Planning a trip to California’s Central Coast? Indulge your love of the seaside by carving out time to bliss out on some of the best beaches in Carmel, California.
Located on the Central Coast of California, the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is more often visited by local Californians than tourists. It’s lesser-known than nearby Big Sur and Santa Cruz, but with beautiful beaches that are every bit as striking. With its quaint European-style architecture and breathtaking coastlines, Carmel is a perfect vacation destination for travelers who want to experience the beauty of California’s coast without the big crowds of tourists.
Ready to explore California’s coastal delights? Plan your ultimate seaside retreat with this guide to the most popular Carmel Beaches.
Looking for more vacation ideas? Check out all our other beach guides along with our California Travel Guide for more ideas on where to go, when to visit & what to do!
Top-rated Carmel beaches
Carmel Beach is the name of the town as well as the gorgeous stretch of coastline just off of Ocean Avenue. It’s considered one of the best beach towns in the United States and is a popular spot for surfers, sunbathers, and nature lovers.
With a large stretch of white sand beach, it’s easy to find a spot of your own to relax the day away taking in the amazing views, or watching surfers in wetsuits catch some of the strong waves from the Pacific Ocean. Visitors are welcome to try surfing, too. Just make sure that you wear a wetsuit and pick a day when the surf suits your skill levels.
The water at Carmel Beach is cold, but you’ll still see people wading and splashing in the surf near the beach on warmer days. Visitors should keep in mind that currents can be super strong and watch out for riptides.
Alongside Carmel City Beach, there’s a beautiful walking path accessible from Scenic Road. It’s the perfect spot for recreation and exercise during your trip to Carmel, California.
As a bonus, Carmel City Beach is dog friendly, so if you’re looking to bring the whole family along for your beach vacation, this is the spot!
Carmel River State Beach
If you’re looking for a place to enjoy nature and watch wildlife, head to Carmel River State Beach. You can access this beach just off of Scenic Road in Carmel Bay.
The area features sections of sandy beach as well as rugged rocks protruding from the Pacific for incredible views. There’s great bird and wildlife watching where Carmel River empties into the ocean and forms a pristine lagoon that creates a perfect home for all kinds of bird species.
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Enjoy walking up and down Carmel River State Beach and taking in the views of Monterey Bay and the National Marine Sanctuary.
Visitors should keep in mind that swimming is dangerous at Carmel River Beach due to rough surf and strong riptides.
On sunny days, Monastery Beach is one of the most popular spots in Carmel, California, for sunbathing and beach walking. Located just off of Highway 1, it’s named after the nearby Carmelite Monastery Mission which is home to the Nuns of Carmel.
You might also hear this beach referred to as San Jose Creek Beach. The stretch of sand sits at the bottom of the creek that runs through a canyon just behind the beach before emptying into the sea.
While you might see some pro scuba divers in the water, it’s important to remember that Monastery Beach is not a safe place to swim. In fact, it’s known for being one of the most dangerous beaches in California due to the strong undercurrents that have repeatedly swept people out to sea.
Asilomar State Beach
In the nearby town of Pacific Grove, you’ll find the beautiful Asilomar State Beach. With huge coastal cliffs, rocky coves, and plenty of hiking trails, Asilomar has been a favorite amongst Californians for years.
Before it was acquired by California State Parks in the 50s, Asilomar Beach was a popular summer camp for girls. There are some historic buildings as well as forests and dunes that are part of the protected area along with the 1-mile stretch of sandy beach.
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Hiking trails like the Asilomar Coast Trail are open to the public and offer great opportunities for exercise while taking in the views. Best of all for pooch owners, the trail and the beach are both dog-friendly!
Garrapata State Park
Located on Highway 1 about six miles from Carmel, Garrapata State Park offers two miles of beautiful coastline, including Garrapata Beach and Soberanes Point Beach. Both beaches offer incredible views, and towards Soberanes Point, you can spot sea otters, harbor seals, and sea lions lounging on the rocks.
Besides Garrapata Beach, Garrapata State Park also offers some incredible hikes like the Soberanes Canyon Trail and a 50-foot climb that will reward you with epic views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Monterey State Beach
One of the the most popular Monterey beaches, Monterey State Beach is a dream come true for lovers of water sports. The waters outside Monterey State Beach are part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and are popular amongst scuba divers. Others enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding, and other water recreation sports. It’s a great beach for surfing and is one of the safer spots for splashing in the waves thanks to the on-duty lifeguards.
The large white sand beach is popular year-round for tidal pool exploring, sunbathing, and walking or jogging as it’s nice and flat. It’s the perfect place for a relaxed day on the water.
Carmel Meadows Beach
Carmel Meadows Beach is part of Carmel River State Beach and features both rocky and sandy sections. It’s often less crowded than nearby Monastery Beach, making it a perfect spot for travelers looking to escape the crowds.
For a dash of adventure at Carmel Meadows Beach, hit up the cool coastal trail that follows the bluffs in both directions and offers great views of the rocky cliffs.
It’s important for visitors to remember that there are strong and dangerous undercurrents, so this isn’t an ideal place to swim.
