The best Monterey beaches offer the opportunity to relax in surroundings that will make you want to return again and again. Yes, the beaches in Monterey are just that beautiful!
Monterey County in Central California is blessed with one of the most spectacular coastlines on the planet. Not only is it superbly scenic, it is also home to a rich variety of marine life and birds.
The Monterey coastline is studded with a string of lovely beaches that run from Moss Landing in the north to Big Sur in the south. So whether you plan to visit the city of Monterey or the Monterey Peninsula, you will find plenty of beaches from which to choose.
In this article, we’ve rounded up the best beaches in Monterey, with suggestions for things to do, and things to know before you visit.
Best Beaches in Monterey
You will find beaches in the heart of the city of Monterey: McAbee Beach and San Carlos Beach are located literally off Cannery Row, the tourist hub of the city.
But heading a little farther afield will bring you to many more gorgeous Monterey beaches, several that are set well away from the tourist core.
Excited? Let’s get started discovering the must-visit Monterey County beaches!
Lovers Point Beach
If you are looking for a great beach for recreational activities, head to Lovers Point Beach. Located in pretty and peaceful Pacific Grove, Lovers Point Beach offers soft sand on two small beaches and a range of fun things to do.
Rent a kayak (or bring your own!) and cruise the waters, looking for marine life and birds. Go scuba diving or surfing. On the sand, play beach volleyball, soak in the rays, or spread a blanket and have a picnic.
Lovers Point Beach is one of the few Monterey beaches where you can swim safely, but be warned: the water can be pretty cold year round.
Visitors that are looking for beauty will love the setting of Lovers Point Park, with its majestic cypresses, crystal clear waters, and the sheltered beach. Enjoy photography or plein air painting. Stroll the bluffs above the beach.
Love to visit the beach early in the day? Lovers Point Park is one of the rare spots along the west coast where you can watch the sun rise over the water, because it faces east!
Look for street parking along Ocean View Boulevard. Dogs are not allowed at Lovers Point Park.
Considered one of the most beautiful beaches in California, Carmel Beach is a gorgeous long crescent of white sand, fringed by old cypress trees.
Spending time at Carmel Beach is one of the best things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea: just walk down Ocean Avenue all the way and you’ll arrive at the beach!
Walking the beach is by far the most popular activity at Carmel Beach. In the mornings, you will find many locals briskly walking the beach for exercise, but it’s also perfect for a leisurely stroll. And sunset at Carmel Beach can be divine.
Dogs are allowed off-leash at Carmel Beach, as long as they are under the voice control of their owners. You will find lots of four-legged visitors here, frolicking in the waves at the water line or romping on the sand.
You can also walk the long scenic bluff path above Carmel Beach. It offers beach access via stairs at multiple points. Look for sea and shore birds as you walk. Surfing, sunbathing, and beach volleyball are other popular activities.
While playing at the water line and wading are permitted, take note that the area is susceptible to rogue waves and dangerous rip currents. There are no lifeguards at Carmel Beach.
Spanish Bay Beach
The sand at Spanish Bay Beach is dazzling white. On a bright sunny day, the white sand against the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean makes for a striking picture.
Possibly the most famous beach along the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, Spanish Bay Beach backs up to scenic dunes and a golf course. It is a long beach, which is good because it is very popular!
Walking the beach, sunbathing, sand play, surfing, picnicking, and admiring the expansive views of the Pacific Ocean are favorite activities at Spanish Bay Beach. Spanish Bay is not suitable for swimming, due to rip currents. Plus, the water is cold!
Our favorite thing to do at Spanish Bay Beach is walking the trail by the beach. The boardwalk trail runs up to Moss Beach in the south and to Asilomar State Beach in the north and features spectacular views and wildflowers in season.
Sunsets at Spanish Bay are stunning. Also, if you are here at sunset, do not miss hearing the bagpiper play! The performance of the Bagpiper at Spanish Bay starts on the first tee at The Links at Spanish Bay and ends 45 minutes later on the second green.
Dogs are not allowed at Spanish Bay Beach. There is a fee for the 17-Mile Drive and related parking, but you can park for free along Sunset Boulevard and walk to Spanish Bay Beach.
Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches you will find anywhere. With its scenic backdrop of tall cliffs, its purple-specked sand, and stunning Keyhole Rock, it mesmerizes you, especially if you visit on a bright, nice weather day.
