Whether you are looking for the best northern California beach towns to add to your stops on the coastal road trip, or you are planning a weekend beach getaway at any of the beach towns in northern California, you got it covered in this post here.

From someone that has done both, I recommend the pretty coastal towns in Northern California for everyone. Unlike some destinations that only gel well with a few visitors, NorCal beach towns win the hearts of all types of travelers.

The stunning coastal beauty of Northern California has it all. For hundreds of miles along the shore, you will be witnessing splendid views of the rugged coastline lined with bluffs, sandy beaches, river estuaries, and California redwood forests.

And the beach towns dotting this vast expanse of the coast embody sun-kissed summer memories year-round.

In this post, I have added a mix of the best northern California beach towns that are diverse. Some of them are popular, while a few are off-the-beaten trails.

You can perfectly fit some of these northern California coastal cities and towns into your road trip, while a few are best enjoyed over a long weekend summer getaway.

For the complete list of all the best California beach towns, check this post here.


There is no hard line separating Northern and Southern California, and many Californians attribute it to the cultural divide rather than a physical boundary.

Also, the boundary between Northern and Southern California is muddy for other reasons.

While most people will agree with San Francisco and above constitutes the north and Los Angeles and San Diego area in the south, drawing the line in San Luis Obispo County, there is no exact demarcation of the two sections of California.

I have listed these Northern California beach towns beginning from Shelter Cove in the north to Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo.



Drive 1.5 hours and approximately 80 miles south of the Oregon border, you will reach one of the best Northern California Beach Towns, Trinidad.

Trinidad is one of the must-see Northern California beach towns in Humboldt County, known for its placid beaches, redwoods and several coastal activities.

beach towns in north California

Trinidad is a perfect weekend getaway for people that love no crowds. Thanks to only a few hundred residents, you can explore the Pacific North Coast all by yourself.


Trinidad is also home to lovely beaches offering stunning sunsets.

This pretty town is home to secluded beaches like the Trinidad State Beach, where you can relax under the sun for some tan or go swimming during low tides.

Visit the Moonstone beach, a drifter’s paradise known for its powdery sand and calm waters. Do tide pooling at Indian beach.

You can check out the Head beach, which extends to Trinidad Harbor, and the Trinidad headland trail, where you can hike, bike on the paved paths, and go whale watching.

Best Northern California Beach towns

The Trinidad Pier, recently refurbished in 2012 and shaded by steep rocks, is located near the harbour.

You will witness two pretty beaches, Little River State Beach and Clam Beach, which flow through this town and Arcata.

Don’t miss the Marine Lab at Humboldt State University, where you may see a variety of starfish.

Bird lovers can find diverse sea birds on the craggy rocks of the Trinidad coastline.

Trinidad, one of the best Northern California beach towns, is bestowed with two Redwoods State Parks; Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Patrick’s Point State Park, where you will be rewarded with the sights of old-growth ancient giants.

Hiking and Biking enthusiasts must visit the Sue-Meg State park, known for its lovely trails.

Best Northern California Beach towns

People across the state usually hit this place in search of beautiful agates and to witness the whales’ migration and watch sea lions lazing around.

The park is also home to Yurok village, depicting the ancient roots of the town.

Museum-lovers can head to Trinidad Museum to learn more about this beautiful town’s history and to see various historical artefacts in the five exhibit halls along with the local flora.


For a fabulous cabin experience amidst the wooded forests, I recommend Emerald Forest Cabins.

If you are traveling in groups or with kids, I recommend renting the excellent, large-family cottage at View Crest Lodge. Check more details here.


Eureka, a gorgeous coastal town located 3 hours north of Mendocino, is one of the best Northern California Beach Towns.

It’s known for its Old Town, flanked by opulent Victorian buildings and gigantic redwoods.


northern California coastal cities

Visit the three-storey Carson Mansion, established by timber baron William Carson in 1885 and is one of the most photographed Victorian-styled structures in the city.

If you love water sports, check out the area between Arcata Bay and Humboldt Bay, where you may bump into fellow swimmers or surfers.

If you plan to drive to Eureka from Mendocino, you will be astonished to pass through the Drive through Tree Park and the Avenue of the Giants.

Another interesting fact about this beautiful coastal town is that massive redwood preserves encompass it.

best northern California beach towns

You can check out the famous Humboldt Redwoods State Park to witness the most extensive remaining old-growth coastal redwoods. The state park is also home to Rockefeller forest. 

Take a stroll amidst the redwoods at Headwaters Forest Reserve, Sequoia Park, and Arcata Community Forest.

You can explore the Redwood National Park, located 40 miles away from Eureka, if you have spare time.

Also worth seeing are the Humboldt Botanical Garden, Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and Sequoia Park Zoo.

Museum-lovers can visit the Morris Grave Museum of Art, a converted Andrew Carnegie Library. 

The museum mainly promotes local artists who can sell their arts and hosts several musical concerts and art classes.

best northern California beach towns

Take a self-guided tour of the Eureka Old Town Waterfront District to get a perspective of the 1800s of this charming town.

Schedule a visit to the Dick Taylor Craft chocolate factory to witness chocolate-making and sample some of their products if you are lucky.

Cheese connoisseurs should taste the locally produced Humboldt fog goat cheese.


I recommend this five-bedroom fantastic vacation room at Blue Mist Victorian, an excellent pick for groups and families. Check details to book here.

If you want to stay in a beautiful bungalow, check Hydrangea Inn. which is highly popular among couples and families with excellent reviews. Check details here.

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Eureka is the best option if you are looking for well-furnished and beautiful rooms. Check here.


Shelter Cove, located 2.5 hours north of Fort Bragg and by far the most remote coastal town, is one of the best Northern California beach towns.

This lovely seaside hamlet serves as the entry point to the Lost Coast, California’s most natural and untamed region, complete with hiking trails, tidal pools and black sand beaches.

There is no direct path from either Fort Bragg or Crescent City to this North California’s best beach town. To get there, you must detour from Highway 101 and travel a 25-mile meandering road.

northern California coastal towns


Shelter Cove is a quaint, lovely seaside town that provides a variety of outdoor activities.