Sand Dollar Beach
Sand Dollar Beach is an awesome place to pack a picnic and enjoy the entire day of sand, sea, and sun. It’s an extremely popular beach, especially during peak summer months and if you visit during this time you’ll likely be one of many people enjoying the beautiful spot.
It’s one of the few surf spots in Big Sur, and surfers flock there when the waves are good. There’s a campground across the street called Plaskett Creek Campground so the area gets plenty of traffic, but the beach is large and sandy and there’s plenty of room to spread out.
If you go to Sand Dollar Beach during low tide, you might spot some of the sand dollars that have swept up on the beach—or even find some pretty jade stones scattered along the shore.
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There’s a parking lot at the picnic area with a long wooden stairway that descends to the beach. If you’re looking to camp at Plaskett Creek, be sure to book well in advance!
The southernmost beach near Carmel is Gibson Beach. Located within Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, it offers a relaxed place to enjoy the sand and sea away from crowds.
The small sandy cove is protected from the larger surf and strong currents most of the year, making Gibson Beach one of the best beaches in Carmel to splash around in the water. The white sand is sandwiched on either end by large rugged boulders and offers a quiet reprieve to enjoy the California sunshine.
If you’re willing to take a little drive from Carmel, Hidden Beach is a spectacular spot located within the Redwood National Forest. With dark grey sand, big boulders, and a scattering of driftwood, Hidden Beach is one of the most beautiful natural beaches in Northern California.
The Coastal Trail offers great hiking, but even if you just walk the beach and explore the secretive rocky enclaves and huge driftwood piles, it’s well worth the trip.
Hidden Beach resembles the Oregon Coast. Visiting, you may feel as if you might discover a long-forgotten pirate’s buried treasure amongst the rocks and wood.
San Carlos Beach
Got a little time to spare? Head to nearby Monterey for a day at San Carlos Beach. The popular stretch of sand offers plenty of places to relax, including sandy beach spots, grassy lawns, and picnic facilities.
San Carlos Beach is known for scuba diving but it’s equally enjoyable for soaking up the sun and walking on the beach.
A paved trail borders the beach and is a perfect place to enjoy a long bike ride on your beach vacation or go for a run. Keep in mind that San Carlos beach is extremely popular among locals and is often crowded.
Pfeiffer Beach is a secretive spot that is well worth searching out. It’s just a short drive from Carmel towards Big Sur. From Highway 1 you’ll come to an unmarked narrow road called Sycamore Canyon Road that winds its way down to Pfeiffer Beach.
During low tide, a lagoon forms at Pfeiffer Beach, offering the opportunity to explore the tidal pools. Keep on the lookout for the two huge rocks protruding from the sand. Watch as the waves crash against them and be sure to snap pictures of its eye-catching arch formation. Head to the north end of Pfieffer Beach to check out the unique purple sand formed from garnet rocks.
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For even more fun, visit the nearby Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park where you can hike through the redwoods and along the river. The parking fee is $12.
Marina State Beach
Within the Marina Dune Natural Preserves, you’ll find Marina State Beach. It’s a big stretch of white sand beach that is popular for beach walking. You’ll often spot hang gliders catching the wind and might even consider trying it yourself with a tour.
Marina State Beach is wide and long, making it feel less busy. It’s the perfect place to relax in the sand or take a walk and admire the stunning panoramic views.
Just remember that there are incredibly strong currents and rip tides in this area; it isn’t a safe spot for swimming.
Located in nearby Newport Beach, China Cove is a tiny secluded beach named for the old China House that was torn down in the 80s. There are posts for volleyball if you bring your own net and ball, and the secretive location makes this a great pick for travelers who want to avoid the crowds.
To find China Cove, you’ll want to park in the Corona Del Mar neighborhood. Descend the stairs to the street below for beach access. There’s no real beach parking here which helps keep it more private for nearby homeowners.
For nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts, Pescadero Point can’t be overlooked. With sandy coves, cliffs, and tidal pools to explore, the mile-long stretch of pristine coastline offers great opportunities for bird watching and wildlife spotting
Across the street from Pescadero Point, you can visit the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve. The preserve helps protect the delicate ecosystem for the unique local wildlife. Golf enthusiasts will also find fun at the nearby Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Little Sur River Beach
It doesn’t get more picturesque than Little Sur River Beach. Located in between Big Sur and Carmel-by-the-Sea, this gorgeous spot features a sandy beach scattered with driftwood and dunes surrounded by rugged cliffs.
The Little Sur River forms a lagoon near the ocean which is a sanctuary for wildlife like birds. Other features at Little Sur River Beach include a rock arch just offshore.
The land around the river is privately owned. You can’t access it, but you’re able to take photographs. It’s beautiful enough that it’s still well worth the visit.
Fort Ord Dunes State Park
Fort Ord Dunes State Park is a relatively new addition to the California State Park system. The park features over four miles of gorgeous coastline as well as some great hiking trails and epic views of Monterey Bay.
Visitors will love exploring Fort Ord Dunes State Park. Take a walk through the sand dunes or out on the boardwalk offering epic views of the bluffs.
Dogs are allowed at Fort Ord Dunes State Park. There’s also educational signage that’ll teach visitors about the history of the cultural and natural importance of the area.