South of the beach is Seal Rock Picnic Area and north of it is a much larger parking lot for observing Bird Rock. To get here, pay the fee to enter Pebble Beach and then drive the 17 Mile Drive loop road to this area marked on the map. Restrooms and picnic tables are available at the Bird Rock lot. Activities: picnicking and bird watching. Amenities: trails, restrooms, picnic tables and tide pools.
Monterey State Beach – Roberts Beach in Monterey, Seaside
Houghton M. Roberts Beach is the middle portion of the three separate sections of Monterey State Beach. This beach is an excellent spot to relax or walk at the edge of the water, but swimming here can be dangerous due to rip currents. To get here, take the Seaside exit (403) off Highway 1 and then turn toward the ocean. The parking lot for this beach is on the south side of the Monterey Tides Hotel where this road ends. Just turn left onto Sand Dunes Drive when you reach the hotel. The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail meanders through the dunes in this park. This bike trail continues south to downtown Monterey and north into the city of Marina. The hotel has a full-service restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you plan to stay here all day. Seaside Beach is on the other side of the hotel. Activities: biking, skating, scuba diving, surfing, tide pooling, fishing, beach combing, beach walking and body boarding. Amenities: tide pools, dunes, paved bike path, toilets and dogs on leash are allowed at Monterey State Beach south of the resort hotel.
Santa Cruz County
The Santa Cruz County coastline is south of San Mateo County on the San Francisco Peninsula and just a short drive from San Jose and the southern San Francisco Bay Area. It is best known as a counter-cultural hub, with a bohemian feel and youthful vibe, and fun weekend tourist attractions like the Beach Amusement Park and Boardwalk and the Mystery Spot. The relaxed beach lifestyle is supplemented by some high tech industry and a vibrant university culture. This includes Aptos, Capitola, Davenport, Santa Cruz and Watsonville. To start planning your vacation to Santa Cruz, visit our travel guides for each city: Visit Aptos CA, Capitola California Travel, Davenport CA, or Visit Watsonvilla Ca.
Seacliff State Beach in Aptos
Seacliff State Beach is a long sandy beach on the waterfront of Aptos, CA. This is a great place for sunbathing or walking the sandy shores of Monterey Bay in either direction. Seacliff State Beach has it all with a nice swimming beach, shaded picnic areas, an oceanfront campground for RVs, and a huge fishing pier to explore. At the end of the pier there is an old rotting concrete ship called the USS Palo Alto that is worth walking to the end to see. Originally when the World War I era tanker was sunk at this location it was used as an amusement venue with a dance floor, restaurant, and even a swimming pool. It’s closed to public access now, but it is unsafe and overrun by smelly birds anyway. To get here from Highway 1, just take the State Park Drive exit and follow it west just a short distance to the park entrance station. The visitor center has a park store plus exhibits including a tide pool tank and an aquarium. Activities: fishing, swimming, sunbathing, camping, picnicking and beach walking. Amenities: campground, fishing pier, historic ship, restrooms, showers, lifeguards, picnic tables, BBQs, covered picnic areas, cafe, accessible features and dogs allowed on leash.
Rio Del Mar Beach in Aptos
Rio Del Mar Beach is the main beach in the community of Rio Del Mar in Aptos, CA. It starts in the waterfront area at the end of Rio Del Mar Boulevard and continues south for almost a mile on Beach Drive to the end. There are public parking lots at both ends of Rio Del Mar Beach. Between these lots are street parking spaces along Beach Drive where a sidewalk promenade has stairs to the beach in various spots. This long wide sandy beach is the southern part of Seacliff State Beach. The rest of the state park is on the other side of Aptos Creek. From the creek area it is easy to see the pier and sunken concrete ship in the main part of Seacliff State Beach. These beaches on Monterey Bay are continuous so you can walk in either direction for miles. Activities: sunbathing, fishing, picnicking, swimming, beach walking and bonfires. Amenities: fishing pier, restrooms, showers, historic ship, fire pits, lifeguards, benches and dogs allowed on leash.