This pretty town is known for its cosy beachfront restaurants, hiking and biking trails, wine and dining and a lot more.

Visit the black sand beaches to go fishing or play in the tidal pools. Make sure you only visit the tidal pools when the tide is low.

If you are a serious hiker, try the Lost Coast trail which is about 25 miles long and takes four days to finish. If you don’t want to hike, you can stay on the trail and explore the surrounding area.

beach towns in northern California

Check out the Richardson Grove State Park for a quick trail leading to the old-growth redwood forests.

Shelter Cove Golf Course is a great place to play golf. Give it a shot.

This best Californian beach town is known for its quiet ambience especially when there is no light during the night. 

Explore the area at night and check out the numerous beautiful resorts and campsites. You can spend the entire night stargazing under the tranquil night skies.


I recommend this penthouse apartment for families and groups. Apart from the fantastic rooms, you get to wake up to beautiful beach views. Check details about Spectacular Ocean View Penthouse Oceanfront here.

Among the best hotels with gorgeous sea views, I recommend Inn of the Lost Coast or The Oceanfront Inn. Check details here.


Only 10 miles north of Mendocino, another famous coastal town in Northern California is Fort Bragg. 

Fort Bragg, founded in 1857 as a military garrison, is today one of the top northern California beach towns for families.

coastal northern California towns

The coast of Northern California is home to many stunning beaches, but the one that’s more dazzling than the rest is Glass Beach, located in Fort Bragg, for which this town is mainly known for.

Glass beach is coved in little bits of colourful glass pebbles that are the remains of a former dump site here, where all the glass bottles eroded over and now look like coloured pebbles. 


There are many amazing things to do in Fort Bragg, which can easily take a few days. 

Start by exploring the historic downtown home to vibrant murals and learning history related to the 1906 earthquake which destroyed San Francisco.

northern California beach towns

Among the popular attractions is the Skunk Train, the historic carriage ride that takes you through the heart of the forests along the giant redwoods on a 7-mile journey up Pudding Creek. Do not miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially when traveling with children.

Look for whales from the headlands or head to the Noyo Harbor, housing whale-watching boats and fishing charters.

If you are here between December and April, the whale watching months, head to MacKerricher State Park, which houses thousands of migrating whales.

Take a stroll or picnic at the 47-acre Mendocino botanical garden, home to a wide variety of vibrant flowering plants, including rhododendrons, heathers and camellias.

northern California beach towns

Kayaking the Noyo River is a popular summer activity. You may even spot sea lions, otters, or sea birds on the Kayak trip.

Laguna Point is the place to go for glimpses of the rich marine life and stunning views. You will spot rows of elephant seals and plenty of migrating birds.

For local brews, check out the North Coast Brewing Company. If you are a wine lover, plan tours of the nearby wineries that offer to taste and are set amidst gorgeous landscapes offering beautiful views.


North Cliff Hotel, located only 5-minutes away from the beach is an excellent choice for couples and families. Check here.

Beachcomber Motel is also a fabulous option, located only a minute away from the beach. Check details here.


Mendocino, one of the beautiful Northern California beach towns, founded in the 1850s, is located an hour away from Gualala.

It is popularly known as the Victorian Village by the Sea for its magnificent Victorian structures and saltbox cottages.

northern California coastal towns

This artistic coastal town has 1000 people and is a designated historical landmark in California.

With its rustic allure, this laid-back location is excellent for glamping, camping, and trekking. It is endowed with a beautiful blend of redwood forest and astonishing ocean vistas on highway 128.


The much adorable and one of the best beach towns in northern California, Mendocino has a lot to offer, including gorgeous vistas, various eateries, stays and elegant boutique shops.

You can plan a day trip to the beaches like Glass Beach and Jug Handle Beach or laze around in the beachfront cafes on Big River Beach.

Garden admirers can visit the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg, where you will be rewarded with a diverse array of flora in full bloom at the end of the summer.

northern California coast towns

If you enjoy hiking, take a day trip to Russian Gulch State Park, which features paths leading to a spectacular 36-foot-tall waterfall and an astonishing sinkhole carved by an ocean tunnel.

Visit the adjacent Point Cabrillo Light Station Historic Park for some spectacular sunset views. In addition to the lighthouse, the park offers a headlands trail for hiking.

You can plan day trips to Hendy Woods State Park and Mendocino Headlands State Park. Include the fern forest in Van Damme State Park if you have spare time.

Take the Skunk Train, especially if you are with kids, to enjoy the jolly ride through the redwoods.

Mendocino’s proximity to the Anderson Valley wine area, with more than 30 wineries, makes it one of California’s best beach towns.

For wine aficionados, I recommend starting your wine sampling excursion on Highway 128, often known as Wine Road.

best northern California beach towns

Cheese lovers can pop down to Pennyroyal Farm and Winery to witness their cheesemaking process and sample some of their fruit wines.

Don’t miss out on visiting well-known vineyards like Navarro Vineyards, recognized for its Alsace varietal wines, and Roederer Estate, famed for its award-winning champagne. You may also enjoy the local wines at the Philo Ridge Vineyard.


Agate Cove Inn is a popular choice, thanks to its excellent location and spacious suites, ideal for couples and families. Check here.

Headlands Inn Bed and Breakfast, located a 5-minute walk to the Mendocino Bay beach is a fabulous option to stay for couples and families. Check here.

Seagull Inn Bed & Breakfast is an excellent place if you are looking for something simple, centrally located, and best for couples. Check here.


Elk, located at approximately 2-hour driving distance and 150 miles North of San Francisco, is one of the best secluded Northern California Beach Towns with just 250 residents.

This pretty town has redwood forest, rugged cliffs on one side, and a beautiful stretch of coastal line on the other.


Visit the Greenwood State Beach, home to several adventures like kayaking, fishing, diving and boating, by an easy half-mile hike.

You can relax by the soothing shoreline or stroll on this sandy beach. There are benches on the cliffs where you can sit and enjoy the panoramic vistas of the pacific.