Located in Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach is not part of either Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It is a standalone attraction, managed by the USDA Forest Service as part of the Los Padres National Forest.
Like many other beaches in the region, Pfeiffer Beach is not a swimming beach, on account of dangerous currents and rogue waves. But it is a great beach for strolling: as you walk, you can admire the beauty of the beach at every step.
Photographers arrive at Pfeiffer Beach in droves each winter, to photograph the rays of the setting sun streaming through the hole in Keyhole Rock, which sits in the water just off the beach. The phenomenon lasts only for a few weeks, generally from late November until early February.
Sand play, picnicking, and looking for the purple sand are other fun things to do at Pfeiffer Beach. Dogs are allowed at Pfeiffer Beach, but must be on a leash not longer than 6 feet. There is a fee for parking.
Asilomar State Beach
One of our favorite beaches in Monterey County, Asilomar State Beach is perfect for all kinds of recreation. Part of the Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds State Park, the beach is a long swathe of sand edged with rocks.
Located in Pacific Grove, Asilomar State Beach is a great place to visit at sunrise or sunset, especially on days when the skies are painted pink and orange. We’ve enjoyed full moon here as well.
Rip currents and dangerous waves make the beach dangerous for swimming. Plus, the water is super cold. Enjoy sand play, fly kites, stroll the beach (and the Asilomar Coastal Trail that meanders through the dunes just north of the beach), picnic, and explore the tide pools in the rocky areas of the beach.
Birdwatchers will enjoy viewing the Brandt’s cormorants and sanderlings that are common at Asilomar Beach. Gulls fly about, their raucous calls filling the air. Surfers love the waves at Asilomar State Beach, and it’s fun to watch them from a comfortable spot on the sand.
Street parking is available on Sunset Drive, but arrive early on nice weather weekend days to secure a spot close to the beach. Dogs on leash are allowed at Asilomar State Beach.
Carmel River State Beach
Carmel River empties into the Pacific Ocean at Carmel River State Beach, and the lagoon it creates here is a haven for waterfowl of many kinds. The riparian corridor is home to many land birds. Carmel River State Beach is a stop on the Central Coast Birding Trail.
When we visited, we saw hundreds of pelicans at the lagoon, as well as lots of gulls. You may see egrets here, as well as terns and great blue herons. Fall and winter and great times to visit for birding.
Carmel River State Beach is a wonderful walking beach. The mile-long, crescent-shaped sandy beach is picturesque, fringed by rocks and cypresses. If you are lucky, you may see the endangered western snowy plover as you walk along the sand.
Swimming is not advised at Carmel River State Beach, due to rip tides and rogue waves. Experienced kayakers launch at the beach, and folks dive here as well. Sand play and picnicking are also popular.
There is a small parking lot by the beach that fills up early on nice weather days. Dogs are allowed at Carmel River State Beach but must be leashed.
Garrapata State Beach
Big Sur beaches tend to be incredibly scenic, and Garrapata State Beach is no exception. Part of Garrapata State Park, the two miles of beachfront lie at the southern end of the park.
The surf here is dangerous, but you can wade (or dip your feet) in the two creeks that cut through the beach on their way to the Pacific Ocean. Garrapata Creek can be found at the very south end of the beach, and Doud Creek somewhere at its midpoint.
Bring a picnic to enjoy on the beach, sunbathe, or walk the long stretch of sand. In spring, the Doud Creek valley that leads to the beach features an amazing display of calla lilies that you will definitely want to photograph. The beach itself is picturesque as well, and there are trails to walk on the bluffs above the beach.
Access to Garrapata State beach is from mile markers 18 and 19 at Garrapata State Park. We usually walk the trail from mile marker 19 to the stairs that lead down to the sand.
Parking is along the shoulder of California Highway 1, and spots may fill up early on nice weather days. Dogs on leash are allowed on the trail that leads to the beach at mile marker 19, and on the beach.
Carmel Meadows Beach
Located between Carmel River State Beach and Monastery Beach, Carmel Meadows Beach gets its name from the community of Carmel Meadows that overlooks it. It is a lovely beach, and, if you visit early in the day, you get to appreciate its beauty in relative solitude.
