Northern California’s 10 Most Beautiful Beaches, Ranked
Seal spotting, wildflowers and waterfalls, here we come
As any Californian knows, there’s no shortage of breathtaking coastline, but some sandy stretches are miles above the rest. Epic vistas, rugged cliffs and even a place where boulders look like bowling balls—these beaches are calling your name.
10. JENNER BEACH IN JENNER
The Russian River meets the Pacific at this quiet gem on the Sonoma Coast. If wildlife is your thing, look out for harbor seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the spit. And January through May, it’s a primo spot for whale watching.
9. CAPITOLA BEACH IN SANTA CRUZ COUNTY
The quaint little beach town south of Santa Cruz is a little like the San Francisco of the coast, with its brightly colored buildings perched above the beach. Take a stroll by the pier at dusk and gaze upon a cotton-candy sunset.
8. DRAKE’S BEACH IN POINT REYES
It’s a long drive out to this remote beach, but the wide swath of sand is perfect for peaceful strolls, and the calm waters make it a decent stop for stand-up paddleboarding. Plus, the fog and dramatic cliffs make a moody backdrop for selfies.
7. SAND DOLLAR BEACH IN BIG SUR
Despite the name, you probably won’t find sand dollars on this sandy stretch. Instead, look out for jade stones and polished sea rocks along the back of the beach. Keep your eyes peeled for surfers—this is one of the few spots in Big Sur to catch waves.
6. BAKER BEACH IN SAN FRANCISCO
When the forecast predicts an 80-degree day in San Francisco, this is where everyone in the entire city flocks. But you don’t need warm weather to enjoy this view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Wanderers beware: The northern section of the beach is clothing optional, so approach at your own risk.
5. MOONSTONE BEACH IN HUMBOLDT COUNTY
The view alone is reason enough to trek to the far north of the state. The waves aren’t bad, either—good for all skill levels and surf styles. For landlubbers, there are tide pools and sea caves to explore instead.
4. RITZ-CARLTON BEACH IN HALF MOON BAY
Hey, if it’s good enough for the Ritz-Carlton… The good news is that you don’t have to be a hotel guest to wiggle your toes in the sand here. There’s a small public parking lot before the main entrance with a trail that leads down to the beach.
3. BOWLING BALL BEACH IN MENDOCINO COUNTY
OK, so they’re not really bowling balls, but these mysterious round rocks were formed on the sides of the sandstone bluffs here. Years of weathering and erosion caused the formations to fall off and plop onto the beach. Go at low tide or you might miss them.
2. FANSHELL BEACH IN PEBBLE BEACH
The only way to see this beach is to pay the entrance fee to the 17-mile drive, but the self-guided driving tour is worth every penny. (It’s a bucket-list item if you’ve never been.) On a clear day, the water matches the sky and the white sand feels like a little slice of the Caribbean.
1. PFEIFFER BEACH IN BIG SUR
No surprise here: Pfeiffer Beach just might be the most gorgeous in the entire country. (OK, we’re a little biased, but still...) Purple-hued sand, clear turquoise water, a waterfall plummeting into the sea and magnificent rock formations make this beach almost otherworldly.