Art lovers should not miss Greenwood Museum and Visitor Centre. The main attraction is a mural depicting the town’s beauty from the 1800s.

You will witness several ancient artefacts, photographs and letters since this was a post office in the 19th century.

Since this beautiful town is known for its artistic community and cute art shops, you will not fall short of lovely places and shops to collect souvenirs.


Elk Cove Inn & Spa, located right across the beach is one of the best options in Elk for families and couples. Check here.


Gualala, located along the banana belt of Northern California, deriving its name from the magnificent Gualala river, which runs through the town, is one of the top Northern California beach towns popular among outdoor lovers.

This area is known for its distinct weather, but misty and bright beach days are typical.


This excellent location makes it possible for visitors to explore Northern Sonoma County and Southern Mendocino County.

If you plan on visiting this lovely beach town in May, make a point of stopping by the Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve, where you may see spectacular Rhododendron in full bloom.

Hiking enthusiasts can check out Salt Point State Park, just 2.2 miles from the Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve.

You will get to hike 20 miles of hiking trails and witness stunted pine trees in the Pygmy forest amidst the redwoods.

Natural environmental conditions cause the stunted development of pine trees, making it one of California’s coastal wonders.

You can also do the 5.7-mile Point Arenas trail hike to the north, which will reward you with a glimpse of the Pacific from the Point Arenas lighthouse.

If you visit this beach town in the summer, you may canoe or kayak on the Gualala River and see a diversity of flora and fauna.

best northern California beach towns

You may also go for whale watching tours and fishing.

Check out the Sea Ranch Chapel, known for its elegant architecture.

This Californian best beach town is a haven for art enthusiasts, with its artistic ambience, galleries, and many art festivals.

Check out the events calendar and reserve for the same here.


Gualala Country Inn, is one of the best stay options and is popular among couples and families. Check more here.

Cozy Getaway with Ocean View and Private Entrance! is an excellent option if you want adults-only accommodation. Check here.


Located 40 miles from San Francisco and in Northern Sonoma County, Sea Ranch is one of the best Northern California Beach towns with approximately 1800 homes.

This beautiful town is known for its unique architecture of timber frames, making the city an artist’s inspiration.

best northern California beach towns


The town is home to several pretty beaches, such as Shell Beach, Stengel Beach and the Walk-On beach, the best beach to take long strolls.

You can also check out the Pebble Beach and Black Point Beach and the trails which are available nearby, leading to beautiful giant redwoods. 

Hiking lovers can hike the Fernwood Trail and Ridge Trail. Both are bestowed with magnificent old-growth redwoods. I recommend carrying an offline map since the area has poor mobile network coverage.

You can also hike near Gualala Point Regional Park, which has 3 miles of hiking trails.

best northern California beach towns

Sea Ranch has a beautiful golf course where you can hit them straight.

If you have spare time visit the Sea Ranch Chapel, known for its sea-shell-like shape.

Don’t miss the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, habitat to several diverse and colourful marine animals. You can do whale watching as well almost all year round.

There are several wineries in this one of the best Northern California Beach Towns where you can savour some local flavours.


One of the underrated and offbeat northern California beach towns is Jenner, located on the Sonoma coast near the confluence of the Russian River with the Pacific Ocean.

It is one of the less-visited towns almost throughout the year, so if you are looking for some peace and quiet to go with splendid beaches, wildlife, and stunning sunsets, I recommend Jenner.

best northern California beach towns


The rugged coastal bluff in Jenner is home to many pretty beaches. The top beach is Goat Rock Beach, next to another famous Jenner beach. 

While you can access Jenner beach directly via Highway 1, you must drive along Goat Rock road off Highway 1 to get to Goat Rock Beach.

You will spot many elephant seals and sea lions on many beach shores in town, but if you want to get a confirmed sighting, head to the Jenner Sea Lion resting at the edge of Jenner Beach. You can watch scores of seals and lions on the shore from a viewing point accessed via Highway 1.

best northern California beach towns

Russian Gulch State Beach is another popular spot among visitors for its sandy shore and easy access from Highway 1.

To watch the wildlife and learn a bit about the past, plan a trip to nearby Fort Ross State Historic Park, which houses a historic fortress from the Russian settlement days


Bodega Bay, 30 minutes from the famed Marshall Store, was home to the Miwok and Pomo Indians for centuries.

It now has just 100 residents and is one of the secluded Northern California beach towns, perfect if you want a quiet beach retreat.


Despite its tiny size, Bodega Bay offers many adventures and is a famous spot for fishing.

Best northern california beach towns

The coastline is naturally designed, making it apt for surfing and bodyboarding.

If you want to see whales and seals migrating along with their families, head to Bodega Head, a rugged peninsula.

Visit Doran Beach for many activities like swimming, fishing, hiking, kayaking, surfing and horseback riding. You can even rent bikes to roam around this best Californian beach town. Surfers can ride the tide at the Schoolhouse Beach.

Shell Beach and Wright Beach can also be added to your itinerary for a more quiet beach trip.

Recommended – 25 Cool Things To Do in Bodega Bay, CA

This best beach town in California is known for wine tasting, popularly called Sonoma County wine tasting.

Check out the Vineyards near Occidental, located along the Bodega highway.

Want to relax on the sandy beaches while flying a kite? Make your way to Candy and Kites. Kites of various shapes and sizes, as well as some delectable candies, will be on display.

Don’t miss a glimpse of the Bodega Harbour and the gorgeous sunsets while you are here at one of the best beach towns in California.

coastal cities in northern California

This lovely town is famed for its starry skies at night. Plan to spend your nights at the Bodega Dunes, located adjacent to Bodega Harbour, admiring the fantastic night skies.

Include a stopover at the famous Cypress Tree Tunnel near the Point Reyes National Seashore on your way to Bodega way.

The Cypress Trees have grown so that it creates a tunnel-like path.

You can plan for a day trip to the Potter School, which is 150 years old, and located behind St. Theresa’s Church.


