California has 840 miles of coastline to explore. Many people visit Southern California when they want to explore the beach, but Northern California has many worthwhile beaches too.
In general, California is well known for its laid-back environment, rolling waves, surfing, and relaxing atmosphere.
NorCal is no exception; it’s a great place to explore and relax.
Northern California is much more barren and has fewer residents than Southern California, which can be an appeal.
There are some great beach towns in Northern California worth exploring, and the best part is that they’re way less busy than the beaches in SoCal.
So, if you’re looking to get away from crowds and the hustle and bustle, Northern California is worth the visit. You’ll be able to enjoy more undeveloped land and more natural scenery.
Here is a little sneak peek at the beach locations in this article. Keep reading to find out more about each of the best beach towns in Northern California on this list.
- Half Moon Bay
- Santa Cruz
- Crescent City
- Fort Bragg
- Shelter Cove
- Bodega Bay
The Best Beach Towns in Northern California
Here are the best beach towns in Northern California worth visiting.
1. Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is a little beach town with beautiful beaches, shops, and restaurants to explore.
Among many great establishments, the beach town also has opportunities for hiking, biking, picnicking, and swimming.
Half Moon Bay State Beach is a great park to explore. It has a ton of beaches. The most popular beaches in Half Moon Bay include Miramar Bech and Poplar Beach.
In addition, the 5-mile-long coastal trail is an excellent opportunity to exercise and enjoy the views.
2. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is a popular beach town to visit in Northern California and while it’s on the bigger side, it still has a small-town vibe to it.
It’s known for its world-famous boardwalk along the beach, which is a great place for walking and keeping busy.
Along the boardwalk, there are games, shops, restaurants, and lots of attractions, including the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster.
Across from the boardwalk, the Santa Cruz Wharf is a great place to potentially spot sea lions.
It also has its own shops and restaurants, especially specializing in seafood. You must also visit West Cliff Drive, a 3-mile-long walking and biking trail with amazing ocean views.
From here, you can also go to Lighthouse Field State Beach, the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, and Natural Bridges State Beach, which is one of the best natural attractions in California.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is another great place to explore with 40 acres of redwood trees.
You can also go on a wonderful train ride through the Santa Cruz mountains with the Roaring Camp Railroads attraction.
The historic narrow railroad train is powdered by steam and is a great experience.
Davenport is so small that there are only about 500 residents. As a result, this quaint town isn’t as popular as other Northern California beach towns, making it all the more attractive.
It’s not often in California that you find small towns where everybody knows each other. Small, walkable towns with friendly residents are dreamy, quaint, and perfect for a laid-back and relaxing vacation.
It’s known in the area as the slow coast because of the laid-back and small-town vibes.
The most popular place to visit in Davenport is Shark Fin Cove Beach which got its name from the rock formation offshore that perfectly resembles a huge shark fin.
It’s picturesque and a fun beach to explore. There isn’t a ton to do in Davenport, but if you’re looking for a place to spend some time on the beach and enjoy a slow-paced vacation, this is the perfect place.
Most known for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey is a larger city on Northern California’s coast.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has many exhibits, including octopus and jellyfish, among other marine life.
There are many other activities in Monterey to partake in, including a visit to the Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row.
The waterfront district is full of great shopping and restaurants. At Fisherman’s Wharf, you may get lucky and spot a whale.
Other places to explore include Monterey Regional Park and Garland Ranch Regional Park.
Monterey is popular because there is so much to do in the city, making it a great destination for your next trip to Northern California.
5. Crescent City
Known for its proximity to the Redwood National Forest, Crescent City is the perfect small beach town on the northern coast of California.
This is the northernmost coastal city in California, just before the Oregon border. It is the perfect place to add to a scenic drive in Northern California.
The town is small but mighty and a great little place to explore.
While in Crescent City, you must explore the Redwoods which are the tallest and oldest trees in the world.
The trees can live to be over 2,000 feet old and over 380 feet tall.
They’re undeniably special in person and mind-blowing. You’ll have to strain your neck to just barely see the tops of the trees. The trees are actually so big that you drive through them on the road.
It’s a super humbling experience that reminds you how big the world truly is.
Some of the best places to view these trees include Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Nore Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Along with arguably the coolest trees in the world, Crescent City has some great beaches.
Be sure to check out Pebble Beach, Beachfront Park, and South Beach.
To enjoy some amazing views, check out Crescent Beach Overlook, Point St George, and Crescent City Harbor Trail.
Battery Point Lighthouse is also a significant historic landmark to check out.
