The beach has drawn countless generations of Americans westward. While the lion’s share of beach culture couture has gone to Southern California — and for good reason — it should be noted that there are a number of alternatives to the narrative. Yes, SoCal is the place to surf, but it’s not the only place. There’s the Central Coast and then there’s NorCal as well. This means everything from Big Sur to Stinson Beach is fair game and every hotel near Stinson Beach or Big Sur is fair game as well.
Ok, so in SoCal you’ll find the best waves. That’s not up for debate — but not everyone can manage to live in SoCal. Does this mean your dreams of surfing and beach-combing are up in smoke? Nonsense. The northern reaches of the Golden State are home to a handful of surf-friendly beaches. As long as you’re not expecting to hang ten, you should be pleasantly surprised.
Just south of Mendocino you’ll find Big River Beach. While it is a sandy beach, it’s a cold one. This means bring your wetsuit and be prepared to going hiking instead of surfing. You’ll enjoy stunning views and some of the most pristine coastline in the state. Even if you’re not an avid hiker, you should find the trails easy to find and easy to manage. But, if the call of the beach is too strong, there are more options.
Just a stone’s throw from the Golden gate will land you at Baker Beach. This is a great NorCal find that feels like a SoCal beach. Occasionally a nude beach, Baker Beach can feature any number of people during the summer season, from families to uninhibited singles. Just makes sure you bring enough sun block and a windbreaker, because for as sunny as it can get, once the late afternoon sets in, so does the fog.
Perhaps the best kept secret in terms of NorCal beaches is Stinson Beach. This is a larger, more bustling cousin of Baker Beach, complete with surfers and beach-combers. What sets this lovely stretch of sandy beach apart from its rivals is its pet policy. Dog are free to roam about the cabin. Bring your pooch and a sleeping bag, because the traffic in and out of the beach, especially during the peak season, can be incredible.