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Best Beaches on the North Coast

Best Beaches on the North Coast
Explore the breathtaking scenery of the wild Sonoma and Mendocino coasts—from sandy shores to the top of a lighthouse

North of San Francisco, there's a whole other world of California, where rugged cliffs, towering redwood trees, and artsy towns dot an idyllic coastline. Here, you'll find scenic views around every corner and vast areas of unspoiled nature perfect for peaceful outdoor exploring.

Glass Beach

Marvel at the pastel glass covering Glass Beach, Fort Bragg’s historic former trash dump that’s now one of the largest sea glass repositories in the world. Discarded soda bottles and other items, tumbled and polished by the ocean waves, have been transformed into smooth, colorful jewels. A paved trail travels north from Glass Beach through MacKerricher State Park, offering wave-breaking views of Ten Mile Beach. Walk or bike its length, then cap off the day with a beer flight at North Coast Brewing Company in downtown Fort Bragg. The taproom hosts live jazz dinner concerts on weekend nights.  

Point Arena Lighthouse

Reaching 115 feet into the sky, Point Arena Lighthouse stands sentinel on a rocky promontory, surrounded by water on three sides. Climb 145 steps to the top of this historic landmark, then soak in 360-degree views of sea stacks, rock arches, and crashing waves. Stop in at the visitor center to see a collection of maritime photos and exhibits. Can’t bear to leave? Book a stay in the lighthouse keeper’s quarters.  

Stornetta Public Lands

Hike the paths off Lighthouse Road in Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands to see sea lions, elephant seals, and harbor seals. You’ll find everything a coast lover craves: blowholes, dunes, beaches, tide pools, and lingering sunsets. There’s even a waterfall in the wet season, when Stornetta Falls cascades 40 feet over the coastal bluffs and into the Pacific.

Manchester Beach

The dunes at Manchester Beach back a driftwood-laden swath of sand, ideal for long walks spent searching for washed-in treasures. Plan to leave thousands of footprints on this five-mile-long beach. When night falls, pitch your tent at Manchester State Park’s campground. 

While in Point Arena, be sure to check your tide table. During extremely low tides, walk from Schooner Gulch State Beach to Bowling Ball Beach to see its astounding assemblage of round rocks, formed by millions of years of weathering.

Sonoma Coast State Park

The picturesque town of Jenner is the gateway to dozens of beaches in Sonoma Coast State Park. Drive out to the headlands at Goat Rock Beach to watch the harbor seals’ antics, then stroll along the tan sand. Take a longer walk on the Kortum Trail, tracing along the bluff tops from Blind Beach to Shell Beach. At the mouth of the Jenner River, follow steep paths downhill from Highway 1 to Jenner Beach. Scan the seas for gray whales or snap photos of postcard-perfect offshore sea stacks. 

Where to stay

In Mendocino, the 19-room MacCallum House offers a cozy stay in a Victorian house built in 1882, with the option to book a luxury mansion overlooking the Pacific. Nearby, the eco-friendly Stanford Inn by the Sea gives a family-farm vibe, with its organic gardens and elaborate wellness programs. Ten minutes south in Albion, you'll find romantic oceanfront cottages at the Albion River Inn that include private decks, large soaking tubs, and fireplaces. For a serene getaway overlooking the rugged Sonoma Coast, the Sea Ranch Lodge gives visitors a very secluded place to relax after a day of wandering nearby hiking trails.

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North Coast Best Beaches
North of San Francisco, there's a whole other world of California, where rugged cliffs, towering redwood trees, and artsy towns dot an idyllic coastline.
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Tai Power Seeff

Discover the North Coast

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55
October
Average (°F)
Sept - Nov
63°
High
45°
Low
Dec - Feb
55°
High
41°
Low
Mar - May
58°
High
43°
Low
June - Aug
62°
High
51°
Low

Romance finds a home in this idyllic coastal region, where ocean fog rolls in from the ocean to blanket hushed redwood forests, and whales spout offshore. Along the coast, artists set up their easels to paint scenes of crashing surf and whitewashed cottages wrapped in rose-filled gardens.