6. Fort Bragg
The entire city of Fort Bragg is a historic landmark. The most popular activity is to visit Glass Beach, where you’ll find thousands of unique and colorful sea glass mixed into the sand.
It’s gorgeous and fun to marvel at all the pretty pieces. Fort Bragg coastal trail is 4.5 miles long and provides some of the best ocean views.
You should also check out Noyu Harbor, a port and marina where you can fish or go on a whale-watching cruise.
Another popular activity is the historic Skunk Train, a 7-mile scenic ride along the Pudding Creek Estuary in the redwoods.
Fort Bragg is a wonderful historic town to spend your time in.
Located in Mendocino County, Mendocino is known for its stunning coastline.
Mendocino Headlands State Park has amazing cliffside trails and beaches. In Mendocino, you’ll find many Victorian-style homes along a picturesque waterfront.
There are also many shops and art galleries in town, including the Mendocino Art Center.
Russian Gulch State Park has waterfalls, a beach, and trails through the forest, which is a great place to get some exercise and explore the views.
It has a famous bridge at the mouth of the Russian Gulch Creek.
You must also visit the historic 1909 Cabrillo Lighthouse. It’s considered one of the prettiest in California.
There is so much to do in this little northern California beach town, making it extra special.
Millions of people visit Carmel each year, yet only a few thousand live there. Carmel is magical in essence.
Enjoy the serenity of the landscape and the creativity of the architecture. Many famous artists come from Carmel and visit Carmel to get inspiration.
Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel in 1986, and the Carmel Art Association is the oldest art cooperative in the US.
You’ll find Mediterranean, Cottage, and Tudor architecture in Carmel, creating a unique blend of structures.
Definitely check out Scenic Road. You can enjoy the architecture by foot, bike, or car, and you can also check out Carmel Beach, Carmel Point, and Carmel River State Beach along the way.
Another must-visit is Carmel Mission. The Basilica was founded in 1770 by Junipero Serra, who is buried there now.
Carmel is a great low-key place to visit that will feel like you transcended time. It is also home to some of the best luxury hotels in California.
It is definitely worth checking out.
Just 80 miles south of the Oregon border, Trinidad is another great beach town in Northern California. Only a few hundred people live here so you don’t have to worry about crowds being an issue, allowing you to explore the coast all to yourself.
Visit Trinidad State Beach for a secluded and relaxing experience. Moonstone Beach and Indian Beach are also great beaches to explore.
Head Beach connects to Trinidad Harbor and Trinidad Headland Trail if you want to make a whole day out of your beach trip.
You can also spot the redwood trees at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Patrick’s Point State Park. Trinidad is a wonderful beach town.
10. Shelter Cove
Shelter Cove is home to Black Sands Beach, which is super popular for, you guessed it, its natural black sand.
It’s so cool to see in person and worth visiting. You will be mesmerized by the color of the sand, it’s unlike any other beach in California.
You can also hike or drive along the Lost Coast, an area that is mainly undeveloped, something you don’t see very much in California.
You’ll find tide pools and many trails in the Lost Coast. Be sure to look up each night and enjoy the stars.
You’ll see them a thousand times better than you would in the city. This quaint town is quiet and relaxing, so if you’re looking for peace and serenity, you’ll find it here.
11. Bodega Bay
Bodega Bay is surrounded by natural beauty. Doran Regional Park is a two-mile stretch of beach with trails for exploring.
It’s a wonderful place to spend the day. There are only about 100 full-time residents in Bodega Bay, so it does have a small-town charm. It is a charming northern California beach town.
Besides the wonderful landscape, it’s an excellent place for those who love wine because there are plenty of wine-tasting opportunities in the area. As well as many other things to do in Bodega Bay.
As for surfers, the bay allows for surfing and bodyboarding. Visit Bodega Head for panoramic views of the ocean along an amazing cliffside peninsula that is 4 miles long and 1 mile wide.
Bodega Bay is a great chill and relaxing place to visit along the northern coast of California.
Hopefully, you found some beach towns in Northern California that sparked your interest. There are so many great beach towns to choose from, so we helped narrow the list down to just 11.
Whether you’re looking to spend your entire vacation on the beach or you’d like to explore the natural landscape through trails, you have all the options.
Northern California has much more remote towns than Southern California, which creates a different experience and opportunity to explore. It is more for nature lovers, which is why I prefer it.
Both parts of California are great in their own ways but next time you’re in Northern California be sure to adventure out and see what is out there.
You’ll be surprised at what these beach towns have to offer. There is so much out there to explore, go see the world!