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17 Best Northern California Beach Towns to Visit

northern California beach towns

If you’re looking for a breathtaking setting and pristine natural beauty, then you’ll want to add these Best Northern California beach towns to your travel list. From the rocky cliffs of Mendocino to the sandy shores of Santa Cruz, there’s something for everyone.

With so many great beach towns to choose from, it can be tough to decide where to go. To help you narrow it down, we’ve put together a list of 17 of the best beach towns in Northern California.

1. Crescent City

Crescent City is a small town located on the north coast of California. It is known for its beautiful scenery, mild weather, and proximity to the Redwood National Forest.

It is also the beach town that is farthest north of all the Northern California Beach towns. This coastal town is located just a few miles from the Oregon Border. While the town itself is not very big, there is no shortage of things to do in this great little beach town.

Crescent City is home to some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world, the Redwoods. These massive trees can live to be over 2,000 years old and grow to be over 380 feet tall!

There are several great places to see these magnificent creatures including Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

In addition to the Redwoods, Crescent City is also home to several beautiful beaches. Some of the most popular include Pebble BeachBeachfront Park, and South Beach.

If you are looking for more adventurous activities, there are also several great hiking trails throughout the redwoods such as the Fern Falls and Boy Scout Tree TrailGrove of the Titans, and the Simpson Reed Trail.

For some of the best beach views check out Crescent Beach overlookPoint St George, and the Crescent City Harbor Trail.

Near Crescent City Harbor, you will find seaside restaurants and get a chance to watch the sea-lions.

Crescent City is also home to several historical landmarks, including the Battery Point Lighthouse and the Old Breakwater.

Other popular attractions include tours at Ocean World Aquarium, whale watching tours, horseback riding on the beach, and nearby Trees of Mystery a popular tourist attraction.

The town’s location makes it a popular destination for hiking, camping, and fishing. In recent years, Crescent City has become increasingly popular with tourists seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway or an adventurous escape, Crescent City is sure to have something to offer.

2. Trinidad

Trinidad is a charming seaside town located on California’s northern coast. Although it is a small town, there is no shortage of things to do. Visitors can enjoy beautiful beaches, hiking trails, and state parks.

There are also many historical sites and museums, including The Trinidad Museum and the Humboldt County Historical Society Museum. Trinidad is also home to a variety of shops and restaurants. For those looking for a unique shopping experience, be sure to check out some of the local boutiques.

And no visit to Trinidad would be complete without trying the fresh seafood. There are several seafood restaurants located right on the harbor, where you can enjoy views of the ocean while savoring delicious seafood dishes.

Make sure you visit the Trinidad Head Lighthouse and explore the beautiful Trinidad State Beach and the popular Moonstone Beach.

Just north of this coastal town is Patrick’s Point State Park. This park is home to some of the most beautiful redwood forests and has some great hikes and ocean views.

If you are looking to take one of the best 1-mile hikes that you can do anywhere in California, then you should defiantly visit Fern Canyon which is about 30 miles north of Trinidad in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Whether you are looking for hikes and adventure or relaxation and fresh seafood on the oceanfront, beach town should be on your list.

3. Shelter Cove

Shelter Cove is a remote coastal town located in Humboldt County. It’s most famously known as the gateway to California’s Lost Coast.

The Lost Coast is a natural undeveloped area of the Northern California coastline located in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties. Part of the popular Lost Coast Trail runs through this area of Northern California. 

This tiny little town is surrounded by giant redwoods, a marine preserve, and The King Coastal Range. If you are looking for a coastal adventure in a more remote location then this is the place for you!

While this tiny beach town is difficult to access (25 miles of twisty backroads), it is worth the visit, and you will be rewarded with a peaceful escape.

One of the town’s most popular destinations is its Black Sand Beach. This unique beach is covered in black sand. While there are a few different black sand beaches in California, this one is the largest and most isolated with over 25 miles of walkable sand.

While the beach is a beautiful and unique destination, don’t expect to swim or surf here. The undertow and currents are very dangerous in this area.

Other things to do in Shelter Cove include a visit to the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, whale watching, fishing charters, diving for abalone, and exploring some of the best tide pools in the world.

Despite its size, Shelter cove also has a great selection of restaurants, cafes, and hotels.

4. Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg is a beautiful coastal town in Mendocino County California. The entire city is a historical landmark. Some of the most popular things to do in Fort Bragg include visiting Glass Beach and riding the world-famous Skunk Train.

Glass Beach is located in MacKerricher State Park and is one of the most popular beaches in California because of the thousands of unique and colorful sea glass pieces that are mixed into the sand of the beach.