The Lodge at Bodega Bay is the most preferred stay in the town, and it is no surprise. Surrounded by the Sonoma Coast, The Lodge at Bodega Bay sits on a hill overlooking Doran Regional Park offering splendid views of the Pacific Ocean and Bodega Bay.

It features on-site dining at Drakes Sonoma Coast Kitchen and 2 spa treatment rooms at the pool area. Check more details and prices here to book.

If you are looking for a spacious bungalow to enjoy a weekend with your family, I recommend Seamist Beach Cottage, Private Beach & Ocean views, located on Highway 1. This splendid holiday home offers Private Beach & Ocean views, only about 300 meters from Portuguese beach. Find more details here.

The Inn at the Tides on the Sonoma Coast is one of the popular picks by couples thanks to the romantic ambience, excellent amenities, spacious villas, and proximity to all major attractions. Check more here to book.

Sonoma Coast Villa is an excellent option if you want to stay close in the Sonoma County from where you can drive to nearby Bodega Bay, about 8km away. The place has amazing reviews from couples and families. Check out more here, including prices.


Bodega Harbor Inn is a top choice for its excellent location and spacious rooms. Find more details here.

Bodega Coast Inn and Suites is another recommended place on Coast Highway, preferred by families. Check out more here.

Bodega Bay Inn, located less than 5 minutes’ walk to Bodega Bay on the Pacific Ocean is another great option. This family-run inn features free parking. Sonoma Coast State Beach is less than a kilometer away. Find out more here.


You will find Point Reyes about an hour north of San Francisco. Point Reyes is one of the best Northern California Beach Towns since it is home to several varieties of flora and fauna.

This beautiful coastal town is also nearby to Sausalito, Muir Woods and Mount Tampa, making it an idyllic location for a perfect weekend trip.

hikes in Point Reyes


There are many attractions in Point Reyes for outdoor lovers, hikers, and nature enthusiasts. Visit the soothing sandy beaches of Point Reyes for a family picnic.

Check out Drakes Bay, where you can spot Grey Whales and visit Chimney Rock to see elephant seals.

northern coastal California towns

Don’t miss the 71,000-acre Point Reyes National Seashore, a protected shoreline in Marin County, located an hour away towards the North of San Francisco.

It is home to several pristine beaches which offers dazzling views, paved paths for hiking and biking and a natural habitat for diverse wildlife.

Point Reyes is also known for its 150 miles of trails endowed with spectacular coastal views.

The Alamere Falls, a stunning 40-foot cascade, is a must-see. This lovely waterfall is accessible via a 14-mile loop hike.

things to do near point reyes lighthouse

Include the Point Reyes Lighthouse, established in 1870, in your itinerary. There are museums around this lighthouse which will help you learn the history of this one of the beautiful Northern California Beach towns.

You can also do a short hike up to the Peter Behr to get stunning aerial pictures of the pacific along with the lighthouse and falls.

If you have spare time, include the Point Reyes Monterey cypress tree tunnel, a spectacular formation formed by cypress trees depicting a tunnel-like effect.


There are only a few hotels around Point Rayes National Seashore itself. 

On the west side of Tomales Bay, the Inverness area has a few accommodation options. Apart from that, you can choose to stay in Olema, Point Reyes Station, or Marshall.

HI Point Reyes Hostel is the only accommodation option within Point Rayes National Seashore. They offer dorms and a few private rooms. 

In Point Reyes Station, Point Reyes Country Inn comes with amazing amenities.

Olema House at Point Reyes is a fantastic option in Olema.

Nick’s Cove located in Marshall is another great option.



Bolinas, located 20 minutes North of Stinson Beach, is known for its hippie vibes and is one of the pretty Northern California best beach towns, home to beautiful downtown.

This town is known for being unfriendly towards tourists and visitors, where the locals have been known to remove directional signs to keep outsiders away. 

If you love visiting a quirky town in northern California, it should be Bolinas, located directly on the San Andreas Fault.


towns in northern California coast

There are only a handful of things to do in Bolinas, which has only a few restaurant options.

Avid Surfers can check out Bolinas Beach.

Hiking lovers can take the Polamarin trail, which leads to the southern end of Point Reyes National Seashore.

You can base yourself in this hipster town and explore the neighbouring towns, national parks, and attractions.



Located in Marin County and at a 45minutes driving distance from San Francisco, Stinson Beach is one of the best Northern California Beach Towns.

This pretty town with only 700 residents is known for its red cliffs and white sandy beaches and is surrounded by Mount Tampa.

Stinson Beach is an idyllic weekend destination for San Francisco residents looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.


Stinson beach is the only swimmable spot in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Though the water here is quite cold, ideally, summers will be jam-packed.

northern California coast map with cities

This pretty beach town offers many adventures such as surfing, kayaking, and paddle boarding.

Avid surfers can also check out the nearby Bolinas Beach.

Hiking lovers can get soaked in the sun along the serene trail in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

If you have spare time, you can include the 3-mile hike to the cataract falls, located about 30 minutes from Stinson beach.

Bird watchers can visit the Bolinas Lagoon.

Don’t miss the Stinson Beach Books, a traditional house converted into a local book store.

northern California coast towns

The store has immense collections of various authors and writers about the history of the town, local flora and fauna and books about the local art.

Take the 5-hour food and farm tour if you have spare time. The tour starts at Point Reyes Station, which will take you around the town’s best bakeries, local farms and cheese-making outlets. The tour includes a super lunch as well.

Check out the Made Contemporary Craft Gallery, showcasing local handcrafted crafts, such as clay, wood, textile, and metal, created by local skilled artists. You can shop for souvenirs as well.



Sausalito is a few miles away from San Francisco, known for its serene beaches, fantastic views, and fewer crowds, thanks to primarily day-trippers from San Francisco.

Whether you want to enjoy the views of SFC, head to one of the charming cafes found on Bridgeway Main Street, or hit beaches, Sausalito is one of the beautiful Northern California beach towns for winding down with your loved ones.

coastal towns in northern California

You can reach this beautiful town by taking a ferry ride from the San Francisco Ferry Building. This ferry journey is renowned because it passes by the Golden Gate Bridge and provides spectacular vistas.

