Planning a seaside vacation on California’s Central Coast? Don’t miss out on adding the best beaches in Monterey to your to-do list. Located on the Pacific Coast, Monterey County is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in California.
From Moss Landing in the north to Big Sur in the south, the string of gorgeous beaches around Monterey offers an experience of a lifetime. Go for a swim, surf some waves, or sit on a quiet beach and enjoy the sunset. If you’re coming to Monterey County with friends, venture out for kayaking and scuba diving to witness the marine life up close – it’s all up to you!
Got your backpacks ready for a mind-refreshing beach trip? Choose any of these top-rated Monterey beaches for a perfect sojourn.
Top-rated Monterey beaches
Monterey State Beach
Love the water activities and family picnics? Mark Monterey State Beach on top of your itinerary. The largest beach in Monterey County, this stretch of sand connects with Monterey Bay Recreational Trail and Monterey Bay Waterfront Park. Plan a day to go to this shore and enjoy activities like swimming, grilling, volleyball, going for a run on the trail, or playing in the sand.
When planning a family trip to Monterey State Beach, make sure your kids have a fantastic experience at tide pools and kid-friendly wading. What’s even better is that the waters here are deemed safe for swimming.
You can also bring your pooch to Monterey State Beach; however, they aren’t permitted to go beyond the north of seaside parking.
Want to do some exciting water activities steps from downtown? Check out McAbee Beach. Found in the heart of the Cannery Row area, this Monterey beach is known for mesmerizing high tide views.
There’s not a large amount of sand at McAbee Beach during high tides. If you’re lucky enough to visit during low tides (in summers), you can see the sands spread over an expanded area. During low tides, you can also partake in kayaking and scuba diving and explore the rich wildlife of Monterey Bay.
If you don’t wish to engage in activities, sit on the smooth and big boulders on the beach’s backside. You can also try local cuisines at the nearby restaurants around Cannery Row or buy souvenirs from the shops on the waterfront.
San Carlos Beach Park
Want to have an incredible scuba diving experience around Monterey? San Carlos Beach Park on Cannery Row is the best bet. The scuba diving here will add an adrenaline rush to your California Central Coast holiday.
Even if you don’t want to get wet, you can unwind at San Carlos Beach Park and play some beach games or take a walk by the shore with your partner.Graded turf lawns and picnic tables provide ideal areas to relax and enjoy the view of Monterey Bay.
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If you’re only coming to experience the marine life, jump off the benches and gear up for some scuba diving. You can rent the gear on-site, if you don’t want to cart yours from home on your California road trip.
Spanish Bay Beach
To witness the natural beauty of Monterey at its finest, head straight to Spanish Bay Beach. Situated along the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, the stretch of sand is famed for its scenic beauty. The white sand contrasted to the deep blue Pacific Ocean provides a perfect backdrop for clicking striking photos.
When you’re done with photographs, take a walk along the longshore, soak in some sun, play with sand, or arrange a picnic. Whatever you do, avoid swimming at Spanish Bay Beach; the cold water and rip currents aren’t ideal.
Interested in a serene and romantic experience? Carmel Beach in the lower part of Ocean Avenue awaits. The gentle surf, a wide stretch of sand, and beautiful views are perfect for a romantic outing or family trip.
Carmel City Beach is also an awesome spot for your furry partner. You’ll see cute pups frolicking on the soft sand at this dog-friendly location.
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Monterey County locals voted Carmel Beach among the area’s finest beaches for surfers. The crystal clear water and stunning views of Point Lobos to the south and Pebble Beach to the north can steal your heart.
Carmel River State Beach
Carmel River State Beach is a paradise for bird watchers. This state park unit in Carmel offers a one-mile protected beach with a lagoon created by the Carmel River. While you enjoy the perfect weather, do some birdwatching and spot egrets, blue herons, terns, and gulls.
You can go for a great walk Carmel River State Beach at the trail accessible from Highway 1. If you aren’t into hiking, head over to an empty portion and look for cypress and rocks.
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You may even see the western snowy plover somewhere in the sand. Nearby Monastery Beach is another excellent option for planning a picnic.
Asilomar State Beach
Asilomar State Beach is perfect for those who seek more than just water and sand. Situated in the city of Pacific Grove, it’s a unit of Asilomar State Park. At Asilomar Beach, you’ll find towering cypress, scenic trails, native plants, and numerous tide pools.
The beach got its name from the Spanish words “Asilo de la Mared,” meaning “Refuge by the Sea.” And it lives up to its name.
Asilomar Beach provides an ideal refuge for humans as well as animals. You may even witness some grey foxes running around or barking deer in the winter months.
Staying at Asilomar State Beach isn’t an issue either; many on-site overnight lodge rooms and dining are available.
Salinas River State Beach
Love exploring wildlife? Add Salinas River State Beach to your itinerary. Located in the heart of Monterey County, the area is an amazing spot for hiking, birdwatching, fishing, and picnicking. The best part? The sight of rare animals like peregrine falcons and ospreys.
The miles-long shore at Salinas River State Beach will smaze you with its outstanding beauty. Walking along the long coast, or on the path behind it, is a fantastic way to admire the lovely surroundings.
While you walk, look for wildlife and birds and try doing some beachcombing. Activities like fishing and horse riding are also popular at Salinas River State Beach.
