California State Beaches

Nothing Says ‘Chill Out’ Like California State Beaches


Pacific Ocean Coast

Northern California state beaches, managed by the State Parks Department, are magnets for fishermen, surfers, naturalists, kite flyers, campers, hikers, whale watchers, bookworms, and sand-castle builders – or anyone who wants to “chill out” from the daily grind. (There’s just something about the timeless pounding of surf that makes our troubles seem insignificant.)

Planning Your Northern California Beaches Vacation

Now, think of driving all the way up (or down) the Northern California coastline in a red convertible (a minivan doesn’t quite cut it!) and discovering beaches at your own pace.

How would you know where to begin? Stay right here – we’ve got all the best insider information on Northern California beaches, and tons of suggestions on ways to make the most of your visit.

Let’s get started.

Pitch a Tent or Pack a Picnic
California state beaches provide restroom, camping, and picnicking facilities as well as recreation galore. We’ll point you to some of our favorite beaches managed by the California State Parks Department.

Toast the Sunset – And Some Marshmallows
Northern California beaches aren’t always foggy and rainy. Carmel Beach, located at the foot of Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea, is known for its spectacular sunsets. Bring your dog and a bottle of wine, and join the locals for nature’s evening show topped off with a beach bonfire and some gooey s’mores.

Get Active
Northern California beaches are the ideal setting for a wide range of recreational pursuits. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails, kayaking, surfing, and more await adventurous types at Stinson Beach, where Bay Area urbanites and their dogs go to unwind. In the vicinity are numerous points of interest, including Muir Woods, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Point Reyes Lighthouse, and the Bolinas Lagoon Preserve, where great egrets, great blue herons, and harbor seals make their home.

Explore Tide Pools
The beaches are teeming with sea life. One of the best places to view anemones, crabs, sea urchins, and other salty critters is Bean Hollow State Beach, tucked off Highway 1 along the San Mateo County coast. We’ll give you directions on how to get to this unique beach, as well as tips on how to capitalize on the fun.

Ride an Old-Time Roller Coaster
Over a century old, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, dubbed the “Coney Island of the West,” is steeped in nostalgia with an arcade, bowling, mini golf, restaurants, salt-water taffy, and classic thrill rides like the Big Dipper roller coaster. Plan your visit to this iconic beach destination with the help of our guide, and feel the years melt away!

While there’s plenty of fun to be had on California state beaches, there are also several things you should keep in mind if you plan to visit

  • Have your wallet handy. You’ll be paying day-use and camping fees at California state beaches. The good news: It’ll hardly break the bank. Most day-use fees, for example, are $8 to $10 per vehicle. (Fees vary; please visit to find out exactly how much it costs to visit a particular beach.)
  • If you plan to camp at any California state beaches, you’ll have to make a reservation. And do it early – campgrounds often fill up seven months in advance. That said, some campgrounds do accept campers on a first-come, first-served basis; check the Web site above for details.
  • Use caution when you visit California state beaches. This is the Pacific Ocean we’re talking about, and dangers abound. The water is very cold year-round, so even a short swim can cause cramps or hypothermia. In addition, strong rip currents can pull even the most experienced swimmers away from the shore.
  • During your visit to California state beaches, be sure to leave them like you found them. That means no collecting shells, driftwood, sea creatures, or other natural beach features.
  • While many people think dogs and beaches go together like peanut butter and jelly, please note that quite a few California state beaches do not allow dogs. (Don’t fret, though, you can find plenty of California state beaches that double as pooch promenades.)
  • Many folks visit California state beaches to view those famous out-of-this-world sunsets – and then want to build a bonfire to ward off the chill after the sun sinks below the horizon. If this is what you’re planning, we hate to burst your bubble, but fires are prohibited on just about all California state beaches. (That doesn’t mean all beaches are s’mores-free. Carmel Beach, for example, is not a state beach and bonfires are permissible.)
  • California state beaches in our neck of the woods don’t always lend themselves to bikinis and board shorts. We recommend dressing in layers, even during the summer. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to strip down to your bathing suit once the morning fog burns off.
  • Part of what makes California state beaches so appealing is their user-friendliness. Restrooms, picnic and barbecue facilities, and hiking trails are just a few common amenities. Parking lots are, too – but they never seem to be big enough to accommodate everyone who wants to visit! If you plan to drive to any of the California state beaches, get there as early as possible to avoid parking frustrations.

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