Sausalito is protected by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area against development by San Francisco.

The views of San Francisco city from Sausalito are spectacular.


Sausalito, a former art-meets-industry town, is today one of the most diverse towns offering something for every visitor.

When you are here in one of the lovely Northern California beach towns, you can hire a bike, take a cruise down the Sausalito boardwalk or take a more extended Cruise to the Muir woods redwoods forest.

Head to the beachfront restaurants in this beautiful town to get a glimpse of Alcatraz Island.

golden gate viewpoint parking

Visit the Marin Headlands for dazzling vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge towards the ocean.

On your way to San Francisco, you will get to see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and pretty Sausalito town on the other side of the bridge.

Don’t miss seeing floating homes and houseboats in this charming beach town.

Music lovers should not miss visiting Record Plant, the now-defunct place where iconic stars like Prince, Metallica, and Fleetwood Mac once recorded their tracks. 

best northern California beach towns

Check out the US Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model to see the complete Bay-Delta system when you are here in one of the best beach towns in California.

You can also go hiking and relax on the beaches for a laid-back vacation with a lunch or dinner.



San Francisco is one of the best Northern California Beach Towns and is the second-largest city in California, located on the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula.

It is home to many giant companies such as Wells Fargo, AirBnB, Levi Strauss, Twitter and many more on the list you come across daily.

San Francisco is one of the best places to live in California and the best place for a staycation.

Golden Gate Bridge Viewpoints


The Golden Gate Bridge is the major world-famous attraction in San Franciso, which you cannot afford to miss while here.

You can hit the nearby Baker beach to get a more panoramic view of the Bridge and relax on the beach.

Hikers can try the 1.7-mile batteries to bluffs loop hike. You will be rewarded with stunning vistas of the Pacific at the top of the trail.

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Include the Fort Funston and the 3.5-mile stretch of Ocean Beach, which are sandy beaches with calming waters.

Visit the Coit Tower in the Pioneers Park, located atop telegraph hill, an idyllic vantage point for stunning photographs with views of the Bridge and ocean.

The tower’s ground floor lobby has murals from the 1900s depicting the early stages of San Francisco.

Take a tour in the historic cable car, known for its ringing bells and is moved by an underground cable.

Don’t miss the famous Alcatraz Island, a prison in the early 1900s. It is believed that no one could ever escape from this prison because of its location.

You can take a ferry to the island, for which you must make advanced reservations.

golden gate bridge park

San Francisco is also known for its music festivals like the Stern Grove Festival and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival.

Explore the Railway museum and the cable car museum to learn about the history of transit in San Francisco. Visit the Wellsfargo museum to see old telegraphs and banking machines.

If you have children, take them to the Walt Disney Family Museum to engage with Disney artefacts.



Known for the best Taco Bell in the world with its fantastic ocean vistas, Pacifica is one of the best Northern California Beach Towns.

Located in San Mateo County, this beautiful surf town Pacifica is tucked between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay and 20 minutes North of Half Moon Bay.

It has retained its small-town charm attracting visitors across the state, making it one of the best Northern Calfornia Coastal towns. 


Visit the Pacifica State Beach, where you can picnic along the calm waters and get soaked in the spectacular vistas.

This beautiful town is also known for surfing between several panoramic valleys. If you want to take up Surfing lessons, visit the University of Surfing.

Check out Rockaway Beach for its soothing waters and cute beachfront restaurants.

Hiking lovers can visit Mori point, home to Bootlegger’s Steps, where you can hike through the wetlands. 

Also, several other trails are considerably easy, offering stunning views of the pacific and introducing you to interesting local flora and fauna.



Half Moon Bay, about an hour’s drive south of San Francisco, has been known for surfing for ages.

With its incredible coast lined with beaches and bluffs and miles of hiking trails inland, Half Moon Bay is one of the best Northern California beach towns for nature lovers, hikers, and families.

It is just 5.5 miles away from the other famous surf destination, Mavericks. Every winter, the world’s top big-wave riders gather at Half Moon Bay to conquer the mighty waves.


Visit JV Fitzgerald Marine Reserve to do tide pooling when there is a low tide.

There are nine state parks in this county where you may go hiking.

Take the 3.5-mile Half Moon Bay Coastal loop walk for magnificent ocean views, partially paved and natural. Hiking in the spring will reward you with sights of golden wildflowers in bloom.

The bay has undulating slopes and moderate temperatures, making it ideal for wine production. You will pass several vineyards and wineries in this beautiful beach town.

Give your taste buds the flavours of local fortified fruits in the Tommy John’s Wine and Brew Tours.

Suppose you’re looking for some wine and dining, head to Harbor Village and Downtown. You will find excellent beachside restaurants worth your time and money while offering quality cuisine.

Half Moon Bay’s laid-back culture, modern breweries, fresh seafood places, cafés, and historically significant structure makes it one of the best NorCal beach towns.



Pescadero is one of the best Northern California Beach Towns, located 45 miles south of San Francisco.

This charming town is considered a hidden gem among these beach towns since it dazzles visitors with everything from the wild Pacific to gigantic redwoods.


If you are driving along the Highway 1/Cabrillo Highway, visit the central Pescadero State Beach, Bean Hollow State Beach, and Pistachio Beach.

Include Gazos Creek State Beach and Waddell Beach, located to the south.

If you want an adventurous hike amidst the redwoods, visit the Butano State Park.

You can stop by Duarte’s Tavern for some mouth-watering delicacies and drinks.

Recommended – 25 Best Things To Do in Pescadero On Your California Weekend Getaway

Plan a day trip to Ano Nuevo State Park and visit the nearby Pigeon Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse also offers a hostel for an overnight stay.

You can watch whales migrating over the pacific, especially during the winters.



Davenport, which dates back to 1867 and is known as California’s slow coast, is located near Half Moon Bay along Highway 1. 

Unlike the other towns, Davenport is one of the best offbeat Northern California beach towns that you should visit if you want secluded beaches all to yourself and amazing views.


