Monterey, California is one of the Golden State’s most popular seaside destinations, sandwiched between Santa Cruz to the north and Carmel-By-The-Sea to the south, with close proximity to gorgeous state parks and marine reserves.
The ruggedly beautiful Pacific shoreline west of the scenic Route 1 is fringed by a wide array of stunning beaches offering activities like whale watching, watersports, and fishing, with hiking, wildlife viewing and golfing nearby.
These are the nine best beaches in Monterey, California.
Enchanting Carmel-By-The-Sea is home to one of the Monterey area’s most beautiful beaches. The setting is host to an annual sand castle building contest and a local favorite spot for sandy strolls and picnics.
Soft white sand, large cypress trees, and rock outcroppings along the shore make this a fantastic photography destination as well. Surfing enthusiasts will find a solid set of waves to tackle. If you’d rather just watch, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place.
Stretch your legs along the three-and-a-half-mile long scenic bluff path which skirts the beach along Scenic Drive from the northern end of the beach, all the way to Carmel River State Beach.
Walk the whole thing if you’re feeling ambitious, or just a section; either way, it’ll be one of the most picturesque strolls in the area, with landscape, birdlife such as cormorants and pelicans, and architecture that dazzles.
Be sure to take note of the famous Frank Lloyd Wright “Clinton Walker House” at the south end of the beach.
Monterey State Beach
Running from Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey to Seaside, this long stretch of beach offers something for every interest. With everything from water sports to tide-pooling, there’s no shortage of activity.
Surfers will have the opportunity to catch great waves here, while kayakers and fishing enthusiasts will find this a haven as well.
The 18-mile Monterey Bay Coastal Trail runs along the coast of this stretch of sand, connecting other nearby beaches such as Del Monte Beach. This is the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs and take in the Pacific coast scenery of northern California.
Other public park spaces are worthy of exploring as well, with El Estero Park and the 28-acre restored Eolian Dunes Preserve backing the beach area. Here, there are views of the bluff and benches on which to relax.
Plan your visit around low tide and take advantage of the outdoor aquarium through the amazing tide pools, where you can see bat stars, sculpins, starfish, anemones, mussels, clams, and more. Then embark on a leisurely stroll to find treasures such as sea glass or sea shells along the beach.
Garrapata State Park Beach
Located less than half an hour from the heart of Monterey, Garrapata State Park Beach is a haven for nature lovers.
Known as one of the key stops in the Big Sur area, this two-mile stretch of sand is beautifully rugged, with cliffs, scenic overlooks, and hiking trails from which to soak up all of the natural splendor.
Wildflowers dazzle in the spring and early summer season, but the beauty of this beach can be enjoyed year round. Known for its valley of flowers and rocky coastline, this stretch of sand will leave you in awe of Mother Nature’s fine work in northern California.
Stretch your legs on the Bluff Trail, a scenic hiking path just under a mile long that runs along the coast with views of the Pacific Ocean, Garrapata cliffs, and the Santa Lucia Mountains.
Wind your way through cypress trees, stop at the vista overlooks, and take photographs of the wild California shoreline, all while keeping an eye out for local otters and migrating whales in the water.
You’ll even spot a waterfall cascading into the ocean from this trail; the Soberanes Creek is one of the most photogenic spots along the trail.
Lover’s Point Park Beach
On the southern edge of Monterey Bay in Pacific Grove, Lover’s Point Park Beach is a popular destination for more gorgeous views and potential wildlife viewing as it’s a protected marine life area.
This has long since been a favorite spot for those interested in boating, kayaking, and swimming, as well as surfing, photography, painting, walking, and picnicking. The park itself encompasses almost four and a half acres, with a rocky trail along the coast providing some of the most breathtaking views of Monterey Bay and its surroundings.
Though the beach is on the smaller side, its draw for sunbathers, swimmers, and surfers looking to navigate the rocky point break is a big one. It’s also one of the beaches considered safe for swimming due to the concrete wall and breakwater which provides protection from the more harsh waves of the Pacific.
Mix up your day with some time at the beach before or after walking the trails in the park, where you can carefully scramble over the coastal rocks for the best photographs. Stop for a bite to eat with seaside views at the beach café to bring the experience full circle.
Asilomar State Beach
Located along Sunset Drive, Asilomar State Beach is a place of wild beauty, with a classically rugged shoreline. The mile-long beach is a favorite for nature lovers as well as surfing enthusiasts. It lures those interested in walking, surfing, tide-pooling, and lounging.
