Best Beaches on the North Coast vc_ca101_bestbeaches_northcoast_sonomacoaststatepark_rf_171595231_1280x640
Karen Desjardin/Getty Images

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

Glass Beach

Scavenge for pastel glass treasures at Glass Beach, Fort Bragg’s historic former trash dump that’s now one of the largest sea glass repositories in the world. Discarded beer and soda bottles, tumbled and polished by the ocean waves, have been transformed into smooth, colourful 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 35 metres 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 centre 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 harbour 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 12 metres 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 eight-kilometre-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 harbour 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. 

Best Beaches on the North Coast NC_DuncansCove_Seeff_1280x642_sized_downsized
Tai Power Seeff

Northern California

Discover the North Coast

Best Beaches on the North Coast vca_maps_northcoast
9
March
Average (°C)
Mar - May
14°
High
6°
Low
June - Aug
16°
High
10°
Low
Sept - Nov
17°
High
7°
Low
Mar - May
14°
High
6°
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 is also a place where a new generation of farmers and wine makers focus on preserving the land as well as producing amazing food and wine. Favourite 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.

Best Beaches on the North Coast vc_ca101_fiveamazingthings_crescentcitysmithriver_videostill_1280x640
Vacationland

5 Amazing Things to do in Crescent City

This North Coast town is home to awe-inspiring forests, river rapids, and good beer

Head to the tippy top of California’s northern coastline to see this sea-faring city with two lighthouses, redwoods, and an ever-changing wildlife...

Best Beaches on the North Coast VC_Klamath_Stock_RM_B3XYCF_1280x640
Clint Farlinger/Alamy

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...

Best Beaches on the North Coast Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 10.10.39 AM
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....

Best Beaches on the North Coast VCW_D_NC_T5_3274826312_b09df578ae_o_0
Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake within California, is the oldest lake in North America and possibly the world.
SPECIAL FEATURE
From Gold Rush history to 8th wonders 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...

Best Beaches on the North Coast McWayFalls_JPB_SP_preview_686x885
Amy Meredith/Flickr
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
Best Beaches on the North Coast VCW_D_NC_T2_MendoHeadlands_KG
Kodiak Greenwood

Spotlight: Mendocino

Best Beaches on the North Coast vca_maps_northcoast
Discover a coastal paradise with ridiculously fresh seafood, amazing wine, and craft beer

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

Best Beaches on the North Coast VCW_D_NC_T1_RedwoodNP_Manley-sized
Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Northern California

Explore the best of Northern California's Great Outdoors
Best Beaches on the North Coast VC_Hero_Manley -1280x642

It may measure less than 50 square miles/130 square kilometres, but San Francisco justly ranks as one of the greatest cities in the world. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the  “City by the Bay” is the...

Best Beaches on the North Coast VCW_D_T3_MUWO_140510_LRu_08_ copy

Tucked into an ocean-facing fold of Mount Tamalpais, the signature peak just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, Muir Woods National Monument protects the last stand of uncut old-growth coast redwoods in the Bay Area, where loggers had all but denuded the region by the late 1800s....

Best Beaches on the North Coast NC_winecountry_Manley_1280x642
Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

North Coast Wine Country

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

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

Best Beaches on the North Coast VCW_D_NC_T6-Wine & Dine_Seeff_NCA0805
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,...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Get the inside scoop on California's most celebrated commodity

With more than 3,000 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...

Best Beaches on the North Coast Grapes_WineRoads_SpecialFeature_preview_686x885
Temecula Valley by Kodiak Greenwood
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...

Best Beaches on the North Coast VCW_D_NC_T4_BrendanMcGuianIMG_8280_sized_vertical
Best Beaches on the North Coast FF_VCW_D_NC_T1_RedwoodNP_Manley_0
The Humboldt County Fair began in 1896 and is the oldest running county fair in California.
Best Beaches on the North Coast VCW_D_NC_T7_520625157_0b857da159_o
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...

May

Contraptions, creations, and creativity—those are the mantras for this wacky three-day event on an out-there stretch of the North Coast. Contestants must maneuver their handmade, people-powered...

Best Beaches on the North Coast Kinetic_preview_686x885
Kinetic Grand Championship by Erik Fitzpatrick/Flickr
Best Beaches on the North Coast vca_maps_northcoast
Best Beaches on the North Coast VCW_D_NC_T8-SkunkTrain_1280x642_downsized
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...

Best Beaches on the North Coast EurekaCarsonMansion.CourtesyRedwoods.info_
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...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Sample ultra-fresh, hyper-local, and downright amazing

When you come to California, come hungry. This is a state that seriously knows how to cook. Amazing and innovative chefs sprinkled with Michelin stars work with local farms and artisanal food...

Best Beaches on the North Coast Preview_GeorgesCove_FishTaco_686x885_2
George's at the Cove
Best Beaches on the North Coast CoastalRocks_FortBragg_LH_1280x642
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...

Best Beaches on the North Coast FF_GlassBeach_FortBragg_LH
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.
Best Beaches on the North Coast CoastalRocks_FortBragg_LH_1280x642

Trip 4 days 10 stops

Wild North Coast

Wine, Romance & Sunsets
Best Beaches on the North Coast VC_Hero_Manley -1280x642

Start your trip to one of the world’s great cities. For a novel way to explore “the City by the Bay” park your car and explore by foot, bike, and unique public transportation. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that’s now a...

Best Beaches on the North Coast BatteryPointLighthouse_CrescentCity_BillYoung_1280x642

The last stop on this spectacular road trip ends at the very last city in California. Only 20 miles south of Oregon, sea-faring Crescent City is home to the northernmost of California’s lighthouse stations. Overlooking the town’s harbour, the 1856 Battery Point Lighthouse, built with 22-inch/56-...