Your California beach fantasy: an isolated cove far from sun-seeking crowds, where tumbling waves and a Pacific breeze erase your solo footprints in the sand. To realize that dream, bypass the beaten path. Treasure-hop these hidden beaches, starting in the Redwood Coast and continuing south to Santa Barbara County.

Stop one: Gold Bluffs Beach

A dirt-road drive through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park leads to this driftwood-laden beach in Orick, its brayed-tan sands backed by wetlands and meadows where Roosevelt elk graze.
Distance to next stop: 20 miles   

Stop two: Agate Beach

At Patrick’s Point State Park in Trinidad, a steep but short tromp leads to the coast where semiprecious agates are tumbled smooth by white-crested waves.
Next stop: 72 miles

Stop three: Mattole River Beach

A long and winding drive from U.S. 101, this Petrolia beach sits at the northern part of California’s remote Lost Coast. The river’s sandy mouth is prime beachcombing terrain.
Next stop: 160 miles

Stop four: Bowling Ball Beach

Walk to Schooner Gulch Beach from Highway 1 in Point Arena, then head north to see this assemblage of perfectly round rocks, visible only at the lowest tides.
Next stop: 15 miles

Stop five: Cooks Beach

From County Road 526 in Gualala, the Bonham Trail leads through Bishop pines to this hidden gem. At low tide, you’ll find a sea cave.
Next stop: 108 miles

Stop six: Kirby Cove

Driving twisty Conzelman Road and hiking one mile downhill rewards you with access to this Marin Headlands cove, where San Francisco’s skyline dazzles and the Golden Gate Bridge gleams. Reserve a campsite and spend the night.
Next stop: 80 miles

Stop seven: Fern Grotto Beach

In Santa Cruz, a 1.2-mile seaside stroll along Wilder Ranch State Park’s bluffs—passing crashing waves and diving seabirds—leads you here, where a hidden, fern-draped cave is fed by an underground spring.
Next stop: 77 miles

Stop eight: Pfeiffer Beach

Two winding miles off Highway 1, this Big Sur seafront is framed by offshore rock formations riddled with caves, blowholes, and a massive arch. Soft white sand is streaked with purple from manganese deposits.
Next stop: 35 miles

Stop nine: Jade Cove

Near Plaskett Creek Campground in Gorda, Jade Cove attracts rockhounds who hunt for jade and serpentine after winter storms. Wear sturdy shoes for the steep trail and rocky beach.
Next stop: 154 miles

Stop 10: Jalama Beach

Isolated, windswept, and wicked-waved, this Lompoc beach is ideal for windsurfing, kite flying, surf fishing, and camping. Try the beach store’s Jalama Burger.
Next stop: 40 miles

Stop 11: Refugio State Beach

This breathtaking white-sand cove in Goleta is fringed by palm trees and protected from pounding surf by a rocky point. Camp, surf, or pedal the paved bike path.