17 Best Beaches in Northern California — Top Public Beach Spots!

If you’re looking for a relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area, then Northern California’s Pacific coastline is the spot for you.

From iconic landmarks to sprawling vineyards, Nor Cal boasts some of the most gorgeous beaches in all of California.

With endless options for sunbathing and swimming, you can easily spend an entire day exploring Northern California’s beautiful beaches.

To help you decide where to go next, check out our list of top public beaches in Northern California below!

  1. Ross Cove Beach

Ross Cove Beach is a great place to go for a day of swimming, sunbathing, and exploring the beach.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly spot with plenty of amenities, this is it!

Why We Recommend This Beach

This public beach is located on the San Francisco side of Marin County and is only a couple miles from Sausal Creek and other great hiking trails.

The beach itself is not very large, but it has plenty of parking and restrooms, making it an ideal spot for families and groups of friends.

Expert Tip

It’s a public spot, so you don’t need reservations or a fee.

The beach itself is beautiful—it’s surrounded by trees, and the water is crystal clear.

The area is also known as an excellent spot for whale watching, but beware: during storms and high tide, the trails and beach may not be accessible or safe.

  1. Rodeo Beach

If you’re looking for a beach that’s easy on the eyes, Rodeo Beach is the place to go.

While it doesn’t have any of the amenities of San Francisco’s more popular beaches, this sandy strip separates Rodeo Lagoon from Rodeo Cove.

It’s located inside the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is open all year round.

Why We Recommend This Beach

The beach has two parts: Rodeo Lagoon and Rodeo Cove.

They’re connected by a boardwalk, so you can walk between them and, even better, take your dogs with you.

The best part about this is that it allows for some great dog-friendly activities like feeding them fish or throwing them a ball.

Expert Tip

The rodeo is one of the most remote—so it’s perfect for nature lovers who want to escape the hustle and bustle of a busy city.

  1. Caspar State Beach

If you’re looking for a beach that’s a little different from the rest, this one in Caspar is the place to be.

Caspar State Beach is a beautiful place to visit in Northern California. It’s located in Caspar Anchorage, a deep cove between Doyle Creek and Caspar Creek.

Why We Recommend This Beach

This stunning Northern California coastline has some of the best scenery in all of California (and maybe even in the entire United States).

So when you’re looking for something different, look no further than this beach.

Expert Tip

If you’ve never been to the north of the beach, you’re in for a treat!

Explore the hiking trails and historic white brick buildings that are hidden along the way.

  1. Santa Cruz

If you’re looking for a beach that’s not overcrowded, has great waves and sand, and is located in a beautiful part of California, then look no further than Santa Cruz.

Why We Recommend This Beach

The water is warm and inviting, and the space is big enough for everyone to have their own little spot.

There’s something for everyone to do—whether you’re looking for a quiet day at the beach or you want to go exploring on the boardwalk with games and more.

Expert Tip

The crime rate spikes up when it gets dark out, so either stay in well-lit areas with lots of people around or avoid the beaches altogether during those hours.

If you do go, make sure to bring along a friend or a group of friends

Also, don’t wear expensive jewelry or fancy clothing because criminals are looking for easy targets.

  1. Gualala Point Regional Park

Gualala Point Regional Park is located along California’s central coast, about 30 miles north of San Francisco.

Why We Recommend This Beach

The Gualala River runs through the heart of the park, providing cool water and wildlife viewing opportunities.

There are several hiking trails around the park, including the popular North Coast Trail.

The park offers campsites, restrooms, showers, and a concession stand.

There are no facilities at the beach itself, but there are plenty of parking spaces nearby.


Besides going for a walk on the sand, visit the park’s visitor’s center.

You’ll learn more about the history, geography, and culture of the North Coast region, including the Gualala River and Native American tribes.

  1. Seaside Beach

Seaside Beach is located in the northern part of Monterey State Beach Park.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Surfing is arguably one of the most popular water sports around.

If you’re looking for some fun in the sun, we recommend heading out to Seaside Beach in Half Moon Bay, California.

Here, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to catch the exciting waves.

There are even lifeguards present to make sure that everyone stays safe.

Expert Tip

Not a fan of water sports like surfing or swimming? Or maybe you prefer relaxing on the sand? If you do, then Seaside Beach is the perfect place for you.

You can even try some water sports such as kayaking, paddle boarding, stand-up paddling, jet skiing, fishing, and much more.

  1. Fort Funston Beach

Fort Funston Beach is located within the Golden Gate National Recreation area.

It is one of the most popular beaches in San Francisco.

Why We Recommend This Beach

This beach is known for its beautiful views of the ocean, cliffs, and hills.

There are many trails you can take around the park.

If you want to go hiking, there are several trails you can choose from.

You can also see some wildlife, such as deer, rabbits, and squirrels.

Expert Tip

Fort Funston Beach is one beach that welcomes dogs.

They are allowed to run free as long as they remain under control.

The beach itself is very scenic. There are picnic tables set up throughout the area, making it easy to enjoy some food and drinks.

  1. Glass Beach

Glass Beach is located just outside of Fort Bragg in Mackerricher State park.

This beach is known for its large amounts of colored glass pieces that are strewn across the shoreline.

If you go during low tide, you can find some amazing glass art that creates unique patterns in the sand.