Mendocino Botanical gardens is one of the most beautiful gardens in Northern California. This 47-acre botanical paradise is located just outside of Fort Bragg and is one of the best places in Northern California to see native plants next to the ocean.

Fort Bragg is also a great place for fishing, whale watching, and exploring tide pools. Check out Noyo Harbor, a working port and marina. Where you can take a whale-watching cruise or catch some crab.

If you want to see some of the best ocean views, make you should walk the beautiful 4.5-mile long Fort Bragg Coastal Trail. There are also options for horseback riding tours, and kayaking tours if you are looking for a different kind of adventure.

For a taste of the local flavor, be sure to check out some of the great restaurants and cafes in town, or visit the popular North Coast Brewing Company. Whatever your interests, you’re sure to find something to enjoy in Fort Bragg.

5. Gualala

Gualala is a small town located on the Sonoma County Coast, just south of the Mendocino County border. The town is known for its relaxed atmosphere and stunning natural beauty.

This little coastal town has a unique micro-climate. It’s known to locals as the “banana belt” because the winds often keep the fog pushed out of the area.

Visitors can enjoy sunny weather, pristine beaches, towering redwoods, and abundant wildlife. If you want to hunt for seagrass and shells, make sure you visit the dunes at Gualala Point Regional Park. For the best views make sure you hike along the parks Bluff Top Coastal Access trail.

This cute coast town is also home to Sea Ranch Golf Links, which is known as one of the premier courses in California.

Gualala is also a popular destination for art lovers, as it is home to several galleries and studios.

The town hosts many festivals throughout the year, celebrating everything from wine to whale Watching. Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to relax or a fun-filled adventure, Gualala has something to offer everyone.

6. Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay is a small town located on the Sonoma County Coast of California. The town has a population of just over 1,000 people and is situated on a bay that is home to a variety of wildlife.

Visitors to Bodega Bay can enjoy fishing, kayaking tours on the bay, and hiking, as well as exploring the town’s history. You will find cute oceanside shops, art galleries, and some amazing seafood restaurants.

This is also one of the best Northern California Beaches for whale watching. Whales are often spotted near the Bodega Head Peninsula or on many of the local whale-watching tours. They can be seen year-round, but the best time to see whales is from January through May.

Bodega Bay is also a great spot for horseback riding tours with a few different options for riding along the beach.

The town is also home to several shops and restaurants, making it the perfect place to spend a day exploring.

7. Mendocino

Mendocino is a small town located on Northern California’s stunning Mendocino Coast. The town is known for its Victorian-style homes and a picturesque waterfront. Visitors can explore the many shops and galleries in town, or take a short drive to nearby state parks and beaches.

Beachcombing, bird watching, tide pooling, fishing, and picnicking are all popular activities in Mendocino. There are also many great hikes in the area. The headlands of Mendocino offer stunning views of the coastline, and the nearby Russian Gulch State Park has waterfalls, forest trails, and a beach.

Visit Jug Handle State Natural Reserve to see the unique “pygmy forest” of stunted trees, or take a drive down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway to experience some of the best views of the rugged coastline.

The historic Cabrillo Lighthouse is another popular attraction located in Mendocino, California. Cabrillo Lighthouse is one of the prettiest lighthouses in California.

If you’re looking for a charming seaside town with plenty to do, Mendocino is the perfect destination. Whether you want to relax on the beach, explore the shops and galleries, or go for a hike, Mendocino has something for everyone.

8. Bolinas

Bolinas is a small isolated town located in Marin County, California. With a population of just over 1,000 people, Bolinas is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

While this town has a reputation for not being very welcoming to tourists, the town is situated on a beautiful stretch of coastline, and there are plenty of activities to keep visitors entertained.

Nature lovers can explore the nearby Point Reyes National Seashore, or go for a hike in the redwood forests of Mount Tamalpais State Park.

For those who enjoy water sports, Bolinas Lagoon is a popular spot for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.

And of course, no visit to Bolinas would be complete without spending some time relaxing on one of the town’s secluded beaches. The most popular beach is Bolinas Beach which has gentle waves and is a great beach for swimming and surfing.

Visit Agate Beach Park with to see miles of shoreline and towering cliffs. This is also a great spot for exploring tide pools at low tide.

With so much to see and do, Bolinas is the perfect destination for a secluded and relaxed California vacation.

9. Stinson Beach

Just north of San Francisco, Stinson Beach is one of Northern California’s most beloved beach towns. The three-mile crescent of soft white sand and the dramatic cliffs that surround it make for a breathtaking setting. And while the town itself is tiny (less than 600 people), there’s plenty to do in the area, from hiking in nearby Muir Woods to horseback riding on the beach.

Stinson Beach has been referred to as one of the best swimming beaches in Northern California. The water is clean and clear, and the beach is well-maintained. There’s also a grassy area perfect for picnicking, and plenty of restaurants and shops to explore.

With its soft white sand beaches, stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, and lush forest trails, it’s no wonder that Stinson Beach is such a popular destination. Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach, go for a hike, or simply enjoy the fresh ocean air, Stinson Beach has something to offer everyone.

10. San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Ca

San Francisco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state, and for good reason. The city offers a wealth of activities and attractions, as well as a stunning waterfront setting. Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf are just two of the must-see sights in San Francisco and don’t forget to take a ride on the famous cable cars.

The city is known for its world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, lively Chinatown district, and abundance of outdoor activities. There are several different beaches located along the San Francisco coastline, and each one has its unique character. Some of the most popular beaches include Ocean BeachBaker Beach, and China Beach.

If you’re looking for a great place to shop, San Francisco is home to some different boutiques and shops. Union Square is a popular shopping destination, and it is home to high-end stores. There are also many art galleries and museums located in San Francisco. 

San Francisco is an ideal destination for a weekend getaway. There is something for everyone in this vibrant and historic city.

11. Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is a seaside community located on the Northern California Coast just south of San Francisco. It is another great little beach town for a vacation getaway.

This charming seaside town is known for its beautiful beaches, as well as its array of shops and restaurants.

There are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors in this Northern California beach town. The Half Moon Bay State Beach offers visitors a chance to enjoy hiking, biking, and picnicking. There are also tide pools to explore at low tide.

Half Moon Bay State Beach is one of the most popular destinations in this town. The state beach is made up of many multiple smaller beaches; Roosevelt BeachDunes BeachVenice Beach, and Francis Beach.

While the beaches are beautiful for sightseeing, they are not the safest for swimming due to the strong riptides and cold waters.

One of the most popular things to do in this town is walk or bike the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail. It is a beautiful path that stretches for 6 miles along the coastline. The trail offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, as well as some beaches, parks, and other attractions. It is a great place to get some exercise, enjoy the fresh air, and take in the stunning views.

You can also explore Pillar Point Harbor. It is a stunning harbor located in this quaint coastal town. It is a great place to enjoy the views of the ocean, go for a walk, or enjoy some fresh seafood.

The harbor is home to many different restaurants, cafes, and shops. Visitors can also find many boat charter companies that offer a variety of different services, such as whale watching tours, fishing trips, and sunset cruises.

There are also a few art galleries located on Main Street. The Coastal Arts League Gallery is a popular spot to check out some of the local artwork. They offer a wide variety of different paintings, sculptures, and other artwork from local artists. The Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival is an annual event not to be missed.

If you’re looking for a charming seaside town to visit for a weekend getaway, Half Moon Bay is one of the Northern California beach towns that should be on your list.

12. Davenport

Shark Fin Cove in Davenport, CA

Another great place for a beach town getaway in Northern California is the tiny little coastal town of Davenport. Since this small town of just 500 residents isn’t as popular as other Northern California beach towns, most visitors just pass on by. 

However, a trip to visit this beach town should defiantly be on your list. Located along the scenic Highway 1, about an hour south of Half Moon Bay is this quaint coastal town. Known to locals as the “slow coast” because of the laid-back small-town vibes. 

Davenport is most known for its Shark Fin Cove Beach. Many even consider this to be the best northern California beach. This beach got its name from the unique rock formation just offshore that looks exactly like a huge shark fin. 

While this beach town might not be the busiest, it’s defiantly a hidden gem that you should add to your list.

13. Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, California is a beautiful seaside town situated on the north end of Monterey Bay. With its mild climate and relaxed atmosphere, it is a popular destination for visitors from all over the world. There is no shortage of things to do in this Northern California Beach town.

The town’s main attractions include its world-famous beach boardwalk. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is one of the most popular tourist destinations in California. Situated on a wide stretch of sandy beach, the boardwalk offers a variety of attractions, including rides, games, shops, and restaurants.

Visitors can also enjoy stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from the top of the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a great place to spend a day with family or friends. There is something for everyone to enjoy, whether it’s riding the roller coaster or relaxing on the beach.

No trip to Santa Cruz is complete without visiting the scenic West Cliff Drive. This 3-mile-long walking and biking path offers some of the best views of the Pacific Ocean, Coastline, and Monterey Bay.

Another popular attraction is the Roaring Camp Railroads in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This historic narrow-gauge railroad offers visitors a chance to take a step back in time and ride on a train that is powered by steam.

