California Beaches and Parks

California beaches offer a variety of activities and moods. From the wild and scenic coast of Northern California to the sunny, playful shores of the South Coast, there's something for everyone.

There are beaches where you can explore tide pools, collect driftwood, or just enjoy some peace and quiet. Then there are the fun-filled beaches where you can surf, swim, play volleyball, or even ride a roller coaster at a beach amusement park. No wonder so many different kinds of people flock to the shores of California.

The California coast also features a wealth of parks and recreational areas. There are many California State Beaches, as well as county, city and federal beaches and parks. Some are highly developed, with visitor centers, camping facilities, restrooms and other amenities, while others have few or no facilities. Many of the parks also include beaches.

The California coast can be divided into 4 different regions, each with its distinct climate and character.

  • The North Coast includes the counties of Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino and Sonoma.
  • The San Francisco Bay Area includes the counties of Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Cruz.
  • The Central Coast includes the counties of Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.
  • The South Coast includes Los Angeles county, Orange County and San Diego County.

Northern California Beaches

Northern California Coast  Photo © John Anderson |

Northern California beaches appeal to outdoor enthusiasts, artistic spirits, and anyone looking to slow down and unwind. The coastline is rugged and dramatic, backed by lush redwood forests and dotted with small towns and villages.

The climate is cool and foggy. This is not the place to come to work on your tan, but it's perfect if you like hiking, fishing, camping, kayaking, whale-watching, and a host of other outdoor activities.

And there's plenty of culture too; there are wineries, art galleries, theaters, museums, wonderful Victorian architecture and fine restaurants.

You'll find wildlife areas in Crescent City and Eureka, a rugged wilderness area along California's Lost Coast, and numerous scenic beaches and coves along the Mendocino and Sonoma coast.

Del Norte County Beaches | Humboldt County Beaches 

Mendocino County Beaches | Sonoma County Beaches

San Francisco Beaches

Baker Beach, San Francisco  Photo © Christophe Testi |

San Francisco is well-noted for its beauty, culture and sophistication. But there are some great beaches here too. Just north of the city in Marin County lies one of the most beautiful wild areas on the California Coast, Point Reyes National Seashore.

Then there are the many beaches and parks that are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. You can gaze in wonder at the redwood groves in Muir Woods, or take a stroll on sandy, windy Ocean Beach.

If you want to soak up the sun, your best bet is to head south to Half Moon Bay or Santa Cruz, where there's a bit less fog and more sun.

Point Reyes | Marin County | San Francisco | San Francisco south

Half Moon Bay | Santa Cruz

Hotels near Santa Cruz
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Central California Beaches

Big Sur Coastline  Photo © Spvvkr |

Central California beaches are unparalleled in their beauty and variety. Start with the rich wildlife and sandy beaches of Monterey and Carmel, then head south to be awed by the grandeur that is Big Sur.

In San Luis Obispo County you can't miss Morro Rock, the distinctive landmark that dominates Morro Bay. In Pismo Beach, you'll find long sandy beaches and amazing dunes.

At Santa Barbara the landscape changes as the coast curves in such a way that most beaches face south instead of west. Warm and gracious, Santa Barbara is a popular vacation destination famous for its beautiful beaches. The Central Coast ends at Ventura, a popular spot with surfers.

Moss Landing | Asilomar State Beach | Carmel | more Carmel

Pismo Beach | Pismo Dunes | Santa Barbara

Southern California Beaches

San Clemente Pier Photo © Tim McCaig |

Southern California beaches are, without a doubt, the most popular with vacationers. They're warm and sunny, and offer a wide variety of recreational activities.

Los Angeles beaches include the famous beaches of Malibu, the fun-loving beaches of Santa Monica and Redondo Beach, and the long sandy beaches of the appropriately named Long Beach.

In Orange County, there's family-friendly Huntington Beach, the artistic Laguna Beach, and the lovely beaches of Dana Point and San Clemente.

San Diego County boasts many fine beaches, including Oceanside, La Jolla, Ocean Beach and Coronado.

Los Angeles | Seal Beach |Huntington Beach north | Huntington Beach 

Laguna Beach north | Laguna Beach | Laguna Beach south

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