12 Quiet, Uncrowded Beach Destinations in California
By Molly O’Brien
California offers numerous breathtaking beaches stretching across an expansive 840 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline. However, not all of California’s beaches were created equal. In fact, perhaps the most enjoyable beaches are the ones that are the least visited. Here are 12 destinations to enjoy a trip to an under-the-radar seashore or sheltered cove.
As the only oceanfront B&B in Mendocino Village, the historic Alegria Oceanfront Inn & Cottages offers secluded views of the sea with a private garden path down to the driftwood-strewn Big River Beach. The inn itself consists of a charming main house and a collection of quaint cottages which are nestled on a bluff overlooking the ever-changing river mouth and the large expanse of sand.
This relaxed waterfront inn is hidden on the backwaters of Morro Bay. The calm waters offer a laid-back place perfect for paddle boarding or kayaking while admiring the abundance of local wildlife. Here, visitors can spot dozens of bird species, and might even get to spy a group of playful otters. The secluded beaches of Montana del Oro State Park are also just minutes away.
Hidden away in an upscale residential neighborhood several blocks south of downtown Carmel, the historic Colonial Terrace is a delightful escape just 72 steps away from the white sands of Carmel Beach. The stretch of cypress-lined beach across from the inn is far less crowded than the beaches’ main entrance near the village. The inn provides beach umbrellas, beach chairs, beach blankets, and sand castle building toys for enjoying a lazy day on the white sand.
The population of Elk, California hovers just above 200, making it an ideal destination for a secluded beach getaway. Perched on a bluff overlooking Greenwood State Beach, Elk Cove Inn & Spa is a quiet place to be lulled by the waves. A private path from the inn’s gazebo leads down to the driftwood-strewn sand. Here, guests will find rock outcroppings and powerful seas mixing in a perfect harmony of peaceful solitude.
This quaint inn is located on a rural stretch of road 13 miles south of Santa Cruz. Visitors can walk from the inn along uncrowded roads toward Manresa Uplands State Beach or follow the railroad tracks to Manresa State Beach. Both beaches are connected by one long, uninterrupted expanse of sand and are a quick trek (less than three-quarters of a mile) from the inn. It’s the ideal destination for a reflective and meditative stroll.
Remote and rugged, Howard Creek Ranch is a 60-acre oceanfront farm on the Mendocino coast bordered by miles of beach and wilderness. Far north on Highway 1, the historic farm sits in splendid isolation, with direct access to the sandy beaches and tide pools at Westport Union Landing State Beach. The beach is wide and sandy near the mouth of the creek but features beautiful rock outcroppings stretching in both directions.
On Northern California’s fabled Lost Coast, the town of Shelter Cove (population 580) is a remote outpost of civilization. With its long list of creature comforts, the oceanfront Inn of the Lost Coast serves as an outstanding base camp for exploring this isolated, rugged coastline. The inn is just a short walk to Black Sands Beach, which is the southern trailhead for the 20-mile Lost Coast Trail.
Just across Highway 1 from the Pacific Ocean, Mar Vista Farm + Cottages is a working small farm along the southern “secret coast” of Mendocino County. 10 bright and airy vintage cottages are scattered around the property, and most offer ocean views. The property features a private pathway down to the secluded sands of Fish Rock Beach. Guests can follow the 125 steps down to the beach for picnicking, tide pooling, and relaxing on the sand.
This serene seaside retreat is tucked away at the end of a quiet residential street, just 100 steps from the sands of Santa Cruz’s little-known Sunny Cove Beach. Even though the beach feels intimate and isolated, it’s well within walking distance to neighborhood coffee shops, markets, and restaurants. Visitors will feel as if they’ve discovered a secret oasis with easy access to the creature comforts of an urban destination.
Nestled along the Pacific Coast Highway in San Luis Obispo County, the sleepy seaside village of Cayucos is home to On the Beach Bed & Breakfast, which proudly lives up to its name. The inn overlooks the sands of Cayucos State Beach and the historic pier. Upstairs, visitors will find a rooftop sundeck with lounge seating as well as a hot tub. It’s the perfect spot for watching the sunset.
Just north of San Francisco in Marin County, this 16th-Century, English-inspired, Tudor-style country inn is just a short walk down the road from the secluded, sandy cove at Muir Beach. A network of trails through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area also connects the inn with Pirate’s Cove and Tennessee Valley. Marin County’s moody coastal weather only adds to the romanticism and coziness felt at The Pelican Inn.
South of San Francisco near Half Moon Bay, Seal Cove Inn borders a marine reserve featuring secluded beaches, tide pools, and windswept ocean bluffs. A trail from the inn leads directly to the J.V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, where visitors can catch sight of seal pups frolicking on the shore between June and March. The hotel is also just 500 feet from the beach staircase for the secluded Seal Cove Beach.
Molly O’Brien is a freelance travel writer currently residing in Los Angeles, California. She enjoys travel, hiking, outdoor adventure, and hospitality properties that can tell a great story.