Garrapata State Park
Garrapata State Park may or may not fulfill your dream of watching sea otters and whales; it all depends on your luck! These sea creatures are known to show up once in a while. But, don’t worry: Even if you don’t get to see them, Garrapata State Park is blessed with mesmerizing cliffs, rocky coastlines, and a beautiful secluded beach.
At the northern end of the Big Sur coastline, you’ll come across Garrapata State Beach. This 2-mile stretch of sand is dotted with tiny caverns, little waterfalls, and narrow streams that flow directly into the ocean.
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With the Pacific Ocean in the background and soaring rock stacks, Garrapata Beach can serve as a great location for picnics and family activities.
Del Monte Beach
Trying to escape the crowds of cemtral Monterey? Venture up the coast to Del Monte Beach. The secluded beachfront will calm your nerves with its tranquil atmosphere.
This pristine sand beach has a strollway, leading across dunes and brushing past local flora-fauna. Del Monte Beach also offers a breathtaking view of Monterey Bay that glitters in the ambiance as you chow down on lunch at the picnic tables.
For something more adventurous, go surfing in the blue waters or catch some rays while watching others surf. Swimming is not advisable at Del Monte Beach because of dangerous currents.
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You can also find plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby where you can enjoy mouthwatering seafood.
Lovers Point Beach
Lovers Point Beach is the place to witness sunrise like never before. Reach this artistic inspiration early, take your spot along the seashore, and watch the sun rising over the blue water. Record a timelapse of this majestic view or click some silhouettes. If you’re looking for a rush, try scuba diving, swimming, or kayaking.
When coming to Lovers Point Beach with family, take some time to enjoy a game at the beach volleyball court. Take children to the kids swimming pool and grab a tasty bite from the on-site snack bar.
The beach also shares the waterfront with Lovers Point Park, where you can stroll hand-in-hand with your beloved.
Zmudowski State Beach
Ever wanted to ride a horse on the beach like in the movies? Look no farther than Zmudowski State Beach in Moss Landing. Take your horse to the seaside via the designated path and feel the cool breeze flowing through your hair as you gallop on the sandy beach.
As you ride along the sands at Zmudowski State Beach, don’t forget to relish the stunning view of Monterey Bay. Make sure to not ride your horse too close to the waterfront as the beach remains at high tide alert. For the same reason, even swimming is not possible here.
Even if you don’t want to ride, you can cherish other activities like birdwatching or fishing in the nutrient-rich water. There’s a limit to catching 20 fish set by the regulating authority. Please follow the rules.
Fort Ord Dunes State Park
Fort Ord Dune State Park is the newest addition to the Monterey beach pack. Established in 2009 on the land of a former military base, the young state park is a great place to see seals, sea lions, and a variety of sea and shorebirds.
The contrast between Fort Ord Dunes State Park’s natural splendor and the remnants of the military base enhances the setting. It features huge sand dunes with a crystal clear sea at the front.
Your wish for camping can be fulfilled here as well. Fort Ord Dunes State Park has the first coastal campground in California’s 30 years of history.
The campground has 98 camping sites. It’s not as large as the campgrounds near Big Sur, but it still holds plenty of space for quality time.
With mystic blue water, Gibson Beach lies on the southern shore of Point Lobos State Reserve. The white color sand contrasts with water perfectly and will inspire you to snap hundreds of pictures.
Nestled at the base of tall cliffs, you’ll see Gibson Creek flowing through the white sand back to the ocean. Wading and swimming are permitted on Gibson Beach, but the water is frequently ice cold throughout the year. Come prepared with wetsuits; otherwise, you won’t be allowed in the water.
While you’re in Gibson Beach, take the time to finish off the Bird Island Trail. The trail is a lovely walk that provides stunning views of the island. As its name implies, the Bird Island Trail is home to many spring and summer birds.
Marina State Beach
Yearning for some relaxed sunbathing? Marina State Beach not only delivers relaxation but incredible views over Monterey Bay.
At Marina State Beach, you’ll enjoy activities like fishing, swimming, surfing, and picnicking. Many nearby cafes and restaurants offer delicious seafood. At the same time, the sunset will add some beautiful hues to your view.
If you like kiteflying, bringing one with you to Marina State Beach will be an incredible adventure. The large, open sandy area and steady cool wind will be the perfect kite-flying partner.
Other than kite-flying, you can also try your hand at hang gliding. The hang glider launching spot is directly south of the parking.
Sand City Beach
Does a mixture of history and magnificence match your taste? Head directly to Sand City Beach, a place blessed with an immense amount of unique sand. The sand dunes at Sand City Beach belong to the Pleistocene era, in simple words, the end of the ice age. These dunes are also the tallest on the Central Coast of California.
The steady winds coming from its sister, Marina State Beach, make paragliding a dream come true at Sand City Beach. The launch area is expansive, and the bird-eye view is exceptional.
Your pooches are also allowed on this historic sand shore.
Monterey Municipal Beach
Monterey Municipal Beach is the safest Monterey City beach for swimming. Its location forms one of the bookends of Monterey’s beach chain.
The calm and normal temperature water at Monterey Beach provides a refreshing swim. Many restaurants and pubs are available nearby. Indulge in scrumptious food with family or do some fun at a pub with friends—it’s all up to you!
You can shop for souvenirs, watch for whales, or fish at Monterey Municipal Beach. Or for a more active adventure, hit up the paved Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, running north and south. If you get time, enjoy the trail on a rented bicycle or on foot and enjoy the beauty of Monterey’s nature.