Though sunbathing may be out of the question, the winter is still a great time to hit the beach for hiking, picnicking, wildlife-watching and more. “Northern California has incredible cold-weather beaches, where visitors can experience dramatic arches, migrating wildlife, windswept cliffs and breathtaking sunsets,” says Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California. “Set against the backdrop of crashing waves, spouting whales and soaring redwood trees, at California’s cold-weather beaches travelers can unwind and reconnect with nature.” Here, check out 12 top cold-weather California beaches to visit this winter.
Del Norte County
History and life collide along the sacred grounds of Klamath Beach. The Klamath River is home to the Yurok Tribe. At the mouth of the river, as it flows into the ocean, you’ll discover a sandbar the Yurok Tribe considers the leg of Oregos. Each year, Oregos swings her leg so that fish can migrate and feed the people. The sandbar attracts both wildlife–like bears and cougars–as well as sea life. For more information, visit www.californiabeaches.com.
Gold Bluffs Beach & Campground
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
During a brief 19th-century gold rush, gold was panned from sands of this cold-weather California beach–giving it its name. (Gold dust was actually discovered in the sand!) Here, a campground can be found along the 10-mile stretch of beach, which has running water, flush toilets, solar-heated showers and a fire pits. Reservations are required May 15 to Sept. 14. Though reservations are not required Sept. 16 to to May 14, visitors must pay a day-use fee. For more information, visit www.visitredwoods.com.
Considered one of Northern California’s prettiest villages, the seaside enclave makes a great starting point for exploring up and down the Redwood Coast or discovering under-the-radar beaches. Search for sea-polished agates and moonstones at Agate Beach at Sue-meg State Park, take in the views of tree-covered Pewetole Island and much more on Trinidad beaches. For more information, visit www.exploretrinidadca.com.
Black Sands Beach
Black Sands Beach is a picturesque, relaxing cold-weather California beach, blanketed in, as its name suggests, black sand. The unique, must-see beach is a 3.5-mile stretch of coastline 45 miles south of Eureka in Northern California. For more information, visit www.visitredwoods.com.
Fort Bragg’s historic former trash dump is now one of the largest sea glass repositories in the world–Glass Beach in Mendocino County. Discarded soda bottles and other items, which have been tumbled and polished by the ocean waves, are now rainbow-hued jewels or “mermaid tears.” A paved trail extends north from Glass Beach through MacKerricher State Park, offering wave-breaking views of Ten Mile Beach. For more information, visit www.mendocino.com.
Point Reyes Beaches
Whether you’re driving in or hiking up, Point Reyes is home to a great variety of glorious beaches. Drive-in Point Reyes Beach (also known as The Great Beach or Ten Mile Beach) spans 11 miles of sand and surf while Limantour, another drive-in option, is an ideal spot for picnicking. Spending the day with your pup? Consider dog-friendly Kehoe Beach on the peninsula’s northern tip. For more information, visit www.nps.gov.
Bowling Ball Beach
During very low or minus tides, walk north from Schooner Gulch State Beach (follow the blufftop trail or walk along the sand) less than a mile to witness an assemblage of round rocks–spherical “balls” that have been formed by millions of years of weathering. For more information, visit www.parks.ca.gov.
Sonoma Coast State Park
Sonoma Coast State Park is home to dozens of beaches to enjoy during the colder seasons and beyond. Drive out to the headlands at Goat Rock Beach to watch the harbor seals, take a walk along Kortum Trail and scan the seas for gray whales at Jenner Beach. For more information, visit www.parks.ca.gov.
Crissy Field East Beach
Crissy Field East Beach is where the locals come to play–and only in part because of its picture-perfect views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Kiddos like to frolic in the sand, and the site is also considered one of the world’s best kitesurfing spots. For more information, visit presidio.gov.
Cowell Ranch State Beach
Half Moon Bay
Cowell Ranch State Beach is considered a “wildly beautiful meeting of land and sea” on the San Mateo coast, where dozens of beaches can be reached only by walking. Found near Downtown Half Moon Bay is this secluded cove, which can be accessed after a half-mile hike. For more information, visit www.coastsidestateparks.org.
Natural Bridges State Beach
Santa Cruz County
Are you a wildlife fanatic? Then Natural Bridges State Beach is your ultimate cold-weather California beach. This park and beach not only offers great opportunities for viewing shore birds, but visitors might also spy migrating whales, seals, otters and, from October to January, even fluttering Monarch butterflies. For more information, visit www.santacruz.org.
Not to be confused with the beach at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Pfeiffer Beach is a local fave for its wide sandy beaches and famous arch rock. For first-timers, Pfeiffer Beach can be difficult to find; it is located at the end of unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road, which is the only paved, ungated road on the west side of Highway One between the Big Sur Post Office and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. For more information, visit www.seemonterey.com.