Nearby Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is the perfect place to enjoy a walk through a 40-acre grove of towing redwoods.

Visitors can also enjoy the many outdoor activities available in Santa Cruz, such as hiking, biking, and kayaking. There are also many popular museums in Santa Cruz such as the Surfing Museum and the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.

The Santa Cruz Warf which is across from the boardwalk is a great spot to see sea lions, eat some seafood, and explore gift shops and cafes. No matter what your interests are, you’re sure to find something to do in Santa Cruz.

14. Capitola

The colorful buildings and sandy shores of Capitola make this one of the best Northern California Beach Towns. Tucked away on the northern Shores of Monterey, this seaside town offers all the coastal beach town vibes. 

Capitola Village is the most popular area of the city to visit. There is so much to see and do in this area of town. Right next to Esplanade in the village is the famous Capitola Beach

This sandy beach offers beautiful views of Monterey Bay and the Capitola Warf. The beach is also next to endless shops and restaurants, so it’s the perfect spot for a beach day. 

Visitors also enjoy dinner and drinks along the Esplanade. Most of the restaurants have some amazing views that overlook Monterey Bay

The small town charm and coastal vibes of this colorful little beach town in Northern California make it the perfect destination for a coastal getaway. 

15. Monterey

Monterey is a large city located on Northern California’s Central Coast. The city is known for its world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, historic Fisherman’s Wharf, and abundance of outdoor activities. Cannery Row is a popular tourist destination, and it is home to several different shops and restaurants.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the main attractions in the city, and it is known for its huge variety of marine life. The aquarium also has many different exhibits, including an octopus exhibit, a jellyfish exhibit, and a kelp forest exhibit.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a historic area of the city that is home to many different restaurants, cafes, and shops. The wharf is also a popular spot for whale watching. Visitors can also take a tour of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which is located on the wharf.

Monterey is also a great place for outdoor activities. The city has many different parks, including Monterey Regional Park and Garland Ranch Regional Park. There are also several different beaches located in the area.

If you’re looking for a unique shopping experience, this beach town is home to many different boutiques and shops. 

With so much to do and do in the Monterey area, it’s easy to see why this town is one of the best Northern California beach towns. 

16. Cayucos

Cayucos is a historic little coastal town located on Northern California’s San Luis Obispo Coast. The town is known for its beautiful beaches, surfing, and being the gateway to Hearst Castle.

Hearst Castle is a National Historic Landmark and California Historical Landmark located on the Central Coast of California. The castle is located on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This massive Castle is known for its many famous guests that have visited it over the years and it is open to the public for tours. It is about a 30-minute drive from Cayucos.

Cayucos State Beach is the main beach in town and it is a great spot for swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and fishing. The beach is also a popular spot for whale watching. Cayucos Pier is located at the north end of the beach and it is a great place to go for a walk, fish, or just enjoy the views. The pier is one of the main attractions in the town and offers stunning views of the coastline. Visitors can also find many shops and restaurants located along the pier.

17. Morro Bay

Morro Bay is a charming seaside town in Northern California of about 11,000 people, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The town is known for its iconic “Morro Rock,” or rocky outcropping, which rises from the water at the entrance to the harbor.

From beautiful views and the abundance of wildlife, it’s easy to see why this town makes the list of the top Northern California beach towns.

If you are looking to see some sea otters, then this seaside town is for you! Morro Bay is home to many sea otters, and they can often be spotted near the shoreline of Morro Bay State Park.

Another great place to see some sea otters, eat at some waterfront restaurants and explore the local shops is a walk down Morro Bay’s Embarcadero.

This waterfront walkway is the best place to experience this coastal town. In addition to shopping and fresh seafood, and an abundance of sea lions, the Embarcadero is also home to the Morro Bay Maritime Museum, and the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum.

If you want to see the sea life up close, you can take a harbor or whale watching cruise. There are also plenty of kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding options in Morro Bay. Some other popular attractions include the Museum of Natural History and The Morrow Bay National Estuary.

There are many great places to hike in and around Morro Bay. One of the most popular trails is the Morro Bay State Park Trail, which leads to Black Hill. This 3-mile round trip hike offers stunning views of the bay and ocean.

Whether you’re looking to explore the local shops, enjoy the fresh seafood, or get out on the water, Morro Bay is a great destination for all.

Final Thoughts: 

This list of the best Northern California beach towns offers something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a place to enjoy the best beach views, dine at local seafood restaurants, or go take some fishing or whale watching tours, these beach towns have you covered. Each town offers its unique charm and attractions so you might want to visit them all.

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