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 realise 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
Stop three: Mattole River Beach
Stop four: Bowling Ball Beach
Stop five: Cooks Beach
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
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.