Tides here, like at many other beaches along the Monterey coast, are dangerous. The coast is rocky,, with sandy areas, and allows for adventurous walking and beachcombing. Sunset is a great time to be at this west-facing beach.
At low tide, pause to look for tiny marine life in tide pools among the rocks. Sunbathe or picnic, and look for birds and marine life in the ocean. We’ve seen plein air painters here, and even artists that create beautiful patterns in the sand.
The bluff trail right above the beach makes for a fabulous walk, especially in the spring, when you can see a variety of wildflowers along the trail. The path offers expansive ocean views and the opportunity to look for whales and other marine life.
Access Carmel Meadows Beach from Ribera Road, where you can park along the street and then walk down the steps. Or you can walk the trail from the north end of Monastery Beach, where you will find a tiny parking area and street parking along Highway 1. Dogs on leash are allowed at Carmel Meadows Beach.
Monastery Beach has a convenient location right off California Highway 1. It gets its name from the Carmelite Monastery across the road. Before you enjoy the beach, stop to stroll the gardens at the monastery, and snap photos of the beach while you are there.
The crescent-shaped beach is sandy, and great for strolling. You will likely see birds on the beach and at the water line. Look for gray whales spouting in the ocean during their migration south in the winter and north in the spring.
Scuba diving is popular at Monastery Beach. Experienced divers can explore the undersea Monterey Canyon, known for its rich variety of marine life and fabulous kelp forests, and look for abalone. Experienced kayakers launch from the south end of Monastery Beach to access diving spots farther out.
Note that Monastery Beach is considered a dangerous spot for swimming and wading, and for diving. Unsuspecting visitors to the area have been swept out to sea at this beach, prompting locals to call it Mortuary Beach. We’ve seen a lifeguard on duty here at times, and there are lots of signs noting the hazards.
Parking is available along California Highway 1. If you are planning a stay in Carmel Highlands, Monastery Beach is very close. While it gets crowded during the day, especially if the weather is nice, the beach is serene in the early mornings and late evenings. Dogs on leash are allowed.
Del Monte Beach
A long and pristine sandy beach in Monterey, Del Monte Beach is located away from the touristic core of the city. It is a favorite relaxation spot for locals.
Del Monte Beach is wedged between two parts of Monterey State Beach: Windows on the Bay and Houghton M. Roberts, and you can walk all the way from the south end to the north, and even further to Sand City Beach and beyond.
Walk the boardwalk trail that makes its way through the coastal dunes, and enjoy the local flora and fauna. If you want to enjoy a meal by the water, there are picnic tables along the trail, and fire rings on the beach. You can walk on the beach as well. Keep an eye out for sea glass!
Catch some rays and watch the surfers in the waves (or go surfing!). Kite flying is also popular here. Swimming is not advised on account of dangerous rip currents. Look for sea and shore birds, and marine life in the waters of the bay.
The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail meanders along the back of the beach, and makes for a pleasant walk, with expansive water and beach views, and wildflowers in season.
The parking lot for the beach is in the residential area just behind the beach, and you may find street parking as well. Dogs on leash are allowed at Del Monte Beach.
Marina State Beach
If you are looking for a great parasailing and hang-gliding spot along the Monterey coast, Marina State Beach is the place to go! Hang-gliding over the beautiful dunes is a popular activity here, as are surfing and kite-flying.
Located between Santa Cruz and Monterey, Marina State Beach is a wide clean swathe of sand. Currents here are too dangerous for swimming or other water activities. Stand well back and admire the waves! Or set up chairs to read and catch some sun.
Marina State Beach is great for walking, but bring a windcheater or light jacket. Sunset is a wonderful time for photography at Marina State Beach. Look for dolphins frolicking in the waves, and whales spouting in the ocean. Bring your binoculars to observe a variety of birds, from gulls to vultures.
Adjacent to the beach you will find the Marina Dunes Preserve, also a great place to walk and look for birds and wildlife. The 170 acres of coastal dunes here are the highest you’ll see along the Central Coast. Even if you are time-constrained, there is a short interpretive nature trail through the dunes you can walk.
To get to the parking area for Marina State Beach and Marina Dunes Preserve, take the Reservation Road exit off California Highway 1, and drive west all the way to the end of the road. Parking spots are limited, and it’s a sandy hike down to the beach. Dogs are not permitted at Marina State Beach.