Capitola Beach in Capitola
Capitola City Beach is a sandy beach at the north end of Monterey Bay in Capitola, CA. It’s a popular urban beach that can be jam packed on sunny days and during beach events. This south-facing beach has a large fishing pier, Capitola Wharf, that sticks out into Soquel Cove where the water is usually calm due to protection from land west of here. The point beyond the east end of the beach gets waves and is a popular surfing area. Behind the beach is a lagoon formed by Soquel Creek which has birds at times putting on a show. Next to the creek are town homes in an area called the Venetion that was built right on the sand. These picturesque homes have bright multi-colored facades and form a perfect backdrop to this excellent beach. Also behind the beach are several restaurants and shops along the Esplanade. Lifeguards on duty during busy times. In the evenings during the warmer months at Capitola Beach they show movies, have twilight concerts, and host art shows while live music plays on the Esplanade Stage. Metered parking spaces can be found next to the beach on Esplanade and adjacent side streets. Activities: volleyball, fishing, sunbathing, bird watching and surfing. Amenities: fishing pier, volleyball courts, lifeguard, restrooms, showers, shops, creek, restaurants and benches.
New Brighton State Beach in Capitola
New Brighton State Beach is a wide sandy beach at the north end of Monterey Bay. This state park has a large hillside campground in a wooded area surrounded by homes in Capitola and Aptos. Inside the park are trails to explore and they are open to hiking with dogs on leash. Because there are lifeguards and protection from the west in Soquel Cove, this beach is safer for small kids and for swimmers most of the time. North of the beach are steep cliffs and a rocky narrow shoreline, but south of here you can walk for miles to Seacliff State Beach and far beyond. To reach New Brighton State Beach, take the Park Ave exit off Highway 1 and head toward the water. Signs point you into the state park and then after paying to enter they will direct you to either the camping area or the day-use area. Activities: fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, beach walking and bonfires. Amenities: campground, trails, restrooms, picnic tables, fire pits, accessible features and dogs allowed on leash.
Davenport Beach in Davenport
Davenport Beach, a.k.a. San Vicente Beach, is the southern beach of two beaches right in the little town of Davenport, California. This beach is easily accessible and the other one is not. San Vicente Creek flows toward the ocean on the south side of town and empties into the ocean at Davenport Beach. The creek was re-routed long ago through a large tunnel in the rocky bluff that can be found at the north end of the beach. This tunnel and some deep rock arches are definitely worth checking out. The south end of the beach has high cliff walls and a stunning tall rock in the surf. A parking lot for the beach is on the ocean side of Highway 1 near the main intersection in town at Ocean Street. From the parking area walk across the railroad tracks and head to your left until you find a trail that drops down to the beach below. There are other walking paths on this area known as Davenport Bluffs. Davenport Beach with the rock just offshore is a frequently photographed site especially at sunset. Activities: photography, sunbathing, beach exploration and caves. Amenities: tide pools, tunnel, no facilities and dogs allowed on leash.
Scott Creek Beach in Davenport
Scott Creek Beach is one of the nicest beaches in the Davenport area north of Santa Cruz. The beach is right next to Highway 1 as it dips into the Scott Creek Valley north of Davenport Landing. Scott Creek runs into the ocean at the north end of the beach and Molino Creek crosses the beach at the south end. The shallow channel formed in the sand when Scott Creek is flowing can be fun for kids to play in. Most people settle into the beach between the creeks but this beautiful coastline invites exploration north and south. In particular, there are tide pools to investigate if you walk north at low tides. Sometimes there might be areas closed for snowy plover nesting habitat area. For this reason, dogs are not allowed on Scott Creek Beach. Activities: beach combing, beach exploration, beach walking, windsurfing, kite boarding, tide pooling and surfing. Amenities: tide pools, dunes, creek and no facilities.
Waddell Creek Beach in Davenport
Waddell Creek Beach is the northernmost beach in Santa Cruz County. This wide sandy beach is part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the oldest and one of the largest state parks in California. The Waddell Beach area is the only part of this massive park that is on the ocean. Most of the park is made up of inland hills with trails and camps geared toward hikers, bikers, and backpackers. Hikers have several trail options that begin at Rancho Del Oso across the Highway 1. Mountain bikers and equestrians can ride the Skyline to the Sea Trail which begins there too. The beach north of the parking lot is also state property but it gets very narrow between the water and the highway. Strolling south of the parking lot you will find Waddell Creek and some more beach and dunes to explore. This area is known for windsurfing and kite boarding so if conditions are right you’ll have a great show put on by the pros that ride the wind here. Next to the Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center there is a self-guided nature trail and the Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve for bird watching on the wetlands of Waddell Creek. Activities: wind surfing, kite boarding, surfing, hiking, mountain biking, equestrian use, backpacking, driftwood, body boarding, bird watching, fishing, beach combing and camping. Amenities: trails, nature trail, campground and restrooms.
