10 of the Best Beaches in California You’ve Never Heard Of

California’s Pacific Coast is full of stunning beaches and we bet everyone can name a few famous ones like San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, Santa Monica Beach, Venice Beach or San Diego’s Coronado Beach.

But some of the best beaches in California are not really known and therefore less busy.

Best Beaches in California

They are just nature’s unspoiled treasures and they offer great opportunities for solitude, wildlife watching or romantic walks.

We’ve lived in California for a year, so we had enough time to discover not only the famous touristy places but some hidden gems, too.

1. El Matador State Beach, Malibu

el matador | best california beaches

El Matador Beach is definitely one of the best beaches in California and it is just a couple of minutes drive from Malibu.

This narrow beach is in the shade of huge cliffs and stairs led us down there from the parking lot.

We were amazed by interesting rock formations on the shore and in the water, and also by the perfect ocean sunset this beach offers.

It’s not really a beach for swimming or surfing, but it’s a photographer’s and couples’ favorite because of its wild and romantic atmosphere.

2. Beach at Alamere Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore

best beaches in california alamere falls

A beach with a waterfall – how does that sound?

No, we don’t think of Big Sur’s popular and magical McWay Falls this time, it’s another one: Alamere Falls at Point Reyes National Seashore.

We are not sure if this beach has a name, actually, it even ceases to exist at high tide and then Alamere Falls flow directly into the ocean.

But it definitely exists at low tide and there’s a steep trail leading down to it near the top of the falls.

However, this unique beach requires some hiking, because it can only be accessed via Coast Trail from Palomarin Trailhead.

This means an 8 miles moderate roundtrip which has easily become a day hike for us as we spent so much time chilling out on the beach.

If you love these check out more Unique Beaches from Around the world.

3. Rodeo Beach, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

best beaches in california rodeo beach
Best beaches in California: Rodeo Beach

Golden Gate National Recreation Area is just north of San Francisco and it offers several nice coastal hikes, some with a stunning panorama of Golden Gate and the San Francisco Bay.

Rodeo Beach is a starting point of several shorter and longer hikes and also a nice beach itself bounded by a lagoon.

It’s dark, pebbly sand is unique in California. It’s a popular surfing beach, but swimming is dangerous because of the strong currents.

We enjoyed walking on the beach, doing some of the coastal hikes and getting amazed by the wild ocean.

4. Laguna Beach, Orange County

best beaches in california laguna beach

Laguna Beach is a local’s favorite in Orange County. And our favorite, too!

It’s one of the few California beaches where we went into the water for a short swim.

With its clean and calm water is said to be one of the best swimming beaches.

But we warn you the water is far from warm even in the summer – just as anywhere else along California coast.

It was a nice refreshment though in South California’s hot summer.

We loved our time on Fraser Island in Australia. Now that is one unique beach!

5. Pescadero State Beach, Half Moon Bay

best beaches in california pescadero
Best beaches in California: Pescadero State Beach

Pescadero is a long, quiet, wild beach in Central California with great wildlife watching opportunities.

We’ve seen tons of harbor seals resting on the cliffs near the shore and Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve is right behind the beach.

There are several shorter trails in the marsh and they are excellent for bird-watching. Pescadero State Beach also has beautiful (though usually windy and chilly) sunsets.

6. Andrew Molera State Beach, Big Sur

best beaches in california ocean
Andrew Molera Beach, Big Sur

Again, an adventurous beach! It’s located in Andrew Molera State Park and accessing it requires a short walk from the parking lot.

The walk includes a river crossing as well if the seasonal bridge is removed.

The crystal clear river was not deep at all when we were there, we could pleasantly walk through it.

Uhm… we could have done it pleasantly if it wouldn’t have been so damn cold. But it was still fun. 🙂

Andrew Molera Beach is at the mouth of Big Sur River, it’s a long undeveloped beach and we also loved hiking on the nice bluff trail above it.

7. Gold Bluffs Beach, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

goldbluffs california's best beaches
Gold Bluffs Beach

Gold Bluffs Beach is part of Northern California’s Redwood National and State Parks and the foggy redwoods in the background give a mystic atmosphere to it.

This puts it right up there as one of the best beaches in California.

Usually, there are not many people on the beach which will only strengthen this atmosphere.

One of the most special hikes in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is Fern Canyon Trail which took us back to the Jurassic times – actually, some scenes of the Jurassic Park movie was filmed there.

It starts from Gold Bluffs Beach – or ends at the beach if you start at James Irvine Trail as we did.

The beach itself is also accessible by car and there’s a small campground at the parking lot.

Check our post on Santorini for more great beaches

8. Limantour Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore

imantour beach | best beaches california
Best beaches in California: Limantour Beach

This long and perfect sandy beach on a sand spit between Drakes Bay and the Limantour Estero estuary is another gem of Point Reyes National Seashore.

Thanks to the nearby wetlands there’s a high chance to spot seabirds. Harbor seals also like the shallow water of Drakes Bay and they are often seen lying on the shore.

Limantour Beach is accessible by car and it has a nice large parking lot.

But if you ask us it’s much nicer to park earlier along the road and hike there through pine forests and wetlands.

