Monterey County is one of the most scenic places on the California coast, with miles of beautiful beaches, bluffs, and overlooks that will leave your jaw on the floor. The best way to soak it all in is by visiting a few of the best beaches in Monterey.
The thing that makes these beaches to appealing to visitors is the rugged beauty, the rocky outcroppings, the high dunes, and cliffsides that jut out dramatically into the ocean. It’s scenery you won’t find anywhere else and it’s unique, even to other California beaches.
If you haven’t been studying the map prior to your trip, let me just say that Monterey is both a city and a county. In this post, we have laid out 10 of our favorite beaches in Monterey county, which covers all of Monterey county – not just the city.
First time visitors are often a little surprised by the beach experience in Monterey. You’ll want to be aware of a few quirks that will make your visit the best it can be.
» Spending more time in California? Check out our California road trip guide and where to go wine tasting in California (hint: Sonoma, Napa, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara). If you’re up for a hike, here are some of our favorites in Southern California, as well as waterfalls.
Tips for Visiting Monterey Beaches
Before you go, there are a few things to be aware of. You’re probably already aware that the weather in Monterey is subject to change on a moment’s notice. It can be windy and rainy, with a fog layer, or gorgeous blue skies – sometimes all in one day.
Be prepared for a few things and your trip to the Monterey beaches will be spectacular:
- Be prepared for weather. Take a sunhat and a windbreaker jacket. Beach umbrellas can be great on a calm day but can fly away or turn inside out quickly on – well, most days.
- The water in many places is too cold and too choppy for swimming. You can wade in, but be aware of the conditions at the beach you’re visiting and don’t go in any further if it’s a no-swimming beach or if there is a rip tide. It can be very dangerous and these beaches don’t all have lifeguards.
- Dogs are allowed only on some beaches, and always on a leash. Be sure you check if dogs are allowed before you go.
- Parking can be difficult at the best of times. If you get there early, you won’t have a problem but late in the afternoon might be difficult. You can often park in the surrounding community, but be mindful of parking rules to avoid a violation.
The Best Beaches in Monterey
Monterey State Beach
Monterey State Beach, which is Monterey’s largest beach, has so much to offer and it’s a huge space with three beaches spread apart by about a mile each. You’ll find all the usual activities – volleyball, picnic tables, barbecue pits, and many trails – along with tide pools and a gently sloping beach that’s perfect for wading in. Unlike some Monterey beaches, this one is safe to swim in.
The area is actually a complex of parks that includes Monterey Bay Waterfront Park and Monterey Bay Recreational Trail. These three together create one big playground for outdoor sports. You can rent kayaks, canoes, and bicycles nearby. Dogs are allowed on the south portion of the beach but not the north end.
Lover’s Point Beach
Even though the water is pretty chilly in Monterey, we still love to get in and swim once in a while at Lover’s Point Beach. It’s one of the few where swimming is an option, so it’s a must! You can also do some kayaking or stand up paddle boarding here.
The Lover’s Point Beach, located in Pacific Grove, is a bit smaller, with two sections of white sand beach on either side of the concrete jetty, but it’s a very peaceful spot and the beach is sheltered by cypress trees and the cliff face.
Other activities to enjoy here are picnicking at the many dedicated picnic tables, fishing, swimming, and definitely kayaking. The water is so clear and beautiful, you’ll definitely want to get in.
No list of Monterey County beaches is complete without Carmel Beach. It’s one of the most gorgeous beaches you’ll find in the area. The long stretch of soft sand goes on for quite a ways, all lined by cypress trees and wild flowers and the occasional beach house.
You’ll always find a spot to sit on the sand in Carmel Beach, though it is quite popular at peak season, because it’s located directly at the end of Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea. While the beach is often full of morning walkers, in the afternoon it’s mostly families playing in the sand, locals catching some sun, and tourists taking a break from walking around.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Considered one of the top beaches in Monterey, Point Lobos has so much to offer, not just in amazing views, but in sheer number of things to do. You’re definitely going to want to have your camera ready because this jutted piece of land just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea is absolutely stunning.
Kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and swimming are all permitted in Point Lobos. It’s a top spot for birding, hiking, and trail running. The Point Lobos trail is a 6.7 mile hike that takes about 3 hours to complete.
The reserve has eight beaches: Gibson Beach, Headland Cove, Hidden Beach, Moss Cove, Sea Lion Cove, Weston Beach, Whalers Cove, and China Cove.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is managed by the Parks & Recreation Department of California and visitors must pay $10 per vehicle. You can’t use the America the Beautiful annual pass here. Arrive early to ensure a parking spot.
Del Monte Beach
One of my favorite beaches in Monterey is Del Monte Beach because it’s more secluded and quiet, being located off the back of a housing area. The beach is fantastic for walkers, with a long, pristine stretch of sand, plus it’s fairly calm, which makes it a good swimming beach, if you dare.
his beach is officially part of Monterey State Beach. Located not far from the old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, west of Del Monte Avenue, you’ll find free parking and beach access.
Fire pits and picnic tables are available along the boardwalk. Beach-combing, surfing, and kayaking are all common activities on this laidback beach. Dogs are welcome here as well.
Carmel River State Beach
The thing that makes this beach unique is the lagoon that was formed by the Carmel River. Here you’ll find a 1-mile-long protected beach with plenty of sand to make yourself comfortable on, just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
The lagoon is worth a visit, especially if you’re a birder. It changes shape over time and adds an extra element of fun to the beach. You can also enjoy the walk along the bluff tops around the beach, all the way to Monastery Beach, which is part of this state beach. Be aware that the parking lot is small, but you can usually find parking nearby if it’s full.
Asilomar State Beach
Located on the 17th-Mile Drive, Asilomar State Beach is a narrow, one-mile strip of sandy beach and rocky coves. While it’s not the prime beach location for spending a long, lazy day on the beach, it’s got a lovely view and it’s terrain is very interesting. It’s a nice stop if you’re taking the 17-Mile Drive along the coast.
The water is known for riptides and choppy water, and it’s colder than water nearby, so it’s decidedly not a swimming beach. But you can go there for the view or for a walk. A 1-mile trail, running through the dunes, is open to pedestrians. There are no bathroom facilities here.
This beach is tiny but it’s always very popular, not only because it’s located right on Cannery Row, but because it appeals to everyone. Scuba divers use it as a launching or exit point. Families use it as a place to relax during a day out in Monterey. You can even launch a kayak from here. It’s small, but it’s great.
You’ll find the beach just off of Hoffman Avenue on Cannery Row. After indulging in a delicious seafood lunch, you can head down the stairs to the beach for a little after-lunch rest before getting back to looking around the shops and Aquarium on Cannery Row.
Mind that there’s not much parking nearby and you have to walk down the stairs to get there. It’s a great beach for wading in, but not really the type of place you’d lay out your beach umbrellas for an afternoon.
Carmel Meadows Beach
If you’re looking for a less crowded beach near Carmel, the Carmel Meadows Beach is a good bet. It’s located in front of the Meadows Beach community, hence the name, and it’s usually less crowded than nearby Carmel River State Beach and Monastery Beach. But still with that lovely stretch of sand.
It’s a wide sandy west-facing beach with rocky areas at each end. To the north is Monastery and to the south is Carmel River. Keep in mind that this is a clothing optional beach.
What we love about this area is the bluff path that goes all the way from the state park to Monastery beach. The cliffs are very scenic and the view is incredible. Dogs are allowed on leashes at this park. There are parking spots along Cuesta Way and Ribera Road.
San Carlos Beach
At the end of Cannery Row in Monterey, you’ll find San Carlos Beach, next to the the Coast Guard Pier. While this isn’t the most picturesque beach in the area, it’s a good resting place for when you’re hanging out in Monterey and need a little break.
There’s a large parking area, so you can start your day here. It’s a great area to wade in the surf, sit at the picnic tables, and enjoy the landscaped lawn and views of the Bay. You might even see a few scuba divers preparing to go for a dive offshore where the old cannery machinery lays beneath the water.
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.