Visit the famed Davenport Cove Beach, where you can see the Shark Fin Cove, a distinctive rock formation, and the iconic swing.

Also, be sure to check out the neighbouring hills to see the famous Davenport Crack and the sunset atop the hills for some gorgeous views of the ocean.

If you are looking for a beach with craggy cliffs and powdery sand, head to Bonny Doon Beach.

Wine lovers should not miss the local wineries like the Bonny Doon Vineyard Tasting Room, which offers some of the town’s exotic wines.

You can also take a wine tour of the Santa Cruz Mountains.



The epitome of laid-back beach towns, the Surf City, Santa Cruz is one of the beautiful northern California beach towns, located at a 6-hour driving distance from Los Angeles.

This pretty town holds its place in the hearts of the US people for bringing surfing to light in the US from the then Hawaiian Kingdom.


For beginner and intermediate Surfers, I recommend hitting the beaches like Pleasure Point, Manresa State, The Hook, and Waddell, often less frequented by the locals.

Head to Steamer Lane to bump into some of the hardcore surfers.

Visit Natural Bridges State Beach to witness the bridge-like rock formations, especially around sunset, for some spectacular photography.

Recommended – 25 Top Hiking Trails In Santa Cruz You Should Check Out

Want to get a feel of the 80s in this cosy beach town in northern California? Check out the family-friendly Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk area, which has vintage vibes accompanied by arcades and vintage games.

After a short walk from the boardwalk, you’ll find yourself stepping onto the 100-year pier, the Santa Cruz Wharf. It is the Longest Wooden Pier in the United States, measuring 2,745 feet.

Experience the boho vibes on the boardwalk while shopping for souvenirs from fantastic gift shops. You can get a drink, go fishing, eat and dance, ogle at sea lions, and make a boat trip reservation.

If you have spare time, visit the Capitola Venetian Hotel houses in the adjacent hamlet of Capitola.



If you drive 5 miles south of Santa Cruz, which takes around 10 minutes, you will arrive in Capitola, a busy coastal town and one of the pretty Northern California beach towns.

The town is famed for its chic boutiques, vibrant restaurants, and beachfront villas with exquisite sunset views.

Venetian Court, a mix of the Mediterranean and Spanish-styled colourful buildings, are located in this pretty beach town. 

Most of these can be rented out as vacation homes, and the famed Venetian Hotel is now housed in one of these buildings.


Capitola’s beaches are adorned with vivid mural-painted walls, and live music performances are held on the beaches most evenings.

Visit Capitola City Beach, which is filled with many adventures. You can surf, play beach volleyball and bask under the sun.

If you visit this wonderful town in the summer, you should check out the Capitola City Beach, which hosts live music concerts.

Check out the Capitola Beach Company if you want to take surfing or paddleboarding lessons.

If you are interested in fishing, visit Capitola Wharf. You can include Esplanade park, which is 10 minutes away from the Wharf.

New Brighton State Beach, known for its mellow vibe and extensive stretches, is a safe refuge for backpackers.

Hiking enthusiasts can visit Nisene Marks State Park. You will get several trails to hike amidst the redwoods.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of this lovely beach town, visit the Capitola Historical Museum, which houses various historical exhibits.

Don’t miss the Capitola Wine Bar and Merchants, Armida Winery, or Cork and Fork for a flavour of local wine.

Visit quaint shops on Capitola Mall or Brown’s Ranch Marketplace for shopping locally crafted gifts or for souvenirs.



Monterey county officially comprises four beach towns, and it is hard to pick one since they are among the best Northern California beach towns, with a multitude of fantastic spots to explore with friends and family.

Most people include a visit to Monterey as a part of the Big Sur road trip itinerary. It is one of the popular weekend getaways from nearby cities.

Monterey, about an hour’s drive from Santa Cruz, is famed for its rocky coastline, the rich sea life, and, as a result, exceptionally fresh seafood.

Monterey, the largest of the four, is the most popular, one of the best beach towns in northern California, with most of the population being middle-class. 

However, the vibes that this beach town emanates cannot be matched with any of the affluent places.

The ocean temperature seldom exceeds 57°F, keeping this beach town drenched all the year.


Drive to the iconic landmark Monterey’s Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the most photographed bridges in California.

Big Sur road trip

Take the Monterey Bay Whale Watch tour to see the wild side of the Sea, where you may observe whales and dolphin pods while you are here at one of California’s best beach towns.

On Cannery Row, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which houses over 1000 marine animals, including sharks, rays, and sea otters, waiting to be found.

If you’re looking for some marine adventure, check out Adventures By The Sea, where you can canoe, kayak, paddleboard, or rent an E-bike to pedal around this gorgeous seaside town.



Pacific Grove, renowned as the state’s Butterfly Town because of the orange and black migratory monarch butterflies, is known for its rugged Central Coast of California locale.

Pacific Grove is located on the Monterey Peninsula and is one of the pretty Northern California beach towns worth adding to your road trip stop, or better, a weekend getaway.


This cute little town is known for its Victorian architecture downtown, which is packed with boutique cafes, restaurants, cute bars, and pubs. 

Stroll through the streets of downtown Pacific Grove to witness the unique blend of the modern with Victorian times.

Hiking lovers can try the 4-mile Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail at the end. You will be rewarded with spectacular ocean vistas.

The coastline line is dotted with rocky bluffs leading to mystic oceanfronts, home to rich marine life.

The tidepools are the best way to spot mussels, starfish, sea urchins, and crabs. No wonder Pacific Grove is one of the best beach towns in Northern California.

Check out the Point Pinos Lighthouse, which has stood tall since 1855.

Take your loved ones to Lover Point Beach for a stunning sunrise view, spend the day surfing or relaxing on the sandy beach, and then head to Asilomar State Beach for captivating sunset views.

This California’s best beach town is also recognized for its wineries. So head to Carmel Valley to sample some local wines.

Around this lovely town, try to visit Monarch Sanctuary in October. You will be astounded to observe the vibrant Monarch butterflies migrate, which occurs only in North America.



