The Best Beaches in Northern California for Swimming

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The Best Beaches in Northern California for Swimming

What comes to your mind when you think of California? Mostly, people assume sunny weather with warm beaches crowded with swimmers. This assumption, however, will only be limited to the Southern part of the state. Northern California, on the other hand, is entirely different. The north of Santa Barbara, or Point Conception is where the border between the North and South environment begins. Due to the difference in weather conditions, the beaches of North California are significantly different from those of South California. The temperature of the oceanic water, the marine life underneath it, the waves, and the aesthetics of the beaches, greatly differ. While the Southern California’s beaches are preferred for swimming due to being sandy, broad and warm, the beaches of Northern California are instead rocky with huge waves and cold ocean waters. Moreover, the Northern beaches have rip currents, undertows and sometimes huge white sharks in the ocean water. All these features make the beaches of Northern California less preferable and less famous for swimming. The beaches are more appreciated for their scenery and fishing instead of swimming. Regardless, there are certain beaches in Northern California that you can go for swimming.

Hearts Desire Beach:

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Situated in Tomales Bay State Park, Hearts Desire Beach is a great spot for families to spend time together. When the weather is nice, warm and sunny, Hearts Desire Beach is perfect for swimming. It’s the best beach to swim on the Northern side of California with water being the warmest. Due to the presence of Inverness Ridge, the beach is protected from the fog and chilly winds. Just because of the tides and the salty sea water, it doesn’t feel like you are swimming in a lake. The beach is also fine for wading since the water is quite shallow for a considerable distance.

With the sprawling grass covering a sizable area there are also picnic tables set for you to enjoy a picnic with your loved ones. Since it’s right next to the parking lot of the park, it gets very busy during the days when weather is nice. You will also find hiking trails on the north and south side of the beach connecting Hearts Desire Beach to Indian Beach and Pebble Beach which are similar to the Hearst Desire Beach but a little less crowded. There is also a relatively longer hike on the Johnstone trail that will lead you to the south end of Tomales Bay State Park where you will find the Shell Beach. Some other beaches are also accessible from the park but for those you would have to ride a boat.

You may have to carry some extra layers of clothing with you in case the weather gets colder. The beach also offers an area for wedding ceremonies or other large gatherings. If you want to visit this beach for swimming, you will have to choose a sunny and warm day. However, the pleasant weather also causes the parking lots to get filled rapidly and therefore, whenever you plan a swimming day, make sure you arrive early else you will have to park at the Jepson Trailhead and hike for about 1.5 miles to get here.

Lover’s Point Beach

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Located in Pacific Grove, Lover’s Point Beach is among the famous beaches in Northern California. Even though there are many beautiful beaches in the Monterey-Carmel area, unfortunately, they are not fit for swimming. Hence, the Lover’s Point Beach is an exception since it provides the most apt conditions for swimming. It’s although a tiny beach yet it attracts several people as it’s situated in a protected cove with cliffs all around it. With a wall made of concrete and breakwater, this beach is also sheltered from the northern conditions. The water of the ocean is of warmer temperature and is also relatively calm. The tide pools are excellent and the rocks for climbing are also present nearby. These features make the beach a safe swimming place in Northern California.

When you will visit this beach, you will find most of the people either sunbathing or floating in kayaks. Apart from the perfect conditions for swimming, you will also find some great walking trails, run or bike rides nearby. Also, the beach is a nice spot for a picnic on a weekend. It’s also a very aesthetic beach and enhances the beauty of the pictures taken here. You can also swim behind a beautiful backdrop of sunset.

Once you are done enjoying and swimming on the beach, you can go to the restaurant nearby that offers an intimate and romantic atmosphere for dining in. The beach also offers several amenities such as grass park, restrooms, kids pool and a volleyball court. Along with all these features, the beach is also a good spot for surfing and scuba diving.

Crown Memorial Beach

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Crown Memorial Beach situated in Alameda is an exception compared to the other beaches in the San Francisco Bay. Since the shoreline of the Bay is full of mud, it makes it harder for anyone to enter it particularly the South Bay region without getting all muddy up till the knees. This causes the beaches unsuitable for swimming despite them being warmer and calmer than the beaches with the water of the Pacific Ocean. Crown Memorial, on the contrary, is a long, sandy beach. The sand on this beach is not natural though since it was deposited here artificially. Shallow water is present at long distances throughout the beach which makes it perfect for wading or swimming. There are also rocky tide pools present towards the northern end of the beach.

There is also a pool free from waves available for kids to swim making this beach a very family-friendly swimming spot in Northern California. Along with all these features, the beach also has a fairly big parking lot and picnic tables for you to enjoy your meals before and after swimming.

Santa Cruz Main Beach

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The warm weather of the South Bay attracts several people towards the beaches on the Santa Cruz area. The beaches in Santa Cruz are sunny and not chilly or foggy unlike the other beaches that are present on the coast. The beach that attracts the most people is the Santa Cruz Main Beach which is located right next to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This south-facing beach spans from the mouth of the San Lorenzo River to the pier of the Municipal Wharf of Santa Cruz. Despite being so expansive, the beach gets very crowded on sunny and warmer days by the people including the tourists. The beach being very close to the Boardwalk has an amusement park along the entire length of it. As a result of this you are more likely to spot roller coasters, park rides, and other amenities like swimming pool and bowling alley right behind the beach.

Usually this beach along with the Cowell Beach does not have appropriate ratings for water quality. Therefore, if you plan on swimming on this beach you should not forget to check the ratings on its water quality. The beach, however, is safer in other aspects. The lifeguards are present on duty almost all the time which makes it very safe for the families to enjoy the waves of the beach. There is also a huge lagoon created by the San Lorenzo River on the eastern end of the Main Beach.

