5 Best Beaches in Northern California

Usually the first thing that comes to mind when anyone from outside California thinks of the Golden State are the beaches. I love the beach but always visualized a different picture in my head when it came to taking a trip to coastal Maryland, Delaware, or New Jersey. It was always crowds, littered boardwalks, and over-priced gift shops employed by apathetic college kids. Upon moving to Northern California, I found going to the beach to be more anxiety reducing rather than anxiety inducing. If you enjoy a slower-paced beach excursion, I highly recommend the beaches on this list — all of which are places I frequent almost every spring & summer when Northern California isn’t rainy or overcast.

These are 5 of my favorite beaches in Northern California:

1. Kirby Cove

This secluded little beach nestled right off the Golden Gate Bridge is a great spot for camping overnight or just coming for a day trip. Travel south on Hwy 101 towards San Francisco and it’s the last exit before you reach the Golden Gate Bridge. Turn left and park in the parking lot — provided that there are spaces available — and it’s a relatively short half mile uphill and a half mile downhill until you reach the beach. It’s a fairly small beach surrounded by cliffs. Kirby Cove is probably my #1 pick if you don’t like crowds and enjoy solitude.

2. Muir Beach

If you aren’t big on hiking or even walking distances just to get to a beach, this is a better pick. Muir Beach is about 16 miles north of San Francisco and offers a place to hang out or picnic right off the parking lot. This rocky dark-grey sand beach is clean, offers easy access to restrooms, and a hiking trail that isn’t required in order to access the beach. This beach gets slightly more crowded during the weekends and parking can get scarce. Come early in the morning to beat the crowds. It’ll be worth it.

3. Stinson Beach

Just a few miles north of Muir Beach, you’ll find a significantly more crowded, but much larger and easier-to-access beach. Stinson Beach offers hiking trails as well as beach access just 35 minutes north of San Francisco off Hwy 1. The best views you will get of Stinson Beach will be on the drive downhill before reaching the parking lot. After that, it’s a relatively peaceful, but slightly more populated beach with plenty of room to roam around.

4. Baker Beach

Venturing down closer to the city, we have Baker Beach, which is located at the northwest corner of the San Francisco Peninsula. It’s an easy drive from the city and offers parking right off the beach. This beach reminds me a lot of Stinson Beach with it’s larger size and ease of getting to and from but with a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day.

5. Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Heading about 18 miles south on Hwy 1, you’ll find Gray Whale Cove. This beach has all the beauty, scenery, and seclusion of Kirby Cove without the semi-long trek. The beach is fairly large and surrounded by cliffs. Once you park, it’s a short path across the road and down a trail that will take you to a flight of wooden stairs leading you to the beach area. The views from the stairs are stunning. Even on a chilly day, you’ll be shielded from the winds while nestled in between the smaller coves within the beach.

California is definitely a beautiful place full of natural beauty unlike anywhere I’ve ever lived in the USA. The beaches are definitely something to appreciate out here. What are some your favorite beaches in Northern California?

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