Sunshine, bikinis, tanned lifeguards, and endless volleyball games on the sand. If that’s what you think of California beaches, you’re only half right.

The above may be an apt description of some Los Angeles-area beaches, but it doesn’t begin to describe what lies north of the Golden State’s Central Coast. Northern California beaches are a whole ‘nother species, every bit as alluring as their southern counterparts for reasons having nothing to do with bare skin and toned abs.

With hundreds of miles of coastline, from the Central Coast to the Oregon border, Northern California beaches and tiny coastal towns are treasures waiting to be discovered by anyone wanting to walk on the cooler, wilder side. (Meaning sweaters and sturdy windbreakers, not bikinis, are the beach apparel of choice. But don’t get too depressed, guys, there’s plenty to make up for it!)

Are you ready to cut through the fog (and sometimes lots of wind and rain) for the adventure of a lifetime? Then keep reading!

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Explore the Cooler Half of California