The stunning Monterey coastline in Central California along the Pacific Ocean looks like something right out of a movie, which is, in fact, an accurate description considering just how many films and television shows used this incredible natural landscape as a backdrop.
From classics such as “Play Misty for Me” to the modern-day HBO mega-hit “Big Little Lies,” Monterey as a backdrop remains in demand thanks to its incredible natural beauty.
The beaches in Monterey draw visitors from all over the globe, and if you are planning a California vacation, we have a guide to the best beaches this area has to offer.
Our list looks at Monterey County (not just the town of Monterey) and a selection of beaches and parks where you can hike, explore, view wildlife, and, yes, in some cases, even swim. Bear in mind that the undertow and riptide in this section of the coast can often be too dangerous for swimming, so you want to pay close attention to the signs and regulations posted at each beach.
Also, Monterey’s cool and mild year-round climate may be too chilly for some to consider a dip in the water, but a day spent exploring the majestic scenery still makes for a great beach adventure.
So, now let’s look at some of the best Monterey beaches they are so you can plan your next outing.
Our Top 12 Beaches of Monterey County
This Pacific Grove beach and California state park is a beautiful spot for recreation or just an afternoon picnic, though the rip currents can make the waters too dangerous to swim. Visitors can take advantage of street parking along Sunset drive, and you can also bring your four-legged friends to Asilomar as long as they’re leashed. Here you will enjoy one mile of beach and a ¾-mile walking trail.
2. Carmel Beach
This beautiful beach is one of the most popular in the area, with an adjacent parking lot and staircases from the free street parking along Camino Real and Scenic Road. (Be advised that the stairs are quite steep if anyone in your party has mobility issues.)
A wide area of sand offers plenty of room for families to set up the perfect beach day, but it does get crowded with visitors, so plan to go early to secure a good spot.
Del Monte has picnic tables, fire pits, and a portable restroom in the parking area, making it another great spot for families. Dogs are allowed here as long as they are leashed, and keep an eye out for sea glass at this beach, the perfect souvenir from a day on Monterey’s beautiful coast.
With two miles of beachfront in Big Sur, Garrapata State beach can be accessed from Garrapata State Park at mile markers 18 or 19. Visitors interested in coastal hiking love Garrapata State Park and its majestic views, especially in the spring when calla lilies are in bloom in the Doud Creek valley. You can also bring your dog to this beach and California state park as long as you use a leash.
5. Gibson Beach
Located within Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Gibson Beach wows visitors with its picturesque views of deep blue waters and shimmering white sands. The park’s coves, trails, meadows, and wildlife make it a favorite for outdoor adventurers, and history buffs enjoy visiting the Whaler’s Cabin, open daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The daily vehicle fee is $10, and park hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The water may be quite cold, but it is generally safe for swimming, making Lovers Point Beach in Pacific Grove a favorite spot for beachgoers who want to do more than just dip their toes in the sand.
Note that dogs are not allowed in Lovers Point Park and street parking is available along Ocean View Boulevard. In addition to Lovers Point Beach, the amenities at the Lovers Point Park will keep everyone entertained, including a children’s swimming pool, snack bar, volleyball, and a large lawn area.
Easy parking and amenities make Marina State Beach in Monterey California is a great choice for families. There are restrooms on-site with wheelchair-accessible facilities, and kids enjoy watching hang gliders coast over the dunes and windsurfers taking on the waves.
Swimming can be incredibly dangerous here due to strong rip currents. An interpretive nature trail is a great place to stroll and keep an eye out here for dolphins and whales.
Visitors wanting to spend a day at the beach and stay close to the action love this spot. You can kick back at this city-owned beach during the day but walk to nearby bars and restaurants in Fisherman’s Wharf for happy hour or a sunset dinner. There is a paid parking lot adjacent to the beach and street parking nearby, and amenities include picnic tables, barbecue pits, and a volleyball net.
Managed by the USDA Forest Service, Pfeiffer Beach is home to the Keyhole Rock, a favorite attraction among photographers. While the waters are too rough for swimming, visitors still flock to the area to take pictures or just stroll along the beach. Dogs are allowed on a leash, and daily parking fees are $12.
Picnic areas, interpretive exhibits, and the opportunity to ride horses along both the beach and equestrian trail draw visitors to this beautiful Monterey Bay Park. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to just after sunset with no entrance fees. This beach is also a bird watcher’s delight with many species in the area and breathtaking views of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
11. San Carlos Beach
One great way to reach San Carlos Beach is via the Monterey Peninsula Recreation Trail that runs right behind it. This convenient and easily accessible beach is located within the town of Monterey, so it’s close to plenty of dining, shopping, and recreation. Picnic tables, restrooms, and a grassy park make it a great site for an afternoon picnic.
Located next to one of Pebble Beach’s most stunning courses (the Links at Spanish Bay), Spanish Bay Beach beckons visitors with its bright white sand and deep blue waters.
A wooden boardwalk makes walking out to this scenic beach easy, but there are no amenities or restrooms nearby, so you might prefer to make a shorter stop at this beach while touring 17-Mile Drive.
Megan Jones leads the editorial staff of Seaside Planet. They are a multidisciplinary team of outdoor adventurers, water sports lovers, and passionate beach goers. You can learn more about Meg and the rest of the editorial team here.