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Whether you enjoy beachcombing on deserted sand dunes or playing fetch with your furry friends or just want to surf, snorkel or sunbathe, there is a beach to suit your mood in NorCal, the region stretching from Oregon to San Luis Obispo county. So, put on your bathing suit and grab your towel, and get ready to fill your lungs with salty air, as here are some of the best beaches in Northern California.

1. Bodega Dunes

Bodega Dunes is located in Sonoma Coast State Park in the town of Bodega Bay. The beach at Bodega Dunes is vast and remote so beachcombers will have a great time spending the whole day out here. The sandy dune-backed beach on Bodega Bay slopes gently into the ocean and there are many trails through the dunes. Located around 90 minutes from San Francisco and close to Napa Valley, film buffs might recognise the small town as the setting for Hitchcock’s film The Birds.

2. Centerville Beach – Mendocino and Humboldt Counties

Centerville Beach, along California’s Lost Coast, is remote and wild. The nine-mile beach has tall cliffs with many hiking trails, and both horses and dogs are permitted to run freely. The sandy beach is wide and flat but the water here is cold and rough, and not suited for swimming or water sports. Instead, this beach is best visited when you want some alone time and to enjoy some peace and quiet.

Sunset on Centerville Beach in Ferndale, CA.

3. Drakes Beach – Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a large stretch of protected coastline in Northern California’s Marin County. The region is home to many beautiful beaches but one of the most popular is Drakes Beach. Rolling white cliffs, much like those of Dover, shelter the beach making the water calmer and the place less windy than other beaches. This beach is especially popular among families and is safe for swimming.

best beaches northern california

4. McAbee Beach – Monterey Bay

Located in Monterey Bay, McAbee Beach might be small but it is one of northern California’s best snorkelling spots. It is home to an abundance of marine life in an off-shore kelp forest, and an artificial reef formed from an abandoned pipeline. Popular with all levels, from beginner to expert, you’ll find blue rockfish and kelpfish, as well as colourful invertebrates.

5. Glass Beach – Fort Bragg

This is no ordinary beach – Glass Beach gets its name from the smooth colourful glass pieces that cover its shoreline. Glass Beach is located adjacent to MacKerricher State Park near Fort Bragg and is definitely one of northern California’s most unusual beaches. It is also a terrific snorkelling spot. The underwater world here is kaleidoscopic and coralline algae cover the tops of the shallow rocks. There’s also plenty of marine life to watch out for, such as rock cod, sea urchins, lingcod and small octopuses.

6. Kiva Beach – Lake Tahoe

If you like your beach with fresh water, not salt water, then head to Kiva Beach on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Located on National Forest land, this is an idyllic spot with crystal clear water, soft sand, and a magnificent mountainous backdrop. It is incredibly picturesque. It’s also one of the few dog-friendly beaches located along the lake.

7. Steamer Lane – Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a city on central California’s coast. It is famous for its surf breaks and has the nickname Surf City. So, if you are looking for one of the best surf beaches in Northern California, grab your board and hit the waves at Steamer Lane. A word of warning though, this famous surf spot is also one of the most difficult. “The Lane” is for pros only! When the swell is up it’s the most dangerous place to surf in the area.

Surfers prepare to jump into the ocean at Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz California