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Escape to California's Secret Beaches

Spread across California’s 840 miles of coastline, from rural Del Norte County to sunny San Diego, are hundreds of stunning beaches. While some are world famous, like Venice Beach, there are also plenty of top-secret beaches, where sun and sand meet peaceful solitude for a seaside vacation that feels like you’ve got the place all to yourself.

NORTH COAST

Hidden Beach in Klamath

Located in Del Norte County, Hidden Beach is literally off the beaten path. Nestled into a tree-covered hillside, this secluded beach is only accessible via hike, making it a great option for visitors looking to spend a day immersed in nature. After a relaxing day of picnicking and watching cormorants take flight, visitors can check into the nearby historic Requa Inn, overlooking  the mouth of the Klamath River in Redwood National and State Parks. 

Bowling Ball Beach in Mendocino
Schooner Gulch State Beach in Mendocino offers a surreal experience as the tide goes out to reveal Bowling Ball Beach. A photographer’s dream, the rare mass of almost perfectly spherical stones was formed by the geological phenomena known as "concretions," a natural process of sedimentary rock binding to minerals and/or stone. Bowling Ball Beach is accessible via a short hike across the bluffs and a moderate scramble down a dirt path. Also unique to the area is a stay in a nearby lighthouse, from Point Arena Lighthouse vacation rentals.

SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA

Esplanade Beach in Pacifica

Esplanade Beach is Pacifica’s official off-leash dog beach, making it a great option for families with  four-legged members. Steep rugged bluffs and soft sand contribute to this hidden treasure, but proceed with caution: the beach is accessed via a long set of switchback trails and stairs, and can be very narrow during high tide.  

CENTRAL COAST

Highway 1 Beaches

Little-known beaches line the coast of SLO CAL along the Highway 1 Discovery Route, all ideal for avoiding crowds. Near Ragged Point, a short hike and small creek crossing on the San Carpoforo Creek Trail ends at a wide sandy beach. Located in the quiet town of San Simeon - known for its massive elephant seals and the iconic Hearst Castle - Pico Creek Beach features wide-open sandy shores and is considered one of the best surfing areas along the Central Coast. Cambria’s Moonstone Beach is known for its dramatic coastline, active marine life and living tide pools. For wildlife lovers, the one-mile Moonstone Beach Boardwalk is a great place to spot playful sea otters, whales, dolphins and elephant seals. Spooner’s Cove in Montaña de Oro State Park is dog-friendly (on-leash) with pebbly sand, tide pools and unique rock formations. Olde Port Beach, just past Avila Beach Pier near Port San Luis Harbor, is another dog-friendly (off-leash) option. 

Fort Ord Dunes State Dunes in Monterey County
Fort Ord Dunes State Park in Marina offers a four-mile stretch of beaches set among towering sand dunes. For beach-loving history buffs, information about the park’s fascinating military history is available by calling 831-998-9458. The remote Sanctuary Beach Resort is an ideal home base, offering guests direct access to Marina State Beach.

Sandspit Beach in Morro Bay
Morro Bay is home to Sandspit Beach. Only accessible by boat, the beach features pristine sand dunes, marine wildlife and spectacular views of Morro Rock. The stretch of sand that separates the calm waters of Morro Bay from the Pacific Ocean is easily reachable via a short kayak or paddleboard ride and is often empty. For even more seclusion, head to the ocean side of the Sandspit, which is only visible by boat. 

More Mesa Beach in Santa Barbara
Hidden below the bluffs in Santa Barbara is More Mesa Beach. Accessed by a stroll along seaside cliffs and meadows, the beach features a long and inviting stretch of sand, perfect for a peaceful, and relatively private, day at the beach. Nearby accommodations include family-friendly Ramada by Wyndham Santa Barbara and the hip and eclectic Kimpton Goodland.

Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard
Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard is a one-mile stretch of sand tucked away in a private neighborhood. The beach is artfully blocked off by a wall of colorful murals bordering Port Hueneme Naval Base to the south and the ocean inlet to Channel Islands Harbor creates a barrier to the north. Locals treasure the beach as a secret spot, with world-class surfers taking residence there for the perfectly curling waves that pound the shoreline in the wintertime.

