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Authored by Margaret Sasser

California is home to some of the most incredible beaches in the US. With its diverse wildlife and landscapes, each coastal area is unique in its own way.

Whether you’re a local or a tourist, adventure is not hard to find in these seaside paradises. We’ve listed some of our favorite beaches on the West Coast to help you plan your next holiday in the Golden State.

5 Gorgeous Beach Getaways in California

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

While the entire area of Big Sur is impossible to cover over the course of a long weekend, you can’t go wrong with any of the beaches or national parks. If you have a limited amount time, the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is not to be missed.

Seeing the sunset over the water alone will make any trip here worthwhile. Named after a well-known pioneer from the area, this local paradise where visitors can hike and enjoy the natural beauty of Big Sur.

While you’re there, don’t forget to visit the quaint waterfall at McWay Falls. The waterfall lookout trail is less than a mile round trip and leads to an observation deck where you can see an unforgettable ocean view. This State park is still worth the visit for the gorgeous views and incredible wildlife.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Hotels in Big Sur

Big Sur Lodge

Close to the area’s tourist attractions there are a range of amenities available to guests of The Lodge Big Sur. The hotel’s rooms are spacious and provide a kitchenette that is equipped with a refrigerator. Hot drinks can be brewed with tea and coffee supplies. On-site dining options include a restaurant, which is a convenient place to enjoy a meal.

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Best Western PLUS Carmel Bay View Inn

Situated in Carmel By the Sea, Best Western PLUS Carmel Bay View Inn is within easy driving distance of Pebble Beach and offers free Wi-Fi, an outdoor heated pool and a 24-hour business centre. It provides a lift and a garden, and is a brief stroll from the Forest Theater and the Golden Bough Playhouse.

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Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes has a long history, dating back to nearly 5,000 years, before European settlers and native Indian tribes. It’s home to an incredibly diverse array of plants and animals due to its unique environment. There are dozens of outdoor activities available for visitors including hiking, kayaking, fishing, and camping.

You’ll find an extraordinary variety of aquatic and land animals in Point Reyes. Many of them are considered to be on the brink of extinction, making the area a refuge for the animals. Visitors can see an abundance of elephant seals, sea otters, and maybe even one of the many different species of whale who have made their home nearby!

Half Moon Bay, CA

Less than an hour south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is a quaint, peaceful town with a lot of natural sights to enjoy, The Half Moon Bay State Beach is a must-see in the area, and there are even private tours available so that you can enjoy the scenic views without having to lift a finger.

This beach is also great for camping and surfing if you’re interested in outdoor activities and recreation over your vacation. Mavericks beach is another great spot to catch waves while surfing or watch the sunset if you prefer to stay on shore. You might even decide to take a surf lesson while you’re there!

Especially if you’re traveling with family, you won’t want to miss the Oceanic Society’s Gray Whale Watching tour. This educational cruise will leave you with pictures and memories that you’ll remember for years to come!

The Half Moon Bay State Beach is a must-see in the area

Hotels in Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay Lodge

Half Moon Bay Lodge is within a 35-minute drive of San Francisco International Airport and provides a Jacuzzi and a sauna. It offers complimentary Wi-Fi, a gym and a golf course. Lodge has a fitness centre with a swimming pool. The day spa offers a variety of treatments and a chance to relax.

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The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay

Featuring views of the ocean, The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay provides 5-star accommodation with complimentary wireless internet, a gym and a golf course. Guests are offered a variety of deluxe amenities, including a limousine service and Ritz-Carlon Spa. A gym is available to those wanting to keep active while away.

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Pismo Beach Dunes

Just south of Big Sur, Pismo Beach is a great place to visit if you’re looking to escape from the city. Aside from a beautiful view of the Pacific, Pismo Beach is home to many local vineyards, parks, and areas for water sports.

One of the town’s most unique attractions is definitely the Monarch Butterfly Grove. Young children will especially love to see the hundreds or butterflies in this incredible park open during late October through the end of February. In addition to the butterflies, the Oceano Dunes in Pismo Beach are home to an astonishing variety of wildlife and plants including the Audubon warbler, red-tailed hawks, and many other rare animals.

Particularly if you’re able to rent a bike or an ATV, you won’t want to miss traveling through these incredible sand dunes. The Margo Dodd Park is another great spot to watch the waves or the sunset. On a hot day, visitors can rest in the shade under the tiny white gazebo at the edge of the park.

Finally, don’t forget to take a walk down the beautiful Pismo Pier near downtown for another exceptional view of the ocean.

 Just south of Big Sur, Pismo Beach is a great place to visit if you’re looking to escape from the city.

Just south of Big Sur, Pismo Beach is a great place to visit if you’re looking to escape from the city.

Hotels in Pismo Beach

Seacrest Oceanfront Hotel

Boasting a rooftop terrace and free Wi-Fi, Seacrest Oceanfront Hotel provides art deco accommodation. There is also a fitness centre with a swimming pool, with 158 recently refurbished rooms. There is also a BBQ area on-site for guests to enjoy. Guests can also appreciate water views from the property’s spa and wellness centre.