We’ve done the Laguna Trail – Limantour Beach – Muddy Hollow Trail – Bayview Trail loop which was a beautiful diverse day hike.

9. Carmel Beach City Park, Carmel-By-The-Sea

carmel | beaches in california
Carmel Beach

The charming small town of Carmel-By-The-Sea is located right south of Central California’s Monterey Peninsula.

It’s one of those typical Central California beach towns with a lovely walking street, tons of restaurants with or without ocean panorama and of course, a long, sandy (and also dog-friendly) beach.

We loved walking on Carmel Beach and also on the scenic road above the beach. The beach was full of families having a picnic, kids swimming or playing in the water and dogs running around.

Carmel Beach is one of the few places left on the California coast where people can still gather around a fire to toast marshmallows and enjoy the atmosphere of a beach bonfire.

10. Cowell Ranch Beach, Half Moon Bay

cowellrach the best california beaches
Best beaches in California: Cowell Ranch

The most hidden beach and one of the best beaches in California is Cowell Ranch Beach.

While driving south of Half Moon Bay State Beach on California 1 we were looking for a small parking lot by a yellow gate which indicated the trailhead for Cowell Ranch Beach.

It’s easy to miss it, but it’s worth looking for, it rewarded us with a beautiful, barely known beach.

The beach is accessible by a short bluff trail with wooden stairs at the end and it took us about 15 minutes to get there.

There’s another beach south of the trail which is not accessible because it’s a seal preserve. Binoculars are always a good idea on the California coast, but here you have an especially good chance to observe seals.

On the other hand, Cowell Ranch Beach is facing perfectly west, so it’s a peaceful getaway for sunset lovers.

Did we miss anything? What do you think are the best beaches in California?

best beaches in california

About the authors

Csaba & Bea are passionate travelers, hikers, and hobby photographers.

They left their small home country, Hungary almost 2 years ago and moved to a much bigger one, the US where they have quickly became addicted to national parks, hiking and road trips and started to believe that they can live their dreams.

Read about their adventures on their blog Our Wanders. Follow them also on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook!

Read More:

72 Hours in San Francisco – A Local’s Guide to the City

The Ultimate San Francisco Photography Guide

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Leave a Comment

17 thoughts on “10 of the Best Beaches in California You’ve Never Heard Of”

  1. Amazing article Dave and Deb! I feel another one that not many people know about is East Beach in Santa Barbara. The beach hosts volleyball tournaments each year and is a great place for those interested in sports.

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  2. Asilomar State Beach, Cayucos, Shell Beach, Avila Beach, Cambria, and Morro Bay Beach… Growing up in Southern CA, I had never heard of these beaches. As a tad bit smarter (and quite a bit older) adult now, they are by far my favorite beaches in the state 🙂

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  3. I have a good experience of El Matador State Beach because I have been there couple of the times in my whole life and every time had a blast of fun at this most amazing and alluring destination. I hope you will have a joyful time there.

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  4. I have a good experience of Carmel Beach City Park because I have been there many of the times in m whole life and have a joyful time with my family and friends. In my point of view it is a perfect destination to have great fun in CA. I hope you will enjoy there a lot.

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  5. Thanks for sharing about this heavenly beautiful destination. Really! this is amazing ! and definitely, i would like to visit their once in my life.

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  6. Laguna Beach (not really a beach, but a town) made the list at #4?? Seriously? Am I the only one that was raising kids at the height of Mtv’s reality show ‘Laguna Beach’? It was huge. It was everywhere…apparently only in my (and other parents of that time) world though. Huh.

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  7. Thanks Tom! As for Laguna Beach we knew that it’s the name of the city as well, but we thought its main beach is also called Laguna Beach. Now we wander what is the name of that beach, haha. Thanks for the clarification!

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  8. Overall, nice list. A couple of my favorites are on here.

    One thing, though: Laguna Beach is a city, not a beach. I know, “beach” is right there in the name…but it’s a coastal city, within which there are numerous, very different, beaches that are separate from one another.

    Reply
  9. Great round up! Several I’ve not visited, such as Alamere Falls, which looks amazing! Between Laguna and Newport beaches is a secret beach that few know about that is one of my favorites on the CA coast.

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  10. Hi, great article and a very inspiring one. I hope sometimes i will go there too. and all beaches are wonderful.
    thanks you for sharing this post.

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  11. Thanks, we are always so glad to hear that we could give some inspiration for travel. 🙂 California definitely deserves to be on one’s bucket list and not only because of its amazing beaches. 😉

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  12. Hello, good article and a very inspiring one. I like the view, is perfect, i hope sometimes i will go there to.Thanks for the story and have a nice day.

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  13. I’m not sure how well known it is, but when I was living in California I loved Pirates Cove beach down in Malibu it was less crowded than Zuma, and there’s just something about it that felt like you shouldn’t know it exists 🙂

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    • Thanks for sharing. I’ll be sure to check that out the next time we’re in California. I’d love to do another road trip.

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  14. Yes, I have never heard of any of these. Great finds! That beach with the waterfall is just incredible. I would love to see that. How amazing is California? So much to see and do.

    Reply