Long walks or runs, tide pools, sand castles, sunny or stormy days, bonfires, fishing, surfing, paddling: whatever gets you motivated to explore the California Coast, there's a good chance that "crowds" is not at the top of your list (though people watching can be fun, too). We know the frustration of staving off the beach anticipation as you struggle to find a parking spot all too well. And while those days happen, it's also nice to have a few options when the crowds really won't do.
Finding a little piece of peace along the California Coast isn't as difficult as it may seem, and the rewards are as infinite as the Pacific horizon. It may take a little more travel time, but that just makes the arguments for spending a few extra days and nights questing for your beach more practical and alluring. With this in mind, here's a list to initiate your search, moving south to north. You may notice that many of our Southern California beach adventures aren't included; the smaller crowds criteria does tend to translate to a central and northern coastal experience. Of course, no matter your location, dawn patrol visits are always a great option for a little coastal solitude!
Mesa Lane: Make sure you arrive at low tide if you want a walk on the beach, and make sure you arrive at an incoming tide if you want to surf.
Andrew Molera State Beach: A quintessential stop on the Big Sur Coastline. The short hike to the beach helps moderate populations, but the long beach and occasionally good right hand wave are worth the walk indeed.
Gray Whale Cove State Beach: Finding this little spot south of San Francisco takes some careful attention. This clothing-optional beach may see some crowds on sunny days, but otherwise there's a good chance you'll have the beach to yourself.
Kehoe Beach: The beaches of Point Reyes are some of the most empty and beautiful in the state, and Kehoe Beach is no exception. Come when the weather is fine and the wildflowers are out for a day you won't soon forget.
McClures Beach: A beautiful, secluded stretch of sand tucked into a cove between two towering headlands. Watch for the resident herd of tule elk as you hike the short access trail to the beach.
Glass Beach: A highly unusual result of years of environmental neglect, Glass Beach was formerly an unofficial dump. Wave action has tumbled the broken bottles for decades, creating a trove of sea glass.
Cooks Beach: Visit at low tide to explore a sea cave and find a hidden beach. The bluffs overlooking the beach are a great spot to catch a sunset.
Luffenholtz Beach: Distinctive sea stacks linger in the surf, creating a great habitat for sea birds of all varieties. Luffenholtz is a serene stop, especially at low tide.
Point St. George Heritage Area: Tall bluffs and a far western prominence make this an ideal spot for spotting migrating whales along with other sea life. Look for the Saint George Reef Lighthouse standing tall offshore. Head north from Point St. George to access secluded Kellogg Beach.