Each year, December through May, look to the sea to witness roughly 15,000 gray whales swimming south for the summer.

It’s also a place where a new generation of farmers and winemakers focus on preserving the land as well as producing amazing food and wine. Favorite escapes include the romantic hamlet of Mendocino, roughly a 3-hour drive up the coast from San Francisco, and Eureka, a former logging town 2 hours further north, and the gateway to breathtaking Redwoods National and State Parks.

Clear Lake, California
Courtesy of County of Lake

Clear Lake

Explore a burgeoning wine scene and cool off with a summery splash in the lake

Take a deep breath the next time you’re in Northern California’s Lake County. That’s some of...

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Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake within California, is the oldest lake in North America and possibly the world.
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Kodiak Greenwood

Spotlight: Mendocino

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Discover a coastal paradise with ridiculously fresh seafood, amazing wine, and craft beer

With its dramatic ocean-bluff setting overlooking a steel-blue sea, this coastal hamlet is an obvious magnet for artists, romantics, and lovers of...

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Klamath

Redwoods, salmon, and California’s largest tribe all thrive in this small North Coast town

Klamath is so far north that many people assume this tiny town is in Oregon, not California. Set along its...

November

Winter rains signal the beginning of the North Coast’s astounding mushroom season: the Mendocino region is home to some 3,000 varieties, many of them edible, like the rare candy cap mushroom with...

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Brendan McGuigan
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SPECIAL FEATURE
From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
John Muir
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Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Northern California

Explore the best of Northern California's Great Outdoors
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At 115 feet, Point Arena Lighthouse is the tallest climbable lighthouse on the West Coast.
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Courtesy of Humboldt County CVB

Ferndale

Visit a Victorian village where time stands still

A fairytale come to life, this remote village features carefully preserved Victorian-era century homes, a visual and architectural feast. On a...

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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

North Coast Wine Country

Slip away to some of the state’s most peaceful vineyards

From quiet vineyards bounded by lush redwood forests along the Mendocino Coast, to the sun-drenched rolling hills of rugged Lake County, the North...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Follow celebrated routes to iconic vineyards and tucked-away surprises

With more than 4,000 wineries statewide, California lets you sample award-winning wines almost anywhere you go. These classic and up-and-coming wine roads—some too packed with wineries to tackle...

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SPECIAL FEATURE
Celebrate the seasonal bounty and quirky art-fueled character of the North Coast

You can learn a lot about a place at its local festivals. Consider the Kinetic Grand Championship, a cosmically silly three-day battle between human-powered works of art (imagine a speeding dragon...

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Trip 4 days 10 stops

Wild North Coast

Wine, Romance & Sunsets
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The Humboldt County Fair began in 1896 and is the oldest running county fair in California.
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Tai Power Seeff

Wine & Dine in the North Coast

Sample hyper-local foods from land and sea, plus amazing beers and wines

The North Coast might just be the perfect place to eat. Few other places in the world can offer such a harmonious blend of chefs, farmers,...

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Lucas Himovitz

Fort Bragg

Rough-and-tumble lumber town morphs into a top coastal find

With its original roots as a military garrison and then a gritty lumber town, Fort Bragg skirted under the radar of most visitors. But now—perhaps...

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Courtesy of Skunk Train

Skunk Train

Ride a historic train through soaring coast redwoods

Originally built to transport redwood logs from the rugged backcountry to the coast, this 1885 heritage railroad now ferries sightseers to and fro...

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Courtesy of Humboldt County CVB

Eureka

Nature and culture merge in an art-fueled Victorian seaport

This lively seaport town, the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, has split-personality charm: a sense of history in...

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While now a beautiful coastal treasure, Glass Beach initially began in the late 1940s as a place where locals would toss their trash, including glass bottles.
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Tour an inspiring compound dedicated to an almost-lost art

Eric Hollenbeck didn’t plan to be a time traveler, or a museum curator, or a model of how to take care of troubled youth or returning war vets....