Seal Rock Creek Beach
Seal Rock Creek Beach is a pretty sandy beach along the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. Seal Rock Creek flows into the ocean here, and if it is flowing when you visit, you may see it pool on the beach, making for a beautiful photo.
The beach is small, but it is still fun to walk the soft sand, explore around the creek, and look for marine life in tide pools. Seal Rock, lying in the water off the shore, is home to seals, of course, but also to birds. Seal Rock is supposed to resemble a seal in shape.
Bird Rock, to the north, is home to tons to birds. You may hear barking sea lions, and also see them on Bird Rock if you have a powerful pair of binoculars, or a zoom lens. The ocean views from the beach are a treat, especially if you visit on a clear bright day.
There are picnic tables just south of the beach. Bring beach chairs if you wish to relax on the sand at the beach and admire the ocean or read a book.
You can park in the small parking area for the beach. There is a fee for the 17-Mile Drive. Dogs are not allowed.
Salinas River State Beach
Salinas River State Beach is a long sandy beach in Moss Landing, in the northern part of the Monterey coast. While much of the beach is narrow, there is a wide portion in the center, near the Potrero Road entrance. Picturesque dunes form a backdrop to the beach. Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge is a couple miles south of the beach.
If you enjoy birding, Salinas River State Beach is a must visit. Here you may see pelicans, gulls, western snowy plovers, and other sea and shore birds, as well as many species of land birds such as red-tailed hawks and California towhees.
Fishing and horse-riding are also popular at this beach. Walking the long beach or the trail behind the beach is a great way to enjoy the beauty of the setting. While you stroll, enjoy beachcombing and try to spot wildlife and birds. Swimming and other water activities are not advised due to dangerous currents.
There are three entrances to Salinas River State Beach. The northern parking lot is on Sandholdt Road, the central entrance is at Potrero Road, and the southern entrance is via Monterey Dunes Way. There is no parking fee.
A trail that runs behind the beach links all three parking areas. Dogs are not allowed on the beach or the trails.
A small gem of a beach at the southern end of Point Lobos State Reserve, Gibson Beach makes for the perfect picture postcard on a nice weather day. The ink blue of the ocean against the pristine white sand of the beach is a stunning sight when you view it from Bird Island Trail above.
The beach is nestled at the base of tall cliffs, and sometimes you can see Gibson Creek cut a swathe through the sand on its way to the ocean. While swimming and wading are permitted at Gibson Beach, the water tends to be ice-cold much of the year. We’ve often seen folks in wetsuits at Gibson Beach: you would need one to be in the water here any length of time.
Sand play, sunbathing, picnicking, and wildlife viewing are other popular activities at Gibson Beach. Before or after you spend time at the beach, complete Bird Island Trail: it is a beautiful hike and you will see lots of birds in the spring and early summer.
Access to Gibson Beach is via Bird Island Trail. Park at the Bird Island parking lot in Point Lobos State Reserve and then walk the trail to the beach. You have to climb down a steep set of stairs to get to the sandy beach.
There is a fee to park inside Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. You can park along California Highway 1 and walk into the park for free, but it’s a fairly long walk from the entrance to Gibson Beach. Dogs are not permitted in the park.
Zmudowski State Beach
One of the more remote beaches in our round-up, Zmudowski State Beach is rewarding if you want to experience the wild beauty of the Monterey County coastline without too many other visitors.
Located just north of Moss Landing, in the northern part of Monterey County, Zmudowski State Beach is long and sandy, perfect for walking while savoring the beauty of your surroundings, or beachcombing. The Pacific Ocean is on one side, and tall dunes on the other.
Fishing and birdwatching are other popular activities at this beach. The marshes behind the dunes (the Pajaro River estuary) are habitat for a wide variety of birds, so remember to bring your binoculars when you visit. Pelicans, avocets, and terns are common. You will see lots of wildflowers in the spring.
Horse riding is permitted by the water line at Zmudowski State Beach. Strong rip currents and cold water temperatures make swimming and other water activities dangerous.
The beach and dunes at Zmudowski State Beach are nesting grounds for the endangered western snowy plover, so pay attention to signs noting nesting areas so you do not disturb the birds.
Access to Zmudowski State Beach is off California Highway 1 and parking is free. Dogs are not permitted on this beach or the dunes.
Map of Monterey Beaches
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