LOS ANGELES COUNTY

Torrance Beach 

While Torrance Beach is not exactly a secret, it is one of Los Angeles County's lesser known beaches making it ideal for a relaxed beach day on an urban getaway. Nestled between Redondo Beach and Malaga Cove, the 40-acre beach has plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the Southern California sunshine. The beach has plenty to do, including The Strand beach bike path, sand volleyball courts and warm waves perfect for water sports. 

Terranea Beach Cove in Rancho Palos Verdes
The breathtaking coastline of Terranea Beach Cove is one of Southern California’s best-kept secrets, but easily enjoyed by guests of Terranea Resort. Guided by the philosophy of ecological sustainability, the resort’s aesthetic embraces a continuous interplay with nature and the coastal habitat of the Pacific Ocean. The Beach Cove serves as the ideal location for guests to kayak, SUP and take archery lessons. Just beyond the resort and starting at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center, the vista-rich Seascape Trail is a 1.5-mile hike along the coastal bluffs, offering up views of tide pools, native flora and fauna and, depending on the season, migrating grey whales. 

Remote Beaches of Catalina Island
Catalina Island is already a quiet destination, and beaches on the windward side of the island offer even more privacy. Ben Weston Beach is a popular beach for surfing, but requires a one-mile hike from the road. Little Harbor and Shark Harbor both offer overnight camping, which can be booked through Reserve America. These beaches are accessible by hiking, biking, or via private transportation or tour. In the small town of Two Harbors lies Harbor Sands, a white sand beach club with palapas and lounge chairs, as well as an uncrowded beachside dining deck known as Harbor Reef. 

ORANGE COUNTY

Laguna Beach’s Hidden Gems

Laguna Beach, the only marine reserve in Southern California, is renowned for its pristine waters, abundant sea life, and 30 unique beaches and coves. With its lonely stone turret, affectionately called the “Pirate Tower” by locals, Victoria Beach is an Instagrammer’s dream. The 60-foot tower seems to have been carved directly from the sandstone cliffs that surround it. Thousand Step Beach, which is actually accessed by climbing just 218 steps, is worth the trek. The beach is one of Laguna's classic shore break spots and is home to the city’s most famous sea cave. Just around the headland at the south end of Aliso Creek Beach, West Street Beach is also a little more challenging to get to, making for a less crowded expanse of sand and abundant tide pools. West Street was famously known as Laguna’s preeminent gay beach for decades and is still extremely popular within the LGBTQ community. In addition to its beaches, Laguna also boasts more beachfront lodging than any other city in the state.

Monarch Bay Beach Club in Dana Point
For those willing to pay for privacy, the Monarch Bay Beach Club at Monarch Beach Resort offers guests and members private access to the beach, complete with umbrellas, towels and chair service. Dating back to 1965, the mid-century modern Clubhouse building features sweeping ocean views, an indoor-outdoor bar, a wrap-around deck and an adjacent Beach Lawn with fire pits. 

SAN DIEGO COUNTY

Sunset Cliffs Beach in San Diego

Picturesque Sunset Cliffs Beach in San Diego offers a quiet, lesser-known hideaway. Located in the relaxed Sunset Cliffs neighborhood on scenic Point Loma peninsula, the beach is accessed along a dirt pathway down steep cliffs to a narrow patch of sand that is dependent on the ocean tides. Recognized for its challenging surf, Sunset Cliffs borders popular Ocean Beach, a funky 1960s-style beach community with a colorful array of restaurants, cafes, breweries, surf shops and more. The charming oceanfront Inn at Sunset Cliffs is a great place to stay the night nearby.

Note:
 As communities re-open after COVID-19-related closures, some parks, businesses and attractions may still be closed or have new protocols in place. Please verify local guidelines and regulations for all destinations and hours and availability of individual businesses before publishing. Check out Visit California’s Responsible Travel Hub for guidance on how visitors can travel within California safely.

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