12 Quiet, Uncrowded Beach Destinations in California
By Molly O’Brien
California offers numerous breathtaking beaches stretching across an expansive 840 miles of the 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.
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.
The beaches near the mouth of the Klamath River lure adventure seekers with their wild, rugged beauty while their isolation ensures quiet solitude. Rising above the banks of the Klamath River, the Historic Requa Inn serves as an ideal base camp for exploring this swath of California’s Redwood Coast. Ask the front desk for directions to an ancient trail to a secluded beach with pounding surf and bald eagles soaring overhead.
Remote and rustic, 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.
Along Santa Barbara’s South Coast, Summerland Beach is a quiet stretch of sand far from the crowds. This lovely beach parallels Highway 101 but is largely hidden from view beneath the cliffs. The calm waters make it ideal for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Within walking distance of the beach, the Inn on Summer Hill is an intimate, upscale bed and breakfast inn with ocean views from many of its rooms.
South of Mendocino village, Van Damme State Beach is a scenic beach in a semi-protected cove framed by rocky points on either side. The beach offers tidepools and trails along the ocean bluffs. It’s also a great launch spot for kayakers and divers. The nearby Little River Inn overlooks the ocean and has been welcoming guests for over 80 years. The resort offers a private trail down to the beach and guest rooms with sweeping ocean vistas.
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 March and June. 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.
Originally published June 4, 2021. Updated April 24, 2023.