One of the pretty Northern California beach towns is Carmel-by-the-Sea, a little coastal town with the 1920s and 30s fairytale cottages, tucked-away alleyways, calm beaches, art galleries, and restaurants.

This quaint small town is an artist’s inspiration, about one square mile in size.

It is filled with fashionable boutiques, art galleries, and tiny beachside eateries, surrounded by lovely architecture.

In contrast to the gorgeous buildings, the shoreline features rocky cliffs and pleasant, sandy beaches, making it one of northern California’s best beach towns.


Visit Carmel River State Beach for various adrenaline-pumping activities such as swimming, kayaking, surfing, or lazing under the sun on the white sandy beach.

Visit Mission Trail Nature Reserve and Point Lobos State Reserve if you enjoy photography, hiking, or birding. 

These are the most well-known in California, attracting visitors from all over the world.

On Ocean Avenue, look for the charming fairytale cottages for which this best beach town in California is famous.

Drive through the Seventeen Mile Drive that runs through Pebble Beach Resort and Pacific Grove with spectacular vistas if you have some spare time.

If you are a fan of wine, head to the wine tasting places, such as Wrath Wines and Scheid Vineyards, where you can even take a wine tour, one of my favourites.



Located about a half distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles, on the pacific coast of San Luis Obispo County, San Simeon is one of the best quaint Northern California Beach Towns with only 500 residents.

This pretty town has a plethora of activities and places to offer.


Visit the mammoth structure, Hearst Castle, a popular attraction in this beautiful coastal town, roosted on the beautiful hills offering stunning views of the pacific.

Building this giant castle has taken almost three decades, and you will witness European architectural influence.

You will have to buy timed tickets to visit different castle parts.

Check out the nearby San Simeon Pier and the cove, which also has a hiking trail.

There are 13 beaches stretching over 20 miles of the shoreline, most of which belong to the Hearst San Simeon State Park.

Though all 13 beaches are unique and serene, a few are picked frequently by the visitors.

Check out the Santa Rosa Creek on Moonstone Drive in Cambria and the San Carpoforo Creek on the Southern Big Sur Coast.

If you are interested in kiteboarding and windsurfing, head to the Arroyo Laguna Beach, located between the Elephant Seal Rookery and the Hearst Memorial Beach.

Explore the Piedras Blancas Light Station if you have spare time to witness stunning sunset views over the Pacific.

Drive 7 miles north of San Simeon. You will come across the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, where you can watch elephant seals basking.


Best recommended – Cavalier Oceanfront Resort – For Couples & Families

Cavalier Oceanfront Resort Located 4.8 km away from Hearst Castle Information Center, Cavalier Oceanfront Resort boasts 2 heated outdoor pool and hot tub. It features a restaurant and all guest rooms offer free WiFi. It is one of the most popular accommodation options in San Simeon, and it is no surprise. Check more details and prices here.

Quality Inn near Hearst Castle The Quality Inn hotel is located just two miles from Hearst Castle, a Moorish castle with 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways, furnished with Spanish and Italian antiques and art.

This hotel is walking distance from the Pacific Ocean. In addition, San Simeon State Park , William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach , the Charles Paddock Zoo and Morro Rock are only minutes from the hotel. Check prices and more details here.

Coast Riders Inn – Set in San Simeon, 500 m from Arroyo del padre juan, Coast Riders Inn offers accommodation with a garden, free private parking and a shared lounge. The hotel provides an indoor pool, hot tub and a business centre. Find more about prices here.

The Morgan Hotel San Simeon – Situated along California’s majestic coastline in the charming town of San Simeon, this hotel offers comfortable accommodations in a spectacular location, perfect for a relaxing weekend or holiday. Find more details here.


On the Central Coast, Cambria is about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco and is one of the worth visiting Northern California beach towns.

This lovely coastal hamlet is recognized for its diverse wildlife, stunning scenery, and wild beaches.


Visit the famous Moonstone Beach to collect some shiny gemstones along the rugged shoreline for your souvenir collection.

The Piedras Blancas Rookery, home to a colony of up to 25,000 elephant seals, is a must-see.

Walk the one-mile boardwalk to find some interesting marine life in one of northern California’s best beach towns. 

One of the famous places is the fairytale-like Hearst Castle, which sits on a lush hill six miles away and is accompanied by zebras walking freely.

Visit Cambria’s downtown antique boutique for exotic items. You can even rent a bike for shopping and wine sampling.




Cayucos is one of the best beach towns in northern California, located on Estero Bay in San Luis Obispo County, between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

With 5 square miles in size, this beach town is 9 minutes North of Morro Bay and 30 minutes away from Hearst Castle, with a population of only 2,600.


Visit the Cayucos State Beach, one of the main attractions known for its soothing waters and sandy beaches, making it idyllic for many adventures.

You can go swimming, paddle boarding, surfing and diving.

Shop for the collectables as Cayucos will take you back in time with a wide range of antique shopping options. There are also two antique fairs a year.

You will be in for a treat, especially if you love picking up large murals, as you will find loads of notable collections of large mural walls throughout the town.

Check out the Cass Wharf, a pier known for fishing, if you want to reel in some baby fishes.

Don’t miss the Cayucos pier when you are here in one of the best beach towns in California.

The 950-foot wooden pier dates back to 1872 and has historical significance as a commercial port for ships from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

You will see hundreds of fishers with their daily hustles at the pier. You will be rewarded with splendid views of the Pacific at the end of this pier.

Fishing enthusiasts can try license-free fishing at the pier.

If you have spare time, take a day trip to Hearst Castle, located in San Simeon, North of Cayucos.

William Randolph Hearst established the castle in the early 20th century. Try including Estero Bluffs State Park in your itinerary.

big sur road trips california

Are you interested to learn about the history of this beautiful beach town? Visit Cass House Cayucos, where you will get to know about the native inhabitants of the beach town, Salinan and Chumash.

You can also include Cayucos Tavern and Card room for more historical information.