Greyhound Rock Coastal Access in Davenport
Greyhound Rock Coastal Fishing Access is a Santa Cruz County managed beach facility. The massive rock just offshore is Greyhound Rock which is part of Greyhound Rock State Marine Conservation Area a marine life protection area of the California Dept. of Fish and Game. Fishing is popular at this beach as is beach combing. It requires a hike down a direct, but steep paved grade to get from the large parking lot along Highway 1 down to the beach. Beach walkers are free to roam far north and south from where the trail meets the beach behind Greyhound Rock. The north route continues below steep cliffs all the way to Waddell Creek Beach at low tide. Keep in mind that high tide can close off your return route at a couple spots. At low tide, it is possible to climb up Greyhound Rock. Activities: fishing, beach combing, beach walking and tide pooling. Amenities: viewing platform, restrooms, picnic tables, tide pools, accessible features, benches and dogs allowed on leash.
Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz
Natural Bridges State Beach is named for the natural arch in the huge rock located in the shore break here. This is one of the most photographed beach icons in the state of California. The park also offers a monarch butterfly migration preserve and exhibit, picnic areas, hiking trails, an accessible boardwalk, and a great sandy beach. A lagoon forms where the creek backs up and birds pose for photographs in this area. This state park is right on the western edge of urban Santa Cruz. Natural Bridges State Beach is a popular family park with lots to explore including great tide pools at low tide. Consult tide charts to plan your trip if you want to go tide pooling. The entrance to the park is located where West Cliff Drive ends at Swanton Boulevard. There is a free parking lot next to an ocean/beach overlook at this intersection that is a perfect lookout for whale-watching during the gray migration (Dec-Apr). You can easily walk into the park from this parking lot. If you drive into the park, there is an entrance fee. Activities: tide pooling, bird watching, whale watching, sunbathing and photography. Amenities: trails, butterfly preserve, tide pools, rock arch, restrooms, picnic tables, BBQs, lifeguard.
Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz
Seabright Beach is a popular sandy beach next to Santa Cruz Main Beach in Santa Cruz, CA. Seabright Beach is on state-owned property in that is part of Twin Lakes State Beach. It spans a wide stretch of sand from the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor entrance to a narrow natural rock wall that juts out into the surf at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River. At the bottom of this rock wall is a small rock arch opening that lets river water pass through. Shifting sand sometimes closes up the arch, but at times it’s possible to crawl through and wade the river water to reach Main Beach. People are no longer allowed to walk the trail on top of this narrow fin, but many locals jump the fence and go out on the rock wall despite the “area closed” signs. There is a park on East Cliff Drive where you can take in the view of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk Amusement Park, Main Beach, and Seabright Beach. The Walton Lighthouse is at the end of the Santa Cruz Breakwater where a paved walking path allows you to walk out and look back at Seabright Beach. Santa Cruz can be a challenge to drive around in so consult a map to get here. Seabright Avenue at East Cliff Drive marks the center of this south-facing beach. Parking and beach access is available at the west end of E Cliff Drive near Alhambra Avenue, Mott Avenue, and at the end of 3rd Avenue. Activities: surfing, sunbathing, swimming, B and bonfires. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, lighthouse, rock arch, fire pits.
Twin Lakes State Beach in Santa Cruz
Twin Lakes State Beach is a sandy beach with a bird-watching lagoon behind it. The main beach in Twin Lakes State Beach is at 9th Avenue and East Cliff Drive in the Live Oak area of Santa Cruz. This state park extends for a mile along this shoreline including the beaches on both sides of Santa Cruz Harbor and the beach in front of Bonita Lagoon (aka Black’s Beach). At 9th Avenue there is a freshwater lagoon called Schwan Lake across Cliff Drive that is good for bird-watching. Nearby to the north at the harbor there are shops, restaurants, and volleyball courts. A few parking spots for the Twin Lakes main beach are provided at 9th Ave but they fill up. Street parking spots in the area are permit only on weekends so at those times it’s probably best to park at Santa Cruz Harbor Beach and walk south to this spot rather than risk a parking citation. Activities: swimming, sunbathing, picnicking, bird watching, and bonfires. Amenities: restrooms, showers, lifeguard, lagoon, fire pits, wetlands and dogs allowed on leash.
