What are the best beaches in northern California?

Northern California beaches are all about crashing waves, tidepools, rock collecting and (often) solitary strolls along the water’s edge, but for the full-on Baywatch experience you need to head south. Bust out the surfboards and bikinis once you hit Santa Barbara.

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach Orange County’s ‘Surf City USA’ lives up to its moniker
Santa Monica Cycle LA’s ocean front bike path, ride a solar-powered Ferris wheel or dance under the stars.

Huntington Beach (HB) in northern California has been a surf mecca for nearly a century, starting in 1914 when Hawaiian-Irish surfing star George Freeth gave demonstrations of the exotic sport off the coast.
Commercial development along Main St has left downtown with a vaguely prefab feel, but the bland facades are frequently enlivened by sidewalk-surfing skateboarders and inebriated barflies whooping it up from the street’s numerous bars. Just look around at the beautiful blonde people playing volleyball on the sand or skating along the beach paths – HB is still the quintessential place to celebrate the coastal SoCal lifestyle.
In late July, the city hosts the US Open of Surfing (www.usopenofsurfing.com), a six-star competition drawing more than 600 surfers, 400,000 spectators and a minivillage of concerts, motocross demos and skater jams.

La Jolla

La Jolla Kayak sea caves, snorkel or scuba dive in an underwater park, or surf San Diego’s legendary Windansea Beach.

Locals like to say that the name La Jolla (la hoya) is derived from the Spanish for ‘the jewel.’ One look at the tidy parks, upscale boutiques and glitzy restaurants clustered downtown and the appropriateness of this explanation is immediately apparent. Some challenge this claim, however, saying that the indigenous people who lived in the area until the mid-19th century called it ‘Mut la Hoya, la Hoya’ – the place of many caves. It’s this second explanation that’s more intriguing to outdoor enthusiasts and fun-loving families because the sea caves, sandy beaches and marine life here make it a fantastic place to kayak, dive, snorkel and tide-pool.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Chic pocket beaches in northern California where you may even spot celebs.

Frankly put, this area is damn pleasant to putter around. Just a 90-minute drive north of Los Angeles, tucked between mountains and the Pacific, Santa Barbara basks smugly in its near-perfection. Founded by a Spanish mission, the city’s signature red-tile roofs, white stucco buildings and Mediterranean vibe have long given credence to its claim to the title of the ‘American Riviera.’ Santa Barbara is blessed with almost freakishly good weather, and no one can deny the appeal of those beaches that line the city tip to toe either. Just ignore those pesky oil derricks out to sea.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Surf Steamer Lane, let the kids loose at Natural Bridges or spot the Pacific from a roller coaster.

Santa Cruz has marched to its own beat since long before the Beat Generation. It’s still cool to be a hippie or a stoner here (or better yet, both), although some far-out–looking freaks are just slumming Silicon Valley millionaires and trust-fund babies underneath.
Santa Cruz is a city of madcap fun, with a vibrant but chaotic downtown. On the waterfront is the famous beach boardwalk, and in the hills redwood groves embrace the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) campus. Plan to spend at least half a day here, but to appreciate the aesthetic of jangly skirts, crystal pendants and Rastafarian dreadlocks, stay longer and plunge headlong into the rich local brew of surfers, students, punks and eccentric characters.

Sonoma Coast

Sonoma Coast Rocky headlands, hidden coves and hiking trails atop 17 miles of wind-sculpted bluffs.

In Sanoma Coast you can find beautiful sandy beaches together with rocky beaches, white cliffs and secluded coves. This is the perfect beach in North California to enjoy the weather by taking a stroll, a short hike or simply lying on the beach. Top tourist activities are hiking, riding horseback on the beach, finishing and doing picnic from the top of the cliffs while the sun set.

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