Apart from these facilities, you will also find many seafood restaurants along the wharf and on the Beach Street which is very close to the Main Beach. You can also try other beaches for swimming in Santa Cruz such as the Harbor Beach, Rio Del Mar State Beach and Twin Lakes State Beach.

China Beach

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Although the beach has relatively cold water, it’s the only beach outside of the Golden Gate in San Francisco that is fit for swimming. It’s located in the district of Seacliff within a tiny cove encircled by huge cliffs which makes it a little secluded and separate. Baker Beach, which is more popular among the people, is right next to China Beach. Since this beach faces north and the Marin Headlands, China Beach provides its tourists with a superb breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The beach is not very huge or large and this is the reason why it may be harder to find a decent, dry spot along it when the tide is up and the day is sunny and warm. Not difficult to guess, the beach gets really crowded when the weather is pleasant and sunny. There are also tide pools for you to discover which are present at low tides.

Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the beach offers quite many amenities such as restrooms, picnic tables, showers and a cave. Beside swimming, you can choose this beach if you are in a mood to sunbath, have a small picnic or want to tide pool. China Beech also offers free parking to its visitors.

Coyote Point Beach

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Between the San Francisco International Airport and the Mateo Bridge, exists one of the very few decent beaches fit for swimming on the San Francisco Bay. Coyote Point Beach is a part of the Coyote Point Park and Recreation Area. It’s a very popular park and is located on the Bay Trail. The eastern strip of the beach is particularly famous among the swimmers. The western side is, on the other hand, the perfect launching platform for the wind surfers. The beach has one of the most suitable water condition for the windsurfers in the Bay Area.

The beach being a part of the recreation area is able to extend certain exciting activities and facilities to its visitors. These include an entire golf course, a yacht club, a museum suited for families called the CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point, several trails for walking, a large enough playground, grass sprawling over the entire park area and a promenade on the beachfront. If you are biking enthusiast, you will be able to begin your bike ride from the Bay’s trail as it will take you through the park helping you explore it and lead you towards the trails on both, the north and south of the Bay. You can unwind and wet your toes in the water of the north-facing side of the beach and then begin exploring the rest of the Coyote Point.

Apart from swimming, you can also try out various different activities such as windsurfing, fishing, golfing, kiteboarding, and birdwatching. The beach also offers you a great opportunity to try out birdwatching, boating and biking. The entire park and recreation area is a very nice and beautiful spot for you to just walk around as well.

Crissy Field Beach

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Crissy Field Beach is situated where once a military airfield existed. Now the beach comes under the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It’s surprising to find out that this beach was once called a concrete wasteland and is now one of the popular beaches due to the massive restoration and conservation program that it underwent. The National Parks Service got it in 1994 and opened it to the public by 2001 after making it an operational beach. The beach is now a sandy one and comprises of a tidal marsh, dunes of sand, a huge grass area, a segment of the Bay’s Trail, and lastly, a field center. Crissy Field Beach appeals intrepid swimmers who are able to brace the cold waters of the San Francisco Bay while the kids enjoy themselves in the tidal marsh where the water is protected and warm comparatively.

It’s also a nice spot for the windsurfers to launch from. It’s not surprising that due to the safety it extends to the swimmers in the area, the beach is very crowded during the warmer and sunny days. The tidal lagoon is also a good spot for bird-watching and has a trail as well. You can also run, walk or skate to the Golden Gate Bridge from the Crissy Field Beach using the Golden Gate Promenade. The beach also offers its visitors a beach hut café, picnic tables, restrooms, grassy area, trails and a fishing pier. Due to the historic relevance of the beach, it also has historic buildings for you to visit and explore. The beach offers its visitors free parking which is a plus. You can also choose to sunbath, kite-board or windsurf apart from swimming at the beach.


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This is true that the Northern side of California is very different in terms of the weather conditions. This poses a real challenge to those who like to take part in water related activities particularly swimming. This is because since the weather of Northern California is usually chilly, the beaches in that area also have cold water. On top of this there are also other dangers that all beaches have associated with them such deep waters, rip currents and much more. Despite all of this it’s quite interesting to note that there are a handful of beaches in the area that offer a great opportunity for all the swimmers out there. If you are a swimmer and are struggling to find the right spot for you to swim in the beaches around Northern California, this is the guide that will certainly help you. These beaches are not only fit for swimming but also offer a variety of amenities along with several different activities such as windsurfing, kite-boarding, surfing, diving and bird-watching. They often also have trails where you either casually choose to walk or bike.

Some of these beaches are also very family-friendly so if you are planning to spend a weekend with your loved ones and swim, these beaches would be a great choice. With the sprawling grass and the availability to certain facilities such as restrooms, lagoons and sheltered pools, these beaches are also a great picnic spot. While the beaches are spread all over California and are abundantly present throughout Northern California, it’s unfortunate that not all of them are decent enough for swimming. Most of us like to swim outdoor and this is why we are more likely to opt for beaches when we want to swim. Despite all the weather conditions and water temperatures, it’s possible to find yourself a nice swimming spot on sunny and warm days. It’s also true that it may get a little tough to find yourself a decent spot when the weather is pleasant, however, it’s worth trying. All the drawbacks aside, you can still swim in one of these beautiful beaches with breathtaking views as backdrops. So if you are planning to visit North California any time soon, don’t forget to visit these beaches and swim in their waters!

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