Why We Recommend This Beach

You’ll notice there are no lifeguards here; however, there are sandboxes where children can play safely while mom and dad go surfing.

There are also picnic tables with umbrellas, restrooms, and showers.

Don’t forget to bring plenty of water because there’s no way to refill your bottle once you’ve left.

Expert Tip

There are some dangers that come along with being around the beach, like strong currents.

Even though it’s perfectly fine to swim there, it’s still possible to get swept away.

  1. Enderts Beach

Enderts Beach is located about 30 miles south of Crescent City.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Enderts Beach is a spot where you can see wildlife like sea otters, seals, shorebirds, and migrating gray whales.

There’s also plenty of room to explore the area and look for tide pools.

If you want to learn more about the beach’s history, check out the nearby historical marker.

Expert Tip

Avoid this beach during high tide, as the waves might be overwhelming at times.

  1. Montara State Beach

The Montara State Beach is located along the San Francisco Bay Area, about 20 minutes south of Half Moon Bay.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Montara State Beach is known for its stunning sculpted sandstone cliffs.

It’s a great place to take pictures, especially during sunset.

There are plenty of places to explore along the coastline, including surf spots, tide pools, and beaches with scenic views.

Expert Tip

Dogs aren’t permitted off leashes within the state park boundaries, but they’re welcome on the beach itself.

  1. Greenwood State Beach

Greenwood State Beach is located on the Pacific Ocean in Elko County, California.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Greenwood State Beach is a beautiful place to spend some time outdoors.

Whether it’s surfing, fishing, swimming, or just relaxing, there’s plenty to do here.

Expert Tip

The Greenwood Beach Visitor Center and Museum offers visitors a chance to see what life was like in the early 1900s.

  1. Centerville Beach

Centerville Beach is located within the city limits of Ferndale, California.

Why We Recommend This Beach

You can bring food and drinks into the park, but you must pack out what you brought in.

There are no fees or permits required. And because the beach is open to the public, it’s free to surf here.

People come from all over the world to enjoy the waves.

Expert Tip

While here, make sure to stop by the long, white cross located at the southern end of Centerville Beach on Highway 50

This was erected in memory of those who perished aboard the S.S Northerner in 1860, making it one of Northern California’s oldest memorials to the dead.

  1. Bodega Dunes

The Bodega Dunes are located west of Bodega Bay along Highway One, about 20 miles north of San Francisco.

Why We Recommend This Beach

You can choose to walk or ride a horse during your walks.

The beach is a fantastic spot for surfing, and there are even surf schools where you can learn how to catch waves.

If you like history, there are museums nearby that offer interesting exhibitions.

Expert Tip

This quaint campground offers a variety of amenities, including barbeques, fire rings, and even pet-friendly areas where you can let your dog run free.

Plus, there are no facilities inside the park; everything you need is nearby.

  1. Baker Beach

The city of San Francisco owns the land under the sand along Baker Beach.

This public beach is located within the Golden Gate National Recreation area.

Why We Recommend This Beach

The beach itself is relatively quiet compared to many others in the area, making it ideal for relaxing, reading a book, taking a nap, or enjoying a picnic.

It also offers a large grassy field perfect for picnicking.

Expert Tip

If you want to go diving without getting into trouble, make sure to bring a bathing suit that covers your knees.

If you plan to swim on the beach, it’s best to wear a life jacket. Also, don’t forget to bring sunscreen and a hat.

  1. Lagoon Creek Beach

False Klamth cove lies at the southern end of Lagoon creek beach.

Why We Recommend This Beach

Lagoon Creek Beach stretches about 3 miles long and is a great place to go hiking, camping, picnicking, and nature watching.

There are many trails to explore, including one called the Lagoon Trail, which takes you to a lagoon that’s home to hundreds of birds, turtles, fish, and otters.

Expert Tip

You can park in the lot and walk down to the ocean for an even better view of the tidepools.

There are stairs leading down to the water. Be careful when walking around rocks in the area; they can be slippery.

  1. Russian Gulch State Park

The Russian Gulch Beach is located at the bottom of the Highway 1 Bridge.

It is also a popular scuba diving destination in California.

Why We Recommend This Beach

You can explore the area on foot, bike, or on horseback. Or rent a kayak and paddle around the bay.

There are several different ways to enjoy the park.

You could take a guided tour, check out the tide pools, fish for crabs, see howler monkeys or just relax by the campfire.

Expert Tip

If you want to see some wildlife up close, head over to the river mouth. You might spot otters, eagles, seals, crabs, and maybe even a shark.

  1. The Great Beach

The Great Beach is located at the Point Reyes Peninsula, about 13 miles north of San Francisco.

This is an 11-mile-long stretch of white sand beach that is popular among surfers.

It is also a popular scuba diving destination in California.

Why We Recommend This Beach

The Great Beach is known for its stunning views, crystal clear waters, and the unique character of the rocks along the shoreline.

Its location makes it very accessible, especially considering that it is just 30 minutes away from Chania, Crete’s second-largest city.

Expert Tip

Be vigilant when on this beach because even though you are only walking along the shoreline, it is still possible to get trapped against the cliff walls.

If you notice people getting stuck, call 911 immediately. Do not attempt to help someone who is stuck. This could lead to serious injury or death.