Santa Cruz Main Beach in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Main Beach is known as Boardwalk Beach because of the boardwalk and amusement park that spans the length of this beach on the Santa Cruz, California waterfront. Main Beach is a south-facing beach that stretches from the mouth of the San Lorenzo River to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf wooden pier. Even with this large expanse of sand it gets quite packed with tourists and locals on sunny days. Behind the beach you’ll find roller coasters and other amusement park rides, an arcade, mini golf, swimming pool, bowling alley, and many restaurant options. After walking the boardwalk consider taking a walk out to the end of the wharf to see the shops and look back at the city. Several seafood restaurant options are on the wharf and many others are nearby on Beach Street. The shops and attractions along Beach Street and the boardwalk are a must to explore if visiting for the first time (beachboardwalk.com). The San Lorenzo River backs up creating a large stagnant lagoon at the east end of the beach where a narrow rock fin wall sticks out into the surf. Lifeguards are on hand most of the time at Main Beach making it a safe place for families to play in the waves. Activities: volleyball, sunbathing, swimming, mini golf, bowling, walking, kayaking, fishing, boating and stand-up paddle boarding. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, shops, restaurant, amusement park, arcade, boardwalk, pier, volleyball courts, kayak rentals and train.
Manresa State Beach in Watsonville
Manresa State Beach is a day-use facility in the La Selva Beach area near Watsonville, CA. The main day use area of Manresa State Beach has a large paved parking lot on the bluff above a wide sandy beach on Monterey Bay. Two ramps and a long stairway leads down to the beach. On nice days, the lot can fill up, but the beach is large enough to accommodate large crowds. Be careful of sneaker waves when playing in the surf. Cold water and strong rip currents make swimming dangerous at beaches in this area. Getting here is simple. Just turn south onto San Andreas Road in La Selva and look for signs to the state beach. Manresa State Beach has a separate unit with a campground and another day-use parking lot. It’s called the Manresa Uplands and it’s located farther south on San Andreas Road at Sand Dollar Drive. Activities: sunbathing, picnicking, fishing, beach walking and bonfires. Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, picnic tables, fire pits, campground and dogs allowed on leash.
Sunset State Beach in Watsonville
Sunset State Beach is located west of the city of Watsonville, CA. This is a popular state park with a campground, nice day use picnic facilities, and a long wide sandy beach. The main unit of Sunset State Park has two separate day-use parking lots: Upper Ramada Picnic Area (near the park entrance) and Lower Ramada Picnic Area (at the end of the park road). Both areas have picnic tables and covered picnic areas with barbeques. In between these parking lots are several camping areas with trails that descend the hillside to Sunset Beach. Walking south on the beach leads to another separate day-use area in Sunset State Beach called Palm Beach. Walking north on the beach is a great beachcombing area that eventually leads to Manresa State Beach in La Selva Beach, CA. To get here, take San Andreas Road from La Selva Beach and then turn onto Sunset Beach Road which leads to the entrance station. Activities: picnicking, camping, beach combing, beach walking and fishing. Amenities: campground, picnic tables, BBQs, group picnic areas, restrooms, lifeguard, remote control glider port, accessible features and dunes.
Palm Beach in Watsonville
Palm Beach is a day use area of Sunset State Beach State Park with a separate entrance. This park provides access to a wide sandy beach on Monterey Bay that is backed by beautiful grassy dunes. North and south of the park the state-owned beach continues in front of the Pajaro Dunes Resort which has condos and vacation rentals. It’s possible to walk the beach for miles in both directions. It is possible to park for free outside of the state park parking lot. This beach is popular with local farming families because most of the other beaches in the area don’t have a free parking option. To get to Palm Beach, take the Riverside Drive exit off Highway 1 near Watsonville and head west to Lee Road. Then it’s a long straight drive between farm lands on West Beach Street which leads to the parking lot. Hike up and over the high dunes to an excellent sandy strand. Activities: fishing, picnicking, beach walking and beach combing. Amenities: picnic tables, BBQs, restrooms, showers, lifeguards, dunes and dogs allowed on leash on the beach in front of the park but not in front of homes or condos.