If you are an art fan, do the self-guided Mural tour, and plan to go antique shopping if you are visiting this charming town between May and October to see the antique fairs.


Check out some of the fantastic beachfront stays in Cayucos below:

Cayucos Sunset InnCayucos Beach Inn, Shoreline Inn…on the beach


Morro Bay, located on scenic Highway One, with a small population of 11,000, is one of the best northern California beach towns, stretching beaches from North to South.

The bay is distinguished as a protected harbour and marine sanctuary. There are several possibilities to spot wildlife and marine animals when you are here in this California’s best beach town.

The historic massive Morro Rock, which protrudes 600 feet from the ocean, can be seen from afar and is the bay’s most distinctive feature.

Morro Bay is blessed with six miles of tranquil beaches, providing panoramic views of the ocean and a stunning sunset over Morro Rock.

The Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival is held in this best beach town in California, where visitors may also witness sea otters in the Morro Bay Natural Estuary.


Morro Bay is an excellent place to begin your tour of Northern California beach towns.

Check out Embarcadero, a street with beachfront restaurants and various shops. It is the best place for water-front dining and watching marine life that comes out of the sea now and then.

Explore Morro State Park if you are looking for off-beat adventures in a lagoon and saltwater marsh.

You can go fishing, hiking, kayaking or birdwatching. You can book a guided tour at Sub Sea Tours and Kayaks to stroll around this beautiful beach town in California.

Recommended – 34 Awesome Things To Do In Morro Bay, California

point reyes beach

Plan a whale-watching tour to see humpbacks, grey whales, blue whales, orcas, and dolphins.

Bird lovers can head to the Morro Bay State Park to spot rare birds in the saline water swamps.

Try your skills at the Morro Strand State beach if you love windsurfing.

Try to include the Museum of Natural History if you have extra time to learn about the history of this one of the best beach towns in California.


Located in San Luis Obispo County, Avila Beach is one of the best Northern California beach towns.

It is known for its serene beaches, farmer’s markets and cosy beachfront restaurants. 


This pretty town has several secret beaches, some of which you can access with the help of a rope.

If you want to relax on the sandy beaches along with your pets, check out the Fisherman’s Beach and Olde Port Beach, located west of central Avila Beach and San Luis Pier.

You can include a visit to the Central Coast Aquarium when you are around the main beach. You might be rewarded with the sights of Shark eggs.

If you go towards the east of this pretty town, you will come across Pirates Cove Beach and the Cave Landing Beach; quite tricky to get to the latter.

If you visit the San Luis Pier, you can watch anglers reeling in some baby fish.

You can rent a kayak, paddleboard or swim these beaches when the tides are low. Some beaches also host sand-castle building contests.

Some local rental agencies nearby are available for renting necessary gear for all the water sports. You can even try rafting if you are in a group or find one.

If you get a Kayak and have a penchant for adventure, try kayaking to the Point San Luis Lighthouse. You will be astonished by the stunning views of the ocean and Port San Luis Harbor.

Check out the Avila Valley Barn to spot local fauna and grab a snack.

If you plan to visit this one of the best Northern California Beach towns around winter, you may be lucky to spot whales on the beaches. Though they appear all year round, they are seen in plumps during winters.

Not to disappoint the wine lovers, this beautiful town has many wineries where you can sample some local flavours.

Don’t miss visiting the Avila Wine and Roasting Company and the Alapay Cellar Tasting room for some exclusive collections.



Pismo Beach is one of the little-known Northern California Beach towns, with a 13-mile sand strip located between San Franciso and Los Angeles. 

This beautiful town is known for its pristine dunes, gardens and lovely beaches.


Head to the southern end of Pismo State Beach, which will be less crowded, making it an idyllic location for swimming and surfing.

Kitesurfers can also comfortably hit this beach during low tides.

Check out sea anemones, crabs, and other fascinating marine life during low tides

Visit the Pismo Beach Pier near Pismo State Beach, known for its stroll on the soft sandy beach.

Head to Oceano Dunes nearby to enjoy riding ATVs, sandboarding dizzy dunes and witness the orange and black monarchs migrating over the Pacific.

Wine aficionados can try visiting the Santa Rita Hills wineries to sample local wines.



Crescent City, 20 miles south of the Oregon border, is one of the best Northern California beach towns and the gateway to one of the state’s best redwoods.

It has a rocky coastline, which has resulted in the discovery of multiple shipwrecks dating from 1865 to 1940.

This pretty town is known for its long strips of beaches and lovely tidal pools.


When you are here in this one of the best beach towns in California, don’t miss the renowned Jedediah State & National Park, a 10,000-acre park that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its enormous concentration of old-growth redwoods.

You can also do camping, glamping or stay in your RV in this one of the best redwoods in California.

Beginner hikers can try the Templeman Grove loop trail, if you want a more challenging hike, try the 6-mile Boy Scout trail.

Beach lovers can visit Crescent Beach and Pebble Beach, known for their powdery sand and spectacular sunsets.

Try to include Kellogg Beach, tucked away between Tolowa Dunes Park for sand camping.

You can even take a Kayak or Canoe and enjoy the tranquillity amidst redwoods or try fishing trouts and salmons on the Smith River.

The historic Battery Point Lighthouse, which was established in 1855, is a must-see. When the tides are low, you can take a $3 tour of the lighthouse.

Wildlife enthusiasts and Safari lovers can head to Castle Rock Wildlife Refuge to spot various wild animals.

If you have some spare time, stop by Rumiano’s Cheese Factory to sample the products made by this family-owned business.



Since beach towns are a great visit throughout the year, the northern California beach towns are no exception too. But I recommend avoiding winters as it gets rainy along the coast.

Although summers are foggy and gloomy, they are still the popular months as it is way cooler and more enjoyable than the inland.

Note that no matter the time of the year you plan to visit, I recommend bringing in layers, especially a warm jacket or two, and good walking shoes if you plan hikes around the towns.

Also, do not ignore the signs about wandering off the trails or warnings about swimming and getting in the waters as the tides can be unpredictable and dangerous.





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