To access the tide pools, wander the mile-long trail at low tide and venture down some of the side paths, where you’ll discover rich marine life such as hermit crabs, mussels, anemones, starfish, and more, within the protected pools.
Asilomar State Beach is a hotspot for surfers looking to ride classic California waves. Kayaking is another popular activity here, and offers paddlers the opportunity to see marine life such as otters, sea lions, seals, and dolphins from a different perspective.
Walk the quarter-mile-long boardwalk in the Natural Dune Preserve at Asilomar State Beach as well; there’s educational information displayed here about the region’s ecosystem.
The short but intriguing walk ends at the famous Asilomar Conference Grounds, a designated National Historic Landmark dating back to the early 1900s for its role in women’s recreation. It’s now run by the state parks association and used for lodging purposes as well as exploring the original grounds by visitors.
Situated in the famed Cannery Row, McAbee Beach is within the Ed Ricketts State Marine Conservation area and is a favorite beach destination for kayakers, snorkelers, and divers due to the kelp forest located right offshore.
Although it’s a small stretch of sand, its proximity to fantastic seafood restaurants and the port region of the Cannery make this a great spot to relax and explore. Those looking to dive will enter from the south side of the beach, where the water quickly deepens to 20 feet.
Invertebrates like sponges and anemones, rockfish, and even otters frequent the kelp forest, the otters and fish gliding gracefully between the long fronds of kelp.
After enjoying the beach, take in the artwork along the seawall, which is adorned with vibrant murals. Learn about the storied history of the Cannery, a sardine canning district during the early 1940s in WWII, when it earned the name “Sardine Capital of the World.”
Now, it’s home to notoriously delicious seafood restaurants and small shops. Enjoy a meal at Louie Linguinis, known for its Italian and seafood cuisine, while overlooking McAbee Beach. Salmon, calamari, and mussels are some of their fresh catch hauls cooked up and served alongside pasta with local artichokes, and much more.
San Carlos Beach
A favorite of scuba diving enthusiasts, San Carlos Beach can be accessed from the Cannery Row area of Monterey, on the west edge, where the waters are part of a marine sanctuary.
Also referred to as Reeside Beach, this sandy stretch is close to Reeside Avenue and the Coast Guard Pier and is sheltered from harsh waves, making it a top choice among scuba lovers.
Divers will have the opportunity to discover the ruins of Cannery Gear in the kelp bed located just offshore, which is easily reached via the sand channel on the breakwater side of the beach. Look for anemones, sponges, and tunicates near the rock outcroppings, and sole, halibut, spiny lobsters, or turbot swimming by.
Advanced divers may want to venture the longer distance out to a unique field of white anemones, known as metridium anemones, located at approximately 65 feet below the surface.
If you aren’t an experienced scuba diver, this is one of the most popular spots to take an introductory lesson from one of the Cannery Row companies.
Pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the benches or tables, where the seaside view is nothing short of impressive. With a combination of grassy and sandy areas to choose from, there’s plenty of room to relax.
Stretch your legs on the paved Monterey Peninsula Recreation Trail if you’d prefer to get some exercise; the trail runs along the back end of the beach.
Del Monte Beach
Known as a local favorite, Del Monte Beach is located on the southern edge of Monterey Bay behind a coastal residential area.
A boardwalk trail through the dunes is one of the top highlights to enjoy at this beach. Enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the tables placed throughout the trail, before or after spending some time strolling on the sand.
If you’re looking to get active, play a game of beach volleyball, go for a walk or a jog, and then take a refreshing dip in the cool waters of the Pacific. People-watch from your lounge chair or towel; this is a beach frequented by locals exercising, walking their dogs, or surfing.
At the southern tip of dramatic Point Lobos Reserve, Gibson Beach and its surroundings are a fantastic choice when exploring the beaches of Monterey.
Accessed by a series of stairs, the bluffs and pine woods here contrast with the blue sea in dramatic fashion, with typically bigger waves adding to the scene. The soft, white sandy cove is perfect for reading a book, taking a short walk, or sunbathing.
Just to the north, don’t miss a venture along the Bird Island Trail, where you’ll have the chance to see one of the reserve’s most iconic natural rock formations in China Cove.
The picturesque views of the coves, ocean, and rock formations make this one of the best beaches in Monterey, California from which to hone your photography skills.
From craggy natural rock formations to scenic cliffside trails, and great surfing, the stretch of coast surrounding the northern California gem of Monterey is a perfect destination for beach lovers. A luxury cruise is a fantastic way to experience some of the top beaches in Monterey, California. Browse our cruises to Monterey and book your West Coast getaway today.