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Sandcastle Inn Pismo Beach

Sandcastle Inn Pismo Beach isclose to the area’s popular attractions. It provides free wireless internet, a fitness centre and a golf course. There are a range of facilities available to guests of the inn, including a 24-hour business centre, a Jacuzzi and a gift shop.

Check availability & prices 

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park preserves five unspoiled islands and their aqua environment ultimately protecting the natural resources. The area is full of unique creatures, plants, and archeological resources that can only be found in the Channel Islands National Park.

Getting to the five islands is part of the fun when you visit the island as the islands can only be accessed by boat or plane. Once you do get there, there is no better to explore than by a kayak.

If you’re connecting to the island via boat, there are 3 counties in California that grant you access: Ventura, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. If you choose the boating option, you’ll probably wind up staying on the mainland where there are also a lot of fun activities to get into. You can really get a feel for California living by staying in a vacation rental rather than a hotel.


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Margaret Sasser is a features writer for Ecophiles Magazine. When she’s not traveling or writing, you will most likely find her drinking copious amounts of coffee or watching Netflix.

Photo credits: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park by Michael Bundscherer. Half Moon Bay, CA by Keith Cuddeback. Pismo Beach Dunes by Anita Ritenour. Pismo Beach Pier by mLu.fotos. Pinterest image of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park by Upsilon Andromedae.


  1. How is it that I live in California and have only been to the Pismo Beach Sand Dunes?! Wow, all of these are making me want to stick around longer and go see them all! Most of the beach getaways I know about are in Southern California, it’s great to learn about more up the coast. Big Sur has been on my radar for years! We have to just go do it already!

    • It’s a bit like that! When you’re a local or from somewhere we’re always keen to explore the far flung corners of the globe before our own home. California is an incredible place to have access to as a local – hope you can carve out some time to explore!

  2. You’ve picked some great ones! I’ve heard so much about Half Moon Bay lately that I really think the universe is telling me that it is time to go. Big Sur is one of my favorite places in the state, and neighboring Carmel is also one of my favorites. It’s just a great area all around. Andy keeps talking about heading over to the Channel Islands, so I can see that in our cards.

    • Half Moon Bay is a great place :) Big Sur is incredible, we did a California road trip recently and stayed at the Hyatt as a splurge, WOW. Carmel, also insanely amazing. I just love California. Beach road trips are the way!

      I can vouch for the Channel Islands, we camped overnight and had a great time :)

  3. I’ve taken two road trips in California, one down the coast, and wish I’d had this kind of resource to guide me towards the most beautiful and scenic beaches. I’m particularly liking the variety of coastal geology across these suggestions!

    • Just means you have an excuse to plan a return trip to take in anything you missed :D There’s definitely a diverse geology along the California coast, which is nice because it’s never boring on a roadtrip!

  4. Oh my gosh. These are absolutely stunning! I’ve really missed out in the beach department in California. Michelle Pfeiffer Burns Park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen photos of! It’s so gorgeous! But I have to say that Pismo Beach Dunes looks absolutely stunning!

    • Hope you have the chance to travel soon! California has some of the most incredible beaches in the world, and the nice thing is they’re all positioned within decent range of each other, making it easy to visit all in a road trip :)

  5. Those all sound amazing. I’d definitely like to visit Point Reyes National Seashore and see the elephant seals and the sea otters since I love spotting wildlife. Sunset at Mavericks beach also looks beautiful. We really need to get back to California soon.

    • The elephant seals were the highlight of our recent California road trip – we spent hours taking so many photographs! If you’re a wildlife enthusiast you’ll love the California Coast. And yes, the sunsets are incredible too!

  6. Your photos are so amazing. They captured the scenery so well. I will check out the lodge if I’m nearby.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Chloe – it’s not difficult to take a good photo of California’s Coast – the landscapes do the work themselves :D

  7. I learned a few things and this is my home state! I hope the Big Sur area is still open after the big land slide cut off much of the area.

    • Oh no! I didn’t hear about the landslide in Big Sur – recent I’m assuming? It’s such a stunning area so I hope it wasn’t devastated. Jumping over to pull up the news now.

  8. I did Big Sur and Half Moon Bay when I was in San Francisco. I definitely loved it. I would love to go back for the others.

    California is just really beautiful

    • They’re places I could keep going back to over and over again. We loved our trip, was the highlight of my 3 years in the US :)

  9. Your photo of the Half Moon Bay State Beach is stunning! I would love to go on a whale watching tour! Or a private tour would have been nice too!

    • Hope you have the chance to travel soon! Whale watching is incredible off California – such majestic creatures :)

  10. I had the opportunity to visit Northern California. Crescent City. It’s an awesome place. Big Sur is on my list too!

    • Such a beautiful State, you really can’t go wrong regardless of where you end up. Hope you have